Monday, June 22, 2009

Apartment Hunting in Manhattan: Lessons Learned

So my efforts to detail my adventure apartment hunting in Manhattan got off to a rocky start when I completely ignored the actual apartment hunting. Let's fix that.

I started off in Greenwich Village, where I had set up two appointments with different brokers. I had packed light for the trip, with only my backpack stuffed with changes of clothes, a notebook, my camera, a tape measure, an umbrella, and my giant brick of a laptop.

At this point, it's worth mentioning that I really really could have used a fancy iPhone or netbook. I needed the computer in the event that I wanted to find new apartment listings and/or set up appointments on the fly. Unfortunately, that meant lugging this Inspiron 2200 and its charger along for the ride.

Anyway, I met my first broker at 1:30, and to say I was cautious was something of an understatement. From everything I've read and heard, brokers are the enemy. In the crazy world of Manhattan real estate, these people actually charge YOU to rent an apartment from them (of course, the economic collapse has greatly reduced such practices). These people earn a living based on asymmetric information and keeping the market from being transparent. That's a cynical view I suppose, brokers could provide some value if you really do not know you're way around a neighborhood, and apartment owners have high opportunity costs of showing and leasing their own properties. But still, they're motivated more by short term incentives of having you sign a lease ASAP than painstakingly searching until you find the perfect place.

Of course, it seems the perfect place doesn't exist (at least I didn't see it)

But I met with the broker, and we went off to look at places. He was the first of many brokers I would see over three days. Here's how my schedule went:

Tuesday: Visited 9 apartments, used two brokers
Wednesday: Visited 9 apartments, used 3 brokers
Thursday: Visited 2 apartments, used one broker

So I was kind of busy.

The following are lessons that I learned during my trip:

- So some apartments in Manhattan are actually duplex layouts. There's a living area on the entry level and then its up some stairs to another floor that usually contains a sleeping area. On paper, a great idea to use space. Of course, it seemed like all the sleeping areas I saw were designed for midgets. And not just short midgets, but short AND skinny midgets. The Kate Moss of midgets would do well, and that's about it. Obese midgets would need to take out a wall with their mini-sledgehammers. It's not like I'm even a really tall guy, and I had problems standing up in those things.

- In Manhattan they have these things called walkups. Essentially it means you pay a crap load of money for a really old building that's so old it has no elevator. It's really not that bad a deal, unless you need to go to work, the grocery store, any department or big box store, a bar, a date, any kind of convention, a job interview, the airport, or anywhere you need to look presentable. So apart from that, it works. I visited a couple walk-ups, and actually would've been ok with them. I did look at a 7th floor walk-up (the stairs weren't bad in my view), of course, my girlfriend, family and friends swore they would never visit me if I got it. Even with that incentive, I feel like if I took it you'd probably end up reading about the consultant who got hammered and took a rather nasty fall.

- Brokers are most definitely professionals. A broker and I were in one apartment, with me asking questions, taking notes and pictures, etc., and him answering them. Perfectly normal interaction when the broker's cell phone rings. The broker answers, asks what's wrong, and clearly hears bad news. The broker then asks if hey should come home, and I'm just hoping everything's alright. The gets off the phone and tells me that a relative of his just found out they have cancer. Wow. I tell him that we certainly don't need to keep looking at apartments and he should probably go home. He declines, and moves right into a description of the central air. The awkwardness gods would approve.

- Many brokers will tell you about the super that lives in the building and helps maintain the apartments. It's certainly nice to hear, but based on one visit, you might want to actually meet the super before judging it as a positive. We (a broker and I) went to one building and were greeted by the super, who must've been approximately 128 years old. He also couldn't hear, which was awesome when the broker would ask him questions and he would have absolutely no idea. The broker, who couldn't bring up the fact that super was clearly deaf, pretended like nothing was out of the ordinary. I actually wanted to ask the super about the building, you know, like how many units were in the building, who's the cable provider, and what was it like when they invented electric lighting?

- If you need to live in Manhattan, you really should start by earning at least a million dollars. Otherwise it probably doesn't make sense.

1 comment:

AZ Girly said...

Too funny - I found your blog bc of your Jeopardy story (great info, btw!) and the Manhattan apt hunting caught my eye. Take it from a girl who moved from AZ & learned the hard way - brokers really are the enemy; Craigslist is your friend!