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Hot Hot Hot!

22 Jul

Yes, it is still hot outside in NYC.  In fact, when I went to my favorite free yoga in Bryant Park tonight, it was still 93 degrees – at 6 PM!  Let’s just say it was more like a sweat-bucket bikram yoga class (typically held at around 130 degrees) than your average breezy outdoor practice.

But the weather isn’t all that’s hot.  The rental market in Manhattan is still scorching.  How do I know this?  All the requests I’ve been getting for help finding an apartment!  I have received a ton of wonderfully enthusiastic emails from friends-of-friends and even complete strangers lately, looking to rent in NYC.  Some folks are looking for real estate agent assistance (gotcha covered), and a lot more folks just have questions about apartments they’ve seen or situations they’ve encountered.  Seems like everyone wants a piece of the New York (well played, all of you city lovers)!

I love talking about all the great neighborhoods in this town and helping to navigate the sometimes-daunting rental market here.  So, I’m more than happy to answer as many questions as I can.  Keep the emails coming!

There are, however, a few questions that I pose to everyone in the midst of a search.  When you decide to seriously start looking for an apartment, here are the things you should figure out prior to delving in:

  1. What are you comfortable paying, and what would be the absolute most you’d be willing to spend?
  2. Where is your preferred area or neighborhood?  If you have questions about different neighborhoods, feel free to shoot me a note or just to Google them (what on Earth did we all do before Google?).
  3. What are your size and space requirements?  How many bedrooms do you need?  Is the main living space more important, or is the bedroom size more important?  Is a convertible apartment an option, if you’re in share situation?
  4. When do you need to move?  Is your move-in date flexible?  Or is it constrained by the end of another lease?
  5. Are you prepared to pay a fee?  In a hot market, fees are the norm (expect to dole out 1-2 months of the year’s rent).  If you don’t want to pay up, are you willing to move farther out from lower Manhattan?

If you answer all these questions ahead of time, your search will be much easier.  I promise you, these are the questions any listing agent or management company will ask – or should ask!  Be honest and realistic about what you need and what your limitations are.  Then, just try to stay realistic and open-minded, and you’ll be ready to search.  Happy hunting, and stay cool!

Tell me about any great (or not-so-great) apartment deals you’ve gotten lately!  Has anyone been struggling to find a place?  Have you run into questions along the way?  Share with the class!

 

Image:  Bryant Park Blog

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

6 Jun

…I’m yours!  I mean…it’s mine!  My credit was approved within a couple of hours today, and I met the condo owners to sign my new lease tonight.  So, I guess now all I need to do is call Mr. Wong, right?  Don’t worry, I’ll get you some pics of this move.  Now, I’m off to rest easy.  Goodnight!

Clinton Hill, Here I Come

5 Jun

Well folks, I made a decision. You may recall from my last post that I was deciding between three apartments, since my lease at The Gate is up at the end of June.  Just to recap, here were the choices:

  • Option 1:  Stay in Battery Park City and pay $200 more, per month, in rent.
  • Option 2:  Sign a lease on a large, well-priced 1BR apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn that boasts some nice outdoor space.
  • Option 3:  Save some money by moving back up to Harlem, where the rent at my old place (Riverton) is now around $1400/month.

Painful as it is to leave our beloved Battery Park City, we just could not justify paying $2050/month for a studio (call us crazy!).  And since Agent Owens and I had decided to leave Harlem a mere 14 months ago, we felt like we just weren’t ready to go back yet.  That said, the decision has been made to go with the apartment in Clinton Hill!

Wikipedia offers a great map of the neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Clinton Hill is in the northern, central part of the borough.

Trust me, over the course of the weekend there was plenty of bellyaching on my part about the fact that I didn’t know which option to pick.  I think Agent Owens was prepared to break up with me if I uttered the whiny phrase, “I just don’t knoooow what to doooooo!” one more time.  It’s hard to give up living in an area you love so much, and it’s equally hard to pass up a chance to pay $1400/month in rent, for a large 1BR.  But still, I was being a little bit Scarlet O’Hara.

Fortunately, for everyone involved, the decision needed to be made relatively fast.  I have to tell The Gate whether I’m staying or leaving, by tomorrow.  And, I needed to submit an application on the Clinton Hill place ASAP, if I was going to go that route.  Time was a-tickin’.

In the end, we chose Clinton Hill, and I think we made a great choice.  Truthfully, Clinton Hill (as a neighborhood) is a big unknown for me, which is a little scary but mostly exciting.  Turns out, though, that we’ll be with family in the new place.  Agent Owens’s brother and his wife live about 4 blocks from the apartment, and they gave us a little tour of the immediate surrounding area today, en route to brunch.  Plus, I have some family friends in the neighborhood, and we have several college friends within walking distance.  Party in Brooklyn!

If you're familiar with Brooklyn, the Clinton Hill neighborhood is outlined here.

As for the apartment itself, we’ll be renting a condo from owners who are moving to Connecticut (where I’m from!  Seemed auspicious!).  The finishes are beautiful, the space is large, and there are 3 (count ‘em, 3!!!!!) outdoor spaces.  We have a private balcony, a shared back patio where everyone BBQs, and a shared roof deck.  Seeing as we are currently in the season of sunbathing, grilling, and letting-the-fresh-air-in, I am beyond excited.

All that’s left now is for the other agent to run my credit check and for me to actually sign the lease.  I am hoping that will all happen in the next couple of days, and I will certainly keep you posted as to how that goes.

So, without further ado, here are the pics:

When you walk in, you're facing the living room and the sliding glass doors onto the balcony.

This photo doesnt do it much justice, but the bedroom is quite large.

Double closet in the bedroom. Big plus? Oh, yes.

Hall Closet next to the bathroom, which has a linen closet, marble floor, and heat lamp. Ahhh.

The kitchen is at the back of the living room. Yay for lots of cabinets and a dishwasher!

Looking out onto the balcony, from the living room. The balcony overlooks the patio/garden.

Shared patio. Bring on the BBQs!

Picture me up here, in my beach chair, with a gin & tonic, gazing at that skyline. Yes, please.

When I sat down to write this post, I x’d out all of my Criagslist, MLS, and random apartment listing tabs on my browser.  It was beyond therapeutic!  And now, I’m off to watch the rest of the NBA finals in peace, with a beer, knowing that I have a place to rest my head next month.  Ahhh.

Cheers!

Images:  (1) Wikipedia, (2) Google Maps, All others Rebecca for Happy City Living

Get Up Offa That Thing

4 Jun

…and dance till you feel better! (Just kidding.)

I’m sure you might be wondering why, in my posts about apartment hunting, I’ve been talking about sitting at a computer rather than actually going out to see apartments. Well, I wasn’t just being lazy, and I did always have plans to get up off of my “thing” to see potential new homes.

The reason I did so much online hunting is that apartments don’t typically become available for a July 1st move-ins (the date I need) until June. Listings you find in May will most likely be for June move-in dates, and once you mention that you want to move in July, you’ll quickly get shot down by the listing agents. There are exceptions, but for the most part, landlords want to rent out their apartments ASAP. And, in the summer months, when inventory is flying off the shelves, finding a new apartment and signing a lease can literally all happen within one day.

Being a Type-A, plan, plan, plan kind of person, waiting until the last minute to apartment hunt can become extremely frustrating for me. So, here’s my plan of attack, which allowed me to get the ball rolling a little bit earlier…

2 months prior to moving:  At the end of April slash beginning of May, I began poking around listing sites, to get an idea of what types of apartments were currently available in my price range. Since I wasn’t tied to one neighborhood in particular, I tried to see what I could get for my money in a variety of areas.

1.5 months prior to moving:  In the middle of May, I started paying attention to apartments that I saw posted over and over again. Now, these units may have something wrong with them that’s preventing renters from signing a lease, but it is likely that the units are just overpriced. In the summer months, with so many apartments up for rent, renters are going to notice if a unit is listed for too much $. I started to make mental notes of unit’s I’d seen being continually posted. These might be good units to see, and there might be room to make a deal.

1 month prior to moving:  Last weekend, I started seriously looking. At that point, June was upon us, and the units on the market likely did not have a June 1st tenant moving in. As a result, brokers and landlords were willing to talk about July move-ins. I started calling agents to see if their units were still available and if they’d show the place to July tenants. Typically, I got one of three responses:

  1. The unit has already been rented.
  2. The unit is still available, but we’d like to get it rented right away. Would you conider June 15th?

I often lied and said I would consider the 15th. Hey, if the place were truly amazing, maybe I would settle for a pro-rated month. I started making appointments and noting the dates of any open houses that were offered.

Then, it began. I saw a whole bunch of apartments this past week – more than I’d care to recall, in fact. Remember those two days that were 90+ degrees with 100% humidity? Oh yea, I was trucking from crappy apartment to crappy apartment. There were two types of apartments: nice places that were immediately spoken for by someone willing to move in within the hour (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much) and utter sh*t holes. It was a week of pure, unadulterated frustration.

3 weeks prior to moving: this is where we are now. I’ve narrowed my search down to three options. I could move to back up to Harlem (Riverton has apartments starting at $1400/month!); I could sign a lease on a cool place I found in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (with great outdoor space and real room to move); or I could stay put in Battery Park City (my true-love neighborhood). I still haven’t decided which way to go because I haven’t finished negotiations with the Brooklyn apartment agent, but I’ll be sure to tell you all about it once I do make a decision.

So, what should I do? Stay in my beloved Battery Park, gazing at the skyline and the river? Try a new neighborhood, and gain a little square-footage and outdoor space? Go back to a place I know to save a few bucks? Damn decisions. I’ve always sucked at making decisions like this, and somehow, it hasn’t gotten easier with age. I think I need a cup of tea…or 5 cups.

 

Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living

Video: YouTube

My Name Is Rebecca, And I Have A Problem

30 May

Obsession.  That is my problem.  Not like psycho-stalker obsession or addicted-to-drugs obsession.  It’s more of a Type-A, fixate-on-any-little-task-at-hand, make-myself-insane kind of obsession.  So, apartment hunting can really turn me into a crazy person.

Basically, my recent existence involves every moment of my spare time spent glued to my laptop.  I have so many apartment listings floating around in my brain that they are all turning into one giant glob of photos, addresses, brokers, costs, features….blehhhh.  Agent Owens is ready to throw this computer out the window, but I really feel like I have to give it my best shot at finding a more reasonably priced abode.  If there’s nothing better out there, oh well.  At least I will have given it the old college try.

Eventually, though, I do need to remove myself from the laptop long enough to eat.  So, yesterday, we used mealtime as an opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air.  There is a restaurant in our “backyard” called Merchant’s River House, and the reasonable prices, good food, waterfront dining, and proximity to home make this one of our most frequented eateries.  If you ever find yourself walking along the waterfront in Battery Park City, I would definitely recommend giving River House a try.

The problem for us, though, was that sitting outside in the finally-spring weather, feeling the breeze off the water, was a glaring reminder of why we love where we live.  In the winter, Battery Park can be brutal, due to the wind that blows up from the water.  Turn a corner and you’ll feel the blast of an Arctic-like chill.  However, during the spring and summer, you could not find a better spot to be, in NYC.

Along the promenade you will find…

Walkers, joggers, bikers, and rollerbladers.

A marina boasting beautiful yachts…

…and a sailing school

Parks for families and sun bathers,

Outdoor dining,

And even on the street-side of the buildings, there is a peaceful, almost suburban feel to the neighborhood.  I stood in the middle of the street to take this photo, without fear of being run over:

People walk their dogs and stop to chat:

They let their kids run around without holding tight to Mom or Dad’s hand, and they leave their puppies tied up in front of stores while they run in to get their groceries:

For all these reasons and more, Battery Park City has become one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city.  After working in midtown and battling crowds on the subway, there is a sense of serenity to coming home, here.  I’m still close to friends, bars, restaurants, shopping, and transportation, but when I walk up my street, I’m also a world away.

At one point, during my bellyaching about apartment hunting, Agent Owens reminded me that BPC is not going anywhere.  Goodness knows I move quite often, and if I ever find myself in a position to move back to this area, everything I love will still be here.  And who knows?  Maybe there’s another neighborhood that will be an even better fit for my lifestyle.

With that newfound positive outlook, I am back to the hunt.  You can find me glued to my computer, if you need me.

Images:  Rebecca for Happy City Living

Spoke Too Soon

17 May

Remember my last post about my lease renewal saga?  Remember at the end of the post when I said, “I’m actually relieved that the leasing office came back with such a definitively high number because if they’d countered around $2000 I wouldn’t know whether to stay or go?”  Well, when I didn’t accept $2162 and expressed how disappointed I was with their lack of willingness to work with me, they responded.  The woman I’d been emailing with told me she was going to pass my request along to her boss, the leasing director.  About an hour later, I got a new counter at $2050 with a note that this was their final offer and that this renewal would not be considered again.  Basically, take it or leave it.

Ugh.

Now, here’s where I am:  I COULD pay $2050/month, but I really don’t WANT to pay that much.  On the other hand I love living in Battery Park City, and really had not planned on leaving so soon.

Hard to see how great it is via photo, but I reeeeally don't want to give up my city skyline view - one of 50 things I love about my apartment.

For the moment, I have jumped feet first into searching for a new place.  I want to make sure I know all my apartment options before making a decision.  Unfortunately, I am in the middle of the crazy summer real estate market (read more about the seasons of apartment hunting here).  Prices are high and inventory is flying off the shelves.  Not an ideal set of circumstances for getting a great deal.  In fact, when I called a listing agent about an apartment this morning, it had already been rented BEFORE the open house, and the agent said, “If you don’t have to move right now, don’t.  The market is red hot.”  Wonderful.  That makes me feel great about my search.

Anyway, now that staying put is an option, and now that it seems like moving may very well be a hugely un-fun task (since it’s high season for renting in NYC) here are the pros and cons of STAYING at the Gate:

PROS:

  1. I wouldn’t need to front a bunch of money for a new place (security deposit and first month’s rent, up front).
  2. I wouldn’t need to shell out $400 for moving.
  3. I wouldn’t need to pack all my stuff and live in chaos for a month, while I leave one place and move into another.
  4. I love my apartment and would really love to continue living in it.
  5. I love the view from my apartment and doubt I’d find something like it again, in my price range.  You can really become picky once you’ve lived on the 30-something-th floor!
  6. I love Battery Park City, and don’t want to leave here so soon!

CONS:

  1. It’s tough to save money when you spend over half your salary on rent.
  2. If I ever want to NOT be a renter, I need to start saving more money.  See reason #1 for the reason why that can’t happen at The Gate.

Obviously, there are way more pros than cons.  But saving money is a key consideration here, and it may outweigh all the pros in this situation.  Man, it sucks to make smart adult decisions.

And now, like a mature adult, I’ll show you a few more pictures to sway you over to the “you should totally stay in your apartment” side of the debate:

Another part of my view overlooks Ground Zero. Obviously, I need to be here to monitor construction progress.

Even on a gray day like today, my backyard is beautiful! Gotta love being down by the water.

Vader clearly doesn't want to move. He's clearly going to lie on all boxes to prevent me from packing. He's also clearly crazy and seems think he's a dog with that lying-on-my-back-waiting-for-a-belly-rub stuff.

Anyone else in a situation like this – hashing out the great save-money-or-live-where-you-love debate?  Tell me what you chose to do! Please!

Images:  Rebecca for Happy City Living

Spam Filtering on Craigslist (or How NOT to Get Swindled)

1 May

I got an email today from someone looking to sublet an NYC apartment this summer, and of course, I suggested good ol’ Craigslist.  There are more listings on that site than anywhere else (for the general public, anyway).  Plus, the lack of formality can make the site less stressful to use than real estate companies’ websites or other online apartment-finders.  Still, “the Craigslist method” of apartment hunting is riddled with problems, not the least of which is fake ads.  Craigslist pulls these fake ads down if they get flagged for removal by users, but it’s impossible to catch every offending post.  So, as a user, the best thing you can do is to learn what to watch out for.  In simply knowing the tell-tale signs of a fishy ad, you can save yourself tons of time and energy.  Who knows?  Maybe your search can be as painless as mine was when I moved to Harlem (the apartment I moved into was the first one and only one I saw).

Below, I’ve listed a couple of the signs of a scam.  Some of this may sound confusing, and that’s because the goal of scams IS to confuse you.  You might read by examples and go, “But wait, that doesn’t make any sense!”  You’d be correct, but people fall for these ads all the time, no matter how ridiculous they seem.  There is nothing straight-forward about what scammers do.  So, try to follow me here, as I describe the twisted logic of fake listings:

FAKE: If you buy a Louis Vuitton purse on Canal Street for $5, it ain’t Louis Vuitton. Hate to break it to ya.

Total fakeness #1:  The Misrepresentation

There are real estate companies – real ones and fake ones – that like to stretch the truth when posting on Craigslist.  One oft-used tactic is to mis-categorize listings.  Studios and junior-1s will be listed as 1BRs.  You might go to see a place that is called a 1BR on the listing, only to find out it actually doesn’t have a separate bedroom at all.

Another way for them to skirt reality is to include multiple apartment sizes within a building, on the same Craigslist ad, but only show the pricing of the least expensive size.  For example, an ad for a $1900 1BR in the Financial District might then show generic photos of a luxury building and say “offering studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms.”  When you call about the $1900 1BR listing you saw, they’ll say, “Oh, $1900 is for the studio.”

Here are two simple ways to avoid dealing with this bullsh*t:

  1. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is.  If every 1BR that you’ve seen listed for the Financial District is at least $2500, then a $1900 listing for the same size unit in the same area is probably not legit.
  2. If you see a real estate company with oodles of listings that look virtually identical (all in the exact same format and showing the exact same photos), but vary in price and wording, be skeptical.

FAKE: This body type is not real. No one is shaped like this. Not even Princess Kate Duchess of Cambridge Catherine Middleton Windsor. Damn close, but no cigar.

Total fakeness #2:  The Imaginary Apartment (aka the send-me-money scam)

I once watched an episode of the A&E show Intervention, wherein a man’s addiction to prescription drugs led him to make horrible choices (as with all the folks on that show).  This including making the choice to send money to scam artists.  He was addicted to sending money to lunatics in other countries who told him he’d won something.  Until I saw that episode, I had no idea that anyone fell for “send-me-money scams.”

But people do fall for money scams.  That’s why the scams still exist.  And Craigslist is a great place for scammers to prey on the naïve.  It’s a smart ploy, too.  First time apartment hunters, and people hunting for apartments in new cities, are often stressed out by the process and under-informed.

Do yourself a favor here:

  1. If you don’t know much about the city you’re moving into, use a realtor.  Try to find an agent who comes recommended by a friend or colleague.  If you don’t know anyone in the area, talk to multiple realtors to get a feel for how far your money will go in a given neighborhood.  This is what realtors are there for.  It is worth the money to avoid getting ripped off.
  2. If you live in the city and you’re just looking for a new apartment, nothing should be taken care of over the phone.  Go see all apartments in person.  Get a business card from the showing agent and look for their website online to confirm that they’re legit.  Do not send any money to anyone.  A lease signing should be done with the building management company or landlord, and the agent showing you the apartment should be involved in the process.  Checks should be handed over in person.

FAKE: The tooth fairy. No one except your mother would pay money for your baby teeth

There are a few things to look for when scanning Craigslist for your new apartment.  Here are some warning signs that can serve as quick red flags to potential listing problems:

  1. No phone number.  Listing agents want to get their apartments rented, so they definitely want you to call them.  99 times out of 100, they’ll list their cell phone number.  If you don’t see a phone number, this might mean something fishy is going on.
  2. @aol.com email addresses.  If the anonymous Craigslist email address is replaced with a generic personal email address, you may be staring at a scam listing.  Realtors will often include their work email in their listings, which will be easily recognizable, but if the sole contact email is a generic address, check the listing a bit more closely to see if everything else seems legitimate.
  3. The cheapest price around.  If you’re looking for a 1BR apartment in Soho and everything you’ve seen has cost $2800/month, a random listing for $1500 is probably not real.

More to come on Craigslist.  I’ll tell you about how realtors actually use the site and give you some info on wording, photos, and neighborhood names.  But for now, at least you can keep from falling victim to people who can only waste your time.  Apartment hunting on your own can feel like a full-time job, especially if you’re working with a deadline.  Taking heed to the points I listed here can filter out bad listings fast.

Anyone ever fallen victim to a Craigslist scam?  Anyone stealthily avoided scams?  If it was up to me, you’d be able to “cross listings off” of your search results, if you didn’t like them or if they seemed fake.  That way you could narrow down your search on the spot and not spend time scrolling through junk.  Craigslist creators, are you reading this?  Help a girl out!

Images:  (1) Flickr-wilrocka, (2) Flickr-HelgeThomas, (3) Flickr-Brad.Coy