The One That Got Away

The one that got away: Loving and losing in NYC real estate

By Kelly Kreth  |
February 14, 2014 - 8:59AM

Today being Valentine's Day, our collective attention is turned to love (and maybe chocolate). But in New York, some of the most complicated relationships of all are real estate-related.

You'll often find New Yorkers longing not for the great love who got away, but for the stellar apartment that slipped through their fingers. After all, finding a livable, well-priced NYC apartment may be harder to find than a soul mate.

I, for one, am not immune to this. Just last year, I loved--and lost--a huge, rent-stabilized apartment in Hell's Kitchen thanks to an evil broker. Even though I am now happily housed in a similar unit (albeit in a lesser neighborhood) these scars run deep. 

Below are some similar tales, of great (real estate) loves lost:

Dumped by a developer

I once had the best apartment in New York City. Honestly, I used to tell people I was the luckiest girl in all of New York. My one-bedroom atop a sixth-floor walk-up in the trendiest street in the East Village was a hidden gem. I knew the moment the real estate broker showed it to me that I had to have it. 

Despite the climb, it was uniquely perched on a northern and eastern exposure with open Midtown views, which stretched all the way to Queens and East looking out over bridges and beyond. Every time I came home my heart leapt with joy.

I lived there for three years and then one very sad day the entire building (which had been on the market forever) was sold to a greedy developer. Overnight everyone's rent was doubled. I had no choice but to leave. I still miss it every day! -Kat G.

Out of my (economic) league

I had a really nice ground-level 325-square-foot apartment in a brownstone on West 87th Street between Columbus and Central Park West. My neighbors included Jeff Daniels, Judith Ivy and Kevin Bacon and Kira Sedgewick. It was tiny but cozy and a short walk to Central Park, several subway stations and shopping. I really loved it. I was working 15 minutes away by mass transit at Columbia Teachers College.

Then my whole department was laid off. I had just renewed my lease a few months earlier, so I stayed into the following winter but could not afford to stay there on unemployment (which was less than my rent per month). I ended up in a cheaper sublet till my unemployment ran out and I got my doctorate (finally!). 

I’m now living far away from Manhattan in Upstate New York for under $1,000 a month. I have a huge Victorian duplex with about five times the space. It’s lovely but it is not NYC. So for me the loss and longing is double—the apartment was simply perfect to me, as was the glorious city. -Diane D. 

Not so neighborly

In the fall of 2007, I arrived in the Big Apple from Los Angeles to attend graduate school. I moved in with a friend from high school in West Harlem. Three rent-stabilized bedrooms cost $1,600 a month, and the place had city views on one side and overlooked St. Nicholas Park on the other side.

Alas, there was another shoe. When it dropped it did so at 4 a.m., courtesy of two crackheads who lived upstairs. Some people use the term crackhead as a placeholder to mean a crazy or exceptionally marginal person. I do not. They blared music at all hours and were too out of it to heed our calls to turn it down. What's worse, they were taking advantage of an obscure law that allowed them to stay in the apartment while tying up the landlord in endless litigation.

Eventually it became too much, and I made plans to move back across the country. But the week I finished grad school, I came home to find NYPD tape around the stairway at the building. There was good reason for the tape: at least one drop of blood adorned each stair. The cops told me there was a shooting on the sixth floor, a "drug deal gone bad." Whatever, I thought. I'm moving anyway.

I later learned that the couple above us were the ones targeted in the shooting and that they were finally moving out. Judging from the amount of blood on our stairs, the injuries had to be keeping at least one in the hospital for a while.

By now I'd seen other people's apartments in the city and had an acute sense of just what we had there on 129th Street. If I'd known they were going to get shot, I might've stayed. That was a great apartment. -Jane T.

Related posts:

An ode to New York City, on Valentine's Day

Landlord wants to buy you out? How to name your price -- plus real-life examples from $15k to $1 million

Hell's Bitchen: The one that got away

Moving to NYC? Here's a crash course in finding an apartment


Kelly Kreth

Contributing writer

Contributing writer Kelly Kreth has been a freelance journalist, essayist, and columnist for more than two decades. Her real estate articles have appeared in The Real Deal, Luxury Listings, Our Town, and amNewYork. A long-time New York City renter who loves a good deal, Kreth currently lives in a coveted rent-stabilized apartment in a luxury building on the Upper East Side.

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