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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)

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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