Ms. Axen, a speech-language pathologist at a public school, keeps early hours. “We want to make sure, when I’m up late watching TV, she is somewhere far away so she can get a peaceful night’s sleep,” said Mr. Rabinowitz, 34.
Some kind of outdoor space was important, too. “Any time the sun is out,” Ms. Axen thinks “we should be outside,” said Mr. Rabinowitz, who himself, in the past, had gazed enviously upon neighboring roof decks.
With a budget of $3,400, the couple began the hunt three months before their leases were up, to learn what was available. They tried South Harlem, where they could get more space for their money. They liked a 2010 condominium building on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, with a shared roof deck. A large one-bedroom for rent there was $3,200. “The refrigerator had a window so you could see inside,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. It was too early to move, however. “I was enamored with this building so we kept an eye on it,” he said.
A few weeks later, another one-bedroom appeared there. This one had its own roof deck with a gas grill. It was $3,400.
Mr. Rabinowitz arrived early for the open house, but another couple was already there. He was worried.
They later learned the apartment went to someone — the other couple? — who offered a year’s rent upfront.
“I had been refreshing StreetEasy every hour for weeks,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. Most places turned out to be small, dark and pricey. His lease expired. He temporarily returned to his childhood bedroom on the Upper West Side.
The two decided against South Harlem. “We were embittered about the neighborhood and we weren’t finding much,” he said.
So they shifted focus to the Upper West Side, where they saw a two-bedroom duplex on West End Avenue in the 70s with a great roof deck but a scary spiral staircase. The interior was worn. The rent was $3,350. They declined.
“I was getting numb to this process, and Marie started to pick up the pace because she could sense I was downtrodden,” Mr. Rabinowitz said.
Via StreetEasy, Ms. Axen contacted David Marciano, an agent at Guidance NY, which specializes in the Upper West Side. He took them to a handful of prewar rentals.
“I was not seeing the charm in any of them,” Ms. Axen said. “They were old and stinky, and the windows were in weird places.”
But Mr. Marciano contacted them immediately when one more arose, a two-bedroom duplex with a private roof deck, at the top of a walk-up building.
This one, with a sunken living room, was utterly charming. The price was $3,600 a month, plus a broker fee of 12 percent of a year’s rent, or nearly $5,200.
“We had been on such an arduous search, and it was so unique we just couldn’t pass it up,” Mr. Rabinowitz said.
They arrived in the spring, needing to acquire furniture for the second bedroom and outdoor space. Big boxes were delivered to the lobby. They wrestled them up the stairs.
“We got this outdoor couch thing and it was insanely heavy,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. He accidentally shoved it into Ms. Axen’s ankle, which had been previously shattered in a car crash.
“The first month was a fiasco,” Mr. Rabinowitz said. “I lost 10 pounds, partly because of the walk-up, partly because of the stress and partly because I am not snacking late at night.”
That’s because there are no delis or grocery stores nearby. “It is a tiring apartment,” he said, requiring planning and hauling. “Groceries and laundry are tough to bring up the stairs.” He has resumed a subway commute to work.
Still, the roof deck compensates for a lot. “We have dinner al fresco,” he said.
As does the quiet. “There is nobody above us,” he said. “A pigeon maybe, from time to time.”