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Home Sweet…Home? (or: My Aversion to Apartment Hunting in NYC)

by JoAnna — February 3, 2015

It’s that time of year again or, better put, it’s that particular season in this expat’s life. Two years in New York have nearly come and gone and because the owner wants his place back it is time to move from my current (cozy, convenient and luxe) abode. Renters since we arrived we were, admittedly, extremely lucky with the beauty we managed to snag. Our centrally located Brooklyn apartment has spoiled us over the last 24 months with great views, great building staff, great amenities and a great, great location.

Yes, everything has been so great it is going to be painful to leave.

On side with Brooklyn. There's no place I'd rather be.

On side with Brooklyn. There’s no place I’d rather be.

That said, I’ve chosen to look at this impending move with rose coloured glasses. I mean, how many people get the chance to have a second New York life? (Most don’t even get a first.) Being offered the opportunity to start over again means we have a chance to explore a new building, new neighbourhood, new restaurants and shops if we so choose. We get to try our hand at some things novel and besides, being flexible enough to bow to the winds of change is a valuable character trait to have.

Until you start jumping through the hoops of looking for a new place, that is. Everything is all fine and dandy until that hell begins.

Street Easy: my #1 site of the last three weeks.

Street Easy: my #1 site of the last three weeks.

The last month has seen a spike in my cardio because I’ve been running from open house to new listing and doing it all over again. I might have ended up with minor frostbite on my fingertips but I’ve boosted my memory since I’ve met so many brokers I have had to fight to kept their names straight. The sole thing that’s gone downhill is the state of my posture. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time behind my computer trawling through hundreds of listings and my spine has overcompensated while I weed out the diamonds from the rough.

Now it certainly could be worse, of that much I am sure. I realize my good fortune in being able to choose some pretty fantastic neighbourhoods in which to live. However, despite the good fortune, I wish the process were easier. I wish brokers were more transparent and management companies/owners less corrupt. You see, sniffing out real estate in NYC is hard. It is bloody full time job. The amount of time we’ve already invested in securing a new roof to put over our heads has been so plentiful we deserve overtime. Seriously, at this rate, I ought to be paid #timeandahalf.

Riddle me this: do you think the views in this generic picture belong to this apartment? I don't because I've seen the same photo used for at least five other listings. I hate it when companies advertise their properties in this manner.

Riddle me this: do you think the views in this generic picture belong to this apartment? I don’t because I’ve seen the same photo used for at least five other listings. I hate it when companies advertise their properties in this manner.

There are four reasons why the home-search process is a challenge and I’ll outline them in a bit more detail, if only for the sake of global commiseration.

The first (and very time consuming) issue involves sifting through multitudes of listings, which in Brooklyn numbers 29,876,328,734*. Advertisements are posted on 3,285‡ Internet pages and they change on a minute-to-minute basis. Things move so quickly here you need to be on the Internet all day if you want to peruse everything there is to see. The thing is, some listings are posted and taken down in a matter of hours because people jump on them so quickly. And while there are times when you might be fast there’s always some sneaky bugger a**hole who is that much faster.

The second frustration is dealing with the brokers and realtors. This is because while most are nice in doing you a service, a lot just want their fee and–when it comes to a broker and his/her fee–he/she will say and do almost anything to close the transaction. Case in point:

“Is this apartment close to a grocery store?” I once asked, knowing the nearest full stocked supermarket was a mile-long walk away.

“Of course!” The broker replied, his eyes flashing with clarity. “There’s one around the corner and the Whole Foods is less than a 10 minute walk.” (As an aside: I found out the grocery “around the corner” is a kiosk that sells Spam and GMO soybeans.)

“And what about the lease? Can we have the place for 2 years or will the owners want to get back in anytime soon?”

“Well, they’re moving elsewhere and plan to be away for at least a year,” he said. “But if you move to another state or country chances are you won’t come back, am I right?”

*facepalm* Such reflections caused a tsunami of mehs to roll through my mind.

I love, love how professional photographers are brought in to make rooms the size of a shed look twenty times as big.

I love, love, how professional photographers are brought in to make rooms the size of a shed look twenty times as big. I am also thankful there will be refreshments at this open house.

The third thing to troubleshoot is managing your expectations. You must prepare yourself to be confronted with apartments that fall short of what you anticipated. Places where the rooms, building and amenities look nothing like what you saw in the listing. Apartment hunting in this city involves growing a thick skin. You need one in order to cut through the marketing and PR bullshit, deal with brokers, ask the right questions at the right time and to realize the apartment you’re being badgered into renting is home to a host of invisible traps. Mind you, once your thick skin has grown you will find it comes in handy as you rush to avoid buckling under the time (∫) > need (θ) × availability² (λ) continuum (#thehousingcontinuum™). Because, I’m sorry to say, but there is a good chance your dream home will remain elusive for a while.

Don't even get me started on this listing. Having seen it there's so much going on here I...*huffs and walks away*

Don’t even get me started on this listing. Having seen it there’s so much going on here I…*huffs and walks away*

The fourth challenge is the most important and involves securing a damn place. This step can be motherf*cking hard. This part of the process is 150% crapshoot since what matters are how the stars are aligned and whether Jupiter ascended in your house the day you were born. If you’ve found a place, filled out your paperwork and shared scans of your most intimate financial information you still might want to fork over $5 to Wanda the Palm Reader and see if this apartment will, in fact, materialize. You should do this because even if you’re cleared by the board and are two seconds away from signing over a hefty cheque (a sum inclusive of three months rent, deposit, and a sky-high broker fee) the owner/company can say “no” six days before you’re set to move and not bother telling you why. They have no qualms leaving you sobbing on the floor of the flat you’ve occupied for the last two years with little more than an offhanded “Thanks and good luck” while giving your home away to some other schmuck. Some undeserving individual or family who happened to be more charming or underhanded or, goddamn it, wealthier than you.

Ah yes, this is the way we do real estate in NYC. Good fun, don’t you think? Wish me luck over the next few months because, I’m telling you, I am going to need it.

How does the house/apartment hunt work in your city?

* This number is made up. 
‡ As is this one.
™ Though a hashtag may not yet exist for this equation I think I just started one. #dropthemic

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