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.

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