I’ve moved an inordinate number of times since I relocated to New York six years ago. I’ve basically been playing catch and release with every piece of furniture I’ve ever owned. I have dealt with real estate brokers for probably 50% of all of my apartments, and I firmly believe one requirement to earn one’s broker’s license is to sacrifice some bit of one’s soul to Satan. My current lease expires at the end of June, and I’m faced with the absolute nightmare of moving in New York — again.
There is literally nothing about the moving process that doesn’t cause some level of rage-inducing inconvenience. Frist, to find out what’s even available, we are corralled toward listing sites that all inexplicably have vaguely sexual names, which sort of lends a bizarre sway on the process from the jump. Whether it’s Naked Apartments, Hot Pads, Street Easy, or just dependably creepy Craigslist, apartment hunting feels similar to the worst parts of online dating. Or, for fellow Brooklyn Nine-Nine fans, like a Peralta “title of your sex tape” joke.
The listings on these sites are always worded heavy in jargon. There aren’t many ways to convince me as a consumer that a windowless room in Bushwick is worth both $1000 and a Friday evening trek on the “L” of all trains, but bait and switch is one that works well enough. Sure, a windowless room with three light fixtures is “bright” but calling it that is sort of a lie, no matter how you dice it. Show pictures of all the rooms with windows and don’t mention that the only one in my price rage is the one that would literally drive me crazy. Like, this is how far the real estate industry has slipped — $1000 in Bushwick gets you one private windowless bedroom and a bathroom, living room, and kitchen to be shared with three strangers. Words like “cozy,” “cute,” and “quaint,” become dirty words — red flags meaning too small to fit even your Queen size mattress. You really can’t photograph rooms in any kind of way that does any justice to the room and you can always stretch the truth about quality. One must physically go see any and every apartment one is potentially interested in. It’s exhausting.
So you go. You take two different trains to a neighborhood you’ve never set foot in before. You that it’ll be fine because Brooklyn is Brooklyn, but no. Most of the time I’ve spent in Brooklyn over the past six years has been in South Brooklyn (Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Sunset Park, and Gravesend). North Brooklyn with its fast-paced changes in demographic and class is something I’ve read about more than experienced. I saw a lot of the gentrification of Harlem happen while living here, but Bushwick is a whole other ball game. The gentrification in Bushwick is so wild that even I felt uncomfortable and out of place there. The graffiti and murals left behind feel more like a cemetery than an aesthetic.
New York City apartments that non-millionaires can afford are okay at best. In search of more affordable rent, you walk down residential streets in sort of run down parts of Brooklyn at the behest of your realtor. The closest bodega is a few blocks away; she says nothing about this. You walk up three flights of stairs to the apartment equivalent of a pre-fab house. The realtor is hovering over your shoulder, begging you to ask questions about a default template model of an apartment.
Others rush you through because they have so many other appointments to keep and the nature of New York City backs up schedules into chaotic, amorphous insanity. The MTA is a prime example of that. It’s not clear which is preferable, being rushed or hovered around, but both are extremely unsettling to a little introvert like me. Of course, not all realtors are terrible, I absolutely do not envy them their jobs; one many have just found me a place to live.
Once you’ve found your new home, financial worries take center stage. New York is one of the most competitive real estate markets in the United States. Illegal apartments and private deals with homeowners proliferate largely because the on-the-books restrictions for renting apartments is absolutely obscene. In order to rent an apartment of one’s own free will and volition, one must make 40X the annual rent in income. If one does not, one must have a cosigning guarantor that makes over 80 times the annual rent. Background and credit checks are run and sensitive documents must be handed over to total strangers. If, by some miracle, you’re approved by both broker and management company, you must pay a cocktail of fees including first month’s rent, last month’s rent, security deposit, and broker’s fees.
I wish I had the statistics in front of me regarding what percentage of New York apartments are walk-ups, but I’d be willing to bet that the number is quite substantial. Walk ups are annoying and a universal inconvenience. The prospect of moving all of one’s furniture and belongings into the third floor of a four-story walk up is soul crushing first, back breaking second. Apartments located on high floors with no elevators often come with large pieces of furniture purchased in a zillion pieces from somewhere like IKEA. Nondescript cardboard boxes travel up stairs with far more ease than an oddly shaped sectional ever will. You assemble furniture and abandon them in small apartments all over the city.
If, by some chance, you choose to take your furniture, the logistics of doing so is also incredibly difficult. Renting a U-Haul is pretty expensive on its own. Filling up a tank that big with gas is also pricey — or worse, forgetting to fill the tank since U-Haul charges $5/gallon to use their own stores. But good luck finding a native New Yorker living within walking distance of a subway with a valid driver’s license. Finding a space to squeeze your Toyota on the street can take hours in some neighborhoods — try squeezing a full size U-Haul truck — or even van. Parking tickets are $100 at least. Parking, rental trucks, brokers fees, security deposits, everything about this process is terrible.
But, once you’ve gone through it all, signed your lease and set up your new space the way you want it, nothing else compares. My new apartment building has a bodega to the left of the stoop and a taco spot on the right side. The train is underneath a Dunkin Donuts a block from my front door. It’s a pain to find housing in NYC but it’s somehow worth it once you do.