Apartment Hunting in NYC
Honestly, it's hard to live cruelty-free in NYC when you're looking for an apartment. Brokers just have a way of making you want to kill them. From answering the phone with a "What?!" to showing me nothing but dirty apartments in even dirtier buildings it's a miracle they make money. Whatever they do make is presumably from people not as picky as me with lower standards that won't choke on the 15% (!!) fee.
I've spent weeks upon weeks searching for "the one", and I'm beginning to think finding a boyfriend might be easier than finding a place to call my own.
I'm too chic for meat, I'm too chic for the New York real estate market and I'm definitely too chic for shit brokers.
7 brokers, 50+ apartments, 4 applications, one overworked printer, a nearly maxed out credit card, and 4 months later- here I sit without a new apartment. Short of a blood sample, a million dollars and someone's empathy, I am nowhere near getting the gem I know is out there but currently exists only in my dreams.
In the interest of helping others and for my own entertainment, here lies my short but nonetheless extensive history apartment hunting in NYC:
(But seriously...where do I begin??)
At the suggestion of a coworker I considered starting to drink before my apartment search, but decided against it because a) I don't drink and b) If I did I wouldn't have money to put down as a deposit.
My hunt began months ago as I perused Craigslist for fun to see what's out there. I would spend hours every day looking at apartments and picking out the ones that I was interested in. I didn't call to see them or even pursue them, but I wanted an idea of the market and the best time to scoop up a lease break (a unicorn in the market) so I could forgo a broker's fee. I was determined to do this on my own (ha!).
After speaking with a few people my determination wavered but my efforts did not. I ran to a deal on a $1630 studio in a doorman elevator building in midtown. The kitchen (a fridge, sink and few cabinets) was renovated and the bathroom was shiny. For the price, you couldn't beat it and before I got there I knew I wanted to apply on the spot. Little did I know, after I viewed the unit and asked for an application, the management company and super had no applications for prospective tenants to fill out. The doorman couldn't even get in touch with the super because he had left for another job. (Which, by the way is a totally normal albeit RIDICULOUS thing in the city- if something breaks when your super is working somewhere else you're screwed). After being given the super's wife number I called and practically harassed her for two days straight to send me the application via email which she finally did after telling me she sent it a few times prior (I call bullshit). Right before I was about to fax it over I called the management office only to find out someone was signing a lease for that same apartment the next day. When I went there was only one application on file so lo and behold the first and only little shit to apply for the apartment got it. With a management like that, good luck and good riddance.
On to the next one.
After hemming and hawing over if Manhattan was reeallyy worth the extra money and if I could live with myself if I holed up in Brooklyn I began checking out apartment listings for the hip borough. After landing on a listing for an "airy and spacious" one bedroom in "Prospect Park South" (let's be honest it was Ditmas Park) I ventured the furthest I've ever gone in Brooklyn (excluding Coney Island). The building was so dirty every surface had black and decaying something. Waiting in the lobby for the broker who was supposed to show the apartment I came across the creepy building super who just stared at me until the broker arrived. 4 uneven and crumbling flights up, it didn't take a brain scientist to know the apartment would resemble the rest of the building. What looked like glistening floors (thanks sunlight) in the pictures turned out to be literally cracked floors with missing wood. The kitchen was so gross I wouldn't even boil water in there and the "bedroom" would have barely fit a twin bed. The neighborhood was much to be desired, with ironically only a few blocks to a nicer street with more architecturally pleasing buildings.
This trip solidified the fact that I need to stay in Manhattan and not Brooklyn, no matter how cheap the rent is.
Thinking I could no longer do this on my own, I enlisted the help of a brokerage who came highly recommended with 5 star Yelp reviews. Cooper and Cooper was supposed to have an amazing reputation and after reading raving review after raving review I reached out to a Courtney Hopper. She was super cheery, pleasant and had great follow up skills as I explained what I was looking for and we coordinated to meet on a Saturday. When we met, she only had 3 places to show me, one of which was above my price range. So 2. I don't appreciate someone wasting my time to show me all of 2 places. The first one was very nice and one I definitely could see myself living in. It was in a well maintained building with carpeted stairs, had all white walls, cabinets in the separate kitchen and squeaky clean white bathroom. Unfortunately, it was a co-op with a $400 application fee. While $400 is actually cheap for a co-op application (insane right?), I was not willing to blow $400 and potentially not get it. Even though she assured me they pre-screen me and don't accept my money until they think I will get the apartment, there are no guarantees. We then headed to a pizza place to pick up keys (I'll explain in a minute) for an apartment that was no longer available. Since we were there she decided to show me a one bedroom outside of my budget, which was one of the ugliest apartments I've ever seen. Ugly brick faux fireplace, red walls and old cabinets, just yuck.
In regards to picking up keys at a pizza place, this is very common in the city. Owners/management companies don't want to be bothered giving keys out 7 days a week, so they leave them at a local business that does the monitoring for them. Broker gives pizza man his ID, brokers gets keys, when he returns the keys pizza man gives the ID back. If only all transactions were that easy.
Courtney mentioned her husband was also in the business, so she put me in contact with him and we set a date to meet. We walked up and down blocks and stairs seeing some of the grossest apartments ever.
If you've gathered nothing this far other then NYC is a dirty place, you're good.
The last apartment I saw with Scott (her husband) was actually decent with an enviable closet. It was even in an elevator building with laundry downstairs (bonus!) and I was planning on applying for it, but not before questioning their bed bug history. By law, you are owed a bed bug report after filling out the application before signing the lease. This particular building came up online in a bed bug registry with many people saying you should never live there. With this red flag, I asked Scott to look into this because why should I waste money applying for something that's not up to my standards? Needless to say, the building did in fact have a bed bug issue so there went that.
The day before meeting Scott, I came across a listing for a renovated studio on the UES for a really great price. I called the owner who directed me to the super who set up a time to meet me and show me the place. I met him right before meeting Scott, because I knew I wanted this apartment. Turns out, there were two apartments available but the renovated one was more expensive than the listing said. Not surprising, just annoying. I didn't care because it was within my budget and a minimal $35 application fee. I had all my paperwork with me and even the cash but the super was like "Just email it to the owner". He didn't want to take my money because he said I could always mail it in. No further instructions (or address) were provided.
I did email my application, told the owner how much I made and waited. I then got a call from both the owner and super a few days later asking where my application fee was (WTF) to which I responded "I'll bring it first thing in the morning!".
After expressing my enthusiasm multiple times over the renovated apartment, I was told a week later the non renovated apartment was available but the renovated one was taken and did I want it? I was annoyed because I made it clear I wanted the newer one but I said "Absolutely!"
Mind you, he never asked for any paperwork to verify I wasn't lying and gave me the apartment solely on a credit check. It took him days to to send me a lease via email (RED FLAG) that I could sign and send back to him. Up until that point, I wasn't 100% sure of the management company's name so I couldn't look them up to do prelim evaluation.
Upon receiving the lease, the company name was Yorkville Realty and the address was a PO box (sketchy!). At this point I wasn't actually considering signing the lease because of how difficult he had been, but I decided to read through the lease for a few laughs. Every other word was spelled wrong and there was a list of "house rules" that included no guests staying over for more than 7 days. If they stayed longer I would need his approval. This is utter absurdity because this is an apartment building, not a dorm. No one pays to be monitored and as long as no one is noisy you should be able to do whatever the heck you want (barring smoking).
He didn't appreciate my send-off in the form of a grammar rant but karma is a bitch.
There are three types of people in the world:
1. Type A
2. Type B
3. Type Broker (nice at first, attitude when you start to ask questions= total fake)
Similar situations occurred with Bond Real Estate, LivingNYC and City Habitats. All rude when it came to answering the hard questions like "What are the building rules?", "Why is the outside renovated but the inside so gross?" and "I said I wanted clean so why are you showing me this dump that's above my price range?" This is very common in NYC- for landlords to only fix things as they have the money for it. Often, you'll see a renovated kitchen with an old rusty bathroom, or a new sink with 20 year old floor tile. It makes no sense and really degrades the space because it's like half-new. Although these landlords have no problem doing something half assed, they have a lot of balls.
I also ran to a few long-term sublet situations thinking I could fix the place up as my own since they would be unfurnished. Subletting is easier than actually applying for the apartment and obtaining a lease because usually no application fee is involved nor is a management company. You lease from the current tenant so it's between you and them. One sublet I saw had floors that looked 20+ years old, a hole in the wall (yes, a hole) and one wall painted purple because as the tenant said "I started painting the place purple one weekend but only did one wall so I left it". Who does that?
This agita continued as I looked at places in Williamsburg (Brooklyn again) and finally Jersey City (I can't even).
The sad part is that this kind of market is accepted and taken as a given. People don't scuff at paying thousands of dollars before even moving into an apartment because this is just the way it is. If New York had the South running it's real estate, I think everyone would be happier.
In terms of fees, there is always a fee. "No-fee" doesn't exist- the difference between a fee and no-fee apartment is that you pay the fee or the landlord pays the fee. No-fee apartments are usually terrible but scooped up quickly anyway because more than one person would like to save a buck over living like a human being.
The only way to bypass this is to rent directly from a management company or landlord, which can be time consuming to find them or not timely enough because they only have what they have that day. The market moves so quickly that you can see their available apartments today and then 3 new apartments come on the market tomorrow.
You may say my standards are too high, to which I'll say your standards are too low. I think everyone, no matter your income, deserves a clean home. Yes, home. Not just a roof over their head and not just a place to throw a mattress down but a home. Even if it's tiny, we all deserve our own little oasis from the grit and grime of the daily grind.
It's true that this time of year is the busiest, most competitive and most expensive to rent an apartment but that is no excuse for the scamming, lying and wasting of time that happens all year long. I can't change the system, but I can make good choices. SO- if anyone has any friends/ideas/connections I would greatly appreciate you passing them along! If not, I hope you enjoyed this peek into NYC living which is, not surprisingly, not as glamorous as everyone thinks it is. Happy hunting!