Neighborhood Intel

Farm to City: Tough lessons in NYC real estate

By Emmalie Vance  | August 2, 2012 - 11:30AM

I am just about the furthest thing from a Native New Yorker.

My father is a hay farmer near Buffalo. I grew up driving four-wheelers and taking horse riding lessons. I love wide open spaces, fresh air, and the sound of frogs putting me to sleep at night.

It was truly an immersion experience to move to a small (shared) studio in the East 70s between First and Second Avenues,  but despite the 180 degree lifestyle switch, I am officially in love with city life.

Getting here was a different story. If you’ve lived in NYC all your life, you know what to expect when searching for apartments, and you know the best (and worst) areas to look. You know to look at places especially close to the subway or bus stops.

I knew none of that a little over a month ago when I started my apartment search. I had just been accepted as an intern at a big-name magazine, I was to start in two weeks, and I had to move fast or fall hard.

My budget was as low as I could possibly get away with ($1,000 and below), and my brokers of choice were Craigslist and, excellent sites if you are looking for cheap(er) rooms, shares, or sublets like I was.

Word to the wise: do not schedule a walk-through for a listed room on these sites any longer than a day ahead of time. You will be cancelled on.

I had scheduled appointments to see three different places about five days prior to my one jaunt into the city for my official apartment search. I thought I was being proactive, but soon the brokers emailed me back telling me not to come because the space had been filled.

The one apartment I finally got to see was a major buzz kill. It was a grand building on the Upper West Side somewhere in the 80s. It had a beautiful marble staircase leading to the second floor, and the listing was at the very end of the hall: a corner apartment.

The main tenant was a yoga instructor in her late-30s/early-40s with a small terrier that I fell in love with.

Right away the tenant told me the entire right wing of the apartment was off limits. She needed the living room for yoga, and her connected bedroom was separated only by a pair of glass French doors, providing little privacy for her.

She led me down the left wing past a good-sized bathroom with a beautiful claw-foot tub on the left followed by the second tenant’s room (with closed door), and down a narrow "hallway" off of the kitchen.

The room for rent at a little over $1,000 a month contained one full-size bed and a side-table. That was all there was room for. I noticed the window only because the tenant pointed it out. It was the middle of the day and not one ray of sunshine was coming through.

I was coming into the city with only my clothes, toiletries, computer, and desk chair, and there was clearly not enough room for even half of that. 

I left with sunken hopes of being able to find a place to call my own before my internship started, but then I found it--a share in a beautiful little studio with a lofted bed on the Upper East Side, and it was available for sublet for $975 per month through September.

I had literally just watched the red bubble appear over the apartment on it had just come on the market--and I was the first to respond to the posting.

When I finally got to the apartment, I discovered it was a fourth-floor walkup, but the beautiful wood floors, the amazing frosted glass ceiling over the bed, and the impressive storage solutions throughout the little 300-square-foot apartment were just my style. It was a major plus that Sarah, my soon-to-be-roommate, was such an amazing human being. 

Sarah sleeps on a red futon in the living room when she is home, which is very rare. I sleep in a lofted bed, accessed by a ladder.

There have been so many lifestyle changes I have had to make--like living so close to a complete stranger and so far from the nearest subway stop (it's a 10-minute walk to 77th and Lexington), just to name a few--but this little apartment suits me perfectly.

Next time:  My mental adjustment from rural to urban apartment searching.

Emmalie Vance is a New York newbie who grew up on a hay farm in western New York. In her From Farm to City series, she chronicles her real estate adventures here in the big city.

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