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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


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