The Real.Est List
Fox 5 Julie Chang's 5th floor walk-up: "I buy umbrellas like packs of gum"
WNYW/Fox 5 entertainment reporter Julie “Truly Julie” Chang moved to Manhattan six years ago for a position at WPIX-TV as its morning news reporter and found not only a career on the news, but also her “soulmate”--New York City. The Emmy-nominated correspondent Chang tells BrickUnderground how she found her rental without a broker, and dishes about her favorite Soho takeout spots, her scariest New York-living experience, and her bed bug anxiety.
What year did you move to Manhattan and what was your first apartment like? How did you find it?
In May of 2004, my two-year contract with the station I was working at in Champaign-Urbana Illinois was about to expire. I had to decide whether I wanted to renew and checked in for advice with a friend, Neil Goldstein, who was the news director for WNYW in New York. Miraculously he offered me a freelance position and I nearly fell over! I gave notice immediately but just three days before I was scheduled to move he was laid off.
I arrived in New York with no job and no money as I had only been making $17,000 a year in Illinois. Thankfully I got to stay with my sister and brother-in-law in their extra bedroom in Battery Park. Even though I was only unemployed for two and a half weeks because I was lucky enough to get a freelance position at Channel 11, I ended up crashing with my sister for eight months to save money and figure out what neighborhood I liked best.
Interestingly enough, I then got a news assignment to do a weeklong segment on how to find an apartment, working with a broker, which neighborhoods are hottest and what to do when you finally move in. It was serendipitous because I got to chronicle my own search. I got to go in a helicopter and check out every neighborhood in the city from the sky and see all the tall new developments from a bird’s eye view.
I opted not to use a broker and instead got crafty. I had a three-pronged approach. I would go into areas I liked and walk into buildings randomly to take down numbers so I could contact management directly; tip supers and doormen to alert me of what was open in the building; and would question strangers when I saw a moving van about whether they were moving in and if so, where they moved from.
It only took me a week to find the perfect apartment in the ideal area by calling management companies directly.
I knew I liked the West Village and Soho for their small-town community feel and rented a 650-sq. ft. – which is pretty much 600 sq. ft. of shoes--one bedroom in Soho in a pre-war, non-luxury fifth-floor walkup building. I like to think of it as my penthouse. Climbing all those steps daily also makes it my gym in a way. While it is a rental, so I cannot renovate, after living here for six years, I just had an ELFA closet system from the Container Store installed so I can take out odd items I had stored in the oven.
Have you ever worked with a broker?
While I found my unit on my own, very recently I helped a European friend relocate to Manhattan and we used a broker for the search. On Fox we have a real estate expert from the New York Post, Jennifer Keil, who kindly recommended Shari Scharfer-Rollins, an agent with Corcoran. My broker experience was excellent. She had a driver so we easily saw five apartments in one day and it was so helpful to have an experienced person who knew the vacancy rate and all pertinent statistics. She was thorough and listened to all parameters; she was so on-point, it was unbelievable.
What’s more important: space or location?
I love the location of my home because of the sense of community. I know my postman’s name is Louie, and my dry cleaner is my unofficial doorman; he even has my head shot up in his shop! It’s like Cheers on my block; whatever establishment I go into, everyone knows my name! So location is very valuable to me—mine has that Midwest Ann Arbor-esque feel while being in the heart of the bustling city
Any interesting or bizarre NYC living stories?
The scariest moment of my life was when a man crawled into my window at 3am. Turns out he was a friend staying with my neighbor who had lost his keys and decided to be a daredevil by going onto the roof, scaling the building and thinking it was his friend’s window, hopped in. He could have died by falling or I could have ended up hurting him thinking he was an intruder. I took it as a message from the universe to be more aware of my own safety and immediately got secure windows which I keep locked.
I know you rent, but do you ever think about buying? Why or why not?
I did look to buy for about six months when the market first down-turned. I went to a billion open houses but got deterred because I knew I wanted to buy downtown and unfortunately even though prices were dropping, maintenance charges were not and seemed astronomical. Also, most are co-ops and I don’t want to go through those hurdles. Still, because location is so important to me—my dream streets are Perry, Grove & Waverly—if I found a great co-op I’d go for it. I’ve just heard such stressful stories about board interviews and it seems like there could always be one person whose job is just to be difficult.
What is the one thing you’d like to change most about your space?
While the first thing that would come to one’s mind is the walkup, because I work such odd hours and wake between 3am and 5am, if I had anyone above me I’d be annoyed because I sleep when everyone else is awake. So even though I buy umbrellas like packs of gum because I am always forgetting to bring one downstairs and refuse to walk back up, I’d have to say the biggest issue is that I have a heinous aqua-colored bathroom. Not just the paint, but the tiles, sink and tub. To add to it, I have a built-in rusted hamper.
Do you have apartment envy? What’s your dream home?
I don’t have an ultimate dream home. I know what it takes to take care of a house because when I was 15 my parents moved back to Korea and I had to take care of the family home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by myself. There are just too many things that can go wrong when you own a house, although someday I’d like to own a summer or country home. So I know my dream home is definitely an apartment and I am split on whether it would be owning a brownstone in the West Village or a penthouse with a Hudson view.
Having lived in South Korea and Michigan as well England when you were in college and also spending time in places such as Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China and Japan during a semester at sea in 2000, what was living in those places like in comparison to life in NYC? What is it about NYC that excites you and draws you in?
New York City is my city—my home and soulmate. By the time I was 19 I had moved 16 times and never quite felt I belonged in any of the places I resided….until I came here. I think it is because New York City encompasses all the places I’ve been to. Besides, I love to eat and the food options are so varied and authentic. I love Vietnam and India and I can have that experience right here and replicate the feeling of actually being there. The people here are also what makes it so great. When I go home on the subway at 3pm---wearing way too much makeup—the ride is sometimes the best part of day because I get immediate feedback from viewers.
What is your favorite delivery place and what do you order?
There is a place in my neighborhood called Mooncake Foods which is Asian fusion that although not fancy is genuine home cooking. I see the owner, Kenny, making dumplings by hand. The prices are incredible; a huge plate of salmon is $8.50! I also love a new place called Rbbts which has amazing black bean burgers. Again, I have to go back to that sense of community I love. I went in there and mentioned my bike was broken and the owner told me he’d fix it for me which he did.
What’s your favorite neighborhood to report from and which has the friendliest locals?
I really love Harlem. It seems like the one place where viewers will jump out of bed and hop over to say hi. The level of warmth in that area is like nothing I’ve experience elsewhere. When Michael Jackson died I reported from there and met people who could recite stories from day one of my seven-year career. What loyalty!
It seems lately this city is overrun with bedbugs. How scared of them are you? Do you take any special precautions while traveling? Do you know anyone who had them?
Fox reports this every day which is the worst thing for me to hear at the start of my day. I am completely phobic and had a near-scare because I went to Florida to go kayaking in a mangrove. Unbeknownst to me I had gotten flea bites that only showed up after I got home so I was convinced I had bedbugs. I had my super come look over the apartment and also called my friend in Florida to see if she had bites too and she informed me it was just from fleas from our trip. Those were the longest four nights of my life. I really feel the city should do more about financially supporting those with them and somehow be more proactive about prevention. I heard they’ve been seen on buses and subways. When I did that apartment search recently with my friend, we looked up every place we saw in the Bedbug Registry. And, because I’ve heard you can get them from moving vans, one should also triple wrap anything being transported.
How does your job impact your view on real estate? What do you think the next big area will be?
My job allows me to see every neighborhood and get to go into so many people’s homes. While I have no actual data to suggest this, it is just my gut feeling that Coney Island is going to get huge. I see it as the next South Beach. I suspect some billionaire will come in and buy much of the shoreline, clean it up and make it uber posh.
How would you ideally like to be treated if recognized in the elevator?
As the girl next door you might want to find out the scoop on the next big lifestyle trend from or just a simple hello. Nothing over the top.
What is the one thing you’d change about living in Manhattan?
The litter. I’d like the streets to be cleaner and for the city to step up recycling. People seem to throw stuff on the ground because public cans are overflowing. I find myself picking up garbage that isn’t mine because I have a sense of ownership of this city. Having just visited Seoul and Tokyo where the subway platforms are so clean one could eat off of them, I wish ours were similar. Also, our airports. Ugh.