Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The good ol' bait and switch

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...still shame on you! Every time I think to myself "Oh, this broker sounds kinda nice, maybe she/he won't try to fuck me" someone should come out of the woodwork and smack me upside the head. Because 100% of the time a broker will give you a bum deal.

One thing I've noticed going through the by-owner apartment rental section on Craigslist is that there's a surprising number of broker listings in there. AKA miscategorized. And no matter how often I flag them (and I'm sure I'm not the only one flagging them) they never seem to get removed. The end result being that probably about 1/3 of the listings I contact are actually broker's fee listings cleverly disguised as by owner listings.

So earlier today when I saw two no-fee listings in the by-owner section I should have known better than to respond. I must be masochistic though because respond I did. One was a $2195/1 BR and one was a $2295/1 BR. Both listed by the same broker. I spoke with him soon after and got the details.

I should have known the bait and switch was coming when his first questions to me were "How do you feel about a basement apartment? How about a 6th floor walkup?" Ugh. I rejected the basement but said I was willing to consider the 6th floor. No one above me sounds great right about now (right, crazy loud upstairs neighbor?). Then I got the usual rundown -- what are you looking for (1 BR preferably), how much (up to $2500 but the closer to $2000 the better), and when are you looking to move in (oh ya know, whenever). Then he asked about broker's fees and I know I clearly said "I am not willing to pay a broker's fee. Of any kind."

Suddenly the apartments that I called about were no longer options. Instead the broker wanted to show me 2 1 BRs he had. One on Sullivan in between Spring and Broome, one on Mott between Prince and Houston. Both areas I am down with so I said OK. I made two mistakes: I didn't ask how much either was and I didn't ask how much security was expected on either. This was very dumb on my part. Because the broker may as well have said "Pay attention to my hands. Notice there is nothing up my sleeve. Yet in the next hour we shall go from no fee to a 15% of the annual fee! Moohoohahahahaha...."

The pledge: I met him at the Sullivan apartment. He gave me the actual address (and bragged about it, as though he had to proove that he was human and not broker scum). It was really, really close to work. As in I could see my work's windows from the front of the apartment building. It didn't really bother me too much. I was more worried about the location -- the building was on the end of Sullivan right against the Avenue of the Americas. Street noise would be an issue. One of the tenants came out to put out some garbage so I asked him about the building. He had nothing but good things to say which was nice.

The broker came up shortly after and seemed nice enough. Not smarmy. He took me inside to a 2nd floor 1 BR. It was cute. It was a gut renovation and had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. A year ago I would have shit my pants at the washer/dryer. But now I'm kinda like 'damn that is taking up valuable real estate in this apartment.' The kitchen did have a dishwasher which made me drool. The layout wasn't too bad. You walked in to the living room with the kitchen and the bathroom off to the right. The bathroom was a nice size and had a full tub and a cool sink. To the left was the bedroom. The bedroom was OK. My bed and maybe a small dresser would have fit. But the closet space was disappointing. Smaller than what I have now and only one closet in the apartment. I wasn't sold.

I asked the rent and found it was $2350/mo (ahem, notice how this is already $50/mo more than the most expensive apartment I had called about?). I balked and the broker said he wanted to help me out by negotiating a rate I was happy with, like $2200/mo. Well, that's a bit better. Then he mentioned broker's fee something-something and I must have made such a look of sheer horror that he suggested we move on to the next place.

The turn: On the way from Sullivan to Mott the broker started talking about how long he's had a relationship with the owners and blah blah he tries to sign long term tenants yadda yadda so he doesn't earn very much money in fees sob sob so he works very hard to earn his fee. I wanted to say "by doing what, opening a fucking door or two?" but instead I replied, "Well, if there's one thing I can say it's that I have been looking for a couple of months now and I've noticed that owners and brokers alike have already become more flexible in their demands because of the market downturn." I was pretty proud of myself. He retorted that his apartments never stay on the market very long so he wouldn't have to do that, but I just shot him a skeptical look and dropped it. He spent the rest of the time talking about how quickly the apartments would rent and how if I wasn't ready to move rightthissecond I should just not move at all. Whatever, dude. Is that broker code for don't waste my time? Because if it is, go fuck yourself. If I spend 1 hour with you, that means you cost $66/minute if I pay your frickin fee. That's more than any phone wench I know of.

The prestige: The apartment on Mott was actually on the corner of Houston which again meant road noise. While the Sullivan building was probably 15 units or less, this was an elevator/walkup hybrid with probably closer to 30. The apartment was on the 5th floor and we took this weird little elevator up. It was kind of cool, kind of claustrophobic in there. As the broker opened the door to the apartment he told me they were going to list this apartment for $2395/mo but again he was willing to negotiate...the rent but not his 15% of the annual rent fee. Whoa, what?? How did we get to that amount of fee from no broker's fee. He said he had to go check out another apartment so he left me alone to walk around.

I immediately texted T for advice. No reply. I walked around the apartment. Like Sullivan St it was gut renovated and had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. The layout was slightly better with two closets but they were single door and would still be less closet space then I have now. The bathroom was nice with the same sink as Sullivan St. There were no windows in the living area which was weird. The bedroom had two windows and the top portion of the wall was actually a window to let light filter into the living area. Still, no windows in the living area was kind of weird. It was a reminder that I had neighbors on both sides plus above and below.

I did some quick calculations in my head. Let's say this was a by-owner apartment going for $2200/mo. If the owner required a 2-month security that would mean $4400 inaccessible to me for the entire time I lived there but theoretically coming back to me when I moved out. If the apartment required a 1-month security deposit plus a 15% broker's fee for a 1-year lease that would add up to $6160, $3960 of which would go to the broker. No fucking way. Negotiation ahoy!

I started talking money with the broker. We talked about getting the rent down from $2395/mo and his fee. I told him that I wasn't really comfortable paying more than one month as a fee as an opening point. The grimace on his face was palpable and I couldn't help but smirk. Since he had blindsided me with the broker's fee I blindsided with him with some news of my own: my deposit money wouldn't be available to me until November 15. At that point he totally cut off the deal. Which was actually OK with me. Neither apartment was The One. They were decent but far from perfect and while $2200/mo would have been OK, I honestly felt they were overpriced.

He uncerimoniously dismissed me from the apartment at that point (no handshake or anything, jerk). I walked down the stairs, not wanting to get stuck in the elevator. I saw a reply text from T -- "Get the fuck out of there now. Bad deal." Amen. I will be interested to see if these apartments do in fact rent right away or if they sit on the market for a bit. Seems like everything else is sitting tight, just waiting for a renter.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Timing is everything and procrastination is key

OK hounds, go find me the perfect apartment!

Timing is the thing that frazzles me the most about Manhattan apartment hunting. I am of two minds when it comes to timing: some things I wait until the last second on, like when I was a journalist I just couldn't write a story until there were only a couple of hours before deadline; some things -- like moving -- I like to take my time with and plan out every last detail. I start prepping 2 or 3 months in advance.

Apartment hunting is tilted towards the procrastinator in NYC. Really, you shouldn't start hunting until 15 days before you want to move. Which is ridiculous to me! Who can plan a move in 15 days?!?? (Probably more like 13 once you sign the lease and all that stuff.) Find movers, get boxes, pack, in less than two weeks? Just the idea kills me. Imagine if your lease was up November 1 and you didn't start looking until October 15. It would freak me out. What if you don't find a place? I really think this pattern tilts in broker and management company's favors. Just another factor that leads renters to accept less than awesome for their apartment. At some point it becomes a matter of finding anyplace rather than THE place.

For the majority of apartments you really cannot expect a lead time of more than 21 days at most. If you're not planning to move until Dec. 1 it's way too early for you to be looking. All you can do is get an idea of what is available in your price range. The longer an apartment stays vacant the more money the owner loses, so the excuse you'll get is that someone else will come along who can move in sooner.

Slowly though, the glut is starting to appear and maybe the scales are tipping in the renter's favor. A few apartments I've seen but passed on have sat on the market for close to a month and the price is dropping. In fact, I'm pretty sure the cute 1 BR I saw on Sullivan St just dropped from $2495/mo to $2295/mo (still a bit too much in my opinion, but getting closer!). I'm also starting to notice more lead time in the ads. Apartments that won't be free until Dec. 1 or even Jan. 1 are starting to pop up slowly but surely.

I'm not really sure how much negotiation latitude this opens up just yet. This past weekend, management reps and brokers without fees were still rejecting my requests for a free month of rent. But some of them have started to say things like 'I think we could negotiate them down a little bit on the rent.' That kind of leverage has been missing for far too long and I look forward to its return. $100 or $200/mo off the rent may not seem like a lot but that's up to $2400 a year. That's like 2000 Wendy's double stacks. (I just had one this weekend, and man they are tiny in NYC! Way smaller than I remember them being in Connecticut. My stomach is still thanking me today.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Halloween...of superheroes!

As a kid, I honestly only remember trick or treating once or twice. I definitely remember wearing the same pink panther costume until I was like 10 but that was just to school. Once year I was a poodle skirt 50's gal. And then in college I was always a sexy devil. Boring old me. Last year I was Pebbles from the Flinstones. That was pretty fun. I was also very sick as I remember. That was not so fun.

So I was pretty damn excited when T asked me to be his date to a Halloween party up in Connecticut this weekend. The theme is superheroes and villains which totally means that I get to extend the Summer of Superheroes a bit longer! (I am not letting go of it. Maybe ever.) I have met the couple friends throwing the party before and they are very cool. The wife is an art dealer and the husband used to work for Marvel comics. Now he works on graphic novels I think.

When T called, he said I was the first of his "many, many girlfriends" that he thought of because I am a nerd. And it's true. I know a surprising amount of trivia for someone who has never read a comic book. My first question was naturally, "Well, do we have to go as characters from the Marvel world? Or can we branch out to DC too?" T just laughed and I know he was rolling his eyes at me. "Roxy, you're killing me," he said. But he still wanted my ideas. His criteria was that he didn't want to look dumb. My criteria was that damn I don't know how I feel about spandex. I was trying to think of costumes that wouldn't require too much. I gave up on that quickly. I can't think of a single female character that wouldn't need leggings or something skintight.

He offered him as Magneto and me as Mystique, which would have gotten a slap had he been here in person. I countered with him as the Scarecrow and me with a bat to fix his straw stuffing. He challenged me to come up with something better. He retorted was him as Mr. Fantastic and me as the Invisible Woman, which I have to give him props for. Quick-witted bastard, that one!

Here's what I came up with: him as Venom (he rejected Spidey as too emo) and me as Black Cat. Him as Daredevil and me as Elektra. Him as Captain America and me as Wonder Woman. Him as the Joker and me as Harley Quinn. Him as Batman and me as Catwoman. Him as one of the Ninja Turtles and me as April O'Neill! Him as Cyclops and me as Jean Grey (I thought this one would be kinda cool -- he could do the Cyclops version from the X-Men movies and just wear red-tinted sunglasses with a leather jacket. Alas, he said no.)

I think we have finally settled on him as Gambit and me as Rogue. It was easy for T. He has a long trench that will work great. Then all we needed was a Under Armor top and some baggy jeans. I got him a bandana in case he wants to one and we tied rope on a broom to look like a bo staff. We even found these cool light up cards he can use if we wants to be fully propped. He's currently working on his Nawlins French accent. It's gonna be really tough for me. I have no clue how to pull of that green and gold number Rogue wears. And I'll need a wig. I have the tiny jacket and gloves though. The chances of me successfully pulling off a southern accent are slim. I am excited to see what everyone else does.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dear Roxy, tell me about living in NYC

I've been getting a lot of questions from friends, friends of friends and the like about moving down here lately. So I thought I'd compile the recent ones into a post. This time around, questions about how much you need to make, where to get the most space for your money and what a car fanatic should do.

Q -- What's it like living in NYC?
No joke, it's awesome. There is no other city in the world like it. You hear a different accent and language with each person you pass. The food, the shopping and the culture are unmatched. New York may not be as old as the cities in Europe and the East but it's unique in that the immigrants who've landed in America have taken neighborhoods and made them their own. No where else can you feel like you've gotten a taste of China, Italy, Ireland or Russia all in the same day.

That being said it's challenging to live here. A lot of people come to NYC and find out they aren't tough enough to survive here. If you don't know anyone here you will spend the majority of your first year alone. It takes a long time to make friends here. There are people everywhere and even your apartment won't feel like a true escape. If you need quiet or alone time you will not be happy in Manhattan. Everything is very expensive here -- food, rent, utilities, clothes, going out and the like. Your college dorm room will look like a mansion compared to your first NYC apartment. There's a me-first attitude that pervades and it is very grating. You have to learn to rise above and find people with a similar like-water-off-a-duck's-back attitude. Once you make friends it's great. Having someone to live through all those only-in-NY-moments with you makes it all worth it.

The people here are great once you learn the nuances of New Yorkers. But coming from the South or Midwest is often difficult. You will find the people here rude. Life moves ridiculously fast here. Just prepare yourself. You can do it! If you can make it through the first year semi-happy, sane and still stuck on NYC you will be fine. If you're unhappy, I really recommend that you leave. If a you're not happy here after a year you will most likely never be happy here and it's not worth dealing with all the bullshit. Move on. Try Philly or Chicago; cities with a similar pace but a different zeitgeist.

Q -- Should I move to NYC now, or should I wait?
Depends. I advocate moving here now for just about anyone. I say wait if you're under 18, just got married or just had a kid. Moving here is such a huge change and you don't want to be facing more than one life change at a time.

Q -- Are rents coming down?
Not yet. There seem to be two schools of thought on the matter. The first school says that of course rents are going to come down because the people that lose their jobs are going to move out of NYC. The vacancy rate will rise and more apartments will be available leading to lower rents. The second school of thought is that some of the people who bought apartments will be forced to sell. Then they'll rent instead. That would actually make the rental market even more competitive than it is.

My personal guess is that in 6 months the rental market will have to start correcting. Regardless of the number of people renting, sales prices are starting to drop and if they drop below rental rates people will just start buying anyway. Also, many of the financial peeps have severance pay that is just starting to run out. They will start making moves now as their cushion is depleted. So however it happens rental rates should come down. Just a guess though.

Q -- Where can I get the most space for my money?
In one of the boroughs for sure. Many parts of Brooklyn are just as expensive as Manhattan these days. And Brooklyn is only convenient to Manhattan below 23rd St. So I'd suggest skipping it for Queens. If you work on the East side Queens is pretty convenient. Long Island City is expensive but Astoria, Woodlawn, Forest Hills and Jackson Heights all have decent-sized apartments for 20-40% less than a Manhattan apartment. Take note that subway trains are kind of iffy on the weekends into Manhattan from Queens. Do your research before you commit to a borough. There's also Long Island or Connecticut though I can't recommend either with a straight face. If you're moving to New York, move to New York!

If you work on the west side, I would consider New Jersey (much as it pains me to say so). The PATH trains are pretty reliable. There's also a ferry. Jersey City and Hoboken are pretty cool little cities and have amazing skyline views. Then again, it's still Jersey.

The Bronx has some nice neighborhoods. Riverdale and Pelham Bay are a couple off the top of my head. If you have a family this is one borough you should look at closely. Make sure to factor in commuting time though. For jobs in midtown or south, count on at least a 45-minute commute.

In Manhattan you may get lucky in the Financial District. But not too lucky -- think 500 sq foot studios; same size for 1 BRs and on from there. Spacious is a relative term in Manhattan.

Q -- What's the minimum annual salary I need to make to live in Manhattan?
In my opinion you need to make at least $50,000/year if you plan on living by yourself. With roommates I think you could slide by at $40,000/year. I know people who do it for less but it's not like they have a ton of spending money.

For one thing, most landlords require that you make at least 40x the rent in annual salary. So if you make $50,000/year you would qualify for monthly rent of up to $1250. I know of ZERO apartments in Manhattan for that price. Really the least I would expect to pay for a studio is $1550. Even if you have a guarantor paying anything more than 60% of your monthly income towards rent is asking for trouble, especially in today's economy. Do you really want to have no disposable income to buy things like clothes, movie tickets, books, drinks or dinner? That doesn't sound like a good way to live.

Think of it this way: making $100,000/year in NYC is like making $50,000/year anywhere else in the country. It's decent but you're by no means rich. There are people who make such ridiculously high salaries here that it's hard for the rest of us to keep up. And the city caters to the rich and not the rest. Them's the facts of life, bitches.

Q -- How much does it cost to move into the city?
If you're coming from the tri-state area expect to spend about $1200-$1700 on the move for a studio apartment worth of crap. If you're coming from east of the Mississippi put it around the $2000-$4000 range just for the movers and the truck. Further west you should budget anywhere from $2500 to $6000 for a studio apartment's worth.

Make sure you research your moving company very carefully. If you're coming from NY/CT/NJ/Mass I highly recommend Gentle Giant Movers. They did my move and two of my friends' moves and they are amazing. Incredibly dependable and honest, though a bit more expensive. Then again I'd rather pay an extra $250 to know that the movers will show up on time and take good care of my stuff. Anyway, out of state moves should be calculated based on weight rather than hourly cost. You should get a fixed bid contract -- you sign and agree to a price before the move. Remember to tip your movers!

Then there are the expenses once you get here. Some of your furniture is going to be too long, wide or just plain big for an NYC apartment. You will need to buy some new stuff adapted for vertical living.

If you plan on using a broker (sigh) to find an apartment expect to spend between $8,500 and $15,000 just to get into an apartment up to $2000/mo. That will cover: your first month's rent, your security deposit of one month, a broker's fee and a credit check or application fee. The broker's fee can range from one month's rent to 20% of the annual rent. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.

Q -- Should I live in a doorman building? and Why are doorman buildings so much more expensive?
Growing up, my Aunt lived in a doorman building. It was awesome -- his name was Oscar and he always gave me a piece of Hershey's chocolate when I came to visit. When I started looking for an apartment I thought a doorman was a deal breaker. They help you with groceries, they receive packages for you, they take care of your dry cleaning.

But the truth is a doorman shouldn't be a dealbreaker. True, doormen usually come in elevator buildings so if you want an elevator a doorman might be a byproduct. And it does suck trying to get a package sent to you via the UPS/FedEx/DHL trifecta. So you adjust. You get packages sent to your work. You learn to carry your own groceries or get them delivered. You take care of your own damn dry cleaning.

Doorman buildings are more expensive because the tenants combine to pay the doorman's salary. And you have to tip on top of that. In the end, the costs outweigh the benefits for most youngins.

Q -- I need to have a car. Where should I live?
Really? Really really? Because there's awesome services like Zipcar for when you absolutely have to drive. I heart Zipcar (95% of the time). You really don't need to own a car in Manhattan. And this is coming from a drive-aholic!! In Connecticut and Colorado I would drive just to drive. Gas was a lot cheaper then.

The public transportation in NYC is really good. Sure I bitch about it but it's way better by bus or subway then it would be by car. I can't tell you how many traffic jams I've sat in trying to get from the George Washington Bridge or one of the tunnels to my apartment. Hell, I somtimes take taxis home to the UES from Flatiron and it usually takes about 45 minutes vs. an 18-minute subway ride.

It's hard to park in Manhattan. Just about everything on the street is parallel parking. Parking garages are valet only and it costs about $20 per half hour. So good luck with that. They have weird rules like Alternate Side. Your car is 60% more likely to get broken into than around the rest of the county. Good luck with that too! Oh, and your insurance? Maybe better not to even talk about how high your rates will be.

If you absolutely cannot live without a car, try the Bronx. My car-owning friends say it's the best borough for cars.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

On picking a Manhattan neighborhood to live in know you're moving to NYC but have no idea which neighborhood to live in. Common tale. My friend D is strongly considering moving here from Dublin and asked me for advice on where to live. Where to even begin? What follows is my personal, non-expert takes on the nabes starting from the north and moving south:

A loose representation
of major NYC nabes.

Morningside Heights
110th St to 125th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant's Tomb, The Cloisters
Examples of mini-nabes within: Washington Heights
I'm not going to pretend like I know a ton about anything north of 125th St. I have a friend couple that lives up here on 118th st in a generously-sized 2 BR with a child. This area seems to be a mix of Columbia students and young families who needed more room than they could afford further south. As such, the nightlife is pretty thin. There are tons of festivals and street fairs, especially ones aimed towards children. There are lots of parks and communal gardens.

The rent up here tends to be cheaper than downtown but that's because it takes a good 30 minutes to get to midtown. One cool thing: the A line runs express from 125th straight to Columbus Circle. If you live and work on the west side that can be a life-saver.

Washington Heights is the area around the George Washington Bridge. This area contains the highest point in Manhattan, which is where George Washington and his troops camped out during the American Revolutionary War. The area is still gentrifying today. Which is a nice way of saying it's kind of a tough place. As a young single woman I would not want to live up there alone.

96th St (East Side) to the northern tip of the Island. 110th St in central Manhattan
Examples of landmarks within:
The Apollo, Harlem School of the Arts, El Museo del Barrio
Examples of mini-nabes within: Manhattanville, Spanish Harlem

Spanish Harlem is scary to me after dark, but I love the rest of Harlem. There are tons of beautiful deco buildings up there and I have been to "Showtime at the Apollo" several times. The food is amazing and there are parks a'plenty. The area from 110th St to 125th St on the East Side is probably my favorite. Apartments are cheaper than downtown but they are quickly catching up. The nightlife here is rumored to be great and there are plenty of weekend events.

It is not practical to live on the East side of Harlem if you work on the west side anywhere in Manhattan -- there is only one subway line (the 4/5/6) and the buses are slooooooow. I don't know much about the area west of 5th Ave. There are housing projects in Harlem but overall the neighborhood is pretty safe. Occasionally my friends who live up there have trouble getting a taxi after dark though. The area has a high immigrant population but established couples have been moving up there more recently.

Upper East Side
59th St to 96th St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Museum Mile, Bloomingdales, Gracie Mansion
Examples of mini-nabes: Lenox Hill, Yorkville, Carnegie Hill
I'm totally biased since I live here, but the Upper East Side rocks in so many ways. The area has a great mix of shopping (hello, Madison Ave) along with box stores. You're close to multiple parks (Central Park, Carl Schurz Park for example). The architecture is a mix of skyscrapers and brownstones. The 10021 zipcode is home to the richest New Yorkers but you can find OK deals on apartments if you are willing to live in a smaller apartment. Keep in mind that many buildings on this side are post-war which translates to thinner walls and ceilings. This area, along with the Upper West Side, is the safest area in Manhattan.

This area was the hot youngin area about 10 years ago. Now it's a lot of Park Ave mommies, their nannies, and older immigrant populations. Not as many youngins. Long Island & Connecticut transplants tend to end up here. This makes the area somewhat quieter and means the nightlife is pretty tame. With only one subway line (4/5/6) it's quite a crowded morning commute. Not that many people would know -- this is Towncar central.

Upper West Side
59th St to 110th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The Dakota, Lincoln Center, The Time Warner Center
Examples of mini-nabes: ?
The Upper West Side is where most of my friends with children live. It's slightly less expensive to buy here than on the Upper East Side. Plus the buildings are pre-war which theoretically means less noise than in post-war buildings. Like the East Side, there is a mix of skyscrapers and brownstones. Jersey transplants tend to live here.

Brunch is huge on the Upper West Side. There are tons of sidewalk cafés and the shopping is pretty good over here. Uptown has less nightlife than downtown but I have been to quite a few coffee shop events on the UWS. Like on the UES, apartments are small and if you're looking for a deal your best bet is a 5th floor walkup apartment. There are plenty of trains on this side -- the A/C, the B or the 1/2/3. Getting from the UWS to the UES is best accomplished by bus, though in nice weather it's a fun walk across Central Park. This is a fun neighborhood to have your first NYC apartment in.

Midtown East
42nd St to 59th St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
the Chrysler Building, Grand Central, the United Nations
Examples of mini-nabes: Turtle Bay, Sutton Place, Diamond District
If you're a fan of tall buildings, then Midtown should be your home. Skyscrapers galore. The East Side is home to many financial corporations, the Waldorf Astoria, great shopping on 5th Ave...the list goes on. Unfortunately, this area is pretty dead at night. Happy Hour is great and then everyone just leaves to go home or party elsewhere.

Another side effect of being in the land of sidescrapers are the tourists. If your patience for people standing in the middle of the sidewalk, walking aimlessly, stopping randomly or walking on the wrong side of the sidewalk is short DO NOT live here. Tourists everywhere. This is not a great area to have a dog in, in my opinion. There aren't really any parks. Then again, you do have areas like Tudor of the coolest city secrets. Rent is high in this area (unjustifiably, in my opinion) and the people who do live here are mostly 30-something yuppie professionals who sleep at home and that's it. All the trains come through here on their way from Queens downtown so there are multiple subway lines.

42nd St to 59th St, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within:
Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall
Examples of mini-nabes: Theatre District
You know how they call New York the City that Never Sleeps? This is the area they were talking about when they said that. I have a friend who works at 4 Times Square and I cannot take visiting his office. Even 30 floors up the lights are incredibly immersive. You just can't look away. Do people actually live in Midtown? I have my doubts. There are tons of hotels and office buildings here. It's full of tourist traps and shopping but I can't imagine trying to sleep there.

This area is full of landmarks but only one park I know of -- Bryant Park. Not a lot of green grass. Many TV studios are here. The very northern tip butts against Central Park. This area is filled with luxury residences. If you're very very very rich you could live there. For the rest of us, it's elsewhere that we call home.

Hell's Kitchen (aka Clinton)
42nd St to 59th St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Intrepid Museum, The Actors Studio
Examples of mini-nabes: ?
The Theatre District kind of runs over into Hell's Kitchen. This area is a lot better than it used to be but can still earn its hard-nosed reputation from time to time. There are plenty of nightclubs and hotspots in this area, plus the Daily Show and the Colbert Report film over here. I spent a great Cinco De Mayo over here.

Living wise, it's kind of a mixed bag. Rent deals can be found but I find this area to be very loud at night. Every time I had a band rehersal in someone's apartment it seemed to be in Clinton. The area seems to filled with actors, dancers, musicians and people who are regularly up until 2 AM. There are lots of warehouse-y type lofts over here but it's a pain to get anywhere because the only subway line is the A/C/E at 8th Ave. If your life is nearby this area could work but if you need to get further out I'd say skip it.

Gramercy/Murray Hill/Kips Bay
14th St to 42nd St, East Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The Morgan Library & Museum, Gramercy Park, Stuyvesant Town
Examples of mini-nabes: Stuyvesant Town
Real estate gets expensive the further south you go. Murray Hill and Kips Bay tend to be less expensive than fashionable Gramercy. In Murray Hill there are rent deals east of 3rd Ave but the tradeoff is you get tons of noise from the Midtown Tunnel. Down here most of the apartments are in high rises on the Avenues and Brownstones on the streets.

There are plenty of great restaurants and decent nightlife, especially along 3rd Ave. Gramercy is an expensive neighborhood in transition. Rentals here tend to be in co-ops rather than rental buildings. While I love Gramercy Park, I find the neighborhood to be lacking. Everything is just OK -- the shopping, the apartments, the nightlife. Stuyvesant Town was a well-known rent stabilized development that was bought by Tishman Speyer, who promptly ruined it and drove out the tenants so it could charge ridiculous rents (how's that going, Tish?). The closer to 14th St you get, the more luxury buildings you will find. As with the rest of the East Side, the 4/5/6 is your only real subway option, though there is also the L which runs along 14th St.

14th St to 42nd St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
The High Line, Madison Square Garden, The Empire State Building
Examples of mini-nabes: The Garment District, Art Gallery District
Chelsea...pretty buildings...pretty hip...pretty expensive. The neighborhood has an incredibly diverse mix of residents and has some amazing nightlife. If you want to party til the wee hours, this may be the neighborhood for you. There's a unique mix of luxury living and cheap apartments that are no bigger than a closet. Your money will not go very far in terms of space in Chelsea. 200 sq feet is about average for a studio.

7th Ave is known as Fashion Ave in the mid-30s to 42nd St with good reason. Plenty of fashion warehouses are here, and there are tons of sample sales. You can do just about anything, from golf to shopping, at Chelsea Piers. The closer you get to 14th St the denser the crowds and the smaller the living space.

Flatiron/Union Square
14th St to 34th St, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within:
Union Square Park, One Madison Ave, the Flatiron Building
Examples of mini-nabes: these pretty much are mini-nabes themselves
The rents are high but the neighborhoods are great! Union Square is a fun NYU hangout area with an awesome Green Market and good shopping. Flatiron is kind of a weird neighborhood. 5th and 6th Ave would be fun to live off of but Madison Ave is kind of a dead zone. I have viewed a few apartments in the area but find it odd that there aren't really any grocery stores in Flatiron. Rents are quite high -- you are mostly paying for views of either the Empire State Building or the Chrysler Building. High-rises galore. One of my favorite bars -- 230 5th -- is in Flatiron, and my last job was on 5th Ave at 21st St. My old office was in Union Square and I have a soft spot in my heart for the area. Union Square Park is great and is a hub for subways. The N/R/Q/W, the L, and the 4/5/6 all stop there.

Like Chelsea, the apartments tend to be tiny unless you can afford a luxury residence. You also have to deal with a lot of night noise from the college students out and about. But if you don't want to live in the Village, this area is a nice alternative.

East Village, Greenwich Village and West Village
Houston St. to 14th St

Examples of landmarks within:
Washington Square Park, Tompkins Square Park, Cooper Union
Examples of mini-nabes: Meatpacking District, NoHo, Alphabet City
I will never understand the appeal of living in the Village. The area has tons of character and unique buildings but it is always loud and crowded. As such, my knowledge of the area is limited. The Meatpacking District has many fancy restaurants and cobblestone streets. The East Village has NYU students up the wazoo while the West Village has a very liberal reputation. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Rents have dropped a bit in the village in the last two years but it is by no means cheap. Everyone I know who has lived in the village has had: 1 - roaches; 2 - mice; or 3 - both. You're more likely to find a garden apartment with a backyard down here but you're also more likely to find a shower in your kitchen. If you want to be in one of the social and cultural epicenters, then you should live in the village. As long as you can take the noise.

Soho & Nolita
Canal St to Houston, Middle of the Island
Examples of landmarks within: ?
Examples of mini-nabes: these are mini-nabes
Soho (South of Houston) and Nolita (North of Little Italy) comprise less than 50 square blocks but they are perhaps the biggest neighborhoods, reputation wise. And I am learning that these reputations are well-earned. Filled with shorter buildings and cobblestone streets, the area is reminiscient of Europe. Some blocks have bars, some blocks have shopping and some are quite cute and quiet. Almost every subway line converges in the area, making trips uptown easier.

Unfortunately, the rents here are ridiculously high. I'm looking in this area for my next apartment and it's been disheartening. You get very little space for the money and many of the buildings are older. It's the classic tradeoff: less space for a great location. The good news is that it's cheaper than Tribeca. The bad news is, that's not saying much. If you are not picky about how your apartment is laid out and if you don't mind living in one tiny room you may have luck. But if you like the shower to be in the bathroom with your toilet and sink...well, it's much more expensive.

Lower East Side
Brooklyn Bridge to Canal St
Examples of landmarks within: Manhattan/Brooklyn Bridges, City Hall, Chatham Square
Examples of mini-nabes: Chinatown, Little Italy
The food is great and the rent is cheaper than any of the surrounding areas. Welcome to the Lower East Side. Little Italy is of course famous for the food, but there is also lots of cheap touristy shopping. Chinatown is the next hot spot in my opinion. It's slowly transitioning to youngins who can't afford the neighborhoods nearby. Travel is relatively easy and you can walk to Soho, the Villages or Union Square.

The area can be dicey late at night but it's mostly safe. Every court you could ever want or need is in the area, and if you get married here you'll make a trip to City Hall for your marriage license. The population is diverse and it can be eerily quiet at night. There are a surprising number of skyscrapers. It's difficult to navigate the area by car, but by bike it's quite fun.

Chambers St to Canal St, West Side
Examples of landmarks within:
Woolworth Building, Washington Market Park, PS 234
Examples of mini-nabes: this is a mini-nabe
Tribeca (triangle below Canal St.) is another trendy neighborhood, though its hype is starting to slow. Between this place and Soho you will see many celebrities (though you'd better ignore them, this is NYC after all). This area was very industrial and has been converted into huge, ridiculously expensive living areas. If I'm in the mood for a good laugh I'll cruise Craigslist's apartment listings for the area. It's so expensive it will make a normal person like me cry.

There are a few subway lines -- A/C/E and 1/2/3 -- and slowly the area is starting to get more infrastructure. Groceries and such. The schools down here are famously great. Most people who live down here seem to be rich familes and rock stars. If you're lucky and rich enough to rent down here I am pretty jealous.

Financial District
Tip of the Island to Chambers St/Brooklyn Bridge
Examples of landmarks within:
World Trade Center, Wall St, Castle Clinton
Examples of mini-nabes: Battery Park City
Thanks to the market crash, this area will probably see a rise in vacancy. Battery Park is pretty awesome and you get great views of the Statue of Liberty. The buildings down here are all tall skyscrapers wrapped in glass. Construction of the new World Trade Center slowly progresses. Unemployed white collar employees drown their sorrows on Stone St.

I always heard this area was dead at night but I have to disagree. The Whitehall/Stone/Pearl St. area has quite a few bars and during the summer picnic tables line the streets. Even before the crash the rents were lower down here. You get a bit more space for your money but the tradeoff is that it takes a long time to get uptown -- about 30 minutes to midtown. Then again, Century 21 is down here.

If anything in this post is incorrect, please leave a comment and I will update. Again, some of this information is my best guess.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Um, where is the shower?

I've seen a few more apartments this week. All were pretty interesting in their own way.

I had to go through a broker to see the first one, though it was no-fee. This one was a guy from Halstead. They're pretty reputable as far as real estate firms go in the city. My experience was neutral.

The first place I saw was on Mott. The building had a cute entrance though the first door had no lock on it. It just swung open like any shop door would. Not exactly secure. The apartment was on the 4th floor of the walk-up. I was happy to notice that there was only 1 neighbor on the floor and we would not have any common walls. The broker opened the apartment, which was pretty damn cute. The $2400/mo Jr 1 BR's door opened straight into the kitchen, which separated the living area from the bedroom. It even had a dishwasher! I was bothered by the medium-stained cabinets mixed with black appliances but that's a quibble. We checked out the bathroom, which was decent. It had subway tiles and had been recently renovated, though I was disappointed that there was just a pedestal sink with no storage vanity. Luckily there was enough room to put in a small shelving unit.

Back in the apartment, I took a look at the living area and immediately burst out laughing. It was tiny. It was a long room so I could potentially have an office area and a living area. But what about my bed? "Where's the rest of it?" I asked the broker, ready to leave. He waved me back towards him. A door I thought was the closet was actually a decent-sized bedroom. Because there was no window it couldn't officially be called a bedroom. It easily doubled the size of the apartment (that wasn't saying much though, it was about 250 sq. feet total). Suddenly I was willing to consider it again. The closet was outside the bedroom which was odd. But it was California-closetized which was nice. I took a closer look at the living area and its two large windows. And that's when I saw the view: a cemetary. "Well, at least it will be quiet!" the broker joked. Ignoring the creepy view, the apartment was overpriced in my opinion. $2100/mo would have been more appropriate. So I passed.

Next was a studio at Elizabeth and Houston. This one was in an elevator building. Nice foyer. The apartment was on the 5th floor. It was about 375 sq. feet and had three large windows. The kitchen was kind of older and I noticed the floor was pitched a bit near the walls. But it had two huge closets and a large bathroom with lots of storage. It was pretty appealing at $2300/mo, especially when I saw the fitness center and laundry room in the basement. So I asked about incentives -- a free month to be exact. But the only incentive was no fee. Lame. Then I crossed paths with another girl who had just seen the place. She was turning in an application. I took one as well but wasn't sold on the place.

The broker wanted to show me one more apartment on Mulberry. He dropped me off at a coffee shop to fill out an application for the $2300/mo studio. But I didn't want to fill out the application. The rent was too high. So I grabbed a coffee and told him as much when he returned. He tried to pressure me into filling out the application and I got mad. I told him I wanted to look around more and he finally backed down. The super for the Mulberry apartment wasn't around so we parted ways.

Today I saw an apartment owned by the same company as the best apartment I've seen so far on Sullivan St. In fact the listing said the $1825/mo studio was on the same block and I got really excited. I was also skeptical of what $1825 would yield in Soho, since almost nothing I've seen has been below $2000/mo.

Turns out not much. First of all, the apartment wasn't on Sullivan; it was on Thompson. Secondly it was $1900/mo, not $1825. Third, it was ridiculously tiny. I couldn't even measure it accurately because it was laid out so wonky. It was on the 3rd floor of a walkup with neighbors on either side. I knew it would be tiny but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. The entry was a long hallway that opened into one itty bitty room. On one side of the room was a kitchen with a mini-stove and mini-fridge and two cabinets. The other side was the living/bedroom area, if you could even call it that. Those two areas combined measured about 150 sq. feet. Teeny tiny. I opened what I thought was a closet (again) to find a toilet and sink.

There was a guy viewing the place as the same time as me, and he said, "Um, where's the shower?" My eyes were wide. Where was the shower?? It was in the kitchen of course! I know that isn't unusual in Europe, but, well, this isn't Europe. This is the 2nd apartment I've seen like this. All I could do was laugh. Then the woman showing the apartment shushed me! "Don't influence him, maybe he likes it," she said. He just winked at me. I think like is far too generous a word.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Retail therapy? Or retail will land me in therapy

I'm kind of strapped for cash right now and it's totally my own fault. I had used my credit cards a lot in the past 3 months thinking I would be getting a Christmas bonus (haha). But since I just started a new job I'm not eligible for their bonus program this year. And though I am making a much higher salary now...well...I dug the hole much deeper than I should have. I was lucky enough to get several job offers, yet the stress of the search made me more of a shopaholic than usual.

So if I want to move I need an infusion of capital. With the holidays coming up I decided my best bet was to get a retail job after work and on the weekends. Anything to keep me from spending money. Back in high school I worked at J. Crew during the holidays and enjoyed it.

During our great dinner on Thursday night this was the only thing T was critical of. "Roxy, remember when you worked two full-time jobs right after you graduated from college? That was pretty miserable. And weren't you just working a lot of overtime at your last job?" he asked. "Well, yes. But at my last job I didn't get paid for the overtime. Now I will get paid for these hours."

T remained dubious. "You're like the villain in a Bond movie. You come up with these elaborate, dramatic plans but have you considered the reality?" He ticked off things I would miss TV shows (meh, I'm not really watching TV so much these days anymore anyway), meeting up with friends (hopefully we could coordinate social butterflies to days off) and our faux romantic dinners (temporary hiatus?). I was admittedly being stubborn. "An extra $200 or $300 a week could make a big difference," I said. Besides, I think it would be fun. I really enjoyed putting together outfits for people and helping people pick out clothing for themselves or as gifts. It gave me a sense of satisfaction.

It's been a really long time since I worked retail. I started going around to places a couple of weeks ago. After some consideration I decided working near day job would be easiest. So I went to the J. Crew in Soho first. I thought that having previously worked there would give me a leg up. But all they had me do was fill out an application and then they told me someone would be in touch. It was really disappointing. They didn't do an on-spot interview or anything. And I looked really sharp! BFF M worked there a couple of years back and told me that they were really stringent with their hiring in the city. I just sighed.

I spent most of a Saturday walking around and applying to a few other places -- Crate & Barrel, Bloomingdales, Steve Madden. All places where I knew the products. But again, all the places did was take my application and say someone would be in touch. It was pretty disheartening!

This week I went to Anthropologie and had a much better experience. I went during their open hire time on Thursday in their Soho store. After I filled out the application I met with a manager for a quick interview. It seemed to go well and I made it to part 2, which was filling out an online survey. The manager said it would be a couple of weeks before I hear back. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Yesterday an envelope came from J. Crew. I knew it was bad -- very thin. It was like college application time all over again! I opened it to find a form rejection letter. On the one hand, at least they took the time to tell me no. On the other hand, the letter said "we could not find a match for your skillset." Oh man. Talk about a slap in the face! They never even talked to me. And my day job is all about dealing with people! Yet for whatever reason I guess I am no longer J. Crew employee material. I guess they haven't looked in my closet lately.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hugs all around

When I was in college I worked at the university's radio station. We were a pretty tight knit group, especially my freshman and sophomore years. Every time we came or went, we'd give each other hugs. I have forgotten a surprising amount of things from college (scary since it was not at all long ago) but that has always stuck out in my head. It was like that Dave Matthews Band video. Hugs for everyone. I miss it.

Maybe a bit more now because I'm feeling a bit under-hugged. My grand online dating experiment over the summer was a total failure...though I do have some awesome party stories now. I am a spoiled brat who wants to live in Soho but probably can't afford it. It's making me a bit grumpy. Life has felt mostly great but maybe a bit unfair lately. Being strong and tough and independent all the time gets tiring occasionally and right now I am friggin' exhausted. I would like to be in Hawaii on the beach. Not an option though.

So it's time for a call out to my sometimes on but mostly off-again man T, who is somehow always there for me. My faux romantic date. I always call him at the most in-opportune times and this week I somehow managed to hit him while he was on a man-cation with some buds. Have I ever mentioned what a lucky bastard T is? He's a former finance guy who retired at like 30 and along with 5 friends was an occasional house-flipper during the boom. Now I'm not even sure what he does. Travels a lot. Bartends on occasion. When we saw "The Dark Knight" together, I pointed at him during the scene when the Joker burns the hugemongous pile of cash and said, "That's you." His retort? "Too much makeup. And the hair is too long. That's got to be you." A guy after my own heart.

Man-cation ended yesterday. T called me from LaGuardia and offered to come over for faux romantic dinner. We went to JG Melon (they make the best burgers in NYC). He told me about his trip but I think he knew something was wrong because he gave the super abridged version. He turned the conversation over to me, and I just unloaded. Weeks of frustration I hadn't even realized I had came pouring out -- everything from changing jobs to running my credit cards back up to wanting to move to fear about the economy. I felt terrible immediately afterward; he'd just come back from a vacation and here I was dumping my shit all over him. But ever the sage, T listened patiently and offered a mix of support and advice. It all boiled down to "this too shall pass."

But the best part came this morning as he was leaving. He gave me a big bear hug -- the kind where you get enveloped in arms and pulled into chest so hard that you can barely breathe. All I could do was inhale the light mix of cologne and soap. It was the most comforting minute I've had in weeks. If this is what love is like, I could take it small doses.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The highs and lows of apartment hunting in NYC

I have been checking out apartments for a couple of weeks now, and until today nothing in Soho or Nolita had impressed me. That's both good and bad -- good because I haven't saved up all the necessary pennies yet and bad because, well, who wants to see a bunch of lousy apartments?

My not-broker from Mark David dumped me on Tuesday. She called me over the weekend about two apartments (one of which was in Chinatown and one of which was in Financial District. For those scoring at home, NEITHER of those are in the neighborhoods I want to live in). I told her not to make me her first priority since I don't want to pay a broker's fee. On Monday she called me about two more apartments. One was again out of the question but she hit me with one that was in Soho so I asked to set up a viewing after work. I wrote her around 11 AM, and at 2 she replied to say she was booked for the day. I guess she took my advice about prioritizing a little too seriously. Then on Tuesday I get this nice cryptic email from her...

Building owners offer to pay our fee when they are having trouble getting their apartments rented (because they stink). When you can’t find a no-fee apartment that you love, let me know and we’ll find you one that you do - and we can negotiate a fee that you feel comfortable with.

Unless that fee is $0, there is no negotiation to hold. I can understand her not wanting to spend time on a renter who isn't willing to pay a fee. But it was unnecessary to instill doubt. Because of course I started thinking, damn what if she's right? What if all the by-owner apartments are shit holes that they can't rent?

The Gods of renting must have taken pity on me because today I saw a beautiful apartment. It was in the by-owner listings of Craiglist, a $2495/1BR in Soho on Sullivan St in between Prince and Houston.

1 Bedroom, GORGEOUS BRAND NEW RENOVATION, Brick Walls, Hard Wood floors, High ceilings, Huge bedroom, LOTS OF LIGHT, skylight and good closets. Located in heart of SOHO by BEAUTIFUL PRINCE STREET near all shopping, restaurants and transportation/trains: B,C,D,F,V,1,9. OPEN HOUSE Thursday, October 16th, 12-1p.m. by appointment: xxx-xxx-xxxx. no brokers please.

I called the number and scheduled a viewing. The ad was a bit off -- viewings between 11 AM and noon, not noon to 1. But whatever. I met a management company rep at Once Upon a Tart on Sullivan. I have to admit I was trying to avoid Thompson and Sullivan because they are a little too close to work for comfort. But the street was so charming! The area reminds me very much of Europe, with short walkups and lots of little cafés. She was late so I had plenty of time to guess which building the apartment was in.

I was wrong about which building it was in, but no matter. She took me up the block a bit to a 5-story walkup. I've gotten over the walkup thing. I want to live on a high floor and my friends barely ever come over anyway. Plus it's exercise. This rep really knew her shit about the building and the neighborhood. (Again, for those scoring at home, this is a big deal!) I gasped excitedly when she told me the building was co-op. I know that could raise some issues because the boards are very strict, but I was excited because that meant I was so much likely to have a crazy, loud neighbor upstairs like I currently do.

Approximate layout
of the apartment.

Once on the 5th floor, she opened the apartment. What a charmer! You walked in and immediately stepped up to a small kitchen/living area. The kitchen was just a small corner outside the bathroom but that is fine with me. Somehow it had more cabinets than I currently have anyway. (Though I have no idea where my cool Ikea Kroken wall rails and Järpen shelves with Håll brackets would go.) The bathroom was huge -- the toilet in a water closet setup with a tub and sink just around the bend. The sink was just a pedestal but there was plenty of room for a cabinet. One oddity -- there was a skylight directly above the toilet. I have no clue how I'd handle that; something would have to diffuse the view or else I'd never be able to do my business.

Back to the tiny living area. It would probably hold my couch and TV. There was a north-facing window but the radiator was right in front of it. I would need a clever TV setup to not block the radiator, and the cable line was on the other side...small quibbles though. The bedroom was a decent size and had two small but workable closets. It had two large folding doors, so I could open or close them at my leisure to let me light into the living area. It also had two large East-facing windows with a great view of neighboring buildings. Since the apartment was in the back of the building it was very quiet. And so much light!! I was in love.

Overall, I'd guesstimate the apartment is the same size as my current place -- about 275 sq. feet. I had forgotten my tape measure...broke my own rules. So if my estimate is correct I'd have the same amount of space, but no backyard, and oh yeah I'd be paying $675 more per month for the Soho location. Still it was by far the nicest place I've seen and I could see myself being very happy there. And did I mention how close to work it was? See what I mean about talking yourself into decent when everything before sucked?

I asked about fees -- there was only a $250 application fee. No credit check fee. And NO BROKER'S FEE HALLE-FRIGGIN- JEULAH! Ahem. I asked the rep to fax me an application and we parted with a cordial handshake. I planned to apply without a guarantor even though I make less than 40x the rent. I was confident I could convince a co-op board that I'm awesome.

Back at work I called BFF M immediately and excitedly told her about the place. She gasped at the price but was supportive. Then I called my sister. My wonderful sister who was my guarantor on my current apartment and who went through hell with me getting our cashier's checks in order thanks to ambiguous instructions from a broker. Anyway, I asked if she would lend me a one-month deposit for this Soho apt which I would pay back in part once I got my current deposit back. She agreed, but cautioned me to do a budget. Such a practical person.

So I hung up and did a budget. It wasn't pretty. Before my current job I paid more than half my fulltime income towards rent...I'd supplement with occasional contractor jobs. With my new job I am paying less than half towards rent and it's great! But if I took the Soho place I'd once again be paying over 60% of my income towards rent. It was hard enough to swallow for $1750/mo but it was choking me at $2495/mo. For one thing, if I (God forbid) lost my job I don't think I could ask my family to help me pay rent that high. I had planned to take a part-time retail job for the holiday season but now I would pretty much depend on that money to have any disposable income. It was kind of scary. I could get by without a part-time job but I would have no cushion to fall back on. Suddenly the charmer apartment seemed more like a tempting demon.

I filled out the application anyway, just for kicks. Then I called the rep to iron out the details. That was when the second bomb dropped -- this apartment required first, last and security. An extra month I hadn't planned for. I knew then that this apartment was out of reach for me. I was not comfortable having $5000 in security just sitting around doing nothing. So I begrudingly told the rep I could not apply and asked her to keep me in mind if any of her other buildings yielded openings.

Perhaps it is for the best. This showed me I should really get my finances squarely in order. I need to save up at least a security deposit so I don't have to depend on the kindness of my sister. And I should pay off my credit cards. I am sad though. That apartment was very cute.

Also, I am vindicated, Dashboard Confessional style. Awesome apartment, no broker required. Take that, Mark David lady!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bring these things to every NYC apartment viewing

How many apartments does the average person view in New York City before picking one? 15-20. Keeping all of those places straight through memory only is practically impossible. Today I saw an apartment for the 3rd time because I haven't been keeping track. It made me realize that it's time to re-assemble my apartment viewing bag.

Here's what my bag has inside:

1. A tape measure.

When an apartment is empty, you can be fooled into thinking it's bigger than it is. Since NYC apartments tend to be small square footage becomes very important. My friend P rented a 2 BR with a friend. One bedroom was quite large while the one he took was smaller. You can imagine his surprise when he discovered that only his queen sized bed fit in the room. Nothing else really. Lesson learned.

This comes into play because owners, managers and brokers tend to exaggerate square footage. If an apartment is listed as 550 sq. feet it's probably closer to 400. (If you're buying, measuring is doubly important -- most apartments are priced per sq. foot. Don't let yourself get screwed out of money!) Apartment reps may try to talk you out of measuring the space -- tell them to fuck off. You're committing a year of your life to one or two rooms you have every right to see how much space you have to work with.

There isn't much data on the average size of rental apartments. It also varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. Generally, you'll find the largest apartments the further uptown and downtown you go (as well as the further East into the boroughs). The Soho/East Village/West Village/Chelsea/Union Square/Flatiron superfecta has the smallest apartments because those neighborhoods are in high demand.

2. A notebook.

If only I could remember where that awesome studio I saw over the weekend was. It was on Elizabeth somewhere...wish I'd written it down. This week I've been better about recording each view in my notebook. It's tedious, but writing down the address and your thoughts about the apartment and area will save you time in the long run. As I said in the intro, I've seen a studio apartment at 283 Mott 3 times now because I forgot to write down the address until yesterday. Reps will provide an address -- check against your list and you can save both yourself and the rep time.

Even though apartments come off the market quickly, it's nice to have notes about the places you see. If you're taking your time it gives you a mini-database of what you get for the money. For example, maybe you've seen three $2200/mo studios and know from your notes that they tend to have one to two windows, a kitchen in the living area and shower stalls rather than tubs. But you also have seen 2 $2600/mo apartments and know that price point yields a tub and a dishwasher. Maybe it's worth it to save up for the $2600/mo place.

Or perhaps you're trying to decide between 2 awesome places. The apartments themselves are both similar -- maybe one has a better layout. But you wrote down that one has laundry and a fitness center in the basement, or that one has a free month, and the decision is pretty much made.

One final thought -- maybe you saw an amazing apartment. You keep seeing the ad during your search and you think, "Why didn't I take that place again?" So you turn to your notes where you wrote down "Above popular bar. Neighbors said it was very noisy until 3 AM almost every nite." Oh yeah. Good thing I took notes!

3. A map.

This helps out in many ways. If you don't like the apartment you view brokers will often have backups in mind to show you. After two or three stops you may find yourself lost if you don't know the neighborhood. A map helps you regain your bearings and can help you locate nearby subway stations.

Or maybe you know the city, just not the neighborhood you're in. You took the R/W to get there, but is the A/C/E nearby? Who knows? These could be make or break criteria and the rep showing the apartment won't always know the answer.

I highly recommend the Red Maps, which show all street names plus subway lines. I just bought their Soho map which lists all of the stores as well. Granted, this information will become outdated but for $9 it was totally worth it. And if you want to try out a route to work or a boyfriend or whatever, try out HopStop. You can plan a route by taxi, bus, subway or walking (or a combination). The MTA also has a Trip Planner which comes highly recommended to me.

4. A check and a pen.

Like the apartment? Great, you need to put down some kind of deposit right away. I don't advise writing a check for too much (see tip #3 in this post) but $75 for a credit check or application fee is acceptable. This shows the management company or leasing agent that you are serious about the apartment. This initial deposit is refundable 90% of the time (credit check fees not so much). If the deposit is non-refundable or if it's above $200, it reeks of a scam to me. I would walk away from the apartment.

5. A camera.

If you ask nicely, brokers will let you take photos of an apartment (as long as you are not a broker yourself). I've only been told 'no' once out of more than 20 apartments seen. Just as taking notes will help you remember the nice amenities and flaws of an apartment a camera will record those things for posterity. It's also good for a laugh when you compare the reality of an apartment to the photos in the ad.

6. Contact information for the leasing agent/broker.

Nothing sucks more than waiting for a broker. It will happen. Give them a call and remind them that hey, you're not really impressing me here buddy. Sometimes brokers will ask to meet you on a corner rather than at the building which can lead to confusion in a crowded area. (Advice from experience: don't meet a broker at Prince and Broadway. Unless you want to meet up with 1,000 of your closest friends too!) If you know what agency the broker is from, bring that number too. If you can't get in touch with the broker some firms will ping them for you.

Other times you'll be the one who flakes. You got the address before you left but forget once you're in the nabe. Or you get there and can't get into the building without a buzz-in. I have flaked on getting contact info and let me tell you it sucks.

7. A friend.

OK, a friend can't fit into your bag but they are an important tool. Leasing agents and brokers are very persuasive. They can talk you into something you don't want to do, like putting in an application on an apartment that isn't the best for you. For them, it's about getting their fee. Don't let them pressure you. This just happened to me today. I saw an apartment that was about $150/mo more than I wanted to spend and the application called for 45x the monthly income, which I do not make. It didn't feel right to me but the broker pressured me into taking an application. We saw a few more apartments and he kept telling me to fill out the application. I called my sister about being a guarantor and she talked some sense into me. Thanks to her I was inspired to stand up for myself.

Friends will tell you honestly if an apartment is right for you or not. Bring them with you on visits whenever possible. They'll notice things you won't: the apartment is dark; the kitchen is from 1930; the bathroom is nasty; there's not a lot of closet space. Plus they will call you out on things: this apartment has fewer closets than your current place; didn't you say you wanted a bigger apartment; dude, don't make me walk up 5 flights to this place and so on.

Handy checklist:

[ ] tape measure
[ ] notebook
[ ] pen
[ ] check
[ ] camera
[ ] leasing agent contact info
[ ] leasing firm contact info
[ ] building address/apt number
[ ] friend

OK, Roxy, wave your magic wand and find me the perfect place!!
*waves wand*

J. Crew opens a collection store, not a lot of love for me

Hopelessly devoted to J. Crew again
thanks to the Trixie shoes above.

I don't know what's going on but I cannot stop going to J. Crew these days. I possibly bought one of everything in their fall line...or maybe it just feels that way. The people at the 5th Ave store were starting to get to know me and one of the salesmen became my de facto personal shopper before I relocated for work. I read a fan blog every day (and it is a great one at that). It is probably the sign of having a problem; then again we already knew that I am a shopaholic.

I guess that I don't give off the air of being a VIP shopper though. This past week the new J. Crew collection store opened on 79th & Madison. I'm not even going to pretend like I shop on Madison Ave on the UES regularly. I occasionally browse through some of the stores like Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors and Intermix. But I can rarely afford or justify any purchases.

Still, I was looking forward to some loving from my favorite store. I went on Saturday and the store was not too crowded. The doorman was quite nice but the sales people ignored me for the first 10 minutes I was there. It was kind of surprising only because I saw other people being offered water (Pellegrino or tap!) but not me. The manager walked by me twice, made eye contact and then turned to someone else. It was...not nice. I'm sure she was busy with it being the first weekend and all. Still. Not nice.

I went into the shoe room where my beloved Trixie shoes were waiting for me. But I had to flag down a sales woman to get my size. Another shopper was apparently having a similar experience -- she tried asking two saleswomen who said they were busy with other shoppers so she finally left. I was about to do the same when a salesperson finally noticed me. She was very nice once I had her attention and all was forgiven (see, I'm easy to please!).

The shoe room at the J. Crew collection store,
79th & Madison Ave.

I asked if I could take a few pictures and the saleswoman said, "Sure...go right ahead!" So I did -- they are up on my flickr account and are by far my most popular views. I had come in looking for a rose tee that sold out everywhere. Apparently the store had some on Friday but by Saturday they were gone. In fact, they didn't have much in the way of actual stock. I was disappointed with the selection. So I settled on the shoes only. The cashier was awesome and gave me 20% off even though I'd forgotten my coupon. Thank you cashier! That made me feel better.

On my way out, I asked the doorman if I could take a couple of photos of the showroom. He had to ask the manager. I watched as her fake smile turned to plastic as she told me, "Oh no, no photos." Criminy! Seriously, lady? Was I insulting her or something? The doorman shot me an apologetic look and said, "You know, no one will stop you from taking pictures through the door..." and winked at me. I managed a smile but the moment had passed. I thanked him as he held the door for me. I left feeling not special. Luckily I have my shoes to cheer me up.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

At least I'm not the only one...

I went to one more apartment today in Nolita. Advertised as a $2595/1 BR, it was actually a studio with a non-permanent wall made of closets. Dumb move because the wall blocked all the sun, but I digress.

It was a weird but cool situation because the renter had not yet moved out. That was weird. But it was also very cool because I got an honest opinion about the building and the neighborhood. He was very positive about the neighborhood...his only complaint was the traffic on Kenmare (right outside the bedroom window) was sometimes kind of loud.

The building was another story. The entire time I was in the apartment, a small dog next door was yip yip yipping. Like, non-stop. It was obvious that the owner wasn't home. I could see the renter getting more and more agitated so I related the situation with my upstairs neighbor to him. I asked how often the dog was home alone, and he said pretty much all the time. "Yeah, if you want my honest opinion, don't take this place, "he said. "The building is pet-friendly but no one here is actually friendly to their pets."

What an honest way to put it. It must sound like I am anti-dog but it's quite the opposite. It's the irresponsible owners I can't stand. To have a happy, healthy dog in the city you need to make sure it gets outside enough and has lots of social time with other dogs. Otherwise you end up with a barky, biting, bored dog. It's really unfair to the dog. This is why even though I love animals I don't have a pet right now. I'm just not home enough to take care of it. And I'm not going to let my pet become someone else's (or everyone else in my building's) problem. That's just not right.

Don't wave your white flag

Here's how I think landlords get away with charging such high rents: at the beginning of your apartment search, you're optimistic. You think "I know my budget is not as high as other people's but I know there is a great apartment out there for me." You see a few decent places but assure yourself you can do better. Then you start to see the stinkers -- the windows face almost directly into another building, there's no sun, the kitchen was renovated in 1960 and the bathroom has brown water. Everyone else on the floor smokes, you hear dogs yapping all around you and the hallway smells of old fish.

All of a sudden those decent apartments seem amazing! You jump at the next sorta nice apartment you see because it's just so great in comparison! Sure it's a bit more than you wanted to pay and it doesn't have everything you wanted but who cares? No shithole for you! Only after you move in do you start to notice the flaws: the electric meter is in your apartment. You're across the street from a popular bar and get to hear drunk pickup artists, people on their cell phones and the lovely sound of beer coming back up and onto your sidewalk. How poetic.

Or as T puts it: "They wear you down until your criteria for an awesome apartment is that the shower is not in the kitchen." And I have seen places like that. It doesn't take long to lose your wits.

This weekend I have been trying to see as many places as possible in Soho and Nolita to get an idea of what is out there. I've taken a few detours to Union Square, Chelsea and Flatiron as well. I have committed myself to staying steadfast on one of my criteria: no broker's fee. If I have to use a broker, fine, whatever, but no fee allowed. (We'll see if this lasts.)

Saturday dawned a but chilly but sunny and nice. I had been browsing the broker no fee listings on Craigslist and found two or three worth checking, all listed by Mark David & Company. I went to their offices and did the prerequisite fill out the form crap and had to sign one of their agreements. The broker at least specified on the form that I refused any fee apartments. He gathered a list of 6 apartments for me to see and then sent me out with one of the other brokers, a new girl.

Here's another lovely broker nuance: if their relationship with a super/manager/owner isn't exclusive there is no guarantee you will actually see a place. Especially on the weekends. So the broker honestly told me before we left, "I've called and left messages at a few of the places, but I'm not sure if we'll be able to get in or not." His assistant left it up to me whether we even went to those places or not. I appreciated their honesty but it was annoying. Still, we tried visiting all but one of the places.

I only ended up getting into 3 out of the 6. We were able to get into all but one of the buildings through a combination of buzzing every apartment until someone let us in or waiting until someone came out and then going in. What a disorganized, unsafe way to get in. It bothered me. Every apartment but 1 was locked. The broker had suggested using a credit card to shimmy the lock but I vetoed that idea. Besides, if the lock could be shimmied, it didn't inspire a lot of confidence for me in the place. Most of the apartments were missing a top lock so I could at least peep in.

A loft that actually wasn't horrible,
but the apartment was too dark.

The apartments I did see were honestly nothing special. One place on Mott was much smaller than in it looked in the ad, surprise surprise. An apartment up on 16th St was pretty nice and had a loft that actually didn't bother me too much because it was placed such that it didn't interrupt the living space. Plenty of storage too. I can see that place getting snapped up pretty quickly. But it was in the back of the building with no view or light and it had an old kitchen. So no. A place on 14th St was right near the E train but it was in a scary building and the neighborhood seemed a bit dicey. Plus the apartment was tiny. The final apartment I saw in Flatiron was pretty unique -- a second-floor apartment with a huge rooftop terrace that was shared among the 6 apartments on that floor. The broker tried to talk it up until I told him that I currently have a backyard that I share with only one other person.

For the most part none of the apartments struck me as being a good deal. None were even a decent deal. All were $2300 or higher due to their location in popular neighborhoods. But what's the point of being in a great neighborhood if your apartment sucks? My apartment is looking better and better with each other one I view.

Today I saw four more apartments. They were all in Soho between Prince and Spring, and Lafayette and Mott. They were all stinkers. I couldn't believe the things I saw: an illegal basement apartment. An apartment billed as a 1 BR that was clearly not a permanent wall. An incredibly dangerous bathroom with an electrical outlet in the shower area. All were in the $2400-$2700 range.

One thing is for sure: fall is a great time to look for apartments, and I have a feeling winter might be even better. There's far less competition than in the spring and summer so landlords are offering deals like 1 month free, them covering any broker's fees and sometimes even negotiable rents. I am really hoping that some of the more expensive apartments sit vacant for awhile, which would allow me to swoop in and get one for a deal.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oh, the lies brokers will tell

You know how Wall St just crashed? And you know how everyone is internally conflicted, because they feel bad for themselves for losing their own money, and they feel bad for the people who got conned into bad mortgages but they can't bring themselves to feel bad for the greedy bastards on Wall St? I feel like real estate apartment rentals are much the same.

Take broker's fees for example. You hate paying the fee, the management company couldn't care less if you pay the fee and brokers will do everything possible to make sure you just pay the damn fee. I understand that this is how brokers make their livelihood but that doesn't make it OK! The ends do not justify the means. Real Estate in NYC is broken. As I have said, I think broker's fees for purchasing apartments are justified. It's rentals I have the issue with.

Here's how rental brokers work in NYC: you (the renter) finds the apartment you like yourself, usually through ad somewhere or a good old fashioned sign. You call the number/email and the broker meets you there. The only function the broker performs is letting you into the apartment (after much fiddling with the keys). Then they call the owner or management company to tell them they found a renter. Ladies and gentlemen, give this broker their 15% of annual rent fee! They opened a goddamn door! Something you could not possibly have done yourself! Even better, the broker usually has little valuable information -- they don't know if the building is quiet, they don't know what the neighbors are like, they don't know the neighborhood 80% of the time. They don't know if your Super is attentive, they don't know if the management company will jerk you around. They know nothing except keys and fee.

Let's give the broker the benefit of the doubt -- maybe you don't like the first apartment you see. They have some other apartments for you to see. OK, that is something that I think is valuable. But is it worth $3150 on a $1750/mo apartment? Fuck no. The best is when you don't like the apartment you see the broker asks what you do want. You tell them -- let's say renovated, elevator, above the 2nd floor, dishwasher, laundry in building, less than $2000/mo. Now the broker is supposed to be doing the legwork for you. Except they keep calling you with apartments that don't fit what you want. I had this situation last time around. The broker would call with two or three of my criteria -- and I only found this out when I learned to ask about the apartment before we saw it. He was basically wasting both of our time showing me apartments I didn't want. That is not a value-added service.

Yesterday I looked at 3 apartments, all of which were under Craigslist's no fee listings. I hesitate in that section because more than once I've gotten burned by a broker who "accidentally" listed an apartment in the no fee section with a H1 "NO FEE" that oops, actually had a fee. But you gotta keep hope alive that you'll get a decent broker who is legitimately not charging a fee, or getting their fee paid by the owner/building management company.

The first apartment was at a dream location -- in between Lafayette and Mulberry in, umm, either Soho or Nolita. I'm still learning the neighborhood lines down there. It fit most of my criteria (except of course price). The listing was in the no fee section and clearly said 4 or 5 times no fee. I met the broker from Best Apartments outside the building. This was after convincing him that I'd already filled out their form and no I would not be meeting with him on the Upper West Side at their office before going to Soho. The apartment was really nice. It was an alcove studio with 3 large windows and a nicely done kitchen with a DISHWASHER and a breakfast bar. There were two closets, one of which was walk-in. $2595/month was really high for me but seemed like a decent price for what you get.

So I started asking about fees. Application fee? No. Credit check fee? Yes. And then the broker slipped in that he had a "low fee" -- one month instead of the normal 15%. I was livid, but I forced myself to remain calm. I explained to him that the ad I'd called from clearly said no fee several times. He said it must not have been his ad. Oh, buddy. This be the 21st century you're lying in. I took out my phone, browsed to the webpage and said, "This is your picture, isn't it? And this is the apartment we're in, right? Because this ad says No Fee." The broker's reply? That someone else in the office had put up the ad and it was a mistake.

I didn't even respond. I just turned around and left and went to my next appointment. Had there been people waiting for him outside the building I would have warned them. When I got home, I flagged the listing on Craigslist. It was still up this morning though.

The second apartment was more bullshit art. It was on Mott St. in Nolita. I never even got far enough to ask the broker if there really was a fee or not. Because I walked in to an apartment that did not match the pictures on the ad one bit. The ad showed bright, airy, new. The apartment was dark, smelly and old. I was there less than 5 minutes.

The last apartment was in Astoria. Given the long trip, I didn't want to waste my time a 3rd go-round so I had a preliminary screening call with the broker. I tried to hold myself back from being outright rude, but I bluntly asked questions like "This place is really no-fee, right?" and "Are the pictures in the ad actually of the apartment I'm going to see?". It turns out I was dealing directly with the management company. They come with their own set of issues, but in this case I was satisfied enough to head out to 30th Ave via the N.

It was both the largest and the cheapest apartment of the night. $1395/mo for a 1-BR. It had been gut renovated and had a huge closet and a huge living room. But it was in Astoria...I am still not convinced about Queens. At least there was only a $100 application fee. I took an application and headed home. It took me 20 minutes just to make it back to Manhattan. My commute would be around 45 minutes I guessed. Ugh. Luckily I am in no rush to move so I have time to wait for that perfect place.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

To view the view, or live in it?

Every time I think about living about Queens, I throw up in my mouth a little. I have friends (and many more now) who are moving to Astoria, Forest Hills and Long Island City. All of their places are very nice and easily triple the size of my tiny dorm room of an apartment. Many of them have these foreign things known as dishwashers...multiple rooms...walk-in Yet I feel my lip curl up a bit every time I tell someone I'm taking the 7 train. I am such a snot rag. Yeah they save money on rent but they have 40 minute commutes to work. May as well move back to Connecticut for that. Sure they have an awesome view but do they have Whole Foods in Queens? Or JCrew? Or an Apple Store? Or some other yup pup thing that I have materistically convinced myself I can't live without or be more than 20 minutes away from? And do you have to convert to being a Mets fan? And a Jets fan? And an Islanders fan???

Everything is changing now that BFF M is thinking of moving out there though. She is much more sensible and pragmatic about these kind of things then I. She lives up by Columbia and her rent just went up $200 to $1530. And while that's a sweet deal by most NYC standards it's more than she can afford. Not even James Franco going to Columbia could convince her to stay. She works in midtown east so for her the decision to move to Queens was an easy one. I asked if I could tag along on some of her apartment visits, mostly so I could see what the market is yielding in the boroughs.

We met up after work at the 59th St N/R/W station and headed to Queensboro Plaza where we hopped on the 7 Express to Woodside. (Side tangent: why the heck is there a 7 circle and a 7 diamond? They couldn't find another number for the 7 diamond?? I will never understand this. Each route should have its own number or letter or whatever. It's very confusing for tourists otherwise.)

We got off at the 65th St stop and followed our Google Maps to where the first apartment should have been. Bad idea, because Google Maps is pretty much useless in the boroughs! (Yet another reason I am Manhattan-biased.) It was like 8 blocks off, which is huge in NYC. Not only that; it put us literally on the wrong side of the tracks with buildings blocking the shortest path so we had to take a 3 block detour to get around them. It gave us a chance to check out the neighborhood. Queens now looks like I imagine NYC did in the 1980s -- kind of built up and urban but full of semi-seedy mom and pop shops. I actually mean that as a compliment. It's much less pretentious than the Upper East Side to be sure. More like a neighborhood. People just hanging out on the sidewalk chatting you up for no other reason than because you are there and they want to talk.

Once we made it to the right address I have to admit the building was very cute from the outside. We met R, a guy we thought was the owner, outside. He had 2 apartments to show: a studio, a 2 BR and a 1 BR. We looked at the $1150 studio first. As we went into the building I noticed the unmistakable smell of polyurethane. Sure enough the floors in the studio had just been redone...meaning we couldn't really walk inside. Lame. But M got a good enough idea of what the place was like. It was a two-room studio -- isn't that a 1 BR? -- with a kitchen in the living area. It didn't really meet much of M's criteria: no separate eat-in kitchen, no extra closet space, etc. but M loved it. The kitchen was suspect to me, as was the ceiling and floor molding. I think she was so overwhelmed by the size compared to her current place that the flaws disappeared. That and she looked at a $950 studio last week that was actually a closet.

We moved on to the 2 BR which was really awesome. The 2nd bedroom was really more of an office; it was off of the 1st bedroom so I'm not sure if two friends could share the place. It had a bunch of closets, a really nice kitchen and bathroom and a cool floor border in the wood. Unfortunately it was also $1600 which was out of M's reach. We asked to see the 1 BR which I was hoping would be just right. And it was pretty cute. Not as nice as the 2 BR but workable. M's eyes had lit up. I think it was $1450. She asked about the fees due up front and that was when she found out that R was not the owner but a broker. And that there was a broker's fee on any of the three apartments she'd seen. Oh, and an application fee from the management company on top of that. She was PO'ed and I can understand why. She'd found the listing through, which is a paid listing service. So if she took any of those places she'd be hit by three separate fees -- rentdirect, broker and application. Probably a credit check fee too for good measure.

Those additional fees would have wiped out any savings from her current place and then some. So they were a no-go. But R mentioned that he had a few no-application fee apartments in Jackson Heights, did M want to see them? Of course! They were 2 stops further East on the 7, but luckily R had a car and gave us a ride. On the way over M talked the broker into a month's fee instead of the standard 15%, go her! Even if I was silently cursing brokers, especially this guy J I used to to date.

The neighborhood seemed nice enough as we drove through. As you get further from Manhattan it becomes more and more suburban and Jackson Heights held true to that pattern. The block we viewed on was really cool. It was one continuous block of tall townhouse style apartment buildings like you'd see in Pelham, Mammaroneck, or Larchmont. They probably have a name other than "tall townhouse style apartment buildings."

M saw a sizable studio that once again was really two rooms. The kitchen was built into a closet and the fridge was out in the living area, one of my pet peevs. M didn't seem to care to much. Also, the bathroom had no tub (shower only) and the closet had the weirdest door I'd ever seen -- a huge swivel thing that would have been practically unworkable with clothes inside. Again, M didn't care. It was $1150.

The 1 BR was on the first floor of the building down the block. It was probably the best fit for M of anything we saw. It had the same floor pattern as the 2 BR in the Woodside place, plus lots of closets and an eat-in kitchen. It was $1300. Nice, but not a knockout. First floor apartment, street-facing? I dunno. But like I said at the beginning, M is much more flexible and she is the one who would actually be living there.

She wasn't ready to make a decision (good call in my opinion) so she took R's card and we headed to the 7 circle station a few blocks away. The view of the skyline on the way back was awesome. The sky was purple and red and the buildings looked amazing.

We went to Junior's at Grand Central for a recap. M calculated her savings in rent against the broker's fee and decided that a 1-month fee was doable. We recapped the apartments and how big they were. I have to admit that seeing all those closets was tempting and M totally picked up on it. "Imagine, you could save 4 or $500 a month." Plus the extra cash from my new salary, that would add up to $1000 a month. That is a lot of money! I could pay off my credit cards. Or save money. But let's be real. I would spend it. The things I could spend that money on kept multiplying exponentially. From clothes to a Mini Cooper lease in the span of 30 seconds of daydreaming.

But, oh, the commute! And seeing the view is nice, but living in it is way better. Plus I'd just settled on the daydream of a cool 1 BR on Broadway or Greene in between Spring and Prince St in Soho! For M this move totally makes sense: has lived here for 5 years, job in the 50s on 1st, boyfriend on Roosevelt Island, a ferocious beast of a kitty that needs a view to lord over. For me: just finally moved in a year ago, works in Soho, shopaholic, tall building obsessee, it makes much less sense. Still, $1000 a month...I may have browsed the Jackson Heights listings on Craigslist...may have...ok, did.