The strategy was simple: Suzanne would go to New York and find an apartment while I stayed in Minneapolis for the summer to finish teaching and to pack up our old place.
We decided to make the Inwood / Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan our focus for finding a place to live. We had both spent some time up there, beautiful green spaces, right off the A and 1 Trains, plus we have good friends already within shouting distance.
We were told that you must be fast when renting in NYC. Have all of your paperwork ready to go, because apartments get rented within hours of being vacated. It’s a very compressed period of time, and there are lots of moving van chasers. The paperwork that we were told to have on hand was: months of bank statements, pay stubs, years of tax returns, and reference letters from landlords.
So what’s an apartment broker? We’re still not sure exactly who they work for. Are they independent brokers? Do they work with a real estate agency? Are they just friends with the landlord? Their job is to find the potential renter an apartment for an exorbitant fee. Usually one month’s full rent on the apartment in question. Ouch.
Instead of a broker, Craigslist was our primary resource for finding apartments. The parameters were cost and location with a “No Fee Listing.” The fees were usually associated with the broker, so we tried to avoid that situation if possible. While looking at ads and apartments Suzanne learned to be wary of the bait and switch.
Some examples of the bait and switch technique:
One apartment had a beautiful garden courtyard, nice interior spaces and had been advertised as no fee. While talking to the broker on a nice young man’s phone from the apartment (so who was this guy that was showing her the apartment?), he mentioned the security deposit PLUS the fee. He then went on to offer, “How about half a month’s rent for the fee?” Ha.
Another apartment listed for $1050, but upon inspection, the super showed a different apartment that was in horrible condition (the ceiling was falling in) for $1350, with a cash fee of $600, payable to the super.
Some places had “issues,” like this one bedroom apartment in Washington Heights. The kitchen was a strip of appliances along the living room wall (which is normal). The place was recently renovated, but the stove was behind the front door. Because of the new stove placement, the front door wouldn’t even open all of the way. Forget about loading in an amplifier.
Another apartment was just out of our price range with ample evidence of a severe roof leak. However, the realty company showing the apartment had no idea how to find out if the roof had been fixed.
There was another apartment with a nice interior, but the building itself was not in good shape. There was trash in lobby and a general disrespect of the property. This led us to believe that the condition of the building mattered a little more than the condition of the apartment itself. Oh yeah, it was also a fifth floor walk up.
Up until now, the apartment was great OR the building was great. Still waiting for a balance of the two.
Suzanne eventually saw the final apartment, and really liked it, but there was another applicant who had beaten us to the punch. The agent and the super were honest, up front people, and said not to put in an application. This was still a promising happenstance, because it proved that there were places that were clean both inside and out and in our price range.
About a week later, upon the urging of a friend, Suzanne called about this apartment again to see if the other person’s application had gone through. She found out that the application had been rejected!
We quickly began the application process, Fed Ex-ing about $200 worth of signed paper work back and forth from NYC to Minneapolis. Phew. We got it. It’s a newly renovated one bedroom on the third floor. The kitchen is so large that the dining room table fits in it, and there’s even a neighbor that delivers our paper to our apartment door.
The drive out (August 30 – September 1)
The truck we rented was a 16’ Penske, which was ironic since we lived right next door to the U-Haul lot on the corner of 36th and Nicollet Avenue. It was quoted at $762.65, one-way from Minneapolis to New York City. When we returned to the truck to its Manhattan drop-off location, there were 6287 miles used on the truck out of a possible allowance of 9999, plus a $41.50 gas fee since it was returned 3/4 full.
The truck was packed over the course of three days; the ultimate game of real-life Tetris [http://www.tetris.com/]. There was absolutely no way to fit anything else into that vehicle. On Sunday morning, August 30, I loaded our two cat carriers into the cab of the truck and drove away.
Our cats were surprisingly chilled out during the ride. I had feared the worst, screaming and clawing for two solid days, but after a couple of hours, they had both relaxed enough for me to open the cages and let them roam. Pemba stayed put in his cage for a while, and Noodle went for the high ground. Eventually, they both found their spots, one up by my head on the right (on top of the cat carriers) and the other on the floor directly under my knees (not near the pedals, thankfully).
The drive was reminiscent of the many road trips I used to take during college. Back and forth from Denton, Texas and Lincoln, Nebraska; to and from Norfolk, Virginia and Omaha, Nebraska; and the occasional long haul from Houston, Texas to Minneapolis, Minnesota. This drive was no different, actually it was pretty comfortable and by far the most relaxing thing I had done in months. I even had four tins full of homemade cookies with me!
Our plan was for me to meet Suzanne in Milford, PA on the last night of my trip. I was in a little bit of a hurry to make our dinner date at 9:00pm because I hadn’t seen my wife in almost two months. I hadn’t realized that Milford was at the bottom of a monstrous hill. It was dark and I was going the speed limit, but the truck just wouldn’t slow down. The brakes weren’t up to the challenge of stopping that heavy load. The front end began to shake so I pumped the brakes (although this was a common method for stopping on ice, it also worked fairly well in the Colorado mountains while on ski trips), and barely managed not to careen into the ditch. We could keep the reservation.
Arrival (September 1)
Tuesday, September 1, 2009, Suzanne and I drove across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan. With the help of some close friends, we unloaded the truck, up two flights of stairs, into our new apartment. That sounds easy, but that date will live in my memory as easily the most physically demanding day of my life.
Sometime during the mid-afternoon I witnessed my first “New York Moment.” This is defined as something that is completely out of your control, usually causing a major delay, and can really only happen in New York City. This incident happened at the foot of the ramp leading up to the back of our Penske truck. A woman was parked behind us, and had to leave. Right when she started the car and began to pull away, CRACK. It sounded like a big piece of plastic snapping, and she lost steering capability. She drove forward a couple of more feet, and we saw what the problem was. There was a HUGE dead rat lying on the pavement. We opened the hood of her car, and sure enough, the rat had gotten caught in the power steering belt, and snapped it in half (the belt, not the rat) when the belt started spinning. The rat was killed instantly, and so was the car! She ended up calling AAA and having it towed. She’s now our dry cleaner.
The next morning we drove the truck straight down Broadway to the drop-off location. What a ride. It was a good thing that I’d been driving that truck straight for a few days and knew how it handled. New York traffic is another story altogether!
We made it.