Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Moving to NYC

My decision has been made and the deal is done. Yesterday I signed a lease for a studio apartment in New York City. Rent is $1695 and I only had to fork out one extra month of security (two months total) due to my bankruptcy on my credit report. Since it was before the middle of the month my lease starts on May 19th.

The place is somewhat "funky", but works for me. It does not have a kitchen sink (only in New York!), but it does have a door onto the rooftop terrace, so it is probably a net good deal for me. It also has plenty of natural lighting, with a window and door (to the roof) on one wall and another window on the opposite wall, so I can get a cross-flow of air as an alternative to using the air conditioning as much as I might need to for a "normal" city apartment. The building is mostly surrounded by taller buildings, so it gets decent shade for much of the day. And since it is facing the interior, street noise is somewhat muted. The floor is linoleum tile, which is fine with me. A lot of NYC apartments have hardwood floors.

It is on the 10th floor of an older building. It does have an elevator, but also has a really nice wide stairway and I like to walk a lot anyway. When I had my apartment in Tudor City I used to walk up eleven floors all of the time.

The manager has a full-time office in the building, which assures better service for issues that might arise. I dealt directly with the manager (with my broker), who makes all of the management and operating decisions, which is much better than a lot of situations, especially for the typical "walk-up" apartment building you find in the city.

I went through a broker, Century 21, so I had to pay a fee of 15% of the annual rent (typical in Manhattan). Ouch. Yeah, that is a lot of money, but it gave me access to an apartment that I might not otherwise have been able to find on my own or as quickly. Total time from initial meeting with the broker to walking away with a signed lease was just under seven hours. I did look at a couple other apartments and a lot of other listings, but I was able to focus my priorities and the initial listing was a great match to begin with. I did find this listing on Craigslist.

I think I was lucky to get this apartment. People were calling while I was sitting in the manager's office filing my application and still calling when I was signing the lease and the manager had the card for someone ready to file an application if I backed out. Finding an apartment in a doorman building in midtown east in Manhattan with a terrace for less than $1700 is quite a good deal.

Electricity is the only utility that I have to pay. The apartment has an electric range, but I don't cook. It has steam heat. It does have an air conditioning unit left by the last tenant which is in so-so condition, so the good news is that the apartment is wired and set up for A/C, but I may have to buy a new window A/C unit depending on what shape the old unit is in, especially in the middle of the summer.

Now I need to decide what to do about telephone and broadband Internet access. Since I need broadband for my work, I may go with cable-based phone service from either Time-Warner or RCN. I do not watch TV, so I do not need normal "cable" access, but the package price may still be a decent deal, especially since traditional phone service is so pricey these days.

I flew to NYC on a one-way ticket. I still haven't decided when to fly back to Bellevue, WA. I need to make some arrangements for window shades and whatever else I may need to do to make the apartment ready for occupancy. One of my priorities for an apartment was to get a "doorman building" so that a lot of services can be arranged even though I am not at the building.

The location is quite decent (for me), in midtown east, on 50th Street just east of Lexington Avenue. That is a block away from Ess-a-Bagel, the best bagel shop in the world.

The really good news is that the most anxiety-provoking part of the move is done. Sure, plenty of the remaining tasks will be annoying and distracting, but manageable and with minimal uncertainty.

-- Jack Krupansky

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Moving to NYC?

Last week, Anonymous left a comment on one of my blogs asking:

So - what did you ever decide about the move to NYC?

Good question, but I did not have an immediate answer. The short answer was that I had decided that the first week in May was when I was going to decide both whether to renew my apartment lease in Bellevue, WA and whether and where to move if I did not renew the lease, including whether I would move to NYC.

Unfortunately, I focused on my bill-paying work last Monday and Tuesday and didn't seriously dive back into looking at apartment listings in Craigslist until Wednesday. I had been checking the listings off and on over the past month or so, but was disappointed that prices didn't seem to be falling due to the weak economy. Sure, there are some apartments in the $1450 to $1550 range (or even below $1200 in Harlem), but they are somewhat... depressing. I was considering a couple of apartments in the $1600 to $1650 range in Tudor City, but the ones I knew about were actually rented by the end of the week. I probably could have picked up one of them, but I was not yet comfortable with paying $1600 in rent. When I lived in NYC back in 2004, I was paying $1275 in Tudor City.

So, by the end of the week I still did not have a new place lined up and the deadline for giving notice not to renew my lease (Sunday) was looming.

Friday afternoon I finally bit the bullet and went ahead and gave notice on my current lease. I felt that I had enough options in New York, or that I could move to Washington, D.C. or Atlantic City if New York didn't work out.

One of the reasons I did not get one of those apartments in Tudor City is that with personal bankruptcy only a little more than two years ago, the apartment co-op board might not approve my application. My broker had a call in to the board to find out, but unfortunately a couple of people snapped up the apartments before the board called back. The only other apartments in Tudor City that the broker had were in the $1800 range. I should call the broker back to at least find out what the board's answer was.

This morning I talked to another broker who had a place listed for $1695 that actually sounded fairly decent. I gave him all the details of my financial situation and he said I should be fine as long as I was willing to prepay rent, and that pre-paying maybe six months or even the whole year would sway a fair number of landlords.

So, I went ahead and made the decision to fly to New York City on Monday and meet with the broker on Tuesday morning.

I decided to fly one way since I have no idea how long my search will take and I will want to fly back to Bellevue ASAP to starting sorting through junk and packing.for my move. I will probably ship all my boxes via UPS.

I checked out prices on Priceline but decided to make a reservation directly with Continental since I did not see any non-stop flights that would get me into NYC at a reasonable hour. I booked a flight leaving Seattle at 11:30 a.m. that arrives in Newark a few minutes before 8:00 p.m. for "only" $460, one way. I could have gotten a round trip on Priceline for $500 to $550 (with stops and connections), but I had no idea when to schedule the return and staying an extra night or two in NYC would erase any savings on the flight. And, Priceline was not showing any non-stop flights. I will book a round trip from New York City to Bellevue, WA as soon as I finalize my new apartment. That could take a single day or two or could take an entire week or even longer.

Then I bit another bullet and used Priceline to reserve a hotel in NYC at least for the first couple of nights. I tried to get a place for $250 for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, but had no luck. I checked and it turns out that the rate jumped dramatically from Tuesday to Wednesday. So, I bid again for just Monday and Tuesday nights and did get a place for $250. Unfortunately, Priceline put me in the Wellington Hotel, which it did as well back in November on my last visit. My first night there in November was horrible, with poor heating incredible noise and a rather drab and depressing room that was in desperate need of renovation. Not something worth two and a half stars. A Holiday Inn Express would have been much better. I complained (back in November), but since I had checked in late in the evening they had no other rooms. They did put me in a much better room the second night, but that still did not make up for the disappointing experience of the first night. I tried to call the hotel today to put in a request for a decent room, but they said there was nothing they could do yet since it sometimes takes 24 hours before the Priceline reservation gets into their system. I also called Priceline to complain, but they simply suggested that I go ahead and check in and then call Priceline immediately if there is any problem and then Priceline will directly call the hotel on my behalf. The problem is that since my flight does not arrive in Newark until about 8:00 p.m., even the 8:30 p.m. shuttle bus will not drop me off in New York until about 9:30 p.m., so I will get to the hotel around 10:00 p.m., which almost guarantees that I will get one of the last remaining rooms and make it difficult for even Priceline to fix things up for me. And then, that is kind of late to find a decent restaurant on a Monday evening. I could go to dinner as soon as I get off the bus, but then I would be checking at after 11:00 p.m., which only increases the probability that I will have to hassle with the front desk. I will give the hotel another call tomorrow and see if they can flag me for early check in and somehow verify that my "standard" room is not as defective as the last time I was there.

If I need to stay beyond Wednesday, I may try Priceline again or take the casino bus to Atlantic City and stay down there for a couple of nights. That is a long commute, but it is cheap on the casino bus and a lot cheaper than paying more than $250 in NYC -- as long as I do not dump the savings into a slot machine! And depending on how things are going in NYC, I may also look around for a cheap place to rent in AC as a backup plan. Or, I could even take the bus from AC to DC (Washington, D.C.) and check out some apartments there.

Olympic Trailways runs the CoachUSA bus between Newark Airport and midtown Manhattan. The round trip ticket costs $25 and can be purchased online to avoid hassling with cash and you can get right on the bus. It is nominally a 50 minute ride. They stop at Port Authority, Bryant Park, and Grand Central Terminal.

So, I have my flight, my bus to the city, my hotel for two nights, and my appointment on Tuesday morning with a broker who claims to get "a hundred" new listings every week. I am good to go, so far.

The broker emailed me their "requirements" just to get started. Being self-employed, I need copies of the first two pages of my last two years of income tax returns, a letter on company letterhead from my accountant verifying the income reported on those returns and my forecast income for this year, and a debit card that can charge the last month's rent and one month's rent as deposit since they do not take personal checks or credit cards. And then there might be application fees and credit checks by individual landlords.

AND THEN, brokers in NYC typically charge a 15% fee on rentals. And that is 15% of the annual rent. So, if I manage to rent an apartment for $1750, the broker fee would be... $3,150. Ouch. That's life in the big city. Yes, there are brokers and owners  who do not charge fees, but they are typically managing a single property or small collection of properties, so you would have to bounce around to more owners and brokers to get access to a comparable number of properties. And, in my case, I would have to repeatedly tell my financial story about bankruptcy and part-time self-employment. This broker can figure out which properties to focus on and which to skip. I do want to find a doorman building for security, deliveries, handling mail and package issues, etc. That may add another $100 or $200 to the price for an apartment compared to a non-doorman building. And I would prefer to be in midtown east for convenience, which is a little more pricey.

So, that is where my infamous move to NYC stands. But until I finalize a deal for an actual apartment, I will not have made a final decision.

-- Jack Krupansky