During my nine years in New York City, I've lived in six apartments, mostly on the west side of lower Manhattan: Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Meatpacking, West Village, SoHo and TriBeCa. That means I've moved more than every two years for almost a decade now. Why would a human do this? A combination of factors really. Roommates moving away, moving in and then out with a boyfriend and having my apartment turned into a shoe store.
One bright side of this nomadic lifestyle: I have become a pro at throwing things out, packing and organizing. The downside: I have also gotten super lax about hanging things on the wall because who knows how long I’ll actually live in one place. It's like the New York City real estate version of commitment phobia.
But I've also honed my fair share of tips for finding, moving to and living in different apartments. Here are some of my best:
Define your non-negotiables, and don't go back on them
The first piece of advice that someone gave me when looking for NYC apartments is something that I use every time I move, and I now pass on to almost everyone I meet: Pick two things that are non-negotiable for you and then forget about the rest because you’ll never get everything you want. It can be natural light, location, size, closet space, a dishwasher, you-name-it, but you only get two. My two non-negotiables are typically location (downtown and on the West Side, as I love running along the river and being close to my TriBeCa yoga studio) and lots of natural light. A good kitchen is also important but oh-so-rare in NYC.
Pay attention to red flags early on
When you get a weird feeling about something or someone, take heed. Case in point: When I moved to Manhattan from Los Angeles at age 23, two of my college friends and I decided to move in together and left finding the place to our friend (whom I’ll call Jessie), as she was already living in the city.
Jessie called us one day excited to say she’d found a great, newly renovated, three-bedroom apartment in the East Village with a fabulous outdoor patio space at a great price—that's a red flag right there. The problem? It was a railroad apartment, meaning that it was set up like a train in that you had to walk from one person’s bedroom to get to the kitchen, then to another bedroom to get to the other bedroom and so on.
Steve, the building owner, pressured us to send in our deposits before we signed our lease or we would lose the place (red flag #2). Not knowing better, we sent in the money, at which point Steve tells us it won’t be ready for a month after our agreed upon move-in date (giant red flag). Steve then proceeds to ghost us when we complain about his dishonesty.
He'd escaped to Florida “for the winter” once he had our money.
Long story short, once my friend moved had to move to Chile and we could no longer fill the apartment, we ended up subleasing it to three guys our age, who then refused to pay us our security deposit because, big surprise, Steve was a terrible landlord. After taking them to small claims court, we finally got our dough back. Not worth the hassle. Look out for those flags.
Do not live in a sixth-floor walk-up
When you're exhausted from a fruitless apartment search and finally find an apartment that's halfway decent—but up six flights of stairs—it can be tempting to take it. Maybe you'll finally get the butt you want? Maybe you'll like the exercise? Take it from someone who did it... you won't.
You will survive, of course, but you may find yourself relying on pricey deliveries (of groceries, dinner, laundry), and all those friends who say they'll come and visit you? They don't and they won't. Six flights is a lot to ask of even the closest buddies.
Avoid living too close to major subway stops or above a busy restaurant
It might sound convenient, but living near a major hub like the West 4th Street subway stop is not a great idea. First off, it’s incredibly noisy. All. The. Time. Quite frankly, it’s a little sketchy as well. I was often approached for drugs in broad daylight on my way to class at NYU.
Plus, apartments in congested areas tend to be small. Mine, on the corner of West 4th and Sixth Avenue, was miniscule. The junior one-bedroom (only called that because there were French doors placed in the center of the living room) had no counter space, so I ended up sitting on the floor to chop vegetables. (See photos of the apartment below.)
I also once lived above a bustling Thai restaurant and, no matter how much padding they put on the walls, you could still feel the pulse of their music through my bedroom floor. My solution was to boycott them even though the food was pretty good.
Be wary of ground-floor apartments
In SoHo, I lived in a ground-floor apartment in a small building without an elevator. The apartment had a large open kitchen, an island, dishwasher, bright living room and huge bedroom with high ceilings. Water bugs were an issue because it was so close to the ground (these are the creepy crawlers that live in our pipes—don’t Google them if you get sick easily).
After year one, my landlord told me it was going to become a shoe store, and I could move upstairs with the same rent price even though it was a two bedroom. Sounds like a great deal, right? No! In that apartment, the doorway opened right into the kitchen (which was tiny) with both bedrooms together smaller than my current bedroom and the whole apartment was boxy and maze-like. I was traveling a ton for work and couldn’t fathom dealing with another broker and another major move, so I moved anyway (ignored the red flags, when will I learn?!). I received an endless amount of bumps and bruises on my hips from running into the kitchen counter and most likely flashed my landlord on numerous occasions as he could see into my bedroom from his apartment in the building next door.
After all those apartments, and brief stints in Los Angeles and London, I’m back again, living in TriBeCa, in a small apartment a loft bed where I can’t fully sit up. There's no dishwasher, but it's near my yoga studio and the light is great.... See? I got my two non-negotiables after all. I still have a stack of unframed prints on the floor, but I have managed to hang one painting and nail in a few shelves. There's a glitch, though: A new management company just bought the building, so the likelihood is pretty high that they’ll turn it into high-end condos and I’ll soon be back on the hunt for another apartment in the neighborhood.
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