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*

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Extremely helpful. A real service to apartment hunters that need a bit of organization and a pinch of common sense in their itinerary. Well done!