Monday, August 22, 2011

Living in New York: The Next Generation


Flash forward MANY years from Living in New York: The First Generation.

                Last week my daughter and I went apartment hunting in Manhattan. She begins her PhD program at the end of the month.  While she could commute, at least for a few weeks. the demands of her program make a shorter commute from the Midtown East campus desirable.  Why Manhattan and not one of the other boroughs, you ask. Well beyond the late nights indentured to her PhD advisor (all worth it in the end), the commute from some of the better areas of the other boroughs would approach the travel time from home, and, most importantly, she is a twenty-something.

                Apartment hunting like everything else has gone on-line.  Back in the dark ages, where on-line meant hanging your laundry or a phone, you found an apartment by buying the right day or days local newspaper and scour the classifieds for the right place.

                Today, you go to various websites for brokers (fees involved of anywhere from 1-2 month rent) or you go to Craigslist.  Apparently you can find things other than “massage therapists” and serial killers on Craigslist.  You gather your prospective addresses, send emails to the listing contact, and hope for a reply.  Repeat hourly. This is not an obsessive-compulsive action, just real apartment hunting in the early 21st century.

                My daughter and I felt that if we had 4 appointments lined up it promised to be a productive day.  So armed with appointments and smartphones set for Craigslist, we boarded the train for New York.

                Some things don’t change. Of our contacted listings, ¼ responded and set an appointment, ½ never responded at all (that’s a NO), and ¼ responded to say that the apartment listed less than 12 hours ago was already rented.
                Of the appointments we did set: 3 were already rented by the time we went to see them. Included was one where we took the subway to Chinatown, walked in the pouring rain to Hester and Mulberry in Little Italy to meet an agent who did not show. We took that as a "sorry already rented".  By the time we found a place where we could buy a $5 umbrella for $20, the purchase was moot; we were wringing out our shirts. We did have a delicious early dinner in Little Italy where we ran into a rental broker from early in the day.  He was moonlighting as a waiter in the restaurant.
                Let’s talk about the ones we did see: One 375 sq. ft. studio apartment was in a prime location in the low 70’s on Second Avenue. It was a third floor walk-up with an under-the-counter refrigerator (think dorm room) and a magnificent view of the Second Avenue Subway blast zone.  All for a mere $1450 per month.
                Another had a better kitchen that had a full size fridge and could accommodate a drop-leaf table.  The kitchen and the bathroom had windows that looked out on an air shaft.
                Then there was the one in the mid-90’s on the Eastside, The building had an elevator with patched walls (I thought I saw duct tape). We felt brave so we took the ride. The apartment was vacant and the landlord said to just go up and let ourselves in. I opened the door. The two of us stood in the doorway long enough to observe the mold and mildew on the walls with holes and the rust stains on all the kitchen appliances and the sink.  We closed the door and beat a hasty retreat.
                Our last apartment on the third day was an open house that started at 7pm. The apartment was on a great block in a great section of the Upper East Side. The Laundromat was a block away, a nearby church had a Farmers’ Market every Saturday and a Starbucks and D’Agostino’s supermarket were within two blocks.  No mafia clubs or smelly clam stands (see prior post to get the joke).  We arrived shortly before 7 and there was a couple waiting. The agent took us up an elevator that was well maintained. There were no funky smells; we were off to a good start.  He opened the door.
                We had found IT-the brass ring. A junior one-bedroom (about 400 sq. ft.), all new appliances, hardwood floors, two large closets. My daughter gave me the eyebrows, I returned the look as an agreement. We eyed the couple.  The woman pulled out a tape measure, he took the other end and they started taking dimensions.  I offered up a silent plea—“please don’t let their sofa fit.”
                The four of us, the representative of the landlord, and one of the tenants (the current occupants consisted of a husband, wife and two large dogs) stood around have a civil conversation. Then we moved out into the hall, without the tenant. The couple kept going while we stayed behind. A choir of angels burst into song. 
                We asked about the application process.  The rep gave us the paperwork and said he had to go downstairs to get the next group. Next group! My daughter and I parked ourselves on a stair and started writing. By the time he came back with the third group, we had completed the application and had a check written for the application fee.
                He accepted it and told us it was a first-come, first-serve basis for completed applications.  Completion required that we submit tax returns, bank information and paystubs. It’s like applying for a mortgage.
                We raced home and faxed the required information to him at 11:30 that night.

                She moves in Labor Day weekend.