Allow me to tell you a tale of real estate, loss, and redemption. As you may or may not know, I was recently apartment hunting because our lease expired at the end of February. There wasn't anything wrong, per say, with our current apartment on the Upper West Side. It was just that the rent was going up and well, it's 350 square feet. I work from home and sometimes Nathan does too, so I was dreaming of a workspace that isn't our dining table. This is also the longest we've ever lived in one apartment and maybe I was itching for a change; what I got was a rash.
Being me, I started the process early and organized. I was trolling StreetEasy and Padmapper and all the other DIY rental sites back in January. I dutifully window-shopped until February and then started making appointments to see places in some areas I thought would be cheaper, but still convenient. If you've never searched for an apartment in NYC, it's going to be hard to imagine. You have to take into account the distance from the subway (no car); the nearest subways (commute time and convenience); and walking distance to restaurants, drugstores, and grocery stores. I prioritize convenience with regards to groceries and trains, so I was looking for an area with those qualities. I first looked on the Upper West Side, in Harlem, and in Hell's Kitchen.
The very first apartment I viewed was on 59th Street near the Roosevelt Island tram. When I texted the realtor, he told me the keys were at the barber shop next door, meaning he wasn't even going to show up (red flag). When I arrived at the barber shop, a guy was just coming back with the keys. He had a disgusted look on his face and said, "It's pretty rough." Obviously, a red flag. But it was my first viewing and I was intrigued, so I took a peek. The sight was bad enough, but the smell was the real problem — it had the urine-soaked stench of a rest stop men's room. I immediately turned around and ran.
Eventually, I turned my sights on the Upper East Side. Just a crosstown bus away from where we are now and similarly convenient, I thought it would be a good option. It's relatively cheaper than the Upper West, but I would likely give up an elevator and a dishwasher for the privilege. It was at this point I started realizing the true costs of moving: a broker's fee, deposits, application fees, movers, and a million other miscellaneous costs. In Manhattan, broker's fees are generally 15-20% of annual rent. Brooklyn gets the cut-rate discount of 12%. Even after this realization, I persevered and viewed more than a dozen walk-ups on the Upper East.
After all the looking, one stuck in my mind. It was in a well-cared-for building (the landlord lives there) and was a more open and spacious layout than our current apartment. It was in a fifth floor walk up and, as I had predicted, didn't have a dishwasher. It did have a claw foot tub and more natural light. I brought Nathan to see it and we were sold. We put in an application and gave the required cash (red flag) to begin the application process. The application process, by the way, includes giving a complete stranger your bank account numbers, Social Security Numbers, tax returns, and photo ID. You're basically trusting them not to steal your identity or toss all that information in the garbage where it can be stolen by someone else. What happens to all of those papers (because, yes, in 2015 it still needs to be a hard copy)?! But I digress. We applied, Nathan went out of town, and I was summoned to an interview with the landlord. That's when things went south.
I went to the landlord's apartment and could tell that she's a busybody. She asked me to take off my shoes (fair enough), but then said she "suggests" to her tenants that they take of their shoes in their own apartments (red flag). We chatted a while, during which she divulged that she refuses to rent to unmarried couples (red flag! red flag!) which I discovered is actually illegal. Then, towards the end she casually mentioned that she has "a lot of rules and regulations" as part of a rider to the lease agreement. Finally startled out of my concerted effort to make a good impression, I asked for some examples. She listed off things like she no longer allows bikes in the building after someone scuffed the wall, and that she has strict rules about recycling and noise (red flags). I made my goodbye and immediately called the realtor, basically freaking out. I needed to see that rider. It was emailed to me and as I'd expected, it was ridiculous. There were clauses about keeping an insurance policy of $100,000, clauses that made repair costs part of my rent, vague terms about misuse and damage, and terms that required the landlord or an exterminator entry to the apartment for a total of fourteen times per year. Now I don't do anything damaging or illegal in my apartment, but for that behavior I expect privacy and I could tell that this place would not have it. I was assured that tenants are happy there, but I had a bad feeling and I'm not interested in having a controlling landlord on site. Urged by everyone who didn't stand to make money from the deal to not sign, we walked away.
There were some more days of looking, this time in Brooklyn. There was another application, and what felt like an inevitable mental breakdown but I'll spare you that part of the story. Even though we had already told our current leasing company that we were moving out, we finally asked if we could just stay and they agreed. I was utterly relieved, but also a tiny bit bummed that there wouldn't be a big change.
I was happy the stress was over and I had to give in to the economic reality that even if the rent was cheaper, the moving costs would quickly eat up those savings. I thought that moving to a larger space was the right decision, but the fact is I simply wasn't being creative enough. I extol the virtues of living in a small space, but here I was about to forsake my own! After we decided not to move, I looked at our apartment with fresh eyes and determination. I would sell some furniture on AptDeco, further minimize my belongings, and make this tiny space work for us. After all the trouble, I believe this is the best move.
I happened to see this TED Talk by Graham Hill the other day and it made me even more at peace with the final outcome.
I'll be documenting the transformation of our tiny space here and, of course, it will be done as ethically and eco-friendly as possible.
Any suggestions for small space living are welcome!
VISITING NYC? GET THIS MAP OF MY FAVORITE SUSTAINABLE PLACES.
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