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Get Up Offa That Thing

4 Jun

…and dance till you feel better! (Just kidding.)

I’m sure you might be wondering why, in my posts about apartment hunting, I’ve been talking about sitting at a computer rather than actually going out to see apartments. Well, I wasn’t just being lazy, and I did always have plans to get up off of my “thing” to see potential new homes.

The reason I did so much online hunting is that apartments don’t typically become available for a July 1st move-ins (the date I need) until June. Listings you find in May will most likely be for June move-in dates, and once you mention that you want to move in July, you’ll quickly get shot down by the listing agents. There are exceptions, but for the most part, landlords want to rent out their apartments ASAP. And, in the summer months, when inventory is flying off the shelves, finding a new apartment and signing a lease can literally all happen within one day.

Being a Type-A, plan, plan, plan kind of person, waiting until the last minute to apartment hunt can become extremely frustrating for me. So, here’s my plan of attack, which allowed me to get the ball rolling a little bit earlier…

2 months prior to moving:  At the end of April slash beginning of May, I began poking around listing sites, to get an idea of what types of apartments were currently available in my price range. Since I wasn’t tied to one neighborhood in particular, I tried to see what I could get for my money in a variety of areas.

1.5 months prior to moving:  In the middle of May, I started paying attention to apartments that I saw posted over and over again. Now, these units may have something wrong with them that’s preventing renters from signing a lease, but it is likely that the units are just overpriced. In the summer months, with so many apartments up for rent, renters are going to notice if a unit is listed for too much $. I started to make mental notes of unit’s I’d seen being continually posted. These might be good units to see, and there might be room to make a deal.

1 month prior to moving:  Last weekend, I started seriously looking. At that point, June was upon us, and the units on the market likely did not have a June 1st tenant moving in. As a result, brokers and landlords were willing to talk about July move-ins. I started calling agents to see if their units were still available and if they’d show the place to July tenants. Typically, I got one of three responses:

  1. The unit has already been rented.
  2. The unit is still available, but we’d like to get it rented right away. Would you conider June 15th?

I often lied and said I would consider the 15th. Hey, if the place were truly amazing, maybe I would settle for a pro-rated month. I started making appointments and noting the dates of any open houses that were offered.

Then, it began. I saw a whole bunch of apartments this past week – more than I’d care to recall, in fact. Remember those two days that were 90+ degrees with 100% humidity? Oh yea, I was trucking from crappy apartment to crappy apartment. There were two types of apartments: nice places that were immediately spoken for by someone willing to move in within the hour (ok, that’s an exaggeration, but not by much) and utter sh*t holes. It was a week of pure, unadulterated frustration.

3 weeks prior to moving: this is where we are now. I’ve narrowed my search down to three options. I could move to back up to Harlem (Riverton has apartments starting at $1400/month!); I could sign a lease on a cool place I found in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn (with great outdoor space and real room to move); or I could stay put in Battery Park City (my true-love neighborhood). I still haven’t decided which way to go because I haven’t finished negotiations with the Brooklyn apartment agent, but I’ll be sure to tell you all about it once I do make a decision.

So, what should I do? Stay in my beloved Battery Park, gazing at the skyline and the river? Try a new neighborhood, and gain a little square-footage and outdoor space? Go back to a place I know to save a few bucks? Damn decisions. I’ve always sucked at making decisions like this, and somehow, it hasn’t gotten easier with age. I think I need a cup of tea…or 5 cups.

 

Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living

Video: YouTube

If You Don’t Take Care of Your Nice Things…

28 Apr

…then you can’t have nice things. That was the rule in my house, growing up. It’s simple, but it’s important. In fact, I’d say it was the #2 most important lesson my parents instilled in my sister and me, topped only by the all-encompassing, “Make good choices.”

My parents, the founders of "Taking Care of Your Nice Things: The Lifestyle," and my sister, who takes care of all her nice things.

Increasingly, as we age, my sister and I are convinced that taking care of your nice things applies to all aspects of life. Here are a few of our favorite examples that we’ve encountered since leaving the nest:

  1. Your boyfriend doesn’t appreciate you, and, thus, you break up with him.  If he doesn’t take care of his nice things (i.e. you), then he can’t have nice things.
  2. Your coworker comes into work hung over and gets canned.  If she doesn’t take care of her nice things (i.e. her employment), then she can’t have nice things.
  3. You go out and get sloppy drunk and spill beer all over your brand new spring dress, ruining it for good.  If you don’t take care of your nice things (i.e. your pretty frock), then you can’t have nice things.

Wherever you may be in your life, taking care of your belongings is a must. And one good, old-fashioned way of protecting your goods is by getting insurance. We insure our lives, our homes, our money, and our workplaces. The homeowners of the world insure their houses and condos. But renters often neglect to afford themselves this type of security blanket.

Here’s the amazing part, though – renter’s insurance is one of the cheapest adult investments you can make! To insure a 1BR apartment, you will likely pay $15-$20 per month, through companies like State Farm, Allstate, and Liberty Mutual. In return, they will cover you for around $40,000 in most cases! I chose State Farm because they gave me the best price and the most coverage. Plus, their website was easy for me to navigate. Priorities, people.

Anyway, I’ve compiled three stories for you about scenarios where renter’s insurance has been a lifesaver. Take these tales to heart, and then, go sign up for some renter’s insurance of your own. I’ll tell you about two friends, and then I’ll share a saga of my own. Looking back, it seems that renter sagas are a theme in my life – ugh. Well, at least this misfortune had a decent ending.  Actually, all three stories did.

While you may feel you can control what goes on in your apartment, you cannot control your neighbors.

Story #1 – The Building Blaze

A guy I knew from college lived in the Lower East Side of NYC. We studied recording in school, and his post-graduation apartment had sound equipment that was worth some serious money (serious money for a 22-year-old, anyway). Unfortunately, when his building burned down – yes, the WHOLE THING was on fire – nearly all of his belongings were lost, including thousands of dollars worth of recording gear. He would have been shit outta luck, except that he had been forward-thinking enough, upon graduation, to sign up for renter’s insurance.  His insurance company gave him about $40K to cover his losses (musical and otherwise) and put him up in a fancy NYC hotel for a month.

Do you want your kitchen to look like this one? If it did look like this, would you want to pay to fix it?

Story #2 – The Epicurean Explosion

My sister’s friend used to live in an apartment right above her.  From the time this girl moved in, she had ongoing problems with her stove.  It never worked quite right, and there was always a gassy smell.  She had a hunch that something was seriously wrong and reported the issue to the building multiple times.  However, when maintenance came to look at the appliance, they never determined that it needed to be replaced.  How wrong they were.  One day while this girl was at work, the entire stove/oven unit basically exploded.  Her whole apartment was singed and she came home to find fire trucks everywhere.  Again, her smart thinking in initially getting renter’s insurance when she moved in, saved her having to replace everything she owned, out of pocket.  Not only did her insurance company pay for her damages, but they overnighted her a check for part of the money, so that her life didn’t have to come to a halt while the paperwork was all filed.

It's unclear what I am looking down at in this photo...or what I'm wearing, for that matter. Anyway, the thing to focus on is the left window pane, situated next to the couch.

Story #3 – The Great Harlem Flood of ’09

Ok, there was no flood in Harlem.  At least not in 2009.  But there was a weekend with CRAZY hurricane force winds, coupled with tons of rain and thunder and lightning.  And on that weekend, I was out of town.  Agent Owens was off working somewhere in Bumblef*ck, and I took a mini-vaykay to spend the weekend with him.  The good thing is that I missed being in NYC for all of that horrible weather.  The bad thing is that the window in my living room (right next to the couch) slid down, opening my apartment up to the elements.  Sucky.  In that Harlem apartment, I had one window that just would not stay up, and I had one window that wouldn’t budge to slide up or down, even when I used all the brute force I could conjure up.

So, on that particular weekend, the slippy window slipped down.  You know the phrase, “come hell or high water”?  Well, hell AND high water came into my apartment.  When I got home late that Sunday night, my living room looked like someone had broken into it – and that someone was Mother Nature.  My beloved Crate and Barrel couch was completely soaked through; my brand new throw quilt felt like it had been thrown into a swimming pool (a dirty swimming pool, at that); there were branches and leaves all over the floor and coffee table; and my laptop that had been plugged in and sitting on the couch was fried. (My brain:  I’m disconnected from the world!!!!!  AHHH.  Oh, wait, I have an iPhone.  Phew.  But still.  I need multiple small, technological devices available to me at all times.  Damn you, State Farm for not providing me with a new laptop at midnight on a Sunday!)

Oh yea, and all those damaged items?  They were NOT going to be cheap fixes.

Thanks to the cockroach/bee lady incidents, though, I had just signed up for renter’s insurance a few months earlier!  And like a good neighbor, State Farm was there for me.  I won’t tell you it was fun to file a claim.  It wasn’t.  There were lots of phone calls, lots of being put on hold, lots of paperwork…and I had to itemize everything in the apartment that had been damaged and prove the value of those items.  I had to go to the Apple store to get the Genius Bar guys to confirm in writing that my computer could not be fixed.  I had to link claim representatives to my couch online so that they could verify that the value I’d listed was correct.  In the end, State Farm cut me a check for about $3000 (the cost of everything I needed to replace, minus the $500 deductible). I certainly sat there and thought, wow, I’m glad I don’t try to make my living via insurance fraud.  Pain in the ass!  But I also thought, thank goodness I have insurance!

Just so that you can get an idea of the actual-factual numbers involved in renter’s insurance, I’ve outlined a simplified version of my old Harlem insurance policy.  These are the real numbers from that policy:

So, have I convinced you, yet?  For less money than you spend on coffee each month, you can take care of your nice things.  And you know what that means…you get to HAVE nice things.  Thank you for life lessons, Mom and Dad!

Anyone had success in the past with a company other than State Farm?  Any apartment damage sagas you’ve been itching to vent about?  Share ‘em!
Images:  (1) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (2) State Farm, (3) Flickr-JasonEdwardScottBain, (4) Flickr-Boyfixandprofit.com, (5) & (6) Rebecca for Happy City Living

Lions and Tigers and Bees, OH MY!

25 Apr

Ok, so there were no lions or tigers in Harlem.  But I do have a bee story for you.  And it WAS an “OH MY” kind of story.

I sometimes burn food while I cook.  So, do my neighbors.  One of the joys of living in apartment buildings, within 10 feet of other families, is that you can smell everything they burn, and you can breathe in the smoke that often seeps into the hallway, firsthand.  Here at The Gate, where I live now, a little bit of smoke in an apartment triggers an automatic call from building management, to make sure everyone is ok.  But back at Riverton, if someone scorched the toast or overcooked the bacon, it was the responsibility of everyone who lived on the floor to make sure the situation wasn’t serious.  To be fair, I was a frequent culprit of creating smoke, as I burned most everything I tried to bake. I got used to simply wafting the door to the hallway for a while, and opening some windows to air the place out.  It solved the problem fast, and no one paid me any mind.

I host a Christmas party every year. I make a big meal for all my friends, and do tons of cooking in advance. Inevitably, though, I try to make biscuits or some type of baked good during the party (so they come out hot!), and they ALWAYS burn. This year, at The Gate, building management had to call upstairs twice to make sure I hadn’t burned the place down. I’d like to blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol, but realistically, it’s my baking skills that are at fault.

So, anyway, I didn’t think much of the smokey smell that made its way under my front door one February evening, in Harlem.  I figured it would dissipate fast.  But then it didn’t.  And after 5 minutes of the smell getting worse, rather than better, Agent Owens and I made our way out into the hallway.  A few other neighbors did the same, and we quickly deduced that the now quite thick smoke was coming from under the door of an elderly resident.  Not just any elderly resident…the cockroach lady! Upon pounding on the woman’s door, we got no answer.

I immediately called 911 (and made a too-late mental note to sign up for renter’s insurance, which I’d been procrastinating doing, out of sheer laziness).  Another tenant had already called building security, too.  When the security officer arrived and knocked on the woman’s door, a little voice yelled out “I’m fine, thanks!”  This somehow satisfied the security person (WTF?!?!), and we residents were left standing in cloud of smoke.

The fire department then rushed onto the floor in full gear, complete with giant axes.  They beat on that old woman’s door so hard that I thought they might just knock it open.  She repeatedly tried to tell them to go away, and they repeatedly reminded her that the building was filling up with smoke.  After a few quick tries at reasoning with her, they gave her an ultimatum:  let us in, or we break down your door.  She sheepishly complied and opened the door, at which point smoke lunged out at everyone and something flew at a firefighter’s head.  He ducked as his partner exclaimed, “Was that a…BEE?!”

Yes, in the smokey haze a few bees had flown out of the apartment.  In February.  In freezing cold New York City.

In case you're not from Northeast, bees do not belong north of the Mason-Dixon line in February. I can't speak for the rest of the country, but in the Northeast, I know this much is true.

I have no idea what was going on in that apartment.  The old lady was fine.  Fine enough to argue with the firefighter.  Fine enough not to need any medical attention.  So I’d have to imagine she was “smoking” something (food, maybe?) on purpose.  Agent Owens reminded me that some beekeepers use smoke to calm the bees, but I doubt the woman was keeping bee hives in an NYC apartment.  I guess weirder animals have been kept in apartments (a dude in Harlem was found to have been living with a Bengal tiger and an alligator, in 2003).  But, still.

This is Ming. No, that's not the NYPD guy's name. Ming is the tiger in the window. Oh, you thought I was joking about a tiger and an alligator in an apartment? I only joke about animals weighing less than 400 lbs. This is the scene when the police tried to tranquilize the giant cat. He lunged at the window and broke the glass. The alligator was chillin' on the floor next to Ming, waiting to jump in if things got out of control.

Either way, the smoke-and-bees incident forced Riverton management to snap into action.  The cockroach/bee lady was clearly not living in healthy conditions.  And even more clearly, no one was checking in on her.  The firefighters went into that apartment and obviously saw the filth and bugs everywhere.  The next day there was a building maintenance team with a cart full of cleaning supplies, in the hallway of our floor.  They cleaned the place from floor to ceiling and ripped up the old carpet that used to stick out from under the lady’s door.  And, most importantly, it seemed that they fumigated the apartment because the roaches were gone instantly.  I never saw one more cockroach in the time I lived at Riverton.

There are a few lessons to learn from this tale:

  1. When your friends and family get old, make sure they’re taken care of.  Period.  You do not want your loved ones living in filth, with cockroaches for roommates – or smoking out bees.  And we all now know that’s a plausible scenario.  K?
  2. Bugs and pests from other apartments in your building can become a problem in YOUR apartment.  It doesn’t take long for little critters to venture down the hallway and slip under a different door.  They will always bring friends, too.  TIP!:  If you see a problem with pests developing in your building, notify building management.  Keep a record of these notifications, and if your problem is not attended to, call 311 (the NYC-info hotline) to get further help.  Tenants have rights!
  3. Renter’s insurance is a must.  I’ll go into more detail on this later.  In a nutshell, though, if the smoke had made its way into my apartment or if, heaven forbid, there actually had been a fire, I would have had no safety net to protect my home and my belongings.

Needless to say, I made it my business to get renter’s insurance immediately after this event.  See ya later, roaches!  What up, smart adult choices!

Anyone else ever have to call 911 about a problem in their apartment or building?  It’s nerve-racking, but I have to hand it to the FDNY, they beat the traffic and got there fast.  And, man, do they mean business!  You better follow instructions or they will cut you chop down your front door!

Images:  (1) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (2) Stock.xchng-levdavid, (3) The Gothamist

Roach Motel

22 Apr

I am not a bug person.  I understand that most insects serve some type of environmental, circle-of-life purpose, but I don’t want them serving that purpose anywhere near me.  New York City’s most famous bug, of course, is the cockroach.

By the time I lived in Harlem, I’d been in NYC for 5 years, and I’d heard oodles of stories about infestations throughout the city.  “Killer roaches” had been described as being big enough to bench press the bar of soap on your sink.  Most of these stories were grand exaggerations.  However, I’d seen cockroaches face to face, and they DID look pretty big (as bugs go) and prehistoric.

I’d never had a problem with roaches, though (read:  they’d never shown up at one of my apartments).  While I am by no means a clean-freak, I do always make sure not to leave any food out.  I don’t want to give any bugs or rodents a reason to visit me.  And this method of prevention had always worked for me.

So, imagine my surprise one night, when I get out of bed, go into the kitchen to get a glass of water, and see something scurry across the countertop as I flick on the light.  Insert momentary freak-out.  I couldn’t see where the roach went, but I quickly concluded that there must be some food container open in the pantry or something sticky on the counters.  I resolved to clean the kitchen, top to bottom the next morning.

EEEWWWW!

After attacking my countertops with Clorox Clean-up (my go-to), and going through every food item in the fridge and cupboards, I figured I had probably taken care of the issue.  But then, that night, I heard a rustling sound coming from the kitchen.  Yet again, as I turned on the light, a cockroach scurried across the floor.  Then, I noticed another one moving up the wall.  I would have completely panicked and admonished myself for being a filthy person, but plain old common sense had me befuddled.  There was NOTHING for these bugs to eat.  So, why on earth would they be here?!

I went out to the store the next day and invested in 3 different types of roach traps, plus poison (don’t worry, I didn’t have my kitties at this point), and a few bottles of Raid.  I put the traps and the poison out everywhere, and I kept the bottle of Raid handy at tall times.  If a roach showed his face, I was going to spray him to his demise, right there on the spot.

The magical red can. Raid actually makes eco-friendly big-killing products, but roaches need the baddest of bad chemicals.

After weeks of this, there seemed to be more roaches, rather than less, and I just could not figure it out.  They never left the kitchen and front hall, as far as I saw, but they seemed to be bringing more and more friends with them every single night.

Then, I started seeing cockroaches in the hall, by the elevators.  That’s when it finally crossed my mind that maybe I wasn’t the one bringing on the roach infestation. Maybe it was one of my neighbors.  Now, this would present both relief to me and also a big problem.  I wasn’t a dirty girl (PHEW!), but I also couldn’t go in and clean everyone else’s kitchen to try to stop the problem.  I let the management company know about the bugs, but as you may remember from this post, they weren’t big on solving issues for their tenants.

As the roach quantity increased in the hallway, I sprayed a line of Raid across my threshold every day.  Then, one day, I met my next-door neighbor (also my favorite neighbor) in the hall.  I got off the elevator, and she was spraying ammonia all over the walls.  “I’ve had it with these roaches!” she yelled.  Amen, sister.

She then marched over to another neighbor’s door and started spraying it.  As she did, I could see that there were little roaches all around the doorframe.  And worse yet, they were crawling in and out from under the door, too.  This was the source.  My friend doused the door with ammonia and killed off the insects we could see.  But you could see a filthy rug sticking out under the door, and the roaches seemed to come from it in a never-ending stream.

Get the 411 on cockroaches in the city here.

There was no simple fix.  The woman was ancient.  She lived alone, and there seemed to be no one checking in on her.  I’d seen her pushing her walker around in the courtyard and often been scared that she’d go tumbling right before my eyes.  She’d lived at Riverton for decades, but she was now so old.  And she was alone.  She probably couldn’t even see the roaches, let alone clean up enough to make them leave.

I called building management again, to no avail.  My neighbor did the same.  Little did we know what it would take before someone was sent in to clean that lady’s apartment up.  We’d soon find out.

Any of you city-dwellers ever have a problem with cockroaches?  How about mice or rats?  Or worse…bed bugs!  How did you solve your issue?  Is your skin crawling just reading about this?  Mine, too.

 

Images: (1) Therysma, (2) Flickr-KentaHayashi, (3) Walgreens, (4) NYC DOH, (5) YouTube-Showmanlee

A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

19 Apr

In my earlier tour of my Harlem abode, you may have noticed that the apartment featured a highly coveted appliance.  If you don’t live in NYC, you probably think washers and dryers are normal components of any household.  In this city, though, finding an apartment with a washer/dryer is like hitting the jackpot.

So, the realtor who showed me the apartment at Riverton made sure he emphasized how great it was that the unit came with an LG washer/dryer all-in-one combo unit.  The idea is that you load your clothes in and then let the thing run.  You can set it to go straight through a wash cycle and a dry cycle, without stopping.  Theoretically, not having to change the clothes over from one machine to the next should save time.  Unfortunately, this is not so, my friends.

"I look nice, don't I? I will woo you with my silver brand-new appliance charm."

Hear me when I say this:  the wash/dry cycle took FIVE HOURS.  FIVE HOURS!!!!!  What on earth could that machine be doing for five hours?  I know that in five hours I could complete most of a day’s work, fly to London, watch five episodes of a House TV marathon, Facebook stalk my entire friend list, run two whole miles, or read at least 10 pages of a book (yea, running and reading are NOT my strong suits…but I could still do either of those activities in the time that washer/dryer took to do one lousy cycle).  But seriously, what the hell was that friggin’ appliance DOING for five hours?????  Washing and drying clothes was it’s sole job in life!

Now you might be saying to yourself, “This girl just wants everything.  She’s not satisfied with having such a great contraption in her apartment.  She’s already forgotten her old life at the laundromat.  Selfish, spoiled brat.”  You’d be wrong to think that.

When I saw that appliance on my Harlem apartment tour, I practically did a happy dance right there on the spot.  My laundromat in Sunset Park was up at the top of a hill, and carrying laundry up said hill was nightmarish in the winter.  To complicate matters, in my former laundromat life I always had to run home after work to squeeze in a wash cycle and a dry cycle before they closed up shop at 9:00, holding my clothing hostage when I mismanaged my time.  And forget trying to do laundry on the weekends.  Old ladies and moms with 10 kids will FIGHT you for machines.

Dryer security. You touch his mommy's dryer and you're going to have a problem. I'm telling you, stay out of the laundromat on weekends.

So, I was thrilled at my little LG gift, and I didn’t even care that it was taking up half my closet.  But I soon realized that problems would abound with this machine.  First of all, the capacity of the machine was very small.  I could fit maybe one towel and a few articles of clothing in a load.  This meant I had to do laundry constantly.  To keep up with two people’s laundry, I’d need to do a wash/dry cycle every day.  And when I fell behind, as so often happened, it was nearly impossible to catch back up.

Then came the issue of dryness.  The dryer did not dry anything.  If I had any item heavier than a blouse or t-shirt in the wash, everything would come out wet and wrinkled.  I’d then have to reset the machine to run a dry-only cycle for another hour and a half.  If you’re keeping score here, we’re up to 6.5 hours to do a tiny load of laundry.  I cursed that damn machine every single day.

At first, when I saw that you took up half my closet, I didn't mind. I thought you were about to provide a little slice of domestic-bliss-pie. But no. You wasted hours of my life, left me high and dry soaking wet, and you wrinkled up my clothes. Shame. On. You!

Here is what I would tell you about washers and dryers, dear city dweller.  You may want to own one, but don’t be fooled into thinking that the washer or dryer your apartment offers is necessarily one that you’d choose if you were shopping for appliances.  You may find yourself with a machine that is old and inefficient (or brand new and plain old useless).  I can tell you that I will forever be wary of washer/dryer combo units.  Based on my experience, you need to have them separate for each one of them to do their respective job the right way.  So, if you find an apartment listing online and it’s boasting a washer/dryer, find out the make and model of the unit (either from the listing agent or when you go on an apartment viewing).  Do a little bit of googling and see what other people have to say about it.

I can’t say that I’d ever again choose to walk up a hill with my laundry basket, as I had to do in Sunset Park.  But I will tell you this:  I’ll take my current full-sized, shared-by-the-whole-building, separate washers and dryers at The Gate, over an in-apartment combo unit any day of the week.

Speaking of which, my hamper is overflowing, and I think tomorrow’s going to have to be a laundry day.

Any unique laundry experiences during your city-dwelling?  Is this maybe one of those instances that makes you long for the comforts of suburbia?  Yea, me too.  Hey, we city folk benefit from lots of stuff the suburbs can’t offer – like falafel in the middle of the night.  We can’t win ‘em all.

Images:  (1) and (3) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (2) Flickr – Beth Rankin

How’s It Shakin’, Harlem?

14 Apr

My stories about moving seem to have gone on much longer than the actual move, itself!  Done with moving posts – I promise (for the moment!).  Now, on to where I actually moved when I left Sunset Park.

When I decided to look for a new apartment, I was really intent on moving closer to my friends.  For a whole year it had taken me so long to get home when I went to friends’ houses.  Even my commute to work in midtown was over an hour long.  So, you can imagine how long it took to get home from wayyyyy uptown.  At the time, I had seven friends living in Harlem, and I decided that Harlem would be a great place for me, too.

A general map of the areas of Harlem. For those who don't know, Harlem IS on the island of Manhattan. For some odd reason there seems to be some confusion about that fact. See here, for yourself. That large green box in the center of the image is Central Park.

There were added bonuses, in addition to proximity to friends:

  1. My commute would be cut in half
  2. I’d be closer to Central Park, where I like to hang out during the warm months
  3. Metro North would be right around the corner, making for easier trips to see my family in CT
  4. Soul food.  ‘Nuff said.

TIP!: This doesn’t really have anything to do with real estate, but it does pertain to Harlem.  In lieu of the more expensive soul food restaurants, like Sylvia’s, try something just slightly off the beaten path.  For the most delicious food and very inexpensive prices, my two favorite spots were Miss Maude’s Spoonbread Too and the Red Rose Diner.  More to come on those two local eateries.

This place was my home away from home. If you try it out, give Damion (the manager) a hug for me and tell him I sent you.

My apartment search was very quick.  Well, in truth, I spent a lot of time on Craigslist (when DON’T I do that, though?).  But when it came down to it, I signed a lease on the first place I saw.  I walked in and loved the apartment, which happened to be just one block from the 2/3 subway line.  And while the cost was slightly more than I’d initially wanted to spend, my research told me that it was on par with other comparable apartments in the area.

The building had its own management company, and one of their agents showed me the unit.  It was being renovated with a new kitchen and bathroom when I went for my viewing.  I was excited about having a place that felt new, rather than my 100 year old brownstone.  I was very anxious to live in a complex with a management company, rather than a landlord.  Plus, the unit had a dishwasher AND a washer/dryer combo.  Can a girl ask for anything more?  Long story short:  I signed on the dotted line within a couple of days.

Standing in front of my new building and loving it.

TIP!: If you work one-on-one with a “no fee” landlord (one who would normally be willing to pay your realtor a one month OP), you may be able to negotiate a deal for yourself.  Since they’d otherwise be paying a realtor, why not have them pay you?  Ask for a half-month to 2 months worth of free rent, depending on the length of your lease.  Can’t hurt to ask, and if you sound confident in your request, I’d say you’d have a good shot!  I should have done this.

The complex I moved to is called Riverton Square.  It stretches from 135th Street to 138th Street and from 5th Avenue to the FDR Drive.  The feel of the grounds, buildings, and apartments is very similar to that of Stuyvesant Town in Lower Manhattan, and it was actually developed by the same company, back in 1944.  There were good and bad aspects of living there, which I will delve into in the coming posts.  But for now, here is the blank slate I was working with:

The grounds at Riverton.

The courtyard outside my building.

Click here to see my floorplan at Riverton, in Harlem.

Facing back toward the entryway of the apartment. Two closets on the left, as you walk in.

Walking in from the front door, the kitchen is on the left. All new stainless steel appliances. Woo woo!

Walking through the dining room.

Looking left into the living room.

From the mini hallway, the bedroom was on the left. Theres one more window that I couldn't fit into this shot, on the right.

The closets across from my bedroom. Beware of the innocent looking washer/dryer. Might seem like it would be a gift from the apartment gods, but it's more like a Trojan horse. More to come on that.

The bathroom was straight at the end of the hallway. Ooohhh, new tile!

Now, if you’re from out of town, this apartment may not look like anything grand.  But, again, by NYC standards, this is a very spacious abode.  As a single person, the apartment was an amazing size, and while my friends all lived close-by, 135th & Madison was an ideal location.  Slowly, though, some problems did rear their ugly heads.  We’ll get into all of that.  But first, bask with slightly-less-naïve-renter-Rebecca for a moment, in the glow of a new apartment.

Any Harlem fans out there?  Tell me what you love above 100th Street!

Images:  (1) WikiVoyage, (2) NYCGo, (3) Rebecca for Happy City Living, (4-6) Riverton Square, All others Rebecca for Happy City Living

Moving Out 101

13 Apr

So, we’ve been talking a lot, lately, about moving apartments in the city.  After my lack-of-heating debacle with my hellish landlady in Sunset Park, you can probably see why I was so anxious to move out.  I thought it might be worth mentioning, though, that “moving out” does not just mean telling your landlord you’re leaving and then hauling out your belongings.  Generally, moving out entails:  landlord notification, cleaning out and cleaning up, and an inspection of the apartment.

Landlord Notification

With Dorothy (the aforementioned hellish landlady), landlord notification was easy.  Fair or unfair, our disdain for each other seemed to be mutual.  On one of the million days when I told her my apartment was freezing, she said to me, “I’m not renewing your lease in May.  You complain too much.”  I wanted to argue with her, but past discussions with her had taught me that reasoning was not her strong suit.  An old quote popped into my head:  “When arguing with a fool, make sure he isn’t doing the same thing.”  And I kept my mouth shut.  I didn’t want  to live within 10 miles of Dorothy, and she was just as happy to see me and my obnoxious need for heating, walk out the door.  Good riddance!

MJ says "peace out, adios, later gator" to Dorothy.

Still, most landlords actually WANT tenants.  They fix little things that go wrong in your apartment because that’s their job.  In turn, you pay them the rent check that they want, as your half of the bargain.  If you’re going to leave the apartment, the landlord is going to want to get a new tenant in as quickly as possible.  So, typically, there is a clause in your lease that demands you give the landlord 30-60 days notice if you choose not to renew the lease.  Fair.  Letting them know you’ll be leaving gives them enough time to schedule the prepping of the unit for a new tenant, once you’re gone.  It also gives them time to list the unit for rent, and your lease may even require you to let them in to show a prospective tenant around.  Either way, the bottom line here is that a month or two before you move out, you should let you landlord or management company know that you won’t be renewing.

Cleaning Out and Cleaning Up

The cleaning out part is pretty obvious, I think.  Basically, you have to pack up everything you own and move it out of the apartment.  Your landlord doesn’t want to have to go back through the apartment and discard a whole bunch of beat-up furniture or ratty clothing that you couldn’t be bothered to pack.  Throw away or sell anything you’re not taking with you, but do NOT leave it in the apartment.

Once you’ve moved everything out of the apartment, go back and give the place a good once-over.  If you’ve lived more like an adult with some decorum, than a reckless college kid, this cleaning step should be quick.  Run the broom around the floor once.  Wipe down anything that looks truly grimy, and call it a day.

The only items you should need to clean up your apartment (minus the kitty).

If you’ve treated the apartment more like a frat house than an adult home, you may need to dig into the “clean up” thing a bit deeper.  If you have holes in the wall (larger than nail holes) or major damage that you have not previously reported to the landlord, you’ll need to get those fixes taken care of, in order to avoid having the landlord deduct money from your security deposit.

A crack in a ceiling, like this one, is clearly not something you could have caused. Still, you should report something this to the landlord prior to moving out, to avoid any issues. Consider this photo a preview of what's to come when I tell you about my life in Harlem.

Also, keep in mind that many landlords require that painted walls be returned to white, upon moving out.  Check your lease to see what is required.  Again, failing to leave the apartment in “good condition” may mean losing some (or all) of the money from your security deposit.

Inspection

Once you’ve got the apartment looking clean-ish and damage-free, meet with the landlord or a representative from the management company so that they can inspect the apartment.  In a situation with a private landlord, they will likely cut your check for returning the security deposit on the spot (assuming the inspection doesn’t turn up any issues).  If you’re dealing with a management company, though, they’ll probably just sign off on the unit, have you counter-sign, and send your check in the mail.  You know how these things go – expect to wait up to a month for your security deposit to be returned from a management company.  Boo.

If you follow these fairly simple guidelines, moving out should be a breeze.  I mean, when you think about the whole process, the PHYSICAL MOVING should be the hardest part, right?  Right.  So, dot your “I’s” and cross your “T’s” to make your life a bit easier.  It will be worth it when that security deposit is back in your bank account.

Got any other odd-ball move-out stories?  Share!  No one likes a surprise on the way out the door.

Images:  (1) BackSeatCuddler , (2) and (3) Rebecca for Happy City Living

Movin’ On Up

8 Apr

I now know that there are three options when moving apartments in the city.  When I was moving out of my Sunset Park apartment, I thought there were only two options.  I’ll tell you about those two first, so that you can see where my head was at the time.  You’ll have to wait with baited breath for the third option – the “right” option – until tomorrow.  Poor you.

So…Options 1 and 2:

The beauty of having lots of space in an apartment – an office, plus a catch-all room – as a single person is that you get the chance to accumulate lots of prized belongings unnecessary items.  Unfortunately, when it’s time to leave your palatial space, you have to move your monstrous pile of possessions into your new place.  Or you have to part with some of them, which I have a hard time doing.  Agent Owens tells me I’m a hoarder.  I’m actually not, but when I do spend my money, I buy furniture and home goods that I really love.  So, letting go of them if/when I downsize is always hard.

This is a red jewelery dresser I picked up at Pier 1. I used it to store candles (my house always has candles lit). Seriously, though, what kind of 20-something city-dweller has room for a random furniture piece like this? Yes, I had too much space for my own good.

When I moved out of Sunset Park, I moved up to Harlem, and joy of all joys, the place was big enough to hold almost everything I owned.  As my interwebs idol, Sherry, from Young House Love would say, “Oh happy day!”

So, once I secured my second “new” place (which I’ll tell you all about, if you stay tuned next week), I got down to planning my move.  In my brain, “moving” meant you boxed your stuff up and hired a big moving company to transport everything you own to your new digs.  Reasonable, right?  I thought so, too.  And off I went to call all the moving companies that advertised low rates on TV commercials.  Thought process:  How much could it cost to move an apartment?  Maybe like $300?  That’s kind of a lot, but, oh well!  Gotta do it!

  • R: Oh, hi.  I was calling to get a quote for moving my one bedroom apartment.
  • Moving company X: Ok.  Please list the items you need moved.
  • R: 1 couch, 1 overstuffed chair, 1 coffee table, 1 flatscreen, 1 TV stand, 1 tall lamp, 1 short lamp, 1 kitchen table, 1 bookshelf, 1 desk, 1 file cabinet, 5 chairs, 1 mattress, 1 box spring, 3 dressers, 1 vanity table, 2 large mirrors, 1 chaise lounge, 2 plants, 20 boxes…. (insert 50 more things I owned at the time).
  • Moving company X: That will be $900.
  • R: *GASP*
  • Moving company Y: $1000.
  • R: *GASP GASP*
  • Moving company Z: $100000000000.
  • R: Oh shit.

Not gonna work.  Ya know how in life they say you should have enough money saved up to cover you’re a$$ for three months?  Yea, well I didn’t have enough for one month, let alone an extra $1000 lying around.  Option 1, the hire-movers-like-they-do-in-the-movies method, was officially out.

Option 2 was decidedly more labor intensive, and it was all I had (because I didn’t know about the magical Option 3 at the time.  Poor me).  Option 2 was to rent a U-Haul, round up my friends and family, and move everything from apartment to truck to apartment, the old fashioned way.  Thank goodness I have nice friends and family who are always willing to help out!

The U-Haul option is cheap, as moving goes.  However, if you don’t have friends and family with some muscle and winning attitudes, you’re looking at a rough time.  Heck, even if they do have muscles and a winning attitude it’s not fun.  When my dream sofa (read about in in this post) arrived from Crate & Barrel, it was delivered by two lovely gentlemen who practically ran up my stairs with the furniture on their backs.  However, getting that dream sofa OUT of the old apartment and IN to the new apartment meant three people needed to hurt their backs.

The crew I had with me included:  my dad, my mom, Aunt Betty, and my friends Henry, Amber, and Joe.

My friends and I taking a beer break at 8:45 AM on moving day, in Sunset Park.

The plan was to rent the U-Haul in Connecticut, where my parents live, and where the cost would be lower.  My parents would make some trips out to Brooklyn the week before the move to transport as many items as possible to their suburban basement, and the night before the move, they’d load all those items into the truck, to save time on moving day (we’d be starting with a half loaded truck).  They’d then drive the truck down to Brooklyn on the morning of moving day, and we’d all load up the rest of the boxes and furniture, to cart all my worldly possessions to Harlem.

Now, you may be wondering, “Why the big rush on moving day?”  Well, moving in NYC is not like moving in the rest of the world.  If you are moving into or out of an elevator building, there are often time constraints because the elevators need to be shared by everyone in the building.  For instance, my building in Harlem required that tenants move between 9 AM and 5 PM, when the rest of the tenants would likely be at work or out of the house.  Since I was moving on a weekend, I was allotted a timeframe between 10 AM and 1 PM.

Obviously, we had to begin the move in Sunset Park quite early, in order to finish by 1 PM.  We began at 6:30 AM, and finished getting everything out of my old apartment by 8:45.  We then paused for beers and cold pizza – the breakfast of champions (see the photo above) – and we were on the road to Harlem by 9:15.  We arrived at the new building just before 10:00, and we were finished bringing everything upstairs just before 1:00.  If we hadn’t had 7 people working on the job, it may never have gotten done.  Well, that’s an exaggeration.  But it certainly wouldn’t have gotten done in our allotted time frame.

Loading stuff into the U-Haul on moving day, in Sunset Park. Looking surprisingly perky, given the time of day and the task at hand.

A pile of stuff waiting to go into the U-Haul. Yes, I filled a 17' truck to the brim.

Cramming into the cab of the U-Haul.

My dad and Henry, happy to have the U-Haul mostly unloaded in Harlem.

Relaxing for a minute after getting all my furniture into my new Harlem apartment.

The total cost for Option 2 – the U-Haul/DIY option – was about $250 in truck and gas fees.  Plus about $50 to nourish the helpers.  $300 for the whole kit and kaboodle was significantly less than the $900-$1 Gazillion I was quoted by the big moving companies.  However, I ate up seven people’s Saturday morning.  No good.

So, there you have it.  Option 1:  way too expensive.  Option 2:  cheaper, but exhausting.  I’m starting to feel like I’m presenting the three houses on House Hunters.  Ya know those episodes where the first two houses are SO wrong for the person, that you’re positive they’ll pick #3?  That’s where we are in the Happy City Living world.  No surprises; Option 3 is clearly the one I’ll pick.  But what could option 3 possibly be?  Stick around to find out!

Have any disastrous moving stories?  Enjoy beer and cold pizza before 9 AM?  Share!

 

Images: Rebecca for Happy City Living (all)

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