Sunday, October 12, 2008

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.

No comments: