Editor’s Note: Malcolm Carter, a columnist for West Side Rag and real estate broker who specialized in Upper West Side properties, is about to depart the Upper West Side for a faraway place. He’s a good friend and we’ll miss him.

Malcolm in the Conservancy Garden.

By Malcolm Carter

New York City has captivated me since I first moved here in 1970.

Like everyone who appreciates the city, I have celebrated its universally acknowledged virtues — the myriad restaurants, the energy, all types of diversity, the stimulation that almost every block offers, the glorious parks, the vast range and high quality of cultural offerings, the climate of creativity along with residents whose intellect can be challenging, whose openness is endearing and whose directness can be refreshing.

I left Manhattan once, in 1995, to undertake a new and rewarding project in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. government.  I expected to be away for just a year, but that year stretched into 11 years, the last four of which unexpectedly involved a detour from communications, public education and journalism into what became a thriving real estate business.

But I missed the Big Apple, so I gave up that business to start a new one as a real estate broker in Manhattan.  Although returning in 2006 filled me with delight and impressed me with new discoveries, my business never reached the heights that I had achieved in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  Moreover, the practice of real estate here left me yearning for the level of involvement that it requires in the Washington area, where agents and brokers complete contracts themselves, without a lawyer’s participation.

I have felt — and I am sure I will be accused of hyperbole — that all we do in New York is open and close doors.  True, we counsel, we negotiate (to a limited extent), we analyze the market and we peddle properties.  Yet I have found the demands of the work to be wanting, especially in comparison with D.C.  That’s me.

Despite my lackluster income from real estate in New York, I have somehow managed to acquire substantial assets.  However, I have in recent years become concerned about the chance that I might outlive them.  One reason, ironically, is the cost of housing, in my case owning and maintaining a modest two-bedroom apartment in an undistinguished building on an ordinary block of the Upper West Side between Riverside and Central parks.  With mortgage, maintenance, electricity and communications expenses, my annual outlay runs close to $70,000.  Let’s hypothesize that I have accumulated $1 million, receive no income (including Social Security) and pay no taxes; in this example, those funds would evaporate in a little more than 14 years owing only to what I spend on housing.

Such is the math that has dogged my sleep many nights, leading me to decide a while back to be prudent.  What prudence has meant is that I forego most theater, conclude that many new movies aren’t worth watching, rarely dine in restaurants, stalk sales even of food and generally look for other ways to husband my resources.  I have pretty much given up on reading restaurant reviews, merely skim the Times’ arts sections and pass up opportunities to stock my larder with the latest and greatest gourmet treats.

Certainly, I am far better off than those many families enduring lives below, at or even well above the poverty line.  I’m hardly suffering, and I fully appreciate how privileged my own life is.

Still, I find myself living in New York as an outsider.  From that perspective, New York frustrates and depresses rather than excites me.  I am the kid looking through the window of a bakery at heaps of macarons or, often more likely, at ranks of iPads in an Apple store.

The option consequently began to come into focus for me months ago to cease selling real estate, turn my back on New York and move forward toward an exhilarating new chapter of my life.  Rather than feeling angry about leaving, I am excited about the galaxy of possibilities that lies ahead.

You doubtless will be shocked to learn that I am going to an extreme: I am moving not to Queens but to Cambodia.

To read Malcolm’s full post, click here.

COLUMNS | 11 comments | permalink
    1. connie says:

      Great article! Congrats!

    2. Scooter Stan says:

      Good luck…but remember –

      You’ll never find a great bagel nor slice of pizza in Cambodia!

      Then again, Zabar’s does ship “care packages”!

    3. Jon says:

      Since you are looking for some part time, rewarding work, maybe you should get back to your roots and write about Cambodia. Small, cool places to go. Not your typical tourist book, make comparisons to NYC and other big cities that you have visited and show the world why Cambodia rocks!

      If you blog about it, let The West Side Rag know, so that we can read all about it.

      Good luck.

    4. Lance says:

      How exciting. Would love to hear how this works out for you, Malcolm. Are you going to blog???

    5. J says:

      Good luck. Now try sleeping under those same general circumstances, but add 3 kids under the age of 10….!

    6. Bruce Bernstein says:

      good luck and thank you… your article shows the huge problem with affordable housing in NYC… the UWS is becoming unaffordable even for upper middle class people.

    7. Karen says:

      Dear Malcolm,
      Beautiful, thoughtful column.
      You’re leaving the cocoon and the world is wide, open and rich with possibility.

      Peace and many blessings on your new adventure!!!!
      Looking forward to a correspondent’s report from time to time.

      All the best of luck~

    8. raimonda says:

      I come from Italy and have made the opposite move from east to west.
      I found Italy a bit depressing and new York young and energetic,but I must admit that monthly management and taxes here are really high,suppose you want more you pay more,that’s the rule

    9. NYMSR says:

      Wait. A 2-bedroom apartment?! Why not a one-bedroom or studio, before Cambodia?

    10. Harriet says:

      Thanks Malcolm for your thoughtful evaluation. I too realize that the time will come when staying on the UWS will not make financial sense. I’m hoping for 5 more years, before I need to relocate, at which point I will be over 70. Unlike you, I will relocate to Connecticut, where I was raised. How exciting that you have family connections which allow you to go further afield. All best wishes.

    11. robin says:

      While you certainly raise an important issue about how expensive it can be to live in Manhattan, there is some faulty figuring and assumptions about your lifestyle going on. $1 million conservatively invested would throw off $40,000 a year. No one is forcing you to own a 2 BR and spend $5,000+ a month for your housing costs. It sounds like you could comfortably downsize to an affordable smaller apt. and stay here if you so wished. So there are choices you are not making in your decision to leave the city. There are plenty of middle class people still living in Manhattan and making a go of it.

      But no doubt your money will go a lot further in Cambodia!