What I learned in 7 years, 5 apartments, and 9 roommates

By Emily Feldman  | July 29, 2013 - 3:11PM

A couple of weeks ago I was packing for my biggest move to date--from Brooklyn to Istanbul, where my boyfriend has relocated for work.

The well-intentioned lady at the post office advised “Turkey ain’t Queens, you know,” implying that Turkey is much farther from Brooklyn than Queens is, and that I should be married if I follow someone so far. My father, thankfully, was less interested in my marital status than he was in the number of times I’d packed up before.

“You’ve moved more times than anyone else that I know,” he said.

I counted the number of apartments I had lived in since I arrived in New York from college seven years ago and could only come up with five--which didn’t square with my recollection or reputation of always being in the hysterical throes of one moving crisis or another. 

My dad and I tallied my various apartments and soon put our fingers on the disconnect: I had been remarkably bad at finding new homes before my official move-out date. Those dates often found me frantically calling loved-ones, first for feedback on possibly taking a dubious Craigslist share, and later for permission to crash for a bit while I sorted the whole living thing out. 

There was also a bed bug episode, which prompted me to temporarily abandon an otherwise very nice home, as well as an intra-apartment move to a smaller, cheaper bedroom, which incidentally led to the discovery of said bugs.
But these disasters have been useful. I’m leaving New York much wiser about apartment hunting (and life) than I was as a 22-year-old who exchanged emails with a landlord who would “mail me the keys from France,” and much more confident that the next apartment-searching time around, I’ll screw up just a little bit less.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Don’t ignore your doubts and hesitations.
In a way, apartment hunting is like shoe shopping. I often fall in love with shoes that look fantastic and feel okay, besides just one little pinch, which I tell myself I’ll get used to.
But I don’t. And the pinch becomes a bloody hole that forces me, eventually (after trying to pair the shoes with bandages, to no avail) to throw the f---ers out.
Unfortunately the same can’t be done, quite as easily, with apartments. 
Despite whatever I initially told myself, I never got over the lack of closet space in my first Astoria apartment. I grumbled and cursed every time I had to wipe cat litter off my feet in my second apartment. (I hated that litter box in the bathroom the first time I laid eyes on it!) And I never adjusted to the roar of the G and F trains that shook the windows of my Gowanus walk-up over and over again.
Once you sign a lease, that noise or smell or neighbor that you think you’ll get used to will be yours to deal with for longer than you’d like.
2. Be honest and upfront.
This one pertains to the art of roommating. New York apartments are tiny, which makes it especially important to understand boundaries, responsibilities, and just how frequently your roommates will be there.
In the living room.
Watching foreign films at an egregious volume late into the night.
I used to hate when people posted ads to Craigslist bluntly requesting that anyone who spends a lot of time at home not apply. I might not make that sort of request quite so directly, but I wouldn’t be shy about common-space questions.
Find out ahead of time how often prospective roommates are home, what they typically do on the weekends, how often they have friends over to visit, and how often they might hang out in the common space...or else prepare to share space with someone who practices his Rosetta Stone (German) and guitar (Bob Dylan) in the living room every night until 1 a.m.
3. Don’t look for apartments in the summer.
Summer is the time of year when people make life changes. From May through September the city receives throngs of interns, students, and career changers who will get to the better apartments before you, because life sucks. (For you.) Plus, rents are their seasonal highest.
One summer apartment search was so brutal for me that I had to crash at my dad’s place until mid-October when the market improved and I could find a reasonable place. I made an entire blog about it. The whole episode was pathetic.
My most successful apartment search happened in November. The market was mine and my roommate and I scored a sweet, recently renovated, $1,950 2-bedroom Astoria pad with views of the Crysler Building that only lost its luster when the water bugs arrived in August. 
4. Money makes things easier.
Yes, there’s more to life than money, blah blah, blah, but the truth is that money, even a little bit, makes a giant difference in New York’s rental market. I realized this during that harrowing summer apartment search that dragged into October.
What further complicated that search for a reasonable share was my limited budget, initially set at $600 a month. I had just finished grad school, was paying back loans and making a laughable entry-level salary that limited my options.
The options were so poor at $600 that I decided just to see what I could get if I bumped my limit to $750. Sadly and happily, the $150 made a massive difference.  Once my salary improved and I was able to consider $950 and $1,000 apartments, I felt I had graduated to a brand new world. 
5. Bed bugs can happen to anyone.
Nearly four years ago, I discovered a colony of bed bugs that had been secretly breeding inside my boxspring. That discovery cost me more than $4,000, a friendship and many months of sanity. But I survived. 
Since joining the club of bed bug survivors, I’ve become a confidante to the critter-plagued. Every once in a while a friend or acquaintance will text me a photo with the subject line, “Is this a bed bug?” or tell me, in whispers, about his or her nightmarish infestation.
What I discovered by listening and fielding panicked calls from friends, is that, while there are varying degrees of bed bug hell, these bugs do not discriminate. 
6. There is life after bed bugs.
I was so traumatized once the bugs were all gone (or were they?!) that for a year I would occasionally wake up during the night to check my bed, scratch at the floor, flip over my mattress and rip sheets off my bed. I would go to work the next day, exhausted, and tackle dust particles at my desk.
I won’t say that I’m back to the carefree way I used to be. It’s been three years since my infestation and every now and then I still leap to inspect a dark spot. But these impulses have shrunk from obsessive, life-consuming paranoia to a more reasonable vigilance that no longer keeps me up at night.
7. Don’t be afraid of a big change.
Moving to Brooklyn from Queens, after four and a half years, was a big change for me. I had a big community in Queens, stretching from Bayside to Long Island City, but knew barely anyone in Brooklyn.
Still, I forced myself to do it. I had just graduated from grad school, suffered a bad break up, dealt with months of bed bug torture and was seeking a new chapter in my life. So I exiled myself to the bigger borough and was miserable for weeks.
But time passes and hard exteriors eventually soften. I found a bagel place and a book store. I found short cuts and a running route through Prospect Park. I rode my bike to Coney Island and found bars in Gowanus. I made friends and fell in love with the guy I am about to follow halfway around the world. Change made life richer, once I got past the unfamiliarity and fear, and I remind myself of that as I prepare to leave the city that has become my home for the winding roads of Istanbul.

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