Last Saturday, our landlord dropped by to tell us the bad news – the 120-year-old building that houses our little apartment (four hundred square feet of Brooklyn studio goodness) and an identical one on the floor below needs some serious renovations, and as a result, our rent would need to go up and we’d need to move out for an indefinite period of time which could range from two weeks to three months, and there’d be no way of knowing how long that might take. In other words, it was probably time to move.
Two and a half years and two apartments after moving to New York City, I should be an old pro at this. "Where do you live?" is one of two cocktail party conversation staples in the Big Apple (the other is “what do you do?”), simply because it’s a fact of life for everyone – you live somewhere, you move a lot to escape rent increases/vermin/loud neighbors/etc., and the neighborhood in which you live often says something about you. Hipsters and rockers live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the East village; families and literary types live in Park Slope, Brooklyn (our current neighborhood) and Manhattan’s Upper West Side; old money belongs on the Upper East Side; and families, immigrants, and starving artists are scattered all over the boroughs.
Our neighborhood of choice is the West Village, because we work, study, and worship in the Village already. In fact, I lived in the West Village for a year when I first moved to New York, which is how I found my church, which is where I met my husband and many people who have greatly influenced my life and ideas.
So, you might say, what’s the big deal about moving? We’re going from a neighborhood we’ve loved to a neighborhood that is home, and that’s something to celebrate, right? You might be thinking that I’m just a big fat whiner right now.
Have you ever looked for apartments in New York?
The easy way to do this is to find a reputable, trustworthy broker – which, in a city of this many people, can be a challenge – and tell them what you want, where you want it, and how much you want to pay, and just see what they come up with. This can work beautifully, but there are two drawbacks: their fees are usually expensive, even by NYC real estate standards (often 18% of your annual rent), and brokers are notorious for showing you everything except what you asked for. You can’t blame them – after all, they’re trying to show you an apartment you just might take so they can make a living – but it’s more than a little frustrating to spend hours marching around looking at two-bedrooms on the Upper West Side when what you asked for was a studio in the Flatiron District.
Some of us are too cheap or too poor to pay someone else to do our apartment hunting for us. Luckily for us, Craig Newmark invented the ever-useful Craigslist, the number-one real estate listing in New York. Though many of the apartments are listed by brokers, by trolling the list maniacally, compulsively refreshing the browser twice a minute, you can sometimes stumble onto a building owner who is renting an apartment, no fees, just first and last month’s rent up front - if you can provide evidence of excellent credit, a letter of employment, your last three/six/twelve paystubs, proof that you earn at least 40x the rent each year, and a report from the housing bureau.
The listings sometimes include pictures, many of which you discover aren’t of the actual apartment but a “similar” one (which may or may not even be in the same neighborhood). Sometimes they include huge, neon text or garish clip art, which some brokers feel is an appropriate way to attract your attention. (Run in the other direction.)