Moving in a New York Minute aka Three Weeks of Hell: Part 1

Hey everyone! How have you all been? I am sure you are all wondering why I never started my New York blog series. I know it has been almost 3 weeks since I made the announcement and I have yet to post the first installment. Well, long story short, it is a major pain in the ass to move to New York City. Ignorantly, I had these ideas about 19 year olds from the Midwest that just up and move to New York and automatically find a one room studio for $800 a month and just work day and night to move up to a one bedroom whenever they’ve saved enough money.

Let me just say, if you are thinking about this little fantasy too, THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS.

Reality smacked me in the face quite quickly. About a month ago, I went up to Massachusetts with my boyfriend. He has a timeshare up there and we figured we could just take the train into the city everyday and find something quickly. I had been looking on and for a few weeks, but everyone that I called or emailed said to call them when I got to the city because the listings that were available would be gone by the time I got there. I later found out that the average listing is only available for 48 hours, so you have to jump on them immediately and submit an application.

I found one realtor online that worked in Brooklyn (from what I understand the real estate licenses in the city are only good for one borough, so most agents stick to one borough). She called me about a week before I was due to arrive and I gave her my budget and the areas I wanted to live. At this time, I had this fantasy in my mind that I would be able to find a studio for $900, so I said that my budget was $1000 a month. I did not have any other requirements. As I am not moving my furniture, I did not care about square footage or anything. This agent told me to contact her when I got to New York, so on the ride up to Massachusetts I called her and we talked for about 45 minutes. She said she would look and call me back the next morning.

I found out through research that if you are not employed in New York City, you have to have a cosigner from the tri-state area. If you call people and tell them you are a student and you have cash for the lease (which I did), they still won’t show you the listing because most places require you to have a minimum income of 40 times the rent. i.e. A studio for $1000 a month means you have to make $40,000 at a job in New York.

I quickly realized that despite the fact I had cash for a year’s lease in an apartment within my budget and that my credit score was 686, it was going to be impossible to find an apartment since I was unemployed. My mother works for a corporation out of New York (although she lives in Dallas) so she agreed to be a cosigner or guarantor, if I could find a place to rent to me.

The next day I woke up at 5 a.m., took the train in from Massachusetts to NYC, and decided to start in Brooklyn. I called the agent I had spoken with the previous day and she did not answer. I texted her and she did not answer. Needless to say, she never contacted me after our phone conversation and thus I had to start from square one. I walked around Brooklyn all day, looking for numbers to call for rentals and could not find anything. I got a neighborhood paper and saw no listings. The only buildings that had numbers to call to rent apartments were in these new luxury buildings, that after a few calls I found out were way outside of my price range.

I saw a real-estate office and called them and when they asked my budget and I said $1000, the lady said, “A thousand a week, right?!” I just kept walking and found another real estate office. A few of the agents and complexes I had called said that my cosigner had to live in the tri-state area, so I began to panic. I wanted to make sure this was just an individual policy and not a state law because had it been a state law I would have had to concentrate on renting rooms, rather than finding my own place. I went into Capri Jet Reality in Brooklyn and they were REALLY nice. I explained my situation and they assured me that it was not a state law and that I just needed to find a property owner that was willing to work with an out-of-state cosigner. I gave them my budget and saw that they used a site called Acme Listings. Although they were helpful, I knew almost immediately that my current budget of $1000 meant that I most certainly was going to have to live in the Bronx.

I went to a café, logged on to Acme Listings, and searched for a place. I found a listing for $900 a month at Loring and Burnside in the Bronx. I called the agent, made an appointment, and rushed off to go see it. I made it to the listing and noticed it was not in the best area, but was not worried. I met the property owner and saw the apartment. I was pleasantly surprised. It was on the top floor of a 5-story walk-up, had one bedroom, a living room, a small kitchen with a full sized refrigerator, and a small bathroom. Other than some damage on the floor and cleaning, it was a great place. I had a fire escape and the building seemed quiet enough. I got an application and was prepared to fill it out.

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My boyfriend and I left the showing and saw that there was a train station for the Metro North line that was a lot closer and would get us back up-state to Massachusetts much quicker. What we did not realize was that this particular station was in the exact opposite direction of the station we had come in from and that this other station was also in the projects. We walked and walked, and ended up between Roberto Clemente State Park and the Sedgwick Houses. My boyfriend was dressed in khaki cargo shorts and wearing a bright red backpack (against my urging) and I wasn’t much better, carrying a giant purse. We stuck out like sore thumbs. We saw a car crash and men playing dice on the street, but other than everyone looking at us like, “Why the hell are these weirdos walking through the projects at 8 at night?!” everything turned out fine. We made it to the train station and realized it really wasn’t that much quicker, but I didn’t think it was a good idea to go back the way we’d come, so we just stayed put. We got on the train and didn’t have the right tickets and the train attendant made a scene. I posted pictures of the apartment and its location on Facebook and was quickly informed by several friends that I really should try to avoid Burnside-apparently that area has a bad reputation in the entire tri-state area. I was bummed because other than the cleaning that apartment was perfect and I would have been able to move in immediately (I came to Massachusetts with a car full of stuff, since I was not going to ship my belongings).

With that option quickly taken off the table, we decided to come back into the city the next day and take a new approach…call, email, call, and email some more. We rode into the city the next afternoon, sat in a café, and called and emailed more than 25 people. Most of the people did not respond, and a large portion of the group that did reply would not talk to me after they found out I was unemployed and my cosigner lived in Dallas. I quickly decided to start telling people that my cosigner worked out of New York (which wasn’t a lie) rather than saying she lived in Dallas and telling people up front that I could pay cash for a lease.

SN: I lived at home and worked two jobs throughout the time I was getting my first Master’s degree, so that is how I was able to save up enough cash to pay up front for a lease.

Late in the afternoon, a cousin of mine that lives in the city called me and gave me the number of a broker he used. I found several listings on Craigslist and one turned out to be a hook for a woman named Niya from Rapid Realty in the Bronx. She called me back almost immediately after I emailed her from Craigslist. At first she was hesitant after hearing my circumstances, but once I said that I could pay a lease up front (I also bumped my budget up to $1200 after seeing that my sub $1000 options were in murderrapeville, USA) she talked to her manager and said they could help me. We set up an appointment for the next day and went back upstate.

The next morning I made my way to Rapid Realty and filled out a preliminary application. She began the showings immediately. She showed me 6 places, but decided to send me to her sister office, Rapid Riverdale. Riverdale is a really nice area in the Bronx and there were several apartments within my budget. I looked at 7 apartments that day and Niya’s colleague Charlie took over since I was looking at the Riverdale area, rather than Allerton. We saw one apartment that was PERFECT. It was right across the street from Manhattan College, .3 miles from the 242nd street train station, and on the first floor, but the windows were on the second floor since the building was on a hill. The rent was $75 over my budget, but the area was SO quiet, safe, and there were tons of places in the area that I could work. It was across the street from a beautiful park and I fell in love immediately. I found another apartment on Grand Concourse in the Bronx that was under my budget. It wasn’t as close to the train and was in a walk-up, but it was still beautiful. The last one I liked was $100 over budget, but in a prewar building with laundry and elevator, across the street from an elementary school. My cosigner agreed to all of them, so I paid a $1200 deposit and asked them to apply for my three favorites of the seven I saw. While I was leaving on Saturday, the man helping me assured me he could next-day-air me a lease and one of these options would work out.

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That night I had an open house for a room to rent in Harlem, but decided to skip it since I was under the impression I would have an apartment by the beginning of the following week.

The office informed me they needed several things from my cosigner and I, so that night we collected the documents. To rent an apartment in New York, you and whoever signs the lease with you will need all or most of the following:

  1. Your last three pay stubs
  2. Bank statements for the last three months from all accounts
  3. A credit report
  4. A letter from your employer stating how long you’ve been employed, your position, and your pay rate
  5. Your W-2
  6. Your most recent tax return
  7. Your social security card
  8. Your driver’s license or other photo ID
  9. 4 times the amount of your rental budget, in liquid assets. Most apartments require the first month’s rent, the last month’s rent (as a deposit), and a broker fee equal to one month’s rent-in the form of a cashier’s check or money order. Then, unless you move in on the first of the month, you will need your second month’s rent shortly after you move in. So, have cash in the amount of your projected rent, times 4.

I highly suggest having a folder with copies of all of these things BEFORE you even start looking for a place. Since listings are typically only available for 48 hours, the quicker you can get your complete application in, the quicker you will be considered for the apartment.

So, I had been in New York for a week at this point and thought I was being considered for three apartments. I headed back to Texas to await the lease and buy a plane ticket back to my new home…