Sunday, December 14, 2008

Parting thoughts on the Upper East Side

Yes Virginia, there are bathrooms
bigger than a closet in NYC.

When I first thought of myself living in NYC, I pictured living on Gramercy Park with one of the exclusive keys to the park. The apartment in my dreams looked a lot like the apartment my Aunt used to have on 24th & 3rd -- Alcove studio with a walk-through closet to the bathroom. Separate kitchen. Lots of windows. Separate kitchen.

I never thought about the Upper East Side. Now it's hard for me to think about living somewhere else! Over the past year and a half I have really come to love the area. The shopping is amazing; the park is close; you have tons of great groceries and markets and Museum Mile is only 2 Avenues away from me. Did I mention Madison Ave? Or Carl Shurz Park? Or John Jay Park (with the pool)? The neighborhood is a mix of private townhouses, brownstones and high raises. The people are a mix of young and old from every country under the sun.

Oh sure it hasn't been perfect -- the 2nd Ave subway line won't be done until 2015 if it gets completed at all, meaning you're stuck on the 6 with 1,000 of your closest friends in one car. And it's not exactly a hopping bar or club scene up here at nite if you're into that kind of thing. And you may get run over by a Park Ave mommy or nanny. But it's been a wonderful first NYC neighborhood.

Five things I'm going to miss:

5. Being so close to Central Park. I spent many days sunning, walking and taking pictures in the park. I haven't even come close to exploring all of it yet. You can't underestimate the value of having huge amounts of outdoor space nearby. It really does make a difference.

4. National Jean Company, Marimekko, Lucky Brand Jeans, the 86th St line of stores, Jubilee shoes and Free People. All of these stores are within 10 blocks of me. They're not the only places I shop at but I wasted plenty of Saturday afternoons cruising up and down 3rd Ave for fun. Marimekko is probably the store I'll miss the most.

3. JG Melon, Atlantic Grill, T Bar, PJ Bernstein, Ray Bari Pizza, Totonno's, Gracie Mews Diner. Most of these restaurants have other locations in the city but some are only up here on the Upper East Side. I'll miss Haru's and my regular delivery places too. I was finally getting to know my local eateries.

2. The 6 train subway stations. Among the newest and best-kept; they are gorgeous. My 77th St station has a lovely mural when you walk in. I won't miss the crowding but I'll miss being on the line I've taken since I was a little kid.

1. My apartment. Yeah, despite everything I'm gonna miss it. It's such a cute little studio. I packed a ton of crap in here and decorated it well (if I do say so myself). It had everything I needed except for a dishwasher. It was brand new when I moved in. I was an uptown girl and that was pretty frickin' sweet.

Five things I don't think I'll miss:

5. My backyard. I really thought outdoor space was going to be key but I didn't really use it as much as I would have liked. I never had a real party out there due to scheduling conflicts. I sat out there but wasn't really able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked because the other buildings had outdoor space too and there wasn't enough privacy. But my foster dogs loved it!

4. Taxi rides up here. Man, I thought the fare from Flatiron was a lot but the few times I've taken a cab from work in Soho up here it's been over $20. That's at least $18 more than the subway ride and they both probably take about the same time. Cabs might even take longer. And catching a cab sucks in the morning.

3. Only 1 subway line. If you live in between 59th St and 86th St you can't take the 4 or 5 and this area is too densely populated to be served by only the 6. If Mayor Bloomberg really took the train to work every morning he'd know how much it sucks. In my completely biased opinion the 6 is the most crowded subway line and I'm glad I won't have to ride it anymore unless by choice.

2. The snotty people. OK, I get it. We're uptown. Upper crust and all that. Much fancier than the Upper West Side. Old money. Yeesh. Whatever. Can you please get the hell out of my way now?

1. My neighbors. Just to beat a dead horse a little more, I hope karma kicks both my next-door and upstairs neighbor in the arse with an equally bad neighbor moving into my apartment. Like maybe a cop who doesn't take any bullshit. Or a druggie party-addict who is up at all hours. Or a band member who holds practices here. I know it's evil. I don't care. They've burned all their empathy hours with me.

Five things I already know are gonna suck at the new place:

5. Getting to Yankee Stadium. Yeah, I'll still be near the 4 train, but I'll be about 40 minutes away. Yuck. Can't even think about this.

4. Far away from Central Park. But near Battery Park. Not quite a fair trade-off...but I'll make do.

3. No grocery stores in the Financial District. Apparently this is a hold-over from FiDi's reputation as a 9 to 5 neighborhood. Someone should really capatilize on this. (Hint, hint, D'Agostinos or Whole Foods.)

2. Doing my own laundry again. I got really used to sending it out.

1. Getting my friends to come down to my new place. It's kind of out the way for most of my friends...kind of like the Upper East Side has been. Oh well. You win some and you lose some.

The movers are coming at 9 AM tomorrow morning. I doubt I'll sleep much tonight. Too sad (to be leaving) and excited to be arriving at the new place. Parting is such sweet sorrow, Upper East Side.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Back in boxes

And so the process begins's the circle...the circle of life! No sooner had I signed my lease than I began packing. OK, really I started packing like 2 weeks ago but now I am in full-on living out of boxes mode.

The first comment: my god I have a lot of crap! I had really packed a lot of stuff into my tiny little studio. It hadn't felt cluttered until recently but I've clearly outgrown the space. When I first moved in here I lived out of boxes for about the first 3 weeks. I don't think I slept in my bed for the first 2 weeks because with the boxes everywhere there was no room. I am so excited that I won't have the same issue in my new place. I am getting back to that state in my current place though. I think I will spend the weekend sleeping on my couch, or with the sofa bed pulled out if room allows.

I have a checklist of things to do before I move. First on the list? Call the moving company! Even though I had a wonderful moving experience with Gentle Giant last time around I ended up calling Flat Rate Moving because BFF M just used them to move and she gave me a killer referral discount. Their rep was pretty cool. I itemized everything I could think of that I own. He kept asking me "Anything else?" which gave me flashbacks to Dude, Where's My Car? And then? No and then! I kept saying that's it but then oh wait I would think of something else.

One lovely thing about moving into a luxury building is they have all these weird rules. The moving company has to fax some kind of proof of insurance thingy (not the official name), you can't move in on the weekend even though there's a freight elevator and you have to sign up for a 2-hour moving window. Yuck. The rep has at least pretty responsive. Fairly responsive. Whatever.

I am so excited that I can't sleep. I move in on the 15th. Is it Monday yet?

Monday, December 8, 2008

One more hunt story to share

Last week I was afraid to write any posts before I signed my lease for fear of jinxing myself. But before I forget I have another lovely hunt story to share.

By Tuesday I had spent a day or two moping about losing Astor Pl place and I'm still smarting about being rejected by Tribeca. But like everyone was telling me when it's meant to be it will be. My management company rep at my current place was actually quite excited when I called her on Dec. 1 to say I would be staying a bit longer. But I wasn't. I couldn't even love my place anymore. I can't sleep here and I can't relax. I find myself staying at work later than I have to because I don't want to come home. That's a sure sign I needed to get out.

On Tuesday night I was cruising Craigslist and there was just nothing in Soho, Nolita or Tribeca. It was either something I'd already seen or something outside my price range. I tried looking in the Village but I am ambivalent about living there. One thing I have learned on this search is that Soho is loud at night and the Village is even louder. Unless I have thermopane windows is that something I really want to deal with? Probably not.

Come Wednesday I spent some time at my old enemies Best Apartments. On my first apartment hunt I was working in Flatiron and called about an apartment in Chelsea. They dragged me all the way up to the UWS just to tell me that apartment was no longer available. Bastards. I still harbor a grudge about that one. And despite this I was about to call them about another place. I must be a sadist.

This time around I called about a 1 BR in the West Village. The ad had two photos that didn't really show anything but the ad said "dishwasher" so I was in. I feel really badly because I called the poor agent on her cell phone around 9:30 PM. I'd just gotten home from work. She was quite understanding about it and actually said "You're still pretty early. I get calls after 11 PM all the time." Once again a broker forced me to come into the office before I could actually see the place but at least this time I could meet her at her office in Flatiron...wait...Best Apartments has an office in Flatiron?? You mean during my last hunt I could have just gone to the office in Flatiron??!? That makes me even madder about my first experience with Best Apts! Argh!

I wanted to meet at 11 AM. The broker, C, had another appointment then so we compromised with 1 PM. But the next morning the agent text messaged me to ask to meet at 11 AM because her appointment had canceled. I got the text at 10:30 and ran my ass out of work to make it in time.

Good thing I rushed because I had to wait around about 20 minutes before C was ready to see me. As 5, 10 and 15 minutes passed my mood got increasingly foul. However there is no sense in starting off a meeting with rudeness so I calmed down and smiled when C finally greeted me. She had me sit down with her boss, K, a dude on a mission to make me feel bad.

K - "So long have you been looking?"
Me - "About 2 months."
K - "Wow, really. And how many places have you seen?"
Me - "Probably about 50." I should never have said this, plus I was wrong. I've only seen about 20 places. It just feels like 50.
K (rubs face with hands) - "Ooookay. And what was wrong with them?"
Me - explains how my priorities changed during the hunt from MUST live in Soho to wanting a dishwasher, closets, prewar, etc. He asked me a few more basic questions about neighborhoods and the like.

K then proceeded to give me what I like to call the "Broker pretending to be your parent but actually just wants your money" lecture. You see Roxy, he told me, you're asking for too much in one apartment! You want space, plus a dishwasher, plus closets, plus below 14th St and that just may not exist in your price range! At some point you're gonna have to compromise on something! Probably multiple things. You need a gut check. You need to re-examine your priorities. You're never going to be totally happy so you may as well just settle for something close.

He then finished up with this gem (not paraphrased, this is actually what he said): "It's clients like you that make brokers bald."

I can't even imagine what the look on my face was but let me tell you that I was seething. I didn't come in for a lecture, I wanted to say. And if you were forthright in your ads I could have probably saved myself 50 percent of the misery I've had for the last 2 months seeing apartments that were not at all as advertised! And you are bald! Don't set me up to say something extraordinarily rude like that!! But if there is one thing that being a manager has taught me it's that retaliation gets you nowhere. So instead I counted to 4, refocused and as politely as I could asked:

"Is the apartment I called about still available?"

K clicked his keyboard a bit and said yes. Yes it is. And as he clicked some more he said it actually sounded like it fit most of my criteria. (I'm well aware, I internally monologued.) We had wasted 45 minutes and I had to be back at work soon so C only had time to show me this one place. K asked me if I minded small places. It's a pretty good size he said but not huge. I have no idea how to respond to things like this. Small meaning...what? 200 sq. feet? 400 sq. feet? It was a 1 BR so how small could it be? C took me.

The apartment was on West 13th between 6th and 7th. We took the V one stop (it was cold) and then walked there. We got in to the lobby where C was supposed to call the Super. Except the intercom system was a phone, there was no directory and C had no idea what the Super's number was. My patience was wearing thin. She called K. She called someone else in her office. No one was very helpful. My God I hate this shit about brokers. Can't they be prepared? Such a waste of time. I was ready to just leave. Finally after about 10 minutes a resident walked out and we got in. It was a large building with an 'elevator.' Except it was one of those really old creaky 1-person elevators that I would never take. The apartment was on the 6th floor. C put her key in the door, and started to turn the wouldn't turn. Here we go, I thought to myself. She spent 5 minutes trying to turn the lock over and it just wouldn't. I tried too. Finally she got it turned 3/4 of the way...and it got stuck. The comedy of errors continues! She calls K, like he's going to help from the office?

Anyway about 5 minutes later she got it unstuck and we got in. I was hoping the place would be worth it but it sure wasn't. While the location was awesome (near the Magnolia Bakery among other things) the apartment was tiny. I had my measuring tape. The kitchen was a wall in the living room first of all so right there I lose space over my current place. The two rooms were tiny boxes. Together they added up to 250 sq. feet. So not only would I lose my separate kitchen, I would lose another 20 sq. feet of living space on top of it. Not worth it. There was also only one, tiny, single-door closet and the bathroom had no tub. I summarily rejected it. All that work for nothing.

As we headed down the stairs I was quite dejected. C started to talk and I thought she would have comforting things to say. But instead she berated me! That was a great place, she said. Your standards are too high. If you keep looking out for that perfect place you're never going to be satisfied by anything she said. You will never move.

This went on for a couple of minutes. I just let her unload. My God where has my fight gone? I should have berated her right back. Instead I just shrugged and replied, "Maybe I won't ever move, you could be right. But I'm not settling for crap." And then we said our goodbyes.

I figured that was the end of ironically-named Best Apartments, take 2, but that afternoon I got a call from C. "Hi, Roxy, I found an apartment in Tribeca that might work for you! Alcove studio, high floor, lots of light, dishwasher...would you be interested?" Uh, OK. Except the rent was $2500, so she had to call the management company to see if they would let me in. Which they would not. And that was the end of ironically-named Best Apartments, take 2. Don't be like me. Don't use them. They are horrible.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: I have a new apartment

See that appliance on the left side of the photo above? That's a DISHWASHER. Love them. Know what's even better? It's the dishwasher in my new apartment! Yes, it's finally true: after 2 months of searching and two failed attempts I have successfully signed a lease for an apartment. I feel 500 lbs lighter (see ya later, gorilla).

I know it's hard to believe but I even have nice things to say about 2 brokers! First of all, Broker S from Manhattan Connection emailed me on Wednesday to say he was back in town and yes he would check with Tribeca place about using my sister as a co-signer to see if that would get me in. It didn't work out but he even called me back to let me know! What a nice guy and I mean that. He didn't admonish me for anything during our viewings together and really advocated for me to the management company. That is exactly what a broker is supposed to do! S works at Manhattan Connection's office on 78th & Madison.

I have noticed in general that brokers have been a bit nicer to me this time around. I'm not sure if it's because of the time of year, the depressed market, my higher budget or a combination of the three. But in the end it was not S who found me my apartment. It was a different broker, L, from Platinum Properties.

After the West Village place didn't pan out and I wasn't even allowed to be considered for the Greenwich St place in Tribeca I knew I had to expand my neighborhood options. I know I didn't want to go north of Union Square (and really, not north of West 4th St) I realized my other option was the Financial District. I was pretty down on the neighborhood when I first moved here but recently I've visited it and I am warming up to it. Plus there are so many deals to be had with many financial industry workers moving out.

While expanding my neighborhood parameters I also gut checked myself about what I wanted in an aparment. I realized that besides the ever-present need for a freakin' DISHWASHER I would love to live in a full-service building. That wasn't possible during my first hunt but now I can afford it. So I looked for full-service skyscrapers in FiDi with no fee. And I found plenty including many listed by Platinum Properties. Kind of an over-the-top name for a brokerage in my opinion but I digress. I found three listings that interested me: a 1 BR in Tribeca off Leonard St, an alcove studio with floor to ceiling windows and a terrace in FiDi and a building with a pool in FiDi (c'mon, a pool!).

The next morning the broker, L, called me to discuss what I was looking for. I told her: a dishwasher and closets in a luxury building. Some other likes: high floor, nice views, open kitchen, big windows, light. She and I scheduled a long appointment to do several viewings that afternoon. She promised to gather up a few buildings for me to look at -- all no fee.

Their office is at 30 Wall St and I showed up a bit early for my 4 PM appointment. I'm not gonna lie -- as soon as I got off the subway I knew where everything to the west was, but the East was a big mystery to me. Broker L was very nice. She had an index card with 5 different buildings for me to look at. She told me all about each before we left and I immediately cut two (the one off Leonard St? That was Tribeca place that rejected me!).

The first building was 10 Hanover Square. There was a Starbucks in the lobby which I loved. All of these buildings have their own leasing offices within. So I had not only a broker but also a tour guide! The leasing agent gave me a packet (ooh, a packet!) about the building as well as a floor plan of the apartments I would be seeing. There were a few apartments available within my price range. Each apartment style is called a "line." I saw a T-line and and a U-line.

The floor plan above is a T-line plan.
The U-line plan looked just like it
but was flipped horizontally.

So ready for a new apartment term? "Studio home office." This is basically a 1 BR but legally a bedroom has to have a window. When you see studio-home office in ads you have two separate living areas. Almost all of the apartments I saw with L were studio home offices.

The apartments at 10 Hanover were lovely -- hardwood throughout, lovely granite breakfast bars, new appliances, nice closets and marble bathrooms. And one of the apartments was on the 21st floor and had an awesome view of 40 Wall St. But they were tiny for the price! $2325 for the lower floor and $2400 for the 21st floor. Plus I hated how you walked into the home office -- which I would have used as the bedroom. Granted people can see my "bedroom" now in my tiny space but if I'm upgrading I want to be able to keep it separate. I suppose you could make it the living room but still...awkward to say the least. And the neither living space was very big. I would only be gaining about 120 sq feet and some of that wasn't really usable. I do have to say that the building's amenities were great. I quickly came to learn that all of these buildings have huge lounges, roof decks and game rooms with free wifi. There was also storage in the building and the most amazing gym I have ever seen. It had a 3-story rock wall! Turns out the building used to the be the Goldman Sachs headquarters. Something about that made me feel dirty.

I was quite impressed with the building but not the apartment so we continued on. Next stop was the Crest. Located at 63 & 67 Wall St, two buildings were combined to make one. The apartments I looked at were both in 63 Wall St. Again I saw the lounge and the gym. The lobby of 67 Wall also had an amazing atrium.

Up to the apartments. We saw on the 3rd floor and one on the 12th floor. I was told there was an application in on the 3rd floor apartment so honestly I didn't pay too much attention to it. It was nice -- it had 3 HUGE closets) but I was excited to see the view from the 12th floor. That apartment had a wonky layout but I loved it! It was built on a diagonal so everything was built into nooks. And the view: wow. Another great view of 40 Wall St. The 3rd floor unit was $2495 and the 12th floor unit was $2595 but L was sure we could negotiate. Still, I was eager to see what else was out there.

The next building was 45 Wall St., and after the first two places neither apartment really impressed me. I saw a large studio that had awesome closets (and at $2295 cheap!) but was very dark and an alcove studio that had a nice terrace but was tiny (and expensive at $2550). We made one last stop at 100 Maiden Lane. The apartment had plenty of windows but no great view to enjoy so I passed.

I had seen almost 10 apartments by the end of the appointment and I admit my head was spinning! I was already having trouble remembering one apartment from another. Plenty to think about. L and I went back to her office and she suggested I sleep on it. It was late enough by then that none of the apartments was likely to be taken out from under me.

I spent all night deliberating between the 21st floor apartment at 10 Hanover Sq and the 12th floor apartment at the Crest. I liked the apartment at the Crest better but it was more expensive and the building amenities at 10 Hanover were better. 10 Hanover was further from the subways though. And the Crest had a better layout. Flip flop flip flop.

Finally the next morning I had decided -- the 12th floor apartment at 63 Wall St. L and I chatted for while. I wanted to go back to the Crest and see the places again to take photos and measure. She agreed to take me back. On the way we chatted about the rent. L thought she could get the management company down to $2550. Blargh. That was still more than I wanted to pay by $50. That right there would save me $600 a year. Really I wanted to pay $2400, which would save me $1200. L suggested that we take another look at the 3rd floor apartment, which she felt she could get down to $2450. She mentioned that it had showed up in her daily listings so there was a good chance the application didn't go through.

On second viewing I fell in love with the 3rd floor apartment. Now that I had the other apartments to compare it to it really was something. Tall, 10 foot windows with stained glass. A nice kitchen open to the living room. Three huge closets. A nice layout. I wanted it!

We found out the apartment was indeed open so I put in an application. I offered $2400 on a 16-month lease with 1 month free. And on Friday morning I found out my offer was accepted and it was mine!! I signed my lease on Friday evening and I can move in on the 15th. Hooray! My long, miserable journey is finally almost over. I will post some more thoughts later this week but I need some sleep first. And to pack.