Sunday, July 29, 2007

And the bottom drops out...

...Addendum to finding a great apartment - even though I have a guarantor, the landlord wants another month of security. So that means when I sign my lease they expect me to fork over: first month's rent, one month security, one extra month of security and a 12% broker's fee, aka $7770, because of course I can afford that up front...

And they don't even accept credit cards. Unreal. I might have to pull out of the deal now. I have to beg them to let me pay the extra month of security over time. I guess I am just shocked at how much they are asking given the price point - or maybe that's exactly why they're asking. I'm dependable, trustworthy, and a great tenant, but I might get screwed here. I'm feeling a bit whiny right now. I hate money sometimes.

I get by with a little help

What a day on Friday. I had my review at work on Thursday and got some great news. But I decided not to change my budget. My feeling was that giving myself an extra $100/mo ($1200/yr!) would only open up a can of worms. Plus, I know myself really well. I knew that I would end up stretching a bit anyway. I've been very good about calculating my budget using a low estimate of my income so that I don't end up signing a lease that promises 70% of my monthly income. Stranger things have happened to friends of mine.

I also talked to my wonderful sister. She is 8 and a half years older than me and lives in Colorado, where she got her master's and phD and I went to undergrad at her school's rival, Colorado State. Despite the Buffs/Rams conflict, she agreed to be my guarantor. I knew I would need one.

After my review I was much more confident about looking for a place. And at 10 AM, my ship came in. $1650/mo, Upper East side, gut renovation - marble bathroom (not super important but I liked that it is new), separate kitchen (photo in the ad had a dishwasher!), and an awesome location - 76th at 3rd, a couple of blocks from the train. Sign me up! But as you probably guessed it was a broker's listing. On the plus side, it was an exclusive listing. So at least I wouldn't see it only to find out another broker had beaten us.

I called and left a message, and the broker called back about 15 minutes later. We agreed on 3:30 PM and I was surprisingly calm about having to wait. I glanced at the ad again. The renovation excited me - I would be the first one living there. The place looked like exactly what I wanted.

Since I'd had a long wait for the 6 train last time I went to the UES, I left work at 3. It was too hot to jump to the express, so I rode the local the whole way. I would've had to jump back tot he local anyway. I made it up to 77th Street in about 20 minutes and called the broker, saying I knew I was early but just wanted to let her know I was there. She told me to meet her in front of Haru's. There was just one problem - there was a Haru's on the Northeast corner, and one on the Southeast corner as well. I guessed Southeast. I was wrong.

We shook hands, and the first bomb dropped - the $1650 studio was gone. But she had another studio in the same building, same floor, for $1750. Get this - it turns out that when the owner saw how quickly the first one went, they jacked up the price of the second one. ARGH! I think the look on my face said it all, because she quickly added that this apartment was a bit bigger anyway. Did I still want to see it? I didn't even hesitate - yes. For a gut reno, I had to see it.

We walked half a block to the building. We walked through the front door and the security door, and into a dark but pleasant-looking foyer. The apartment was on the first floor in the back, which surprised me for some reason. We walked into the most gorgeous place I have seen yet. It was bright, airy, and yes, small, but not Tudor City place small. The layout was workable.

The floors were a light maple laminate, but that was the only bummer. There was a large window, a separate kitchen, and a decent-sized closet. This apartment was still in the process of being renovated, so the bathroom was still missing a sink and toilet, and the kitchen was missing appliances and cabinets. The broker assured me it would like just like the sibling apartment's pictures on Craigslist. It better. From the kitchen, she walked me out to the PRIVATE BACKYARD. Somehow I'd missed that in the ad. It was really nice by NYC standards - it had a tall tree that provided shade, a flagstone pathway and even a gravel area for a fountain at the very back. Though I could see my neighbors through the chain link fence, it looked very pleasant, and I only had to share the backyard with the other first-floor tenant. At that moment, I was sold. Proximity to Central Park is one thing, but a private backyard in Manhattan is a rarity worth splurging for. I asked her when the place would be ready, suggesting September 1. She said August 15th. Fine. No problem. Gulp.

The ceilings were high, which meant I could get these tall bookcases I've been admiring at Crate and Barrel someday. It had recessed lights. Everything was new - repeated for truth. So while the place was a bit over my budget, I was on board. I told the broker I wanted it, and she nodded and smiled. I have to say, looking back I really ignored some important details in my giddyness. For example, I know that there was a large window and the door out to the back providing light, but I can't remember if there was an air conditioner. I forgot to ask about laundry.

While we waited for the 6 to go back to the office, she started asking if I had my paperwork and my mind snapped back to reality. I asked if the landlord was willing to come down on the rent at all based on when I'd called to view. The broker old me she would fight for me, but it was doubtful. I asked about her broker's fee - 15% was too high I said. She said she could come down to 12% but no lower because she had to split it with the management company. This meant I had to ask my sister for a loan to pay the fee. God, I hate brokers. I don't think apartments below market rate should have broker's fees. But that's a rant for another time.

We had to go back downtown to her office, and along the way she called no less than four people to tell them that the place was rented. She said she felt bad - and I did too, because I knew how those people felt.

The broker and I chatted about the neighborhood, as it turned out she lived two blocks away from the place she showed me. Weirder still, her office was one block away from mine. And in the final over-the-top oddity, it turned out her broker's office had moved from the same building my company had moved from at about the same time. I have no idea what this means, but it's a lot of coincidence.

My feet were killing me and I almost asked to stop at my office, but I toughed it out. I knew I would need to put down a deposit to hold the place, but I was unprepared when she said the deposit was $300 cash. I had expected to write a check. I was suddenly nervous because I'd just written a rent check for August for Connecticut, I don't get paid for 5 more days, and my NYC savings is safely tucked away in cash in my safe. Yes, my safe. I was sincerely worried about having enough in my bank account at that moment. Then, I learned that there was a $75 credit check fee, also cash, non-refundable. Shit. I knew I definitely didn't have that much cash available. It was so dumb - I should have deposited some of my savings ahead of time.

So I had to do something else dumb - I had the $300 in my account but I had to take the $75 as a cash advance from my credit card. I know it's a bad idea but it had to be done. I would have lost the place. And since it wasn't my bank I paid $4 in fees. Bastards. We went to her office where I filled out the application and gave her:
- a copy of my license (she made it)
- two month's worth of bank statements with all but the last four numbers of my account blacked out
- a letter of employment
- a landlord reference letter
- two paystubs

Then, I called my sister at work, briefed her as much as I could, and faxed an application form to her while the broker did a credit check on me. I passed. The broker then asked for my cash, which I gave her. I told her I would need change since I owed her $375 but had taken out $380. Oh no, she said. There are two credit checks - one on your sister too - so it's actually $460. ARGH! Again! So I had to go get another cash advance...I don't even want to think about it. The cash was sitting at home, so instead I'll have to pay a frickin ridiculous APR because I'm an idiot.

My sister has really good credit, so there were no problems there. Just like that, I was pre-approved for the apartment. Now I just needed some more documentation:
- my 2006 tax return
- a letter of employment from sister's company
- last two paystubs from my sister

And then, presuming the management company approved me, I was in. And thanks to the broker fee, in debt. But it will all be worth it - New York City at last!

Friday, July 27, 2007

And Then There Were None

Frustrated by the evil broker gang again, I decided I needed a new tactic on Thursday. I read a fascinating New York Times article about people who saved every last penny to buy apartments, and I felt inspired. If they could save 10-20% for a deposit in NYC, I could certainly find an apartment to rent.

Back on the No Fee trail, I Googled some related terms and found a few interesting sites - had no fee listings but required a registration money, City Realty (which came recommended by the NYC Rent Guidelines Board) seemed a bit light on listings and nothing else seemed very promising. So I turned back to the gray lady herself and searched the classified section. Who knew NYT still had one?

Actually not only did the Times have a real estate for rent section, it was quite impressive. I did an advanced search, first on difficult. Elevator, Gramercy/Flatiron/Union Sq. under $1700. As you can probably guess I got no results. I changed my tactic - $1700 or less with no fee in the Village, Chelsea, the above holy trinity, Midtown East or Upper East Side below 96th St. (Craigslist please take note of that last neighborhood search option. Please.) This time 5 ads came back, with two actually having a fee upon further review.

One stood out though - East 66th St studio, legitimately no fee, $1600/mo. The ad boasted about dishwashers, elevators and a doorman. But the ad was also confusing. The title said East 66th St, but the blurb mentioned the area between 9th and 11th Streets. Huh? I went to the management company's site and saw that they owned several buildings in several neighborhoods, including one at 12th Street and 6th Ave in the Village. I called the number on the ad and found out the ad title was a misprint online - the building was the one at 12th St and 6th Ave.

It was very secret-agent like. Mission 1: Call this cell phone number. Mission 2: Call another cell phone number at 10:30 the next morning to set up a viewing time. Mission 3: Get actual address of building. Turns out it's called the Villager. Appropriate. It looked beautiful in the ad shot. I hoped real life matched up. Later on it hit me - 12th St at 6th Ave! Holy crap, that's only like 10 blocks from work! So walkable.

I know I was supposed to wait until 10:30 to call, but my patience ran out at 9. Luckily, the management firm knows how impatient people like me are and the rep had the phone turned off. 9:45 same deal. Got through at 10:15 and set up a 3:30 PM meeting time.

I had a meeting in Union Square at 2:30 that only took about 20 minutes, so I headed over to the place early. 6th Ave is pretty busy, so there was a lot of traffic both on the road and on foot. The heat and humidity were back, so I sat on the stoop and sweat for half an hour. I called at 3:15 (No one will be there for 15 or so minutes, sorry, was the response, which was very polite. I probably deserved a quit calling you dumbass!)

At 3:30 on the dot the rep came and promptly asked me if I was a broker. Nope, I said, don't need one. He let me into the building, which was gorgeous in real life too, and I asked him about the studio.

- Studio? Oh no, it's a 1 BR.
- What's the rent?
- $4595.
- Well, the ad talked about a studio.
- We have some studios, but not here.
- How much?
- One for $2595, one for $1900, and one for $1625.
- Ah ok I thought the $1600 one was here.
(Weird look from the rep.)
- No, it's at East 66th Street!

Aha! So to see the place at East 66th Street I had to call the cell number again at 10:30 tomorrow morning and set up a meeting time and go up there and oh it just seemed like too much. It was worth a shot, but I didn't want to have to trudge up just to find out that the place was gone. I was bummed about not being able to live in the Villager. Plus, there was definitely no doorman. The rep was short on details, and I decided to call it a day.

A View to Kill

My favorite part of being a broker puppet is when they trick you into meeting them at their office. I keep drifting to the broker listings because the prices are real and the scams less pervasive than in the No-Fee area. I still can't really afford one, but at least I can see what's out there.

Broker try #4 involved Citi Habitats, a firm which has seems to have a good reputation. The ad was for a Gramercy studio for $1595/mo. at 23rd and Park, aka Madison Square Park, home of Shake Shack and one of my favorite lunch spots from my last job. I managed to catch the ad about 15 minutes after it was posted, so I had a decent shot. I called the broker's cell and he told me the place was "HOT" and would go fast. Yeah, I know, I replied. Meet me there now with an application. He told me to come to 250 Park Ave So. Only 2 blocks away from work - perfect.

I thought I was going to the apartment, because that's what I thought we'd agreed on. But upon arriving at Park Ave I was completely confused because the apartment was at 23rd and Park (or so the ad said) but the address was more like 19th and Park. When I got to the building I realized I was at the broker's office, and I was MAD. I went upstairs determined to tell the guy off, but I chilled while waiting for him. We were only 6 blocks away.

George, the broker, asked me to fill out an application, which I scribbled on incoherently. I had to cross out one side and fill out the other because I'd started listing my work address as my home address by accident. Finally, he said it was time to go.

The building was in fact at 23rd and Park, on 23rd St next to Live Bait and Quizno's, or Subway or whatever. Which worried me, because I don't want critters. It was a walkup, which I expected, with two sets of front doors. That would make me feel safer except one of the doors had a cracked pane. It also smelled musty when we walked in. Up one flight of stairs, George said he had two to show, right next to each other.

2A was first. We walked in to a bright, airy, decent-sized studio. Two large windows at the end had a KILLER view - Madison Square Park in all its glory, and the Empire State Building. I'm not gonna lie, I was amazed and a "wow" escaped. I would guess there was 300 sq. feet of living space - enough for my bed, dresser, the couch, the TV stand, and if I wanted to be cluttered, my small pub table and desk.

The kitchen wasn't updated, but was workable - a newer stove/oven, and OK sink and dark wood cabinets that I would have requested a new coat of paint for. But the fridge was out in the apartment, which ate up a lot of space. The bathroom was a disappointment. It looked at least 30 years old with outdated fixtures, it was small and the tub was missing caulk, the toilet looked nasty and the room felt dingy.

Then George showed me the walk-in closet, which by NYC standards could have easily doubled as my office. It was huge! Maybe even more closet space than I have at my house. Suddenly the place didn't seem too bad.

But there's always a caveat in Manhattan. George was very upfront about this, which I appreciated. When I came to his office to meet him, he told me the apartment was way below market rate because there was scaffolding outside. It turned that this meant the scaffolding was on the same level as the apartment, which meant I'd have to cover the huge windows for any kind of privacy. Goodbye, amazing Madison Sq. Park view.

The other apartment was 2B, right next door. It had an entryway and felt larger overall. The fridge was also out in the apartment, but they were painting the kitchen. George and I realized this meant that the crew had pulled the fridge out. Aha. That opened the place up. 2B had the same huge walk-in closet, but an older stove in the kitchen and an equally yucky bathroom. It also had the same view and the same scaffolding.

At first I was talking myself into the place, but as we were walking back to Citi's office I realized that the scaffolding was a big problem, and the yucky bathroom was a bigger problem. It didn't feel right. I told George my worries, and he said he would ask about the scaffolding. But in my head doubts were starting to creep in, while the devil's advocate in me said location, location, location, and decent rent.

I waited in the Citi conference room for about 15 minutes while he checked (thank God my work has been so understanding). I knew something was up, and he came back and told me that both places were gone. I didn't believe him - I think he could feel my hesitancy, but I was OK with it either way. I had made up my mind that I didn't want the place. George asked me what I wanted and I told him, and he said he thought he had another place for me. I told him I had to get back to work, and gave him my cell number.

George called me a couple more times but I have not called him back yet. A broker is my last resort (though I say that a bit less convincingly as time goes on). Overall, Citi Habitats earns a B- from me. George was pretty good, except for the whole conning me into going to his office thing, but he was upfront about the place and kept after me. Still, Citi is a broker's office. And that means they just want my money.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tudor City away!

It took me a couple of days to recover from seeing the Tudor City place - $1600/month (or is that $1650?) studio by owner. I had hyped it up into such a frenzy that I could barely sleep on Monday night. My viewing time was scheduled for 7:35 PM, but I could only make it at work until 6:30. I left work, took the 6 to Grand Central, and strolled around awhile to get a feel of the neighborhood.

And wow - what a place! First of all, Tudor City place is built above the rest of the city between 1st and 2nd Aves. So I literally climbed the stairway to heaven. At the top of the stairs was a beautiful small park, which I strolled into and sat down in. Trees, flowers, and the like made for a suburban-style setting. A crew was around filming a new Ben Kingsley movie, which only added to the idyllic setting. I felt like I was home.

I'd done some research and found out that Tudor City was originally built to be hotel-style housing - no kitchens in the apartments. I had no idea how that would be reconciled in today's world. I'd even found a floorplan of the tower and knew I was in for a long, narrow apartment. The tower my apartment was in was Prospect Tower, which has a huge neon "Tudor City" sign on top.

At 7:15, I could wait no longer. I was scared of losing the apartment. I walked though the revolving doors, announced myself to the doorman, and rode the elevator to the 15th floor. I knocked gently on the ajar apartment door and started to let myself in until **SLAM** the door hit another door. Uh-oh. I got an apology from inside - it turns out I'd hit the bathroom door.

They cleared the way and in I went - and oh my lord. I don't know what I was expecting, but this was NOT at all what I'd thought. To figure out how 300 SQ feet might look, I had measured and blocked off that space in my current living room. It was small, but felt doable. There is no way the apartment I saw was 300 SQ feet. I would guess even 250 SQ feet is being generous. When you are talking small spaces, it's a big difference.

There was ample closet space, but that is the only nice thing I can say. The renter said I sleep here and that's it. And I could understand - the only furniture was a full bed and a chair. Oh, and a runner. The kitchen had literally been built into one of the closets. Two cabinets. The mini-fridge you had in your college dorm room. A sink from the 1950s. Two burners. No microwave. No oven. No way.

The apartment had one small window which didn't let in a lot of light. It was like a cave. The bathroom looked like it hadn't been redone in 40 years. Character is one thing, but the caulk was missing in several places and the bathroom said "five minutes or less of hot water" to me.

There was a couple looking at the place at the same time as me. (I can't even imagine what they thought!) I talked to the tenant for a bit before the couple and I escaped together. If the owner paid me to live there, maybe. But I wasn't going to waste an opportunity - I headed for the roof deck.

Luckily, the movie crew was done filming on the roof, so I had no trouble getting out there and the couple came with me. We chatted politely until we walked out onto the roof and our jaws dropped.

Clear views of the Chrysler building, the Empire State spire, the East River and of course the UN. The roof itself was gorgeous too...

It was well worth the trip. If only I'd found a cool apartment too.

That night, I was disappointed and feeling a bit exasperated. Commiserating, I did a Google search for Tudor City when I stumbled upon the most wonderful thing - a site for a brokerage specializing in Tudor City rentals! I browsed the listings and could not believe it - studios for $1400-$1600 - way more in my range. This was much more realistic. I could live in Tudor City after all!

After another sleepless night of anticipation, I called the brokerage promptly at 9 AM the next morning and left a voicemail. When I hadn't heard back by 11, I called a different broker about another listing and left another voicemail.

By 2 PM I was going nuts. What the hell was the deal? I read through the site a bit more, and scrolled through the source and footer (I work for an Internet company, after all). In the footer, I found my answer - site copyright date of 2003. Sure enough, a few minutes later a broker called me back and told me that she had no idea what I was calling about. I told her about the website and she just laughed, saying that Tudor City had gone co-op in the '80s and the prices I was quoting were very outdated. A studio in Prospect Tower now goes for about $1750. Super. There was only one available now, for $1750 so that was probably out of my budget, wasn't it? Yes, it's out of my budget...thanks for reminding me.

In hindsight, it's good it didn't work out, because the lack of space would have quickly killed me. But I now have a new dream - affording a 1-br in Tudor City. Someday, baby.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Now what do I do with my time?

Today is the day I found at that I am addicted to the Internets. Or, more specifically, Craigslist. I've been cruising the site during my lunch break, and keeping it on in the background throughout the day. I made a conscious effort not to look today because I was seeing the Tudor City place (more on that in an upcoming post) but my curiosity got the best of me around 1 PM.

You can imagine my surprise when CL wouldn't load. What the heck? It's an all-text site...what could be wrong? Then I had a horrible thought - what if my work blocked the site? My apartment search would be screwed, hell, I'd be screwed. I had to take another route. I pulled out my BlackJack and surfed to CL. I was relieved when the site wouldn't load on my phone either, only because it meant the site was down.

I spent the better part of the next hour incredulous that Craigslist would ever be down. Had someone hacked it? And more importantly, where would I turn to look for apartments? I ended up hitting Backpage via the Village Voice website, but it wasn't the same. As of now, CL is back up but the apartment search is still down. I can only wonder if someone else finally decided to show the brokers what's what.

Monday, July 23, 2007

My sails are short on wind

On Saturday, I cruised the owner apartments only on Craigslist and found a $1600 GORGEOUS, QUIET OASIS - STUDIO - NO FEE in Midtown East. Which, as it turned out later, meant Tudor City.

I called the number in the ad, but of course no one answered because it was Saturday, and then I emailed. While I was out catching a movie, I got an email back from the owner. She seemed nice enough and gave excellent details about the apartment, including that it was only 300 sq. feet. Ugh. Well, if it was laid out well it could work. She asked me to email back if I wanted to set up a time.

My first thought was, where the heck is Tudor City? Followed quickly by what the heck is Tudor City? Turns out it's where Harry Osborn lives in the Spider-Man movies (yes, I am that much of a geek). As in really tall, castle-like towers east of Grand Central.

So not too far out of my way. Meh. I was ambivalent at first. Just another closet. There were some photos attached to the email, and my friends wanted to see. As soon as I saw the photos, my attitude did a 180, and the more I read the more I liked the sound of it - A/C, doorman, gym, rooftop seasonal sunning area, private park, etc. Suddenly, 300 sq. feet didn't seem so bad with all the outdoor space and amenities. With a rent of $1600, it's no great steal, but it's doable.

That day I fell in love with the idea of living in Tudor City, which is a definite violation of Rule #1 of NYC apartment hunting - DO NOT get emotionally attached to an apartment. I hadn't even seen the place yet but I was sure it was the place for me. I wanted to see it immediately, I was willing to jump on the train. Unfortunately, the current subletter wasn't available to show the place until Wednesday. Waiting is not something I do well.

I emailed the owner back and set a time to view, but I was not first in line, which was deflating. I figured I was second given my appointment time. I answered the ad about an hour after it was posted - good God, how did someone else beat me??

I went to a wedding in Boston yesterday, and I had visions of Tudor City dancing in my head the entire time. I also had the opportunity to sit with an acquaintance who lives on the Upper East Side. I shared my broker experiences with her (her verdict: waste of money) and told her my fears about the whole income/guarantor thing. I know she is just one opinion, but she made me feel much better by reminding me that tons of people our age are living in the city on salaries below 40x the monthly rent. Her take was that guarantors don't need to make 80x the rent; they just need to make enough to comfort the landlord. I don't know if this is true or not, but it gave me hope.

On the drive back to Norwalk today, I mentally wrote my gameplan and gave myself a pep talk. When I got home, there was an email from the owner saying subletter wanted to show tomorrow instead. Good news! One less day to wait. Attached to the email was a viewing schedule, so that in case I couldn't make it I could pick another time. Upon opening the schedule, I found out that I was 4th in line, not second as I had thought. Major bummer. Even more bummerific, I was checking Craigslist again today and found that the apartment is now listed for $1650. Sigh. At least the ad had been edited to say that utilities were included.

I have two guesses why the rent went up - first, maybe the owner recognized the demand and is seeking more. Even though that sucks for me, I can't blame her. Second, maybe the rents went up right after the Rent Guidelines board met, and she didn't know right away. Plausible. Either way, I am against the wall here and hoping for a miracle. A renter's miracle.

Reality check

When the over/under for an apartment's availability is about 24 hours, hope needs to spring eternal. And so does reality. Over the weekend, I decided that I needed to really sit down and think out different situations for my move. I had to seriously decide what the maximum rent I can afford is.

For example, I have a car that I am still paying off. I plan to sell the car but I can't put it up for sale until I find a place. This makes me pretty nervous - what happens if the car doesn't sell in the 30 days before I move? It might take a couple of months to sell. I might need to come back up to Connecticut to show it. Worse, what if it doesn't sell at all? I need to factor that in.

I want to use a professional moving company. I need to get quotes. Do I pack myself, or does a company pack me? Another thing to factor in.

I have a review on Tuesday. Will that affect things? Another thing to factor in.

What about furniture? I want to sell some pieces, but I want to buy things too. Especially if I live in a studio; I want to buy tall bookshelves to use as a divider between the living room and bedroom areas.

I need to eat. That needs to be factored in.

I can live without cable, but how long can I live without Internet? I might get roped into the $99/month phone/cable/internet package, even though I only need Internet. Too bad the phone in that package is a landline. That needs to be factored in.

I came back to $1650 as my limit though it would be cutting it close at my current salary. I'd need an apartment by owner with all utilities included, or a broker willing to only take one month's fee. Otherwise, $1550 was the ceiling and I have no clue where I would get the cash to pay a broker.

And what if I can't find an apartment in my range? That's the scariest scenario. I would have two options: stay in Connecticut or find a new job with better pay. As much as I love Norwalk, I really want to move into the city. And even though I do not make what I am worth, I also really love my job and want to stay there for a long time. Out of the two, I'd take the former. I hope I am not faced with that decision, though.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Lots of people live in the city without a budget, and I am totally jealous of them. Of course, lots of people like me live in the city on a budget. And lots of people try to take advantage of those of us on a budget.

They are the rent direct style services. Since I am new to this whole renting New York City style thing, I cannot say how long these services have been around. Nor can I say with confidence whether the rise of the Internets I so love has contributed. They are the services that shout NO FEE in loud bold letter...No Fee Rentals,, Broker Revolt, No Fee Apartments, NYC Rent No Fee...just to name a few. The pitch is simple - you're hungry to move here, but you can't afford a broker. So for just a portion of what a broker would charge ($40-$250 from what I have seen), you can get access to the same real estate database brokers see for a period of 1-2 months.

Certainly, I'm sure you have to be devoted to make those things work - checking like a madman every hour, contacting management companies, etc. before the brokers do, and that's only if the listings on these sites are real. I do know a couple of people who have had success with these types of services, but the feedback has been 85% no way to 15% go for it.

Oh, and here's how they getcha: you go to the site, and by providing your contact information, you can see sample listings. And the sample listings are pretty terrific. Maybe if you buy in the listings are pretty terrific too. I think I will pass for now - a fool and her money are soon parted, and I'd rather be parted with mine by way of a nice Diane von Furstenburg dress.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

You snooze you lose

When I didn't hear back from Nancy about the $1467 1 BR in Gramercy the other day, I figured it meant the apartment was gone. But once again I was incorrect - she called me last night to set up a visit time today. Two provisos though, the apartment was actually $1498 (no biggie) and it was in Murray Hill, not Gramercy. Luckily, that meant 2nd Ave between 27th and 28th, and not 34th st at Midtown-Tunnel-you'll-never-sleep Drive, so that was fine as well.

Unfortunately, fate intervened against me. I agreed to a viewing time around 1 PM today not remembering that my boss gave me primo Yankees tickets for today's game. I slept in instead of going into the city at work time and kicked myself in the butt, because I tried but was unable to set up an earlier time. Broker said she was worried about that scary steam pipe explosion yesterday near Grand Central disrupting subway service; I was worried about making it to Yankee Stadium in time to snap awesome shots of batting practice. I got my awesome photos, but I missed out on the apartment - we agreed to meet after the game, but by that time there was already an application in. I snoozed, and I lost.

There were photos posted of the apartment on CL today, and I saw that the kitchen wasn't super and the floors were old. But I am still disappointed to have missed out on a decent apartment in the location I want. And the Yankees lost.

I've been lurking at the Wired New York forums for the past month or so. The moving to NYC topic has some excellent Q&A and a broker who posts a lot has advice that I alternately find helpful/amusing/dissuading. That board is a constant reminder that I am not just competing against New Yorkers for apartments - with the Euro beating the dollar nearly 2 to 1 there are a lot of them to contend with, not to mention the domestic transplants. I'm starting to wonder if NYC's vacancy rate will ever rise above 5% again.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Redemption Song

Since I love to get kicked while I'm down, I tried the broker thing again today. My thinking was - can it possibly suck as bad as it did yesterday? I pulled my act together last night - I actually got out my last two months' bank statements, located my pay stubs, and counted my savings again.

More Craigslist surfing yielded another gem - a 1 BR for $1467 in Gramercy (hark, the angels sing). Way too good to be true, but worth a shot. I found it at 11 last night, and in my politeness I responded to the CL email instead of just calling. This morning, with no word back, I called at 8 AM from the train (thanks ATT Wireless, for only dropping my call twice in between Greenwich and Port Chester). With still no word, I tried one last time from my office at 9:30 and actually got through. The broker seemed nice enough - yes it's available, no I can't meet you now, getting keys this afternoon, etc. Unfortunately I never heard from Nancy again...I did try calling her back and got the dreaded "voicemail full." This is what happens in a city with 1% vacancy.

I perused Craigslist some more, and found nothing special in my range, so I went to the dream section. One caught my eye - this time the brokers were NYC Dwellers, whom I'd never heard of but had detailed listings with complete information and good pictures. I checked their site and found a large alcove studio in Gramercy for $1625 - near the top of my range but still perfectly doable. I called, spoke to a nice guy who asked me to come to their office - damn. But I felt game, and was encouraged when I found out that they were less than 7 blocks away from work.

By the way, I find it amusing that many NYC broker offices are in small loft spaces, like the closet studios they show me. Just a receptionist's desk, a bench for us poor kids to sit on, and a clump of computers and phones. If broker's offices were an ad, it would say "High ceilings, lots of windows, a real city charmer."

I filled out another form and ended up talking to a woman. She was nice, and with my more open attitude we clicked. I was hopeful, until she saw my salary. "I have to be honest with you," she said in an accent from somewhere European, "I can show you the apartment. And you will fall in love with it. And I will help you fill out the application. And then the management company will reject you, because you see for them it is all about the money, and they are going to take one look at your salary and say no way." Ugh. My only regret in taking a job at a start-up - I took a pay cut of nearly $10,000 to get in. That $10,000 would be very helpful right now. But she wasn't mean about it; she told me she had been in the exact same situation and I believed her.

She told me I needed to find a guarantor. Easier said than done, I retorted. If I had a guarantor, why would my budget be only $1650? I know, she said, but this is how it is in NYC. Amen, sister. We talked some more and I blurted out a brainstorm of mine - ask my bosses at work to be my guarantors. She nodded and said she has seen it before. I have a review next week - wish me luck convincing them. With a card and a wave, I was off. A nice broker - who would have thought?

Monday, July 16, 2007

You can't spell broker without...

...Broke! My curiosity got the best of me - I HAD to see what the brokers had to offer. It started on Friday, when I spotted a $1650 studio in Gramercy. Just a peek wouldn't hurt, right? But the broker sniffed me out, asking if I made 40 times the rent (hmm, well my budget is $1650/month in New York City, so what do YOU think?). When I was honest, she told me she had to talk to the management company and that was the end of Ardor Real Estate. I really hope the good karma comes my way soon.

All weekend I checked Craigslist, and it seems like a lot of stuff in my range is becoming available. It's making me antsy. This morning when I got into work Best Apartments had listed a $1550/mo 1-bedroom in Chelsea - holy shit! I called immediately, about 4 hours after the listing had been posted. But again, since I'm not in a rush yet, when the asked me when I wanted to view it, I said after work. Big mistake, because of course by the time I trudged my tired ass all the way from Flatiron to Best Apts' Upper West Side offices at 6:30 PM, the apartment was gone. Or maybe it never existed. Brokers are hard to read, and the bait and switch is prevalent.

I'll give the broker credit on one thing - I initially refused to sign the disclaimer saying that I understood that broker's fees are typically 15% of the annual rent, etc. because I wanted to negotiate. She told me in response that broker's fees are always negotiable and no one can legally say otherwise. Cool. Too bad she followed it up with the usual broker dissuasion - I'll never find a doorman in my budget (conceivable), I'll never find an elevator (inconceivable), I may have to pay an extra 2 months security (if I could afford an extra $3400 up front, why wouldn't I just raise my monthly budget??!?). Blargh. All this topped by the fact that the apartment I actually wanted to see was gone. But of course, there IS an apartment for $50 more a month in the same building. The broker's broker-in-training told me she'd call me back with a time to view tonight - it's after 10 Connecticut time, not sure what time that is in NYC.

I get it, I'm not a priority. I won't let the brokers get me down. I have friends who pay under $1500/month for decent apartments, and friends who pay under $1700/month for nice ones. I know they are out there (and rent-stabilized!). And I have the friends who pay $3500/mo for a beautiful place, but they are a couple and I am a single. Marriage of convenience, anyone? Actually, scratch that. I don't want any more roommates.


As in, apartments by owner. I don't actually plan to move into the city until October 1, but I tend to be impatient and I want to see what's out there. I know I'm at a disadvantage because of my salary - my salary which would easily buy a house in many places but might not even yield a closet in New York City. That's ok, this is my choice.

With a budget of about $1650/mo, or $1700 if utilities are included, I should still be able to get a decent sized studio or maybe even a 1-bedroom in Manhattan. I feel a bit stubborn, if I'm moving to the city, I don't want to do Brooklyn and be a half hour away from work or friends still. My dream is to land in Gramercy, Union Square or Flatiron. I'm also cool with Chelsea, the Upper East Side or even Midtown East.

Like many, I want to avoid the broker thing. This means Craigslist is my best friend and at times my worst enemy. And Backpage. Looking for that needle in the hay...avoiding the abundant scams. Right now, anything without a definitive location (cross streets, etc.) is out, as is anything without at least one photo. Vague descriptions about high ceilings and big windows mean kitchenettes and no closets. Broker with no fee listings make me wary.

It's so tempting to jump to an "all apartments" search. Seems like the brokers get the best listings, and why not? They do the leg work so owners and management companies don't have to. So I have to play my own broker - I do the legwork now.

First stop - Upper East Side, $1575 and $1595/Studios. Deals seem to be abundant up here. Friends tell me this area has peaked with people in their 20s like me and the social scene has moved downtown. I was disappointed that it took me almost 20 minutes to get from 23rd St to 86th St on the 4-5-6 line, mostly because it was another 20 minutes of walking to get to the two apartments at 83rd and 1st Ave. The apartments were not horrible, but there was no way that they would work for me. Each was probably around 200 sq. feet with a stove/fridge kitchenette and a bathroom from the 50s. No air conditioning, a one-room insanity maker.

Next stop - Financial District, $1650, Lg Studio. I hadn't considered it before and after the trip, I knew why. The area is great during the day - hotties in their Wall Street suits and city officials, but come nighttime the place is a ghost town. I got lost on the way on the streets with names instead of numbers. Wouldn't want to have to make that walk at 3 AM. The apartment was decent - bright, with plenty of windows, but an odd layout that left little usable space. I couldn't figure out where my full-sized bed would fit, so it was out.

Final stop - Midtown East, $1575 alcove studio. A broker/no fee apartment on 57th and Lex. Beautiful studio! The full kitchen had a dishwasher, and the charming black-white subway tiles matched the cute bathroom. The hardwood floors were nice and the apartment was a decent size - I'd guess around 450 sq. feet with an alcove that could easily be divided into a bedroom. The good was quickly washed away though, when the broker revealed the true deal - $1575 with a broker fee of $2500 or $1700/mo. With utilities not included, it was out of my reach. As the final insult, the broker told me I wasn't qualified anyway because I don't make 40 times the rent. Right - it would be way better if I made $63,000 but had $20,000 in debt.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Moving to save my insanity

I've spent the last month looking for an appropriate topic, and I think I've honed in on the king of the hill, top of the crop, A number ooooonnnneeee - yes, you guessed it, moving to New York City.

It's not like I live that far - Norwalk, Conn., - but the commute is killing me. I'm not insane enough to drive, but I am insane enough to take Metro North. The train has its good points - the monthly ticket is a great value, I can sleep, and the train runs often enough that I don't live by a schedule. But there are the cons too - terrible overcrowding, random train cancellations and delays, the other weirdos on the train, and the lack of etiquette.

Blessed with a steady, wonderful job in Flatiron, and a deep-set independent streak, I'm ready to move down to good ol' NYC. That's right, I'm leaving the boy, the roommates, the Hunk (my SUV) and possibly my furniture behind!

I'll elaborate over the coming days, weeks and months. But for now, suffice it to say that I am excited. And a little bit scared.