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Some lessons are typically learned through experience (the unpleasant kind), and that is especially true of New York City real estate: When you're looking for an apartment, you often don't know what to ask unless you've already endured the thing you should be asking about.
So beyond finding out whether the electricity is included, whether pets are allowed and the probable bed bug status of your future abode, here's a tip sheet to get you started thinking about the not-so-obvious questions:
- If the building relies on central heat and a/c, when does the system switch from heat to a/c and vice versa? In an apartment with huge south facing windows, for instance, you may be in for some nasty shoulder seasons as you wait out the switch.
- Are the amenities included in your rent, maintenance, or common charges—or are they pay-to-play? If you’re renting in a co-op or condo, are you allowed the same access to the amenities as owners are?
- How many restaurants deliver food to your potential apartment? Type the building’s address into SeamlessWeb to avoid being unpleasantly surprised by your lack of delivery options.
- Speaking of food delivery, will it be coming to you, or do you have to meet it downstairs?
- Is the playroom dead or alive? Playrooms are next to useless if they building residents don’t use them. There may not be enough young kids in the building, or they fall into the hyperscheduled category, or possibly the mix of hired caregivers and stay-at-home moms discourages use. Be sure to check it out during your progeny’s prime playtime hours.
- Is your future doorway wide enough to allow for easy furniture delivery? 36” is a luxury, 33” – 34” is nice, 32” is dicey, and 29”-30” means you should put Dr. Sofa’s number on speed dial.
- Are there enough elevators? Four elevators for 49 stories adds up to a lot of cumulative downtime. (Should you choose to move ahead, at least check that your PDA gets reception inside the elevator.) If your building has but a single lift, make sure you can tolerate the occasional hike. (Or two to three months of hiking, if the elevator is nearing the end of its useful life.)
- How far is the nearest FedEx, UPS, post office station? If you don't have anyone to accept deliveries and can't work something out with a neighboring business or doorman--and depending on how many packages you get--this could be a moderate to severe inconvenience.
- Will your cat or dog be bored by the view? Super-high ‘airplane views’ which command high prices and jaw-drops from humans are big yawns for cats and dogs. Understimulated pets would rather watch birds, traffic, and people flying by while waiting for in-house humans to materialize.
As we said at the beginning, owing to the fact that even our real estate experience is limited, this is a partial list of better-off-known issues. So do everyone a favor and post your favorite questions in the comments.