the perils of apartment shopping

At the end of December, it will be time to bid (a not so fond) adieu to the thumping bass of the bar underneath our apartment and the throngs of cigarette-smoking students who hang out on our doorstep. Our lease is up, and we will be moving to a new home.

Where we will move remains to be seen. We have started the search, but finding a suitable apartment in New York City is quite a different animal than anywhere else. The first challenge is dealing with a broker, which is a virtual necessity. Brokers command a commission of generally 15% of the annual rent, which is a huge amount of money to pay someone to find you a place to live. Craigslist allows you to search for “no-fee” apartments, which are units where the building management will pay the commission, but the broker will inevitably want to show you “fee” apartments as well. Trying to get a broker to show you a specific apartment you are interested in seems to be impossible.

I learned this the hard way when I responded to an ad on Craigslist to see a no-fee apartment in the Union Square area. When I met her at her office, she didn’t have any record of our conversation and couldn’t show me the apartment I had wanted to see that day. She could, of course, show me three other units, all of which had fees. I decided to go along with her anyway because I had already blocked out the time and it seemed like a good idea to see what was out there.

I then started searching for “by owner” apartments on Craigslist. I found a cute one in the right price range on 11th and University, and I arranged to see the place. The living room and bedroom were spacious, and there was a working fireplace (!) – but the “kitchen” was a yard-long section of the living room wall that had a sink, a dorm room sized mini fridge, and a toaster oven. I left that place in a hurry.

I decided to try the broker route again, but this time I vowed to be more specific in my criteria. We wanted a no-fee apartment. We didn’t want a walk-up. We wanted an oven. I sensed things were going to go badly when I met him at his office and he didn’t have any appointments lined up, as he had promised. Instead, he wanted to make appointments for the next day. Four, he told me.

Marc and I arrived at the appointed destination at noon the next day, and he didn’t show up. Ten minutes later, I called him. He assured me he was on his way. After another ten minutes had elapsed, Marc called time on the whole situation – but he walked up just at that moment. We decided to see the places – but he only had two for us to see, neither of which met all of the criteria we had discussed. The best part was when, after we arrived at the second place, we found the door locked. He tried to jimmy it open with a credit card and, when that failed, told us to wait and left. A few minutes later, we heard some noises on the inside of the apartment, and then the broker opened the door from the inside. He had climbed up the fire escape and crawled through the window. Way to make us feel like this is a safe building, buddy.

Needless to say, we’re still looking.


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