200 listings on 5 websites, 15 documents, 20 brokers, 12 viewing, 1 cousin, 1 friend, 2 aunties, 3 applications, 7 days, 2 approvals = 1 place to rest my head is secured in East Village. So how did it happen?
For past 5 years, I researched about all the unusual things about renting an apartment in NYC: the crazy high rent, 15 different documents including credit check, the paucity of rent stabilized and affordable apartments etc. So, I wasn’t surprised by the amount of effort I had to put in to find a place to live in the city. The off-campus housing pages on the university websites were highly informative too as not all employees can get campus housing due to long wait lists. Most importantly, my native New Yorker friends and family gave me some really good advice about this process.
I was visiting the city for a conference 5 week before my intended move. Before I reached the city, I looked up around 200 available listings on Naked Apartment (which had listings with lower broker fees), Rent Hop (which had reliable listings), Street Easy, NYbits (not at all user friendly) and Zumper. I also contacted approximately 20 brokers by email and phone so that I could confirm the appointments for the viewing during those days. I knew the good ones can be taken off the market within an hour of the viewing. So, I made a 3-ring binder with all 15 of my documents required for the application. The idea was, if I liked something, I immediately would put down my application. I also spoke to George, a friend living in the city, who gave me a lot of valuable advice.
There are were 3 unique and enjoyable experiences during this process.
The first one is an apartment in Flushing, Queens. It was a 15 ft by 20 ft studio with kitchenette along one wall and big glass window on the opposite side. There were plenty of space for living, dining and sleeping in NYC standard. However, the most surprising thing was the shower. Right in the middle of this room was a vintage, brass bathtub with built-in shower isolated from the rest of the room by shower rods and curtains! I believe, the whole place was a luxurious bathroom at some point which was later converted into an apartment. I wasn’t upset as I didn’t like the neighborhood and I knew that the 7 train, only subway in that area will be shut down soon.
The second experience was in Chelsea. The neighborhood is of course fantastic and pretty close to my work at Upper West Side. The studio cannot be larger than 96 square ft. There is a kitchenette along one wall and there is a very narrow loft on top of that accessed by a ladder. I have seen such places before in big cities. There were 4 young professionals including me who came to the viewing. One of us was lying down on the floor to see if her stretched out hands could touch both the walls. They did not. But, while trying to get up, she started rolling. Being curious, I crouched down and found out that the floor had a significant slant! The broker explained that the downstairs neighbor had a slanted ceiling. I believe the builders didn’t do a good job leveling the floor.
The third experience was regarding home sharing. There are non-profit organizations funded by the city who pair up senior house owners with young students and professionals looking for renting a room. They do this match by an extensive questionnaire on the lifestyle of both the host and the guest. The application process also requires 3 personal recommendation letters from people who are residing in the city but are not colleagues or a family members. Auntie Cynthia and auntie Beth wrote two letters for me. My previous landlord Michael from Dallas wrote me a very good third letter. Although I did not end up taking up a place through this program, I was highly impressed by how friendly, fast and easy this program was.
I met couple of friendly and helpful brokers as well.
Yelena became a good friend of mine. I spoke to her about the East Village listing over the phone from Dallas. She understood my interest, the strengths and weaknesses of my application materials and advised me accordingly so that the application looks strong. She also told me her story and I told her mine during our walk to respective subways. On the day of lease signing while coming directly from the airport the latch of my big trolley bag broke. Yelena, dragged this bag for a block to help me after the lease signing was over. New York, where act of random kindness is difficult to spot, I found a real estate agent with a heart.
Then there was Will. I never met Will in person and we only communicated by emails and texts. But, he was kind with his time, advice and made me feel excited about this long process. He specialized in lower Manhattan and most of the listings were way above my budget. However, he connected me with his long time friend, Kolette, who had more information about some listings at Upper West Side, close to my work.
I ended up doing 3 applications, one in West Village, one is Morningside Heights and one in East Village, as I didn’t know which one would get approved. The West Village one was the smallest and had the best location. The Morningside apartment was the closest to my work and had a full kitchen and bathroom.
However, in the end, the East Village apartment, my favorite one, got approved. It is only 175 sq. ft., but a super cute, sunny and clean place with private bathroom, nicely insulated window facing a beautiful courtyard (meaning no smell of garbage) and high ceilings. It’s an SRO (Single Room Occupancy meaning Standing Room Only) that was an orphanage in 1910. Pets are not allowed (meaning my upstairs neighbor’s dog doesn’t run around all night long making terrible noise or my downstairs neighbor’s cat doesn’t come in through my window to poop in my apartment). The building is rent stabilized as I found in the official public records. I loved the history associated with the building and found out that most of my neighbors are young students at NYU or young professionals like me.
The funny thing was everyone in New York congratulated me once I told them I found this place. I was surprised as it was not like I won an award or something. But, I understood later that being able to rent an apartment is considered an ordeal in New York City.