Moving Day Series

The Amazing Race—Finding an Apartment in New York

Moving Day Series

By Sue Wiker

The hardest part about living in New York City is finding a place to live. Looking back, I’m amazed that my first apartment search a year ago didn’t lead me to a dungeon below a bagel shop. This time around, emboldened by my past experience, I approached the task with slightly more confidence. What a shock! In the current real estate market, renting an apartment in New York is nearly impossible. No matter what brokers say, it’s a landlord’s market.

Moving wasn’t my choice; I called my landlord to renew my lease, and he simply said, “I’m not renewing it.” I was floored that with a mere two weeks left on my lease, he was telling me I had to leave. I called 311 for help and also reviewed everything I could find involving a tenant’s rights, but there was nothing I could do.

My apartment search started the same place that everyone’s does: Craigslist. It’s hard not to hold out a bit of hope that the ~~*MURRAY HILL MaNsIoN*~~ is actually a reasonably sized place with maybe a closet, instead of a shoebox with a sink. Craigslist is a bizarre web of misleading photos, false advertising, and an astoundingly high turnover rate. I spent an hour or so at work every day checking and re-checking the “Apartments Available” section, hoping that I could get a jump on a mind-blowing apartment. I also contacted a few brokers that my friends had used to find places, but I found it hard to swallow a $3,500 broker’s fee. I quickly resigned myself to playing Craigslist roulette.

Similar to maternity leave, apartment-seekers should be given time off. Agents want to show apartments during the day when I have to be at work. With special negotiation skills, I managed to look at one, even two, apartments after work every day. For four or five days I ran around like a mad woman, taking long lunches to trek up to the Upper East Side to look at an apartment, then pulling together all the documentation needed just for the application. The list of required documents is overwhelming. What’s next? A blood sample? Lock of hair? My best attempt at a self-portrait?

My roommate and I finally found a place that we wanted to rent, so the race was on: fax in every conceivable document, get bank checks, obtain letters from our employers. We got this mountain of information together just five hours after seeing the place, yet we were too late—someone else had already rented it. Funny though, there was still time to cash our checks for the non-refundable credit check fee. We were out $200.

The very next day we saw that the exact same apartment was back up on Craigslist, listed under a different real estate company. Apparently, the people who had “rented” the place the day before, had bad credit so the place was back on the market. We headed to the realtor’s office to talk about a lease. The kicker? They wanted a $10,000 deposit! If I had an extra $10k lying around, I wouldn’t be looking at this miniature apartment. Back to square one.

A few days later, my roommate forwarded me a listing for a large one-bedroom in our price range. Her message said, “Maybe we can rent a wall?” I had no idea what she was talking about, so I Googled “rent wall nyc.” If you don’t know what I’m talking about, try it. You can lease a wall that stands on its own without being nailed into the floor or attached to the ceiling. Comparing prices, we found putting up the wall, thus converting a one-bedroom into a two-bedroom, would be cheaper than renting an actual two-bedroom apartment. We got all our papers together and signed a lease.

While we had the apartment, our work was not over. I had to arrange the wall installation, find movers, transfer the utilities, and get about five more bank checks. At the end of this whole ordeal, I felt like I had accomplished some sort of secret test of adulthood. In the end, everything did work out. The new place is bigger and better. I won’t be looking to move any time soon.

3 Responses to The Amazing Race—Finding an Apartment in New York

  1. Stephanie Russell-Kraft says:

    “What’s next? A blood sample? Lock of hair? My best attempt at a self-portrait?” – there is something particularly horrific about the New York apartment hunt, but there’s nothing more satisfying than finally signing that lease and moving in!

  2. Some things never change. I had the same horrid experience over 30 years ago. It was so traumatic, I’ve never moved, and what seemed like a compromise then feels like a rent-stabilized treasure today. A rite of passage it is.!

  3. Sue Wiker says:

    I agree – that was an awful 2 weeks, but now that I’m settled in I LOVE my new place! I would be lucky to get to stay here for 30 years!

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