Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Not staying put but not moving far

It's been awhile, hasn't it? Not that I really went anywhere. My focus had just turned away from moving for a time there, thankfully. While it's been fun to dither about financial fears and rock star aspirations here let's turn back to the original and primary focus of this blog for a bit shall we? Moving, that is.

I've been firmly planted in the same Financial District apartment since 2008. A tiresome apartment search set me on staying put for as long as possible. As someone who'd moved at least once a year every year between 2000 and 2008, I was happy to put down some roots. I last moved during the financial crisis's beginning throes and was able to take advantage of all sorts of incentives like no broker fee and a free month's rent. When my original 18-month lease was set to expire I was even luckier, scoring multiple free months on a 2-year lease re-sign.

The market is vastly different now. I get emails from time to time from people reading my old apartment hunting posts from 2007 and 2008 and wondering why they couldn't find similar deals and prices now. I haven't been paying close attention to real estate but I hear that very few New Yorkers are moving right now. Due to the economy most people are staying put in their apartments even if they hate their current place. Additionally many owners are renting out their high-mortgage primary residences and renting a less expensive place while they ride out the poor economy. These two factors combined to leave NYC (Manhattan especially) with a lower vacancy rate then we've seen in years.

Who would choose to move during this crazy time? Me of course. The itch started several months ago and became itchier recently. Little quirks of my apartment that once seemed charming started to annoy. New neighbors shattered a once-peaceful respite. But the biggest driver for me was probably the lack of natural light. Neither of my NYC apartments have been sun-filled nor was that ever a requirement, though it would be a nice perk. In the summer my current place gets decent light but come winter it's kind of gloomy, and with the down economy and stress at work the last thing I need is grey days to wallow in. Grey days with a shitty neighbor's soundtrack and a commiserating dog howling on the other side.

Speaking of dogs, if you're not allergic to them I highly recommend owning one. The dog parks I frequent are like little social goldmines. I get all my neighborhood intel there: the latest Occupy Wall St updates, notes on the movies and TV shows filming down here and the occasional date. When my dog run friends were telling me about rents shooting up in my building I knew the time was here to make a move. Problem is I've become addicted to my amenities. I've got a huge mezzanine, gym and roof deck I hardly use. There's also laundry in the building (I use that of course) and a conceirge service that has dry cleaning, maid service and the like. I get my groceries delivered and my dog walked when I have to work late. I love my doormen. I could not imagine giving it up. The decision was clear: I wanted to move but I also wanted to stay in my building.

Sometimes there are perks to living in a building with a management company. Like when they have a list all their upcoming rental availabilities available to peruse. For the last couple of months I'd been watching the site for something appealing. I wasn't sure what I was looking for until I saw a 1 BR in my building on a high floor. The listing included the floor plan and the building placement. I saw a western exposure with three windows in the apartment and I was sold. Nevermind that the apartment has 1/2 the closet space of my current apartment or that the rent was above my budget. I had to see it.

A quick stop by the leasing office in my building and then I was headed up to a the high floor to check out the apartment. The first thing I noticed was that unlike my apartment, this one was blindingly bright. Though the Financial District is teeming with tall buildings, mine has enough free air space around it that the sun shone in and the view was appealingly clear. I could see through a sea of buildings to Jersey City, not to mention many famous downtown skyscrapers here in Manhattan. The layout was a bit different than my current place, though the square footage was comparable. I would lose my eat-in kitchen area for a breakfast bar which wasn't a big deal. I was worried about losing the closet space -- a huge issue for a clotheshorse like me. The constant light streaming in helped me get past that.

The lack of storage couldn't dampen my enthusiasm, but the rent could. It was significantly more expensive than my current place -- almost $500/mo more than what I currently pay. I hoped that perhaps Occupy Wall St would turn the tides and stem the rent increases. When I tried negotiating the management company wouldn't budge an inch. Free months weren't an option and neither was a lower rent. My building, they explained, was over 90% full and the average time between renters was under 30 days. Vastly different stats then when I first arrived in the building in 2008.

Graphic from the New York Times, read full article

Dejected, I passed on the apartment. I have learned that something better will always come along. Or so I thought. A couple of weeks later you see I got the letter I was dreading from the management company: my lease was almost up and they needed to know if I was staying or moving. And oh yeah my rent was going up by $400/mo if I wanted to stay. Suddenly better wasn't as important as just settling on my plans.

The economy is rough right now and this was going to hurt no matter what. If I wanted to stay I'd need to dip into my savings to cover the difference between my current rent and the new rate -- my salary's not keeping up with these cost of living increases. And if I moved I'd have to dip into savings to cover the costs of moving. Suddenly the high-floor apartment was back on the table. I'd be paying just a bit more than the new rate of my current place and I'd get the benefit of natural light. The move would be less expensive by staying in the same building. Staying in my current place was the most cost-efficient option of the three. But I'd be unhappy that the same place suddenly cost over $400 more while silently cursing my neighbors every night.

If I was going to spend money it made sense to improve my life a bit, so I contacted the leasing office one more time and made a pitch for the high floor apartment while asking for some rent concessions. We finally settled on a number I could live with. A few days later I went to the bank to get the necessary certified checks, signing the necessary paperwork and calling FlatRate moving. (Two moves and one furniture pick-up with them and they've been great every time. Let's hope this next move goes equally well.)

On the plus side, I didn't have to deal with a single broker and my apartment search took about 3 weeks in total. Much less than last time! On the minus side my finances continue to be tight. So it goes. My life is going back in boxes and I am happy. I'm moving up in the world, literally if not necessarily financially.

1 comment:

Tien said...

Oh, I am excited to see your new place! We live in a small apt in SF, but the rent is way below market, which allows us to save and go on nice trips, but the tradeoff is the tight space. However, it's on the top floor and I get so much natural light. My first place in SF, I lived in a room without windows. After that experience, I crave natural light. It's a must. I can totally sympathize with that. SF's rent is already crazy, but I cannot imagine what renting in Manhattan would be like. Ugh. Thinking about moving just sends shudders down my spine.