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How’s It Shakin’, Harlem?

14 Apr

My stories about moving seem to have gone on much longer than the actual move, itself!  Done with moving posts – I promise (for the moment!).  Now, on to where I actually moved when I left Sunset Park.

When I decided to look for a new apartment, I was really intent on moving closer to my friends.  For a whole year it had taken me so long to get home when I went to friends’ houses.  Even my commute to work in midtown was over an hour long.  So, you can imagine how long it took to get home from wayyyyy uptown.  At the time, I had seven friends living in Harlem, and I decided that Harlem would be a great place for me, too.

A general map of the areas of Harlem. For those who don't know, Harlem IS on the island of Manhattan. For some odd reason there seems to be some confusion about that fact. See here, for yourself. That large green box in the center of the image is Central Park.

There were added bonuses, in addition to proximity to friends:

  1. My commute would be cut in half
  2. I’d be closer to Central Park, where I like to hang out during the warm months
  3. Metro North would be right around the corner, making for easier trips to see my family in CT
  4. Soul food.  ‘Nuff said.

TIP!: This doesn’t really have anything to do with real estate, but it does pertain to Harlem.  In lieu of the more expensive soul food restaurants, like Sylvia’s, try something just slightly off the beaten path.  For the most delicious food and very inexpensive prices, my two favorite spots were Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too and the Red Rose Diner.  More to come on those two local eateries.

This place was my home away from home. If you try it out, give Damion (the manager) a hug for me and tell him I sent you.

My apartment search was very quick.  Well, in truth, I spent a lot of time on Craigslist (when DON’T I do that, though?).  But when it came down to it, I signed a lease on the first place I saw.  I walked in and loved the apartment, which happened to be just one block from the 2/3 subway line.  And while the cost was slightly more than I’d initially wanted to spend, my research told me that it was on par with other comparable apartments in the area.

The building had its own management company, and one of their agents showed me the unit.  It was being renovated with a new kitchen and bathroom when I went for my viewing.  I was excited about having a place that felt new, rather than my 100 year old brownstone.  I was very anxious to live in a complex with a management company, rather than a landlord.  Plus, the unit had a dishwasher AND a washer/dryer combo.  Can a girl ask for anything more?  Long story short:  I signed on the dotted line within a couple of days.

Standing in front of my new building and loving it.

TIP!: If you work one-on-one with a “no fee” landlord (one who would normally be willing to pay your realtor a one month OP), you may be able to negotiate a deal for yourself.  Since they’d otherwise be paying a realtor, why not have them pay you?  Ask for a half-month to 2 months worth of free rent, depending on the length of your lease.  Can’t hurt to ask, and if you sound confident in your request, I’d say you’d have a good shot!  I should have done this.

The complex I moved to is called Riverton Square.  It stretches from 135th Street to 138th Street and from 5th Avenue to the FDR Drive.  The feel of the grounds, buildings, and apartments is very similar to that of Stuyvesant Town in Lower Manhattan, and it was actually developed by the same company, back in 1944.  There were good and bad aspects of living there, which I will delve into in the coming posts.  But for now, here is the blank slate I was working with:

The grounds at Riverton.

The courtyard outside my building.

Click here to see my floorplan at Riverton, in Harlem.

Facing back toward the entryway of the apartment. Two closets on the left, as you walk in.

Walking in from the front door, the kitchen is on the left. All new stainless steel appliances. Woo woo!

Walking through the dining room.

Looking left into the living room.

From the mini hallway, the bedroom was on the left. Theres one more window that I couldn't fit into this shot, on the right.

The closets across from my bedroom. Beware of the innocent looking washer/dryer. Might seem like it would be a gift from the apartment gods, but it's more like a Trojan horse. More to come on that.

The bathroom was straight at the end of the hallway. Ooohhh, new tile!

Now, if you’re from out of town, this apartment may not look like anything grand.  But, again, by NYC standards, this is a very spacious abode.  As a single person, the apartment was an amazing size, and while my friends all lived close-by, 135th & Madison was an ideal location.  Slowly, though, some problems did rear their ugly heads.  We’ll get into all of that.  But first, bask with slightly-less-naïve-renter-Rebecca for a moment, in the glow of a new apartment.

Any Harlem fans out there?  Tell me what you love above 100th Street!

Images:  (1) WikiVoyage, (2) NYCGo, (3) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (4-6) Riverton Square, All others Rebecca for Happy City Living

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Exactly What I’m Talking About

27 Mar

Yesterday, I was in the elevator of my apartment building (The Gate), and I overheard a conversation that convinced me that starting Happy City Living really could be a good thing to do (read what it’s all about here).  There was a real estate agent taking a client up to see a listing on the 16th floor.  The facts he was spewing about the apartment complex were jazzed up a bit, but mostly correct.  The problem came when he told his client he would “try to find” her a no-fee apartment here at The Gate, adding that it might not be possible.  It was a complete lie – all the apartments here are no-fee.

The scene of the lie...don't let it happen to you.

I should explain something before I go any further.  All apartments in the city are technically no-fee.  (Yes, you read that correctly).  If you were to rent an apartment directly from a building-owner or a management company they would not charge you a standard fee.  The reason you pay fees is so that if you’re using a real estate agent, they get paid for their work.  When building owners and management companies list their buildings as “no-fee” they’re really just saying they’ll pay your agent a commission of one month’s rent, so that you don’t have to.  This situation is also referred to as an OP (owner pays) in the real estate world.

TIP!*: Standard apartment fees should be either one month’s rent OR 10%-15% of the year’s rent.  The only other fee you should be charged is an application fee, which covers the cost of the management company running your credit check.  This fee exists whether the apartment is a “fee” or “no-fee” listing, and it should be between $50 and $150.

Real estate agents get a bad rap because of people like the agent in my elevator.  There are plenty of agents who will lie to make the sale or bend the truth to try to get more commission dollars.  In fairness, realtors put in a lot of time and effort, and if you don’t take one of the apartments they’ve shown you, they don’t make a cent for their troubles.  But there are a ton of great realtors (I’ll tell you about some great ones in future posts), who can serve you well, and they really deserve their commission, whether it comes from the client or the building owner.

A few years ago, when I took the courses to become a licensed real estate agent, I figured that even if I never sold or rented an apartment, the knowledge I’d gain from the coursework would be worth the time and cost I’d put in.  I was right.  When I search for apartments now, I am an educated renter.  I know the standard procedures, and I know when someone is trying to pull the wool over my eyes.  What I’ve tried to do since getting my license is to help friends with their apartment searches, as well.  I don’t usually serve as their agent because I’m still working full time in the corporate world.  Instead, I answer questions for them and encourage them to run situations by me if they seem fishy.  This way, they too can benefit from the info I learned.

I feel like a pretty lucky girl to be living in New York.  After 8 years, when I walk down the street to the beat of my ipod, I still catch myself drifting off, in awe of this city.  Actually, in those moments, I’m usually picturing myself as Felicity from the cult classic 90’s TV show, but that’s neither here nor there.  So, since I love this place so much, I also think it’s great to see other people loving it here.  I’m hoping that my little tid-bits on this blog can make at least a few city folks’ lives easier when it comes to starting or continuing a life in New York.

This is where I live! Wow, right?! My neighborhood is right in the middle on the left side of the photo.

That said, if you have any specific questions about your apartment hunt, or if you know someone else who does, please feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email.  ‘Til then, I’ll be here sharing some stories and offering up some tips, living happily over in my corner of the city.  Happy city living to you, too!

*Throughout my posts, I’ll try to insert useful tips to highlight some key information.  I’ll make them bold so that you can find them without much effort.  Deal?

Images:  (1) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (2) The Denver Post