The Adventure Of Apartment Hunting In New York City

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Photo courtesy of vonShnauzer.

“It doesn’t have windows or a closet, and sometimes people will need to walk through it to get to the backyard, but it’s a great deal.”

I’d finally begun my search for the perfect New York City apartment. While I couldn’t afford to live in any of the neighborhoods I enjoyed in Manhattan – the West Village, East Village, Hell’s Kitchen or the Lower East Side — there were a few neighborhoods in Brooklyn that seemed budget-friendly and accessible to downtown Manhattan. My budget was $800 per month maximum, which in New York City is equivalent to a small closet where you might be able to fit a bed and a dresser if you really try.

The place I was currently looking at wasn’t terrible — which is equivalent to “pretty great” in low-budget NYC apartment terms. I could live without windows, and I’d just get an extra dresser to supplement the closet. I didn’t love the idea of people walking through my room, but maybe I could learn to live with it for $650 a month.

“Oh yea, we’re also in a band and hold practices here. It’s only three nights a week though and some afternoons.”

Hmmm… Maybe I’d keep looking.

My search while apartment hunting in NYC was limited to mainly the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bedstuy and Bushwick. While not the most aesthetically-pleasing areas, gentrification was slowly changing the scene, and I knew I would just have to wait it out a few years and I could enjoy an ambient, safe-feeling neighborhood.

The next apartment I looked at seemed okay. Sure, I had four sexual comments made to me in a matter of three blocks, and I may or may not have heard a gunshot when I parked my car, but it was only $700 per month! I was tough. I could learn to live with it.

As I stepped into the place I was overcome with the odors of nicotine, sweat and tuna. Not a deal breaker, depending on what the room was like, but certainly not appealing. This one wasn’t bullet style, so I knew nobody would need to walk through my room; however, there were other issues that needed to be taken into consideration.

“Where does the bed go?” I asked, looking around the minuscule space.

“A full bed won’t really fit,” the current owner explained. “The last guy who lived here had a futon or would sleep on the couch. There’s a closet though!”

Excellent. I had nowhere to sleep, but my shoes did!

“Let me show you the backyard,” he said excitedly. “You’ll need to walk through Gary’s room to get to it so if he’s home and his girlfriend is here it’s off limits, but when he’s not home it’s a really nice spot.”

As I stepped out into the backyard I couldn’t help but gasp.

“I know it needs a little fixing up but it’s a nice place to have people over.”

Yea, if these people didn’t mind contracting Hepatitis. Strewn around the yard was garbage, broken glass, a doll with missing eyes, a hypodermic needle, plastic bottles, a Happy Meal box and a wooden bench that looked like it had once been set on fire. There was a grill, although if it worked or not was beyond me.

“Wow. It’s…something.”

Next.

I searched for a few more months, continuously encountering similar situations. Then finally, I found my dream apartment — or at least the best thing I could find with $800. It was $750 per month in Bushwick. While it was bullet style my roommate was the one whose room had to be walked through, or I could use my own separate exit/entrance to go out into the hall and re-enter through the front door with my keys. It was large enough to fit a full bed, desk, dresser and leather chair, and had two large windows. Sure, my view was of an abandoned warehouse covered in graffiti tags, my bathroom was so small I couldn’t fully extend both arms, I had to spin my head like a dradle to wash my hair and the freezer melted everything I put into it. I didn’t care. I had space, sunlight, a closet and a small backyard that wasn’t full of garbage. And best of all, I was living on my own in New York City in one of Brooklyn‘s most up-and-coming neighborhoods (okay, it’s still very much in the beginning stages of this journey, but it’s getting there! In fact, last month an organic salad cafe opened four blocks over, as did a bar hosting freak and burlesque shows). I may not be living in the most beautiful place, but it is one of the most exciting, offering new experiences and explorations. And to me, that’s worth the money in rent alone.

Have you ever tried looking for an apartment in NYC on a budget? What was your experience like?

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8 Comments

  1. This was hilarious to read and a little bit frightening as well. While I’ve never had to hunt for an apartment in New York, I found London pretty challenging at times. I don’t know how the rent prices compare but I’ve had a few strange encounters. I’ve viewed places in thought after areas which were in my budget but somewhat below par for the area as a whole, including one room that didn’t have any windows at all! Needless to say, I walked away from that 🙂

    1. @Amy: When I tell people what it’s like finding an apartment in NYC they never believe me ha! It would be interesting to try it in another big city like London to see the difference.

  2. I find it hilarious that bedrooms were built without room for a bed. I mean, did people just not have beds back then? Or were they just twin sizes? Or did people deliberately design apartments so they’d be insufficiently sized for beds? What a strange world we live in.

    1. @SnarkyNomad: I know, right? In NYC it’s common to turn any kind of extra space into a “room” — even closets! ha

  3. OH yes… apartment hunting in NYC. I always think back to this day when I was interviewing for a bartending job in FiDi and received a call from a broker in midtown. “Get here, ASAP! I found you the perfect place and its going to get snatched up any minute.” I took a subway uptown (the wrong one of course) got off near Grand Central and literally RAN about 10 blocks with heels on, just to arrive in the apartment to see two guys signing a lease and my broker shaking his head. That experience still gives me nightmares. But now I live in Brooklyn and love it. Glad you were able to find a nice place! NYC is totally worth the hassle, even if the experience leaves some lasting scars and a few grey hairs.

    1. @Britany: Yikes! Apartment hunting can be a defeating experience. I actually didn’t even use a broker because I’m cheap and didn’t want to pay the fee ha. Where in Brooklyn do you live? I’m in Bushwick and my boyfriend lives in Bay Ridge. We should grab a drink sometime!

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