Sunday, July 29, 2007

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!

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