This spring, the real estate website StreetEasy dominated the subways with a new advertising campaign.
I’d catch myself staring at them longer than I usually look at a subway ad, studying all the rich, colorful details. Anna and I were attracted to both the images, as well as the premise that no matter how cramped and chaotic and essentially unlivable your NYC apartment is, it’s better than an apartment anywhere else.
Then we had coffee and pretzel croissants at City Bakery with Dan Riley, who’d moved back to St. Louis after years in New York City. He’d of course noticed the ads, too—and had the exact opposite reaction. He hated them.
Why should people have to put up with paying exorbitant prices to live on top of each other without the basics that most of America enjoys? (A washer and dryer? A home where the baby doesn’t have to sleep in the closet? Outdoor space?) Why should people just accept it?
After all, Anna and I were not too pleased with New York City this May, as we tried to secure our next home.
Up until now, we’ve had excellent real estate luck. We’ve never paid a broker’s fee! We’ve lived on the historical and charming Orchard St. in Manhattan, and down the street from the mayor in a Park Slope brownstone.
So, heading into our apartment search this time around, I was of the mindset that everything would just work out … while Anna was convinced that our luck had finally run out.
We hadn’t put much effort yet into looking for an apartment when I received a call from a woman I used to babysit for. She wanted me to take over her lease!
Her adorable Manhattan tenement home is my actual dream apartment on the cutest street in Manhattan. Plus this building isn’t just filled with post-grads and banker yuppies. It still has plenty of real, old New Yorkers who are probably paying $75 a month. There’s even a Holocaust survivor who still manages to walk up 5 flights of stairs every day in her house dress.
I couldn’t believe the fortunate timing. What are the odds? See, things just work out, Anna! New York City just handed us our dream apartment on a silver platter.
We submitted our lease take-over application and I was already moved in in my head. Anna remained a little more skeptical and casually browsed Craigslist apartments in the meantime.
And, well, long story short: we didn’t get the apartment. The landlord suddenly decided to take the apartment off the market. I called and begged and pleaded in my sweetest Midwestern way. When he barked, “Well, life isn’t fair ya know!” and “Being a landlord is hard, ok!” I very sincerely sympathized with him, “Oh yes sir, I know, it must be!” Eventually he softened and conceded that I “seem like a nice person.” But, alas, the apartment was not to be ours. Much to Anna’s credit, when I called her at work to report that we may or may not be homeless in a week’s time, she didn’t “freak out” or say “I told you so.” By evening she’d already emailed a dozen brokers and landlords, and had an itinerary of apartment showings for the next day.
However, looking for apartments can be terribly depressing. For example, Anna sent along this email, with the subject line: “This is why I hate New York right now:”
“Below is a legit response from a broker about a 1-bedroom apartment for $2,700 in Brooklyn (that comes with a broker’s fee of 15% of the yearly rent—so close to $5,000):
‘Do you cook? The kitchen is small and not so functional.
I’m happy to show it to you tomorrow.‘”
See?! It’s rough out there. NYC brokers can get away with stuff like that because we are at their mercy. But I’m sorry Mr. Broker, that is where we draw the line. I may not need a closet or much square footage, but we do need food to sustain ourselves.
However, we can’t really complain too much, because as luck would have it, the very first apartment we viewed was beautiful. We immediately told the broker we wanted it and had all our documents to him by the morning.
Alas, we had to pay a broker’s fee (which means Anna and I can never move again and will be squeezing our respective future husbands and children in there.)
Hopefully it will all be worth it though, because it’s a two-bedroom in one of our favorite Brooklyn neighborhoods for a (relatively) low price. We signed the lease that weekend.
There’s one more twist.
Never believe anything is for certain when it comes to NYC real estate until your boxes are sitting firmly in the living room and your toothbrush is in the medicine cabinet.
This time it was Anna who received a phone call with some unfortunate news: we couldn’t move in June 1st. Apparently the current tenants had a month-to-month lease and were staying through June. There had been a “miscommunication.” The good news was that for June they would give us a more expensive apartment around the corner for half of the price of the first apartment.
While I really enjoy moving, moving two months in a row isn’t the most ideal.
But, it will be an adventure! And besides, everyone needs at least one real estate horror story. It’s much more fun than complaining about the weather.