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Posts Tagged ‘finding a home’

ImageWhen the H1B and I looked at where to permanently live in New York – after a brief spell in a tiny, hot  studio on 66th and 1st, and a month in the iconic (but covered in scaffolding) 15 Park Row building near City Hall – we turned to Google.

I literally googled, Where is the best place to live in New York?, and New York Mag’s brilliantly informative and interactive Livability Calculator came up.

It’s such a clever, useful piece of kit and ranks boroughs in terms of crime, noise levels, local schools etc. And you can also search by the type of lifestyle you live – ie: if you have kids or not.

Glad to see that Park Slope is still at the top.

It’s a bit of a cliché to live in Park Slope once you have kids (see Shit Park Slope Parents Say – cringe), but it’s a great place to live*.

Breezy, leafy, with decent cafes and good enough restaurants (James is our favourite), and close to hip areas like Fort Greene and Boerum Hill and the Brooklyn Flea. And you can get to the City easily enough for work or if you need that dose of Manhattan.

As much as I like the idea of a penthouse in Tribeca or loft apartment in Soho, for our budget bracket I’d choose Brooklyn over the Upper East Side any day.

*Although, according to the calculator if you are ‘married with kids‘, Greenpoint is best, followed by Murray Hill, and then Park Slope – probably because of the cost of housing (a Brownstone in Park Slope costs something like $3,500,000).

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If you read my posts on using brokers or finding an apartment in New York, and are you looking for a place yourself, you might find the following glossary of realtors’ terminology useful.

Floor-thru – this is an apartment that runs through the entire floor of a building, from one end to the other. Typically it’s a feature of older buildings that have been divided up, such as brownstones. Be aware that the middle room usually has no windows (as it’s in the middle of the building). We were lucky enough to find a floor-thru that was at the end of a block, so the middle room has a window – a big bonus.

Condo – condominiums always make me think about racy pensioners in Florida for some reason (accompanied with a visual of the dive Brad Pitt inhabits in True Romance). It’s a legal term specifically – that applies to the ownership requirement – but what you need to know is they are normally newer-build blocks, which share a pool or garden, and most people own the flat they live in.

Co-op – if you apply for an apartment in a cooperative your lease will have to be approved by the board members of the building. Your application maybe vetoed if you have pets, for example. If you like to play jazz trumpet late at night, you might want to keep it to yourself.

(By the way it’s illegal for brokers to reveal anything about other people in the building. I guess this is so no one can be discriminated against, including yourself, but it does also stop innocently nosy questions about your potential neighbours, such as if they have kids or not.)

Corcoran has a pretty comprehensive real estate glossary if you need more information.

As for me, I’ve been distracted by thoughts of that scene where you get to see Christian Slater’s bum and (nearly) his winkie and when Alabama says that she is in love with him. Here it is:

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Broker Or Bust?

One of the biggest questions foreigners face when they are looking for a place to live in New York City is whether to use a broker or not.

For a Brit, a broker about as relevant as a fax machine – a hangover from the time before the internet. Aren’t they just a glorified estate agent? Why pay someone 15% of your annual rental budget to browse realtors websites and Craigslist?

After all, compared to many cities – vast London or hard-to-negotiate Paris, for example – Manhattan and its neighbouring boroughs are accessible and relatively compact. With a good pair of shoes, some patience and luck, and a map, it can’t be that hard to find somewhere.

The opposing argument is that New York is a city that runs on its connectors and networks like no other place in the world. Jobs, friends, apartments, cars, cats and dogs are all found via someone who knows someone who knows someone. And that is all a broker is – a connector.

In the weeks before we arrived I visited Craigslist every day – and saw some cracking apartments at much lower costs compared to those that were listed on different realtor websites. I’ll do it my way, I thought. However, the company pay for our broker fees (as well as health insurance, pensions and freight). A colleague of H1B recommended a broker he’d used – and before we knew it the ball was rolling.

And I have to say – although it made me feel both unoriginal and strangely dirty – she absolutely came up with the goods and found us a beautiful one bed plus den floor-thru parlour level north Park Slope brownstone apartment (with windows in every room – unusual for a floor-thru – and a good kitchen).

Not that she was easy to work with. I’m sure there are many reasonable, calm and centred brokers in NYC but our chain-smoking, caffeine junkie was not one of them and had the unique ability to make us feel eye-twitchingly stressed within about 20 seconds of talking to her.

She demanded to see the most mind-boggling array of personal information: bank statements and credit history, OK yes we get that; but she also demanded we have $20k in the bank (sorry, the Golden Goose flew the coop) and wanted to know who paid for our wedding so we could hit them up for the extra cash. She continually wanted us to “go higher (you gotta go higher!!)” when we told her our budget – infuriating and slightly humiliating.

The main obstacle is the lack of a social security number (the main method of credit checking in the USA) so we had to provide the following:

  • Bank statements
  • Credit card statements
  • Reference from previous landlords
  • We had to show we could pay 3 months rent + bond
  • Passport and visa details

My tip when using a broker is to get one recommended and be very firm about your budget and expectations. Also the more groundwork you do in terms of knowing where you want to live – even down your to favourite buildings – the better.

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Seriously, if I knew the answer to this question, I’d be writing now from my $3000 per month, no fee, Nolita duplex with ‘roof rights’. Rather than tapping this out on H1B’s work laptop in our dingy corporate studio (my beloved ancient Mac was officially declared deceased by Henry the genius at the Mac shop on 5th and 58; time of death 14:10), nursing a cold Victoria Prima Pils, with StreetEasy and the rental section of the New York Times glaring at me from the other tabs.

>> YOU SHOULD SEE: Do I use a broker or Craigslist?

But I’ll try and share my new wisdom – and those snippets of realtor sageness passed on by every New Yorker we’ve met. New Yorkers are absolutely evangelical about where is the best/worst place to live in Manhattan and Brooklyn (the other boroughs don’t figure, apparently) – and all of them say different things. Hope it helps; as the H1B goes off to his Hudson River-views desk every day, the bulk of the apartment hunting may well be left to the Trailing Spouse.

Here are my top tips:

1. Know the area you want to live in.
Even on a casual visit to New York, you’ll realise that the city’s districts have distinct personalities. Chelsea is urban, art-loving and gay; UES is gentile, by the park and slightly dull; East Village is full of hip young things and $5 cuba libres; West Village is where Sex & the City was filmed and you can’t afford it; Brooklyn is where the cool, alternative and slightly smug breed. Etc. Spend a bit of time visiting each area and see if you like the feel.

2. Decide whether you want to pay a broker
Depending on your view, a broker is either someone who has access to all the best properties in a tough and over-subscribed market, or a money-leeching cad who demands 15% of your annual rental expenditure for making a few phone calls and repeatedly saying ‘not possible’ to any specifications you may have about the four walls you want to inhabit, while answering another phone call from another hapless (and possibly British) ex-pat unfortunate. In simple terms, rentals are either ‘brokered’ or ‘full fee’ where the full fee is going directly to the landlord.

3. Get your paperwork ready
When you find the apartment of your dreams (the modest dream which takes budgets and timelines into consideration), you’ll need to act quickly. If you have recently arrived,  you’ll need a letter on company paper stating your employment details and salary – including bonus details, the cheeky blighters. You’ll need to open a bank account and have some funds in it. Typically, you’ll need the first month’s rent and the last, and the broker’s fee if you have gone with one – and you’ll need that all up front and ready to go.

4. Watch the hidden fees
Many New York apartments come with doormen – who, again, are a necessity or an expense depending on how you look on them. A doorman will take your deliveries, sign for mail and groceries, monitor visitors (no random door-knockers), arrange to have your loo unblocked, and generally look impressive in their C18th Italian military apparel when your friends come to stay. But you pay for them; as you will pay for basement gyms, roof-top terraces, water features in the lobby. Some landlords demand you have a maid (no skin off my nose), monthly maintenance fees which can range from a couple of hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars a month.

5. Set a budget
… and don’t lose your mind. Remember that brokers, agents and everyone else who has their thumb in the tasty realty pie will try to get every extra cent and dollar out of your wallet. And it’s much easier to look when you have firm budget boundaries and a clear idea on the geographical area you want to live in.

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