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!

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