Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ramblings: Apartment hunting in NYC (often equivalent to hitting your head repeatedly against a wall)




I’ve lived here nearly 9 years now and the am convinced that the single most stressful part of NYC living is finding an apartment to live in. Finding a place to live, a place to call home. When I first moved here I lived in a small one bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side (corner of Rivington and Clinton to be more exact) for a month, courtesy of the company I worked for, so that I had time to find my own place. Yes, I thought that was small at the time. I loved the neighbourhood the moment I set foot in it, and spent the first few weeks walking around at all times of the day and night, grabbing a drink at random bars, observing people, buying Pringles at 24 hour delis at 4am, watching the people walk by from the apartment’s fire escape and writing poems up there. From the moment I started looking for a place to live I knew that the neighbourhood was completely out of my price range, especially after I had decided that for the first time in my life I wanted to live alone, without roommates… 

I was clueless. I had no credit (what on earth was this credit that everyone was speaking of), no real money to my name, no furniture and no idea how I was going to find a place. I had also never been to NYC before, let alone lived there, didn’t know anyone, and also had no idea on where it was safe or cheaper to live. Luckily, after trawling through Craigslist for a few days I found a 1 bedroom furnished sublet in Spanish Harlem, on First Ave between 119th and 120th streets. A tiny one bedroom for $900 (heat and hot water included, electricity separate) on the ground floor, with a little back yard (meaning a concrete area outside the bedroom door). It seemed pricy, but still affordable if I were careful, and it was finally my own place. Some people warned me that the neighbourhood was dangerous, but in 10 months I lived there I never had a problem. The guys who were always hanging out on my stoop were always courteous and opened the door for me, the man who ran the deli next door held on to my packages for me, and the only unwanted visitor I had was a rat, who appeared during my first week there, and after that never reappeared again (yes, you quickly learn how to plug up holes that may be found under the sink with wire…). Oh and a clogged toilet on July 4th weekend just after I had moved in because the previous tenant thought that that was where you disposed of your cigarette butts. Lesson learned – always have a plunger at hand!

Ten months later I was able to secure a bank loan thanks to my wonderful mother (she probably wouldn’t jump at doing that again though, but that’s a whole other story), and started looking for a place that would be mine, a studio on the LES, where I was all the time anyway. With the help of a friend who also happened to be a broker I ended up finding a little rent stabilized studio in the West Village, on Sixth Ave between Houston and Bleecker, right above the restaurant called Bar Pitti. $1350 a month for a place to call my home. I spent over $7 grand on first month’s rent and security deposit and broker’s fees and furniture, and never thought about the fact that $1350 was going to be too much to spend if I didn’t curb my lifestyle in a little… And even though everything was super legit, I still felt like it was all kinds of shady, signing your life away to a management company or landlord that issues you with a lease with so much small print that your brain starts to hurt after the first sentence. Advice to all: always read the small print, especially if you have a vindictive landlord who will try to extort money out of you after your lease ends. I signed a 2 year lease on this place and although I don’t regret living there, and the experience of living in the West Village, the convenience to everything and the fact that I could literally walk everywhere I needed to go to, if I had to do it again I would have been a lot more financially savvy, and would have spent less money on rent and electricity and take-out and all the rest. But I still have fond memories of that little place, where the two windows looked out onto another building and where it got so hot in the summer there was no way you could live without AC. The convenience of the location was amazing – I walked everywhere. If I didn’t feel like getting out of bed I could call the deli down the street and they would deliver within 20 minutes. So convenient that I ended up spending most of my time outside of the apartment, and in the end it just became a place to sleep rather than a home. A very expensive place to sleep.


When the rent just got too much and my lease was finally about to expire my friend Beth and I decided to look for a place together in Brooklyn, as she was in the same situation as me, and both of us needed something cheaper.  I also just wanted more space and light in my life. We had no idea where we should go in Brooklyn, visited a few places in Williamsburg, and branched out a little to Bushwick, even though most people we knew warned us not to. This was 6 years ago when no one wanted to live in Bushwick. We saw a 2 bedroom going for $1900 in a brand new building just off the Myrtle-Broadway stop on the J and decided to visit it. The place was amazing. Huge space with stainless steel appliances (a dishwasher!!), laundry IN the apartment (yes IN THE UNIT), and huge windows. The street itself looked pretty calm and there wasn’t much around in terms of restaurants or bars, but it was $1900… Meaning that we would both be saving around $400 a month EACH. Yes, we jumped on it. I still can’t believe that I thought that the commute would be a little long after living in the West Village for ages… Then we were told we had to present first and last month’s rent, as well as one month’s security deposit before we could sign the lease. And ASAP, in case someone else wanted the unit and got in there before us. That’s a total of $5700. Luckily we managed to get them to agree to first month and security deposit and got the money together within the week. We passed our credit checks and other checks, signed the lease and had the keys within a few days. The first people to move into a brand new, empty building. We felt like queens!! We discovered the neighbourhood and watched Bushwick change rapidly over the years. We negotiated our rent down to $1,700 and it hardly went up over the years… Until last year. Last year saw a huge influx in new buildings in Bushwick, and also a huge hike in rent. Ours went up from $1750 to $2000 (and even after a meeting with our landlords they assured us that they wanted to go up to $2200 but didn’t want to lose us so agreed to $2000). People were really paying these types of rents in Bushwick?? Apparently so. 

(The story of life on Troutman St will be relayed in another, separate account. It deserves its own post).


And so now it is time to move again. For multiple reasons, most importantly because I am having a baby in April, because I want to move in with my boyfriend in OUR own home, and because I want to pay less rent. Over the years my credit has gone from being nil to passable to completely crap, and C. has no credit at all, not making it any easier to secure a place. On top of that our lease runs out on February 28th, and I don’t want to have to move when I am ready to give birth. The stress of finding an apartment in this city makes me want to cry on a good day – imagine being 7 months pregnant and traipsing the streets looking for a place that will take you without credit and that is actually affordable… We had already decided that Queens was where we were heading this time, with rents that are still affordable and places that were still of a decent size. I walked out of the first agency in tears because the woman told me she couldn’t help us as we didn’t have good credit. Didn’t even try. So we started grabbing numbers from leaflets on lamp posts on Roosevelt Avenue, and ended up meeting some type of broker guys in the back room of an Internet café (yes sketchy it was). They took us to a few places, one being a large one bedroom apartment in Flushing. Yes, large. And quiet. And on the ground floor. And airy. And light. And large. Did I already mention large? Oh, and with a rent of $1275 a month. 

Yes, it’s in Flushing. A few blocks away from the last stop on the 7 line (but still, no buses! It’s still off the subway!!). Does this bother me? Surprisingly, no. To be honest it’s a perfect compromise. I’m tired of being in the noisy parts of the city. I want to be able to take my baby to the supermarket and to the park without feeling that I am walking a stroller through a maze of unexpected obstacles. I want to be able to relax at home without hearing sirens and car horns and people blaring their music from their car stereo. So, Flushing it is… I hope! This time it’s even more shifty as we don’t want to have to go through a credit check just to get rejected, but the lovely gentlemen who showed us the apartment are helping us through it and we will be signing the lease tomorrow… Fingers crossed as I don’t want to jinx it, but with a little help from some friends, long hours at work and the art of living off pasta for a week we managed to cobble together the funds that we need to get the keys. It appears to all be legit too as the landlord/owner of the building called our workplace to check that we weren’t lying about our jobs… Honestly, looking for and finding an apartment in NYC always feel completely sketchy, as if you are doing something slightly illegal. Even when you have amazing credit and a decent salary and enough money to pay for 3 months rent up front.

I can’t wait to take this next step, setting up our child’s first home, living in a new borough of the city (for me) and just discovering a new neighbourhood. I’m excited to decorate a new place with our drawings and photos and belongings, making it ours. And I’m so happy that I don’t have to worry about this any longer, as once the lease is signed we can focus on moving and setting up the apartment for the baby… So long Brooklyn, Queens here we come!


All images  © Jade Anna Hughes

1 comment:

Susan Scott said...

Searching for an apartment is really a huge challenge, especially in a busy city. Fortunately, everything is searchable through the internet nowadays, which makes it less stressful to look for the best places with affordable prices from the comfort of your own home. If that doesn’t work, you can ask a realtor for advice or a friend who is knowledgeable in real estate. Anyhow, it’s a huge relief that you already found an apartment. At least you can finally focus on taking care of yourself and your little one after that.

Susan Scott @ Ballarat Apartments