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The Set-up

12 Jul

DISCLAIMER!:  This is a “progress” post.  It is not a “finished/pretty/look-at-me” post.  The dregs from the bottoms of my moving boxes are still lurking about in my apartment, without a home to be tucked away in, and there is no art on the walls yet.  Please use your rose colored glasses when you check out these pics.  Merci beaucoup.

The fact of the matter in all apartment living is that great furniture arrangement is both difficult and vital.  Correct placement of the larger items in your home helps to maximize whatever space you have (or at least it plays tricks on your eyes to make the space LOOK bigger).  However, city dwellers are always contending with structural obstacles.  You need to place your lamps near outlets so that you’re not living in a web of extension cords.  Your dresser can’t get up close enough the the corner of your bedroom because there’s a wall bump-out for plumbing or electrical.  The one wall that fits your couch also houses your air conditioner, causing that to be blocked.  The list of potential interior design issues is endless in apartment living.

I’d sort of figured that if I could arrange all of my large pieces in a studio apartment, then going back to a 1BR would be cake.  But by the time my sister came to visit last weekend, the schematics of my home still seemed “off”.  Granted, there were residual boxes sitting around and a giant bookcase lying face down on the middle of the living room floor (more on that later).

But my sister, Sar, is a gal of many talents, and having arranged her own small studio apartment in DC, she was able to lend a hand.  Plus, a fresh set of eyes on a conundrum never hurts.  After humming and hawing over my obnoxiously boxy overstuffed chair (it is ALWAYS the problem child in my collection of furniture), this is what we came up with for the living room:

For the kitchen, I just copied the set-up that the last folks had because it worked (the white bins are just hanging around because they don’t have a permanent, concealed spot yet):

The bathroom didn’t require any arranging, with the exception of towels and accessories:

The bedroom posed the largest problem.  Sar and I moved the furniture to seemingly every conceivable position.  The bedroom space is actually quite large, but I have an extra piece of furniture that I always love to incorporate into the set-up.  It’s an antique chaise from good old Aunt Betty, and it’s my most prized possession.  Unfortunately, a queen-size bed, a large dresser, AND a chaise lounge are a lot for any bedroom to hold.  So, each time I’d set things up in the bedroom last weekend, I’d sit there and think, “Now, THIS could work…oh shit, the chaise has to go somewhere.”  And then I’d be back at square one.  Agent Owens will laugh as he reads this because he despises the chaise and always tells me there’s no place for extraneous furniture in apartment living.  I always beg to differ.  Still, after a half-dozen failed arrangements, this is what I came up with:

I’m happy with everything the way it’s placed now, but there are no guarantees that I won’t look around one day and decide to shuffle everything.  I’m secretly hoping my designer friend and colleague, Joe, will come over one day and use his creative genius to tell me where everything SHOULD go.

So, there you have it.  The new digs.  As I mentioned and as you can see there are still piles of junk still lying around:  papers I still need to sort through, oddly shaped objects that I need to find a home for, art that’s waiting to go up on the walls.  One of these days when I look around and notice that everything is tidy and in its rightful place, I’ll post new shots.  Until then I’ll be on the phone fighting with the 163268995367834th  representative I’ve spoken to from Time Warner Cable, who’s surely still proving to be useless. Over a week without cable and internet, in the year 2011, just seems cruel. And ridiculous.

Anyone have any furniture arranging debacles of there own? Anyone see any obvious flaws in my set-up that I’ve missed?  Speak up and help a girl out!


Images:  All images Rebecca for Happy City Living



Oh, Mr. Wong

6 Jul

Mr. Wong did it again. He moved all of my worldly possessions (of which there are many) in the blink of an eye, driving away from the job as I stood in my doorway with my mouth open.

Yes, I filled this truck.

Let’s start from the beginning. The last time I moved (from Harlem to Battery Park City) I spent 3 weeks packing. I was so excited to be moving to downtown Manhattan that I started putting everything into boxes the moment my lease was signed. Unfortunately, this meant that I lived in chaos, without the day-to-day items I needed, for the better part of a month. Boo.

This time I decided I could surely get everything packed in a week. Afterall, I was moving out of a studio this time, and I’d downsized a bit. But then life got in the way and packing was put on the back burner. So in the end, I packed in only a few days. Thankfully, my friend Amber helped me out one night, and since she is a super-focused organization freak, shit got taken care of. The final odds and ends always end up piling up more than you expect them to, though, and the night before moving day I was up until 2:30 AM squirreling things away.

This is all of my stuff packed in boxes at the old apartment. Every square inch from the front of the pile to the windows, is full.

Vader and Johnny thought the pile of stuff was a jungle gym. Here Vader is, debating how to jump up to the tallest piece of bedframe board and balance himself there.

A few moments after I’d groggily gotten myself out of bed the next morning, I got a call from Mr. Wong. He had arrived at the entrance to my apartment complex, and the security guards wouldn’t let him in. Why? Because he was an hour and twenty minutes early.  The building won’t let trucks in before 9 AM, as I’d mentioned when I scheduled Mr. Wong for the earliest available moving slot.  But at 7:40, he was already duking it out with the guard in the booth.  I went downstairs to play peacekeeper and Mr. Wong reluctantly drove down the block to wait after being promised that he’d be the first one allowed in the complex at 9:00.

Once 9:00 finally arrived, the move-out went as smoothly as I thought it would.  In 52 minutes, Mr, Wong and his partner had moved everything out of the apartment and into the truck.  Mr. Wong moved everything from the apartment into the elevator, and his partner retrieved the elevator loads and moved them onto the truck.  The most mind boggling moment was when the partner guy picked up my couch and carried it to the truck, single-handedly.  WTF?!?!?!?!?!  If you google the phrase “brute strength”, I swear a photo of these two men will pop up.

I wrote down the address of the new apartment, and off we all drove to Brooklyn.  I thought that the stairs at my new place might throw my miracle movers for a loop.  My new apartment is one flight up, which means you can’t just load things into an elevator and roll them in the door.  But I was Wong  wrong.  Stairs are no obstacle.  The move-in was completed in a little over an hour.  Ridiculous.

Mr. Wong (in blue) and his partner, offloading the truck. One of the few times the two of them were in the same place at the same time.

These shelves are heavy. Most people would carry one shelf at a time up a flight of stairs. Mr. Wong carried FOUR.

Mr. Wong's partner has a stack of 4 full plastic tubs on a hand truck in this photo. He did not take them upstairs one at a time. He backed up the stairs, pulling the stack up one stair at a time. The strength required to do that is immeasureable.

Loading the goods into my new living room.

And so, by noon, I was on the road back to my old apartment to clean up, paint the walls back to white (the existing cream and tan walls were not acceptable; they had to be Arctic White), turn in the keys, and have my last round of Battery Park City halal from my cart guy.  With the help of my parents and Aunt Betty, it was all done by 4:30, and we headed back to Clinton Hill to unpack and grab some dinner.

Me, with all my belongings behind me.

My parents always insist that the first thing you have to do in a new apartment is set up the bed.  That way, when you run out of gas in the late evening, you can just go straight to sleep.  Smart?  Yes.  So, that’s what we did.

By the time my friend (and new neighbor), Biscut, came by for dinner (pizza from Not Ray’s – don’t even get me started on this pizza; I’ve eaten it 4 times in the last week), the bed was made, the kitchen and bathroom were unpacked, and half of my clothing pile was put away.  Boo-ya.

Lots of stuff strewn across the floor, but note the neatly tucked in bed. Ahh, comfort.

And then I crashed.  The sheer exhaustion from packing, moving, cleaning, painting, and unpacking knocked me out instantly.  I hate to go to sleep before the full un-pack is done, but I just couldn’t function any longer.  And so this post has to crash, too.  Yup, that’s all she wrote for one day….literally.  HA, I crack myself up!

Tune in over the next couple of days for furniture arrangements and more on Not Ray’s Pizza.  Oh yea, and you’ll probably get a rant about Time Warner somewhere along the line, too.  A week after moving in, I still have no cable or internet.  Not a good look.  So in order to blog tonight, I’m here at a random cutesy coffee house near my house with the rest of the neighborhood’s 20-something white girl population (maybe TWC f’d them over too?).  It’s a cute place with good food and outdoor space, and at the moment they’re trying to funk-i-fy it with some Fugees tunes.  White girls gotta have their jams.  Ah, gentrification, you bastard.

Told ya it was cute. The twinkle lights are out in a patio, in the back.

Anyway, if you’re reading this, you probs have internet and cable, so say “wut up” to reality TV for me.  Oh, how I miss you, HGTV and Bravo!


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.


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

Moving Out 101

13 Apr

So, we’ve been talking a lot, lately, about moving apartments in the city.  After my lack-of-heating debacle with my hellish landlady in Sunset Park, you can probably see why I was so anxious to move out.  I thought it might be worth mentioning, though, that “moving out” does not just mean telling your landlord you’re leaving and then hauling out your belongings.  Generally, moving out entails:  landlord notification, cleaning out and cleaning up, and an inspection of the apartment.

Landlord Notification

With Dorothy (the aforementioned hellish landlady), landlord notification was easy.  Fair or unfair, our disdain for each other seemed to be mutual.  On one of the million days when I told her my apartment was freezing, she said to me, “I’m not renewing your lease in May.  You complain too much.”  I wanted to argue with her, but past discussions with her had taught me that reasoning was not her strong suit.  An old quote popped into my head:  “When arguing with a fool, make sure he isn’t doing the same thing.”  And I kept my mouth shut.  I didn’t want  to live within 10 miles of Dorothy, and she was just as happy to see me and my obnoxious need for heating, walk out the door.  Good riddance!

MJ says "peace out, adios, later gator" to Dorothy.

Still, most landlords actually WANT tenants.  They fix little things that go wrong in your apartment because that’s their job.  In turn, you pay them the rent check that they want, as your half of the bargain.  If you’re going to leave the apartment, the landlord is going to want to get a new tenant in as quickly as possible.  So, typically, there is a clause in your lease that demands you give the landlord 30-60 days notice if you choose not to renew the lease.  Fair.  Letting them know you’ll be leaving gives them enough time to schedule the prepping of the unit for a new tenant, once you’re gone.  It also gives them time to list the unit for rent, and your lease may even require you to let them in to show a prospective tenant around.  Either way, the bottom line here is that a month or two before you move out, you should let you landlord or management company know that you won’t be renewing.

Cleaning Out and Cleaning Up

The cleaning out part is pretty obvious, I think.  Basically, you have to pack up everything you own and move it out of the apartment.  Your landlord doesn’t want to have to go back through the apartment and discard a whole bunch of beat-up furniture or ratty clothing that you couldn’t be bothered to pack.  Throw away or sell anything you’re not taking with you, but do NOT leave it in the apartment.

Once you’ve moved everything out of the apartment, go back and give the place a good once-over.  If you’ve lived more like an adult with some decorum, than a reckless college kid, this cleaning step should be quick.  Run the broom around the floor once.  Wipe down anything that looks truly grimy, and call it a day.

The only items you should need to clean up your apartment (minus the kitty).

If you’ve treated the apartment more like a frat house than an adult home, you may need to dig into the “clean up” thing a bit deeper.  If you have holes in the wall (larger than nail holes) or major damage that you have not previously reported to the landlord, you’ll need to get those fixes taken care of, in order to avoid having the landlord deduct money from your security deposit.

A crack in a ceiling, like this one, is clearly not something you could have caused. Still, you should report something this to the landlord prior to moving out, to avoid any issues. Consider this photo a preview of what's to come when I tell you about my life in Harlem.

Also, keep in mind that many landlords require that painted walls be returned to white, upon moving out.  Check your lease to see what is required.  Again, failing to leave the apartment in “good condition” may mean losing some (or all) of the money from your security deposit.


Once you’ve got the apartment looking clean-ish and damage-free, meet with the landlord or a representative from the management company so that they can inspect the apartment.  In a situation with a private landlord, they will likely cut your check for returning the security deposit on the spot (assuming the inspection doesn’t turn up any issues).  If you’re dealing with a management company, though, they’ll probably just sign off on the unit, have you counter-sign, and send your check in the mail.  You know how these things go – expect to wait up to a month for your security deposit to be returned from a management company.  Boo.

If you follow these fairly simple guidelines, moving out should be a breeze.  I mean, when you think about the whole process, the PHYSICAL MOVING should be the hardest part, right?  Right.  So, dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s” to make your life a bit easier.  It will be worth it when that security deposit is back in your bank account.

Got any other odd-ball move-out stories?  Share!  No one likes a surprise on the way out the door.

Images:  (1) BackSeatCuddler , (2) and (3) Rebecca for Happy City Living

Movin’ On Up

8 Apr

I now know that there are three options when moving apartments in the city.  When I was moving out of my Sunset Park apartment, I thought there were only two options.  I’ll tell you about those two first, so that you can see where my head was at the time.  You’ll have to wait with baited breath for the third option – the “right” option – until tomorrow.  Poor you.

So…Options 1 and 2:

The beauty of having lots of space in an apartment – an office, plus a catch-all room – as a single person is that you get the chance to accumulate lots of prized belongings unnecessary items.  Unfortunately, when it’s time to leave your palatial space, you have to move your monstrous pile of possessions into your new place.  Or you have to part with some of them, which I have a hard time doing.  Agent Owens tells me I’m a hoarder.  I’m actually not, but when I do spend my money, I buy furniture and home goods that I really love.  So, letting go of them if/when I downsize is always hard.

This is a red jewelery dresser I picked up at Pier 1. I used it to store candles (my house always has candles lit). Seriously, though, what kind of 20-something city-dweller has room for a random furniture piece like this? Yes, I had too much space for my own good.

When I moved out of Sunset Park, I moved up to Harlem, and joy of all joys, the place was big enough to hold almost everything I owned.  As my interwebs idol, Sherry, from Young House Love would say, “Oh happy day!”

So, once I secured my second “new” place (which I’ll tell you all about, if you stay tuned next week), I got down to planning my move.  In my brain, “moving” meant you boxed your stuff up and hired a big moving company to transport everything you own to your new digs.  Reasonable, right?  I thought so, too.  And off I went to call all the moving companies that advertised low rates on TV commercials.  Thought process:  How much could it cost to move an apartment?  Maybe like $300?  That’s kind of a lot, but, oh well!  Gotta do it!

  • R: Oh, hi.  I was calling to get a quote for moving my one bedroom apartment.
  • Moving company X: Ok.  Please list the items you need moved.
  • R: 1 couch, 1 overstuffed chair, 1 coffee table, 1 flatscreen, 1 TV stand, 1 tall lamp, 1 short lamp, 1 kitchen table, 1 bookshelf, 1 desk, 1 file cabinet, 5 chairs, 1 mattress, 1 box spring, 3 dressers, 1 vanity table, 2 large mirrors, 1 chaise lounge, 2 plants, 20 boxes…. (insert 50 more things I owned at the time).
  • Moving company X: That will be $900.
  • R: *GASP*
  • Moving company Y: $1000.
  • R: *GASP GASP*
  • Moving company Z: $100000000000.
  • R: Oh shit.

Not gonna work.  Ya know how in life they say you should have enough money saved up to cover you’re a$$ for three months?  Yea, well I didn’t have enough for one month, let alone an extra $1000 lying around.  Option 1, the hire-movers-like-they-do-in-the-movies method, was officially out.

Option 2 was decidedly more labor intensive, and it was all I had (because I didn’t know about the magical Option 3 at the time.  Poor me).  Option 2 was to rent a U-Haul, round up my friends and family, and move everything from apartment to truck to apartment, the old fashioned way.  Thank goodness I have nice friends and family who are always willing to help out!

The U-Haul option is cheap, as moving goes.  However, if you don’t have friends and family with some muscle and winning attitudes, you’re looking at a rough time.  Heck, even if they do have muscles and a winning attitude it’s not fun.  When my dream sofa (read about in in this post) arrived from Crate & Barrel, it was delivered by two lovely gentlemen who practically ran up my stairs with the furniture on their backs.  However, getting that dream sofa OUT of the old apartment and IN to the new apartment meant three people needed to hurt their backs.

The crew I had with me included:  my dad, my mom, Aunt Betty, and my friends Henry, Amber, and Joe.

My friends and I taking a beer break at 8:45 AM on moving day, in Sunset Park.

The plan was to rent the U-Haul in Connecticut, where my parents live, and where the cost would be lower.  My parents would make some trips out to Brooklyn the week before the move to transport as many items as possible to their suburban basement, and the night before the move, they’d load all those items into the truck, to save time on moving day (we’d be starting with a half loaded truck).  They’d then drive the truck down to Brooklyn on the morning of moving day, and we’d all load up the rest of the boxes and furniture, to cart all my worldly possessions to Harlem.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why the big rush on moving day?”  Well, moving in NYC is not like moving in the rest of the world.  If you are moving into or out of an elevator building, there are often time constraints because the elevators need to be shared by everyone in the building.  For instance, my building in Harlem required that tenants move between 9 AM and 5 PM, when the rest of the tenants would likely be at work or out of the house.  Since I was moving on a weekend, I was allotted a timeframe between 10 AM and 1 PM.

Obviously, we had to begin the move in Sunset Park quite early, in order to finish by 1 PM.  We began at 6:30 AM, and finished getting everything out of my old apartment by 8:45.  We then paused for beers and cold pizza – the breakfast of champions (see the photo above) – and we were on the road to Harlem by 9:15.  We arrived at the new building just before 10:00, and we were finished bringing everything upstairs just before 1:00.  If we hadn’t had 7 people working on the job, it may never have gotten done.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  But it certainly wouldn’t have gotten done in our allotted time frame.

Loading stuff into the U-Haul on moving day, in Sunset Park. Looking surprisingly perky, given the time of day and the task at hand.

A pile of stuff waiting to go into the U-Haul. Yes, I filled a 17' truck to the brim.

Cramming into the cab of the U-Haul.

My dad and Henry, happy to have the U-Haul mostly unloaded in Harlem.

Relaxing for a minute after getting all my furniture into my new Harlem apartment.

The total cost for Option 2 – the U-Haul/DIY option – was about $250 in truck and gas fees.  Plus about $50 to nourish the helpers.  $300 for the whole kit and kaboodle was significantly less than the $900-$1 Gazillion I was quoted by the big moving companies.  However, I ate up seven people’s Saturday morning.  No good.

So, there you have it.  Option 1:  way too expensive.  Option 2:  cheaper, but exhausting.  I’m starting to feel like I’m presenting the three houses on House Hunters.  Ya know those episodes where the first two houses are SO wrong for the person, that you’re positive they’ll pick #3?  That’s where we are in the Happy City Living world.  No surprises; Option 3 is clearly the one I’ll pick.  But what could option 3 possibly be?  Stick around to find out!

Have any disastrous moving stories?  Enjoy beer and cold pizza before 9 AM?  Share!


Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living (all)

Moving In and Making a Home

31 Mar

Let me tell you what they do in movies.  They show fake NYC apartments that are perfectly designed and HUGE, and then they try to act like the apartment is soooo tiny.  Have you seen The Devil Wears Prada?  Anne Hathaway’s “little” pad, which is supposedly in the Lower East Side, is palatial by LES standards.  And on the famous TV sitcom, Friends, the apartments are gigantic.  The rooms are all sectioned off perfectly, and the décor is just right.

Rachel and Monica's apartment on Friends. Can I get some of that action? I'll take it, purple walls and all!

In my right mind, I knew all these places were fake, but it didn’t make me daydream any less about having one of them.  So, for my new Sunset Park apartment, I was picturing fresh paint, new furniture, art on the walls, beautiful accessories…the whole nine.  I picked out colors with my friend Katie, and I laid out my plan.  I would paint the place myself and then slowly decorate over time, as I was able to afford furniture and decorations.  My dad then reminded me that I was about to start a new job and that my schedule wouldn’t necessarily allow for first-time DIY projects.  He urged me to let him and my mom help get the painting done the week before I moved in.  Needless to say, my last week of college dorms, slash, first week of real life, was a hectic one.  In addition to graduation and moving, my parents set up a veritable painting factory at my new place, and I hurried between Sunset Park to help paint and Manhattan to finalize my former college life.

My dad and me on a painting day. Note the spackle and painter's tape on the dresser. Obviously, we hadn't gotten to the living room yet.

So, the day I officially moved in I had a freshly painted apartment and no furniture.  Unless you count an Aero Bed and two wrought-iron chairs I found on the street.  With very little money left to my name, I had enough cash saved to buy a bed and a couch I’d been drooling over for years (my graduation present to myself.  See the beauty here.)  Everything else would have to come from Craigslist, friends, tag sales…or it would just have to come much much later.  Within the first month, though, I scored some good stuff.  On Craigslist I found a $60 desk with hutch and file cabinet, and a $50 brand new overstuffed chair (the original owner didn’t realize when she bought it that the chair would take up her entire studio apartment).  At a tag sale I dug up a $20 coffee table.  Then, my family offered up 2 old dressers, someone’s recycled TV stand, a pair of tag sale night stands, an old desk chair, a vintage vanity table from my aunt’s basement, a kitchen table my uncle had made a few years back, and two prized possessions that still rank at the top of my “favorite things” list.  One was an antique chaise lounge, from my Aunt Betty, that I placed in front of my new bay window.  The other was a large wall mirror from my sister.  I have quite the amazing family, huh?

Who wouldn't want to buy this? The side cushions move to the back to create a sofa, when you move the daybed up against a wall. Divine comfort, I tell you. In fact, I'm typing from that very daybed now.

One thing to keep in mind with NYC renting is that there’s a high probability you’ll be moving again soon.  You might need to be closer to a new job or to friends; you might want more space or a lower cost per month; or your landlord might raise your rent beyond what you deem reasonable.  There are myriad reasons why moving could happen, and the belongings in your home should be ready to move with you.  This means that any furniture you buy or obtain should be one of two things:

  1. Reasonably sized so that you can move it into your next place – a place which may very well be a different size/shape.  I’m comfortable asserting that if you live on a modest budget, you should not buy a sectional sofa.
  2. Something you’re willing to purge when you move, if the new place can’t fit it.  If you do find a sectional sofa that you love on Craigslist, and you’re lucky enough to have it fit in your current place, you should be prepared to part with it when and if you move.

As I’ve moved between apartments over the past several years, I’ve been lucky enough to fit most of my belongings that I love, into my new homes.  But I have had to say adios to a few things.  For instance, since moving out of my giant Sunset Park apartment, I’ve gotten rid of the desk, the vanity table, and one dresser.

Another trap that’s easy to fall into is decorating for your first apartment.  If you move apartments with any regularity, you’re likely not going to be able to afford new furniture everywhere you go.  For example, if you’re moving into an old brownstone now, and you’re tempted to buy uber-traditional furnishings to fit the style, you might want to think ahead to a time where you could be living in a loft or more contemporary building.  Would your furniture be able to “adapt”?  Tailor your furnishings to your taste and the functionality you need, rather than tailoring to the current apartment’s style.

And finally, keep in mind that you have to get your belongings in and out of the apartment (ah, physics and practicality).  If you buy a great sofa (wow, I’m really on a sofa kick today), it will likely be delivered to your apartment and set up for you.  However, when you leave that apartment, you have to get it out the door yourself.  I’ve had friends break their backs carrying furniture down the stairs of walk-ups.  Likewise, when I tried to squeeze my own sofa/daybed into my Harlem elevator during a move, it almost got stuck and doomed to living in said elevator for the rest of time.

Anyway, here is what the place looked like when I was a bit more settled in:

New entryway, in "Bonjour Beige," similar to the original.

New kitchen, in "Tangerine Dream". The old orange would have been tough to cover with a light color. So I stuck with the cheery theme, but toned it down a notch.

New living room, also in "Bonjour Beige". That's my $50 overstuffed chair. And, yes, that's a zebra rug - Urban Outfitters for $20. This is a photo from later in the year, because I purchased that TV to watch the Giants play in the Superbowl. (Go Big Blue!)

Seriously. How comfy does that couch look? The mirror in the background was the gift from my sister.

The office went from a dirty robin's egg blue to a calming sea foam green. The $60 desk and hutch are to the right.

Tough to see in this photo, but the bedroom actually became a nice earthy "Wild Honey" color. Whenever it was too cold to sit on my stoop, you could find me on that chaise in the bay window, with a beer.

The Red Room. This area was my dressing room (or catch-all room, if I needed to hide messes from company). Before we painted the closet door white, it was streaked with rusty colored paint. Yum. Also, check out that great old vanity. I realize now that I may never again have space for some random extra furniture. Bummer.

The view from the bedroom, back through the house.

Coming up:  The Good, The Bad, and The Smelly…what life was really like in Casa Numero Uno, including some BIG renter’s tips.  And later, a neighborhood snapshot of Sunset Park.  Plus, find out what season really is the best time to rent.

Did you ever have big apartment dreams that were crushed by the reality of NYC renting?  Or did your home aspirations become a reality, like mine did?  More entertainingly, did you ever have to maneuver an impossibly large item in or out of an apartment?  Ah the joys of the city.  No wonder we pay so much to live here.  Right?



Images: (1)  RJW’s Favorite TV Show Apartments, (3) Crate and Barrel, ALL OTHERS Rebecca for Happy City Living

What Was I Thinking? I Wasn’t.

29 Mar

So, in the search for my first NYC apartment, I’d landed on the stoop of a place I loved (read all about how I landed at that apartment here).  Unfortunately, in my love-at-first-sight haze, I neglected to notice the obvious issues with the apartment I was about to sign a lease on:

On the stoop (!!!!!) of my new building, with my mom and Aunt Betty. My brain: "Ahhh, life is great when you're standing on your very own stoop in the sunshine!"

1.  My building was a 5-block walk to the subway, and coming home I’d be walking straight up a hill.  Yup, at the end of every long and weary day in my first real, salaried job, I had to hike up a hill that would wear me out, before I even got to the 2 flights of stairs I had to climb.

2.  The very old apartment was not in great condition (my parents would tell you that’s the understatement of the year).  There weren’t roaches or mice or mold, but the place needed a lot of TLC.  Lots (read:  too much) of time and money were put into cleaning and painting just to get the place up to snuff. (TIP!Any apartment you move into should be cleaned and freshly painted before you move in.  In apartment buildings where management companies run the show, this will likely be taken care of.  However, if you’re renting from a landlord who lives in the building and just has one or two apartments, they will often neglect to properly prep your new place.  INSIST ON A THOROUGH CLEANING!  And insist on a fresh coat of paint if you feel like the place needs it.)  This place surely did!

Yes, the living room walls were a grassy forest green when I moved in. What? You never had green walls? You haven't lived.

3.  I was in over my budget.  My agent told me that I’d pay the same cost over the course of a year at this no-fee apartment, which was $1300, as I would have paid on a standard fee $1200 apartment (WHAT FEE?!) I hadn’t even thought that I’d need to pay a fee.  When I said my budget was $1200, that did NOT include any room for a fee, and $1200 was the TOP of my budget.  But all that sensible brain chatter went out the window, as I let the guy convince me I was getting a deal.  If you’re unsure of what the deal is with fees, see a post all about it here.

4.  This leads to my last misstep (for the moment, anyway), which was that I didn’t even bother trying to negotiate.  This is real estate.  This is the biggest city in the United States.  With the exception of a few really, truly good hearted realtors I know, people will most likely try to take you for all you’re worth.  Especially if you look like naïve-renter-Rebecca.  (TIP!: Negotiate all rental costs.  Even if the price doesn’t go down, get creative and ask for something else to make your deal sweeter.  More to come on this.)

Ignoring each of the above problems, all I could see was the huge space, the bay window, the stoop I’d dreamed about having, and my future decorating ideas.  I was going to be an employed, official NYC resident with her own place.  Holy crap, I was happy!

Here are some shots of the place on my first visit to see it.  These will give you an idea of the rest of the place I was moving into:

Immediately when you walked in the front door, there was a cut-out for a coat closet to your left. The bathroom was on the wall to the right. The kitchen (yes, it was orange), was straight ahead, and the doorway to the rest of the place was on the far right.

The orange kitchen. Actually, when I decided to repaint, the kitchen stayed orange. After you get beyond the abrasive brightness and the feeling of being inside a glass of Tropicana, it was cheery!

If you'd gone through the doorway on the right of the entry hallway, it would have led you into the green living room you saw earlier. The green view was looking left from that doorway. This is the view to the right. We're looking through the office and into the bedroom. Nice faux tile floor, huh?

This is the bedroom, featuring the bay window that I loved. I even loved the old hardwood floors, even though they gave out nasty splinters. Off to the left is a small, RED office or tiny second bedroom. I used this room as a dressing room (i.e. a place to store junk when people came over). I wish I had a picture from when we walked into that red room the first time. I swear to you, a child under the age of 10 painted that room.

What can I say.  I loved the place.  I loved it even on the day I moved out.  And if my landlady had not been the biggest pain in the ass ever to roam the planet, I probably would have stayed put.  Don’t worry, I’ll devote an entire post to good ol’ Dorothy the landlady.

Now, lease signing was not all hearts and rainbows.  It was scarey.  Even for a happy girl.  I felt like I was signing my life away.  And while, I didn’t have a handy, cohesive list of items to be aware of (like this one, under the “Tools” tab on HCL), I was smart enough to know that I knew nothing about legalese.  I sat there feeling pressured to read the whole lease document within 10 seconds; I paid the real estate agent my upfront money (first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a one month security deposit); I asked my parents to co-sign my lease as my guarantor, since I didn’t make 40x the rent; and I signed on the dotted line.

TIP!: Most city landlords and management companies want to see that you make (yearly) 40x the monthly rent.  If you can’t show pay stubs or a letter of employment stating that you earn 40x the rent, you will need a guarantor to co-sign your lease.  This is someone who will vouch for you and promise that if you can’t pay, they will.  Typically, guarantors must be able to prove that they earn 80x the monthly rent.  So, for those of you who aren’t so hot at math:  if you make a starting salary of $35,000 a year, the real estate community in NYC believes you’ll reliably be able to pay $875 a month.  This means you can rent your very own broom closet in Manhattan, or you can live with a roommate, or you can live in Far Rockaway.  And please don’t think I meant on the beach in Far Rockaway.  I meant the little shack next to a dumpster.  Unless you have a guarantor.

I had no idea what to realistically expect for my upcoming first year as a renter, but I was about to be in for a bumpy ride.  Stay tuned for tales from the crypt crib.

How about you?  Ever lived in a place you loved and later realized was not so glittering?  Any real dumps?  Somebody please make me feel like I’m not the only one who willingly rented a place with forest green walls.

Images:  all images Rebecca for Happy City Living

I Ended Up (or, Started Out) in Sunset Park

29 Mar

My first foray into the world of New York City apartment hunting/living was an adventure, to say the least.  I was lucky, in that I’d already lived in apartment-style dorms throughout the city during my college years at NYU.  As such, I knew what I liked and disliked about apartment living, which made my search a bit narrower than a city newbie (narrower = easier…well, sometimes).  My sole demand of my soon-to-be-first-new-place? After living in apartments with 2-4 other people for years, I wanted my own space – and a LOT of it.

The other thing I knew was that my budget was low by city standards. (If you don’t live in or around Manhattan, cover your ears for this part.  A low budget in this town is a fortune everywhere else.)  My starting salary at my new job seemed completely amazing since I was fresh out of college…until I worked out my monthly budget and saw that even a $1200 rent would be tight with a capital T.  Now, this was in the days when the rental market was really strong (You think apartments are expensive now?  Oh no, my friend).  So $1200 a month for a non-shoebox-studio meant moving to an outer borough or wayyyyy uptown.

Narrowing down the neighborhood/borough options:  riding a ferry every day was NOT happening, so Staten Island was out.  I knew absolutely nothing about the Bronx, and it was the furthest away from my previously downtown Manhattan life.  So I nixed it, too.  And between Brooklyn and Queens, I knew Brooklyn much better.

If you can't picture where each borough lies, here's a handy map. Don't worry, geography was never my strength either.

Come on, Brooklyn!  Choosing a neighborhood was narrowed down pretty quickly for me.  I saw a couple of apartments in downtown Brooklyn (the neighborhoods I liked were:  Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn Heights, Downtown, Boerum Hill, and Cobble Hill), which were small and expensive.  On the other hand, I wasn’t willing to travel as far as Bushwick, Crown Heights, or Prospect Heights, even though the homes there would be cheaper and space-y.  One thing I did know was that I loved Park Slope.  A few of my close friends lived there, and I thought if I got lucky I might be able to find something I could afford.  After only a couple of searches on Craigslist, I found a listing for a 1BR in Park Slope and went to see it that same day.  (If you don’t know the neighborhoods I’m mentioning, don’t worry.  I’ll do some neighborhood overview posts here at Happy City Living, to give you a snapshot of different areas.)

This is a street in Park Slope. Can you see why I might want to live there? If brownstones and their stoops give you a rush, this is all you.

Here is the real estate catch, my friends:  not all streets in a given neighborhood are created equal.  Furthermore, real estate agents love to stretch the boundaries of desirable neighborhoods to include areas where their listings are located.  You will most commonly find this in Clinton Hill/Bed Stuy, a pair of abutting neighborhoods in Brooklyn.  There are about 1 million apartment listings that are labeled Clinton Hill, even though they are well within the bounds of Bed Stuy.  Simply put, Clinton Hill is currently considered a very desirable neighborhood.  Bed Stuy is adjacent to CH, but it is quite different in terms of vibe and feel.  It is certainly up and coming by real estate standards, but not all of its streets have “arrived” yet.  If you feel comfortable in the neighborhood, great!  If not, you’re right to think it’s quite different from CH.

TIP!: Always take a trip to see your prospective new apartment at night.  You will have to walk home alone in the dark at some point, and you absolutely need to feel safe!

But back to my search.  As you may have guessed from my “not all streets in a given neighborhood are created equal” warning, the agent I met with showed me an apartment that was NOT in the Park Slope I knew.  The place was pretty gross on the inside, plus it was small and in a semi-abandoned area on the western outskirts of the Slope.  Ummm, no thank you.

The agent could tell I wasn’t biting, but said he had a much bigger and better place in the neighborhood “right next door” to Park Slope, called Sunset Park.  We went to see the listing, and I loved it instantly.

This is a map of Brooklyn's neighborhoods. Note Park Slope and Sunset Park, marked in green. "Right next door" to each other? I think not. Naive-renter-Rebecca had no clue, though. Poor girl.

Preview of tomorrow’s post:  love-struck-apartment-searcher doesn’t think things through.  Uh-oh.

Images:  (1) WikiTravel (2) LevelGroup (3) RentCornerNYC