NYC Real Estate Survival: My Co-op Thanks Giving

11/23/2011 02:27 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2012

My first place in Manhattan was a shared, seedy, shag-carpeted room in an SRO hotel that looked as if it had hosted many boozy lunchtime trysts. It was one of a large block of rooms in which NYU sequestered transfer students like me in so-called "on-campus" housing 25 blocks from campus.

During my 20s I continued to pay my apartment dues along with my student loans, within a few years graduating from shares paid in monthly wads of cash to being an actual named tenant on a lease.  

Eventually I got married, had a daughter, and, eight years ago, moved into a grown-up apartment -- a two-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side for which I am exceedingly grateful.  

Which brings me to the subject of this column: It is not only about being thankful for having a decent place to live in one of the greatest cities on earth.  It's also about how -- like a spouse or a child or a new business -- an apartment tends to reveal itself to you over time, and what exactly you're thankful for (or driven crazy by) can surprise you.

In my case, there are a few things I dislike about this place that I either didn't pay enough attention to or just didn't care about at the outset.

These include the high-and-climbing monthly maintenance fees, which nearly match our mortgage payment now, and the street noise traveling up to the ninth floor, forcing us to sleep with the air conditioner fan running year round. (Yes, soundproof windows are on our wish list along with custom closets.) There's also the mysterious trick of physics that funnels cooking and renovation smells of certain downstairs neighbors into our kitchen and dining room.

But there is a much longer list of things for which I'm extremely grateful -- and I never really thought about at least half of them when we bought the place:
• Our quiet upstairs/next door neighbors. 
• Our non-open kitchen, which enables us to eat dinner in full denial of the mess we have just created.
• Our thick, noise-blocking prewar walls.
• Our outside-vented washer/dryer. (Okay, I knew exactly how grateful I would be for this -- in fact, with a small child at the time, it was a non-negotiable item on my wishlist.)
• Our outside-vented exhaust fan above the oven.
• The small foyer between the bedrooms and the living room that can be closed off by a door on each side: No matter how loud things get in the living room, you can't hear it in the bedrooms.
• Non-smoking neighbors.
• Our live-in super, Mike.  In terms of deliveries, you would never know ours is a non-doorman building.  And in terms of helping out around the apartment, he may well be responsible for extending the life of my marriage. Also, he's a nice guy, and is always around to let me into my apartment when I'm locked out.
• Our location, a block from two different train lines (including one express line), and a block from Central Park (for which our dog, too, is extremely grateful).
• Our minuscule but family-critical half-bath.

It's worth noting that although part of what attracted me to the apartment were its views and high ceilings, those things didn't make my top 10 list eight years later.

I think that's true for many people in a long-term relationship with their home. Aesthetics may drive the initial attraction, but the day-to-day impact of great views, a fresh renovation, and nine-foot ceilings fades over time.

What's left -- a washer-dryer, good neighbors, and a half-bath -- is what good marriages are made of.