The Search

15 lessons for first-time renters

By Emily Feldman  | May 19, 2011 - 8:08AM

I grew up in the land of driveways, dens, backyards and air conditioning. So when I rented my first New York City apartment---a 2-bedroom on the top floor of a two-story Astoria walk-up--I wasn’t fully prepared for my abrupt conversion from suburban to vertical living.  Here are a few things it might have been useful to know ahead of time...

  1. Your apartment won’t hold everything you have. Forget mega-shopping trips. Even if you can borrow a car and get to Costco, where will you put your monthly supply of toilet paper and cereal? Get used to buying as you go and start studying Ikea catalogs for creative storage solutions.
  2. Lower your expectations immediately. If you insist on finding a place with fully-functioning appliances, a level floor, freshly painted walls, and windows that open properly, you’ll have to be very wealthy or live in a neighborhood that probably won’t match your high expectations.
  3. You’ll be sharing lots of space. Even if you don’t have roommates, you’ll soon realize that you’re never really alone. You’ll share walls with neighbors, and will always be within earshot or eyeshot (if the shades are up) of someone. The upside (or downside?) is that after a while, you'll care a whole lot less about privacy.
  4. Another upside of having no that you’ll constantly meet new people from across the city, country and world. You may even score an open invitation to visit these characters when they go back to wherever they came from.
  5. You’ll smell (and possibly smell like) whatever you live near. If you live near a smoker, you’ll whiff the tobacco through your windows. If you live above a bakery, you might notice that after a while your clothing smells like pastries. It will likely be someone else who points this out to you. You, for better or for worse, may become immune to it.
  6. You’re going to be too hot. In the winter, you probably won’t have control of your heat. When Mother Nature throws a 65-degree mid-winter curve ball, you’ll be forced to strip to your shorts and blast the a/c—if you have one. In the summer, you'll sweat whether you have an a/c or not. You'll probably be reluctant to run it all day, and even if you do, it probably won't cool the entire apartment as effectively as your parents' central air. Get some fans and figure it out.
  7. You’re going to be too cold. Your apartment might have a drafty window or two, which means every time the winter wind blows, so will your hair. If you’re lucky enough to have good windows and reliable heating, refer to the first part of number 6.
  8. You’ll miss the outdoors. Remember, only rich or lucky people in New York City have access to the sorts of outdoor space suburbanites are used to. The best you can do is try to find a way to the roof, hop onto your fire escape, or hit the park—but be prepared to be in view and earshot of the general public during these outdoor adventures.
  9. There will be bugs.  Not necessarily bed bugs, but if you’re planning on staying long-term, you might encounter those and you’ll surely run into a roach, water bug, silverfish, ants, spiders, a mouse or some other creature that will startle and upset you.
  10. It will be noisy. Be prepared to hear your neighbors’ music, conversations, domestic disputes, domestic make-ups, children’s tantrums, sirens, above-ground trains, pigeon cooing, garbage trucks, and/or pedestrian noise. The key is finding the least amount of noise possible.
  11. You’re going to have to settle when it comes to home furnishings. You may be used to wall units, couches, end tables, coffee tables and dining room furnishings, but that stuff won’t fit in your little apartment. Even if it does, it will be too expensive to afford. This means you might have to buy cheap furniture (not used, unless you don't mind bed bugs) and host guests on a futon a-la college. Get over it now.
  12. Everything will cost more than you think, from broker fees, to moving fees, to the price of laundry and parking tickets. Put together a budget you can live with and then tighten it even more.
  13. If you learn to live with most of the unpleasantries on this won't miss the 'burbs for long.
  14. You will have access to anything you want, anytime you want. Returning to your parent’s pad and realizing that you can’t go food shopping at 3 a.m. will make you crave your crammed apartment.
  15. For the rest of your will have something interesting to say when someone asks you to tell them about your first apartment in New York.  And the rent you're paying today will seem cheap by then.

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