A decade ago, Katrina and Peter Millard bought a home in TriBeCa, a neighborhood they found open and quiet. She felt they should settle in a place big enough for children. He felt up-and-coming TriBeCa was a good value.
And how. The Millards bought their 1,400-square-foot duplex for $270,000. Four years later, as parents of two babies, they bought the apartment on the floor below them for $250,000, joining the spaces with a staircase."The one floor cost as much as the two floors had cost four years before," Mr. Millard said, "so we were aware we were on to something."
As it happened, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, became a turning point for the family. They spent six weeks living with a relative in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, which taught them that moving out of Manhattan was a possibility. "We were ready to reposition ourselves for the next phase of our life," Mr. Millard said. The Millards had been high-school sweethearts. Later, Peter Millard, now 40, followed Katrina Gilbert, now 38, to California, where she worked as a park ranger. When he returned to New York for a sales job, she followed him. They married in 1992, renting in the East 20's before buying the TriBeCa co-op. They rented office space two blocks away for their design business, Mongrel Creative.
In 2001, their daughter, Hazel, started kindergarten at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, "the first concrete sign we were evolving in ways that might lead us to move," Mr. Millard said. "She went to school on the morning of Sept. 11 and didn't come home for six weeks."Their downtown neighborhood was evacuated and fenced off, though Ms. Millard managed to return home to retrieve the family's three cats.
To their surprise, the Millards liked Cobble Hill. Hazel, now 8, walked to school. "She loved hanging out on the stoop watching people go by," Ms. Millard said. "That experience made me realize you can leave your place and all your stuff and be fine, as long as you have who you need with you. It made it easier to say, 'Let's go, let's try something new.' "Over the next few years, TriBeCa prices kept rising, "which seemed nice but odd," Mr. Millard said. "We had the flexibility to look at our options because our investment had appreciated so significantly."
Last spring, it was time to make their move. The Millards put their TriBeCa triplex on the market, intending to find a spacious home in Brooklyn for $1 million, more or less. Ideally, they wanted a place within walking distance of the school, which their son, Pedro, 7, also attends. But all of the homes they saw in Brooklyn's prime neighborhoods seemed expensive, cramped or run-down.
Last spring, Ms. Rieders showed them a condominium triplex at 29 Tiffany Place, near the Columbia Street waterfront. It had the same feel as their TriBeCa home, but with outdoor terraces and stunning harbor views.Excited, they signed a contract at the asking price, $1.295 million. But the sellers canceled their plans to move. "That was an unusual scenario - to have it go that far and not go through," Ms. Rieders said.
A few weeks later she showed them a house at 76 Dikeman Street in Red Hook, listed at $635,000. Ms. Millard, the former park ranger, loved the lush garden. The Millards offered $675,000 but were outbid. By the time the higher offer fell through, they had reconsidered. With two floors of 800 square feet each and an unfinished basement, the house seemed small. (It later sold for $655,000.)
So much for the edgy neighborhood. This one seemed too far away."As our kids get older and want more freedom, we want them to be near a movie theater or a little pizza place," Ms. Millard said.Their daughter, too, was less than keen. "Hazel felt that Red Hook was not ready for its close-up, a little raw perhaps," Mr. Millard said. "Tree-lined streets were more to her liking. We would have had to rely on a car, and in terms of obvious investment there is not enough infrastructure there to be a sure thing."
Then, in late summer, they saw a 2,300-square-foot house on 11th Street, near Third Avenue. It sat on a block of frame houses, all with big yards, within an industrial area near the Gowanus Canal. Excited, they bought it for the asking price, $849,000.Meanwhile, they still hadn't sold the TriBeCa triplex, which they had listed for $1.825 million on the advice of a real estate broker. Suspecting it was overpriced, they dropped the price several times.
In the fall, they accepted an offer for $1.525 million, but the co-op board rejected the buyers - a couple who planned to set up a home office - because of worries about too much foot traffic.The triplex didn't sell until last month, for $1.595 million, to a family moving from the Upper East Side.
The family is still unclear on what to call their new location. Some say Park Slope, but they prefer Gowanus. "I like people to go, 'Oh, where's that,' " Ms. Millard said. One agent referred to the area as "G Slope."
The Millards took their final step out of Manhattan this week, relinquishing their office for a new one in Red Hook, a 10-minute walk away. They found the hunt for office space, nowhere near as emotional, to be infinitely easier.