An Oscar Winner Scouts Her New Location: an Uptown Pad for Less Than $500,000

After nearly 40 years as a professional actor, Melissa Leo still had one role she was aching to land: Upper East Side homeowner.

Ms. Leo, who won an Academy Award in 2011 for her performance as Alice Eklund-Ward in “The Fighter,” is a Manhattan native. But homeownership was something she had never experienced. When she was a child, she and her brother were raised by a single mother who moved the family among rented apartments.

When her son, Jack, was born 36 years ago, Ms. Leo, now 63, thought about putting down real roots. At the time, she was renting a place on 83rd Street, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She loved the neighborhood, with its quiet, leafy streets and handsome brownstones, and particularly enjoyed pushing Jack on the swings at Carl Schurz Park, along the East River.

But when she did buy a home, it wasn’t in the city. Instead, she chose a 200-year-old farmhouse in Stone Ridge, N.Y. For three decades, it served as a quiet retreat, while her daily life was anchored around a series of rentals across the world, as she traveled for roles on screens big and small, including an Oscar-nominated turn in “Frozen River,” an Emmy-winning part in the FX comedy “Louie” and 77 episodes of the TV police drama “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

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“I’ve lived in so many places. I rent places for temporary housing when I do television work,” Ms. Leo said. “But you go around the world, and to be a native New Yorker, there’s something to it.”

In 2019, she finally bought an apartment in Manhattan, landing in a studio in Washington Heights. But she disliked the flashy new building. “It didn’t feel like a part of Washington Heights,” she said. “The city has torn down homes and built up luxury apartments, as if that’s what it needs?”

When the pandemic hit, she retreated back upstate and sold the apartment. Earlier this year, she decided to try again, focusing on Yorkville, a historic swath of the Upper East Side. Ms. Leo wanted something out of the spotlight to share with her dog, Buddy, and reached out to Janina McCormack, a real estate agent with Compass, for help finding a modest place that met her needs.

She intended to keep her upstate house, so all she needed in New York was a small refuge. “You can have too much room,” Ms. Leo said. “And it’s just me, so I don’t have to worry about having a lot of space.”

She wanted to pay cash and keep her budget under $500,000. Ms. McCormack showed Ms. Leo a handful of studios and one-bedroom apartments in the area.

“She wanted to be in a building where she could have a lot of privacy and no one paid attention to her, and where she had just enough space to be comfortable,” Ms. McCormack said. “She wanted something that was both humble and manageable.”

Among her options:

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