I'm just now recovering from three days of intense Manhattan apartment-hunting, a process far less pleasant than my recent root canal and one conducted without the comfort of anesthesia (though the experience itself was sufficiently numbing). During that half week we discovered a horrifying amount of uninhabitable hovels that were all thoroughly inhabited. As the many floorbound mattresses and cluttered kitchen / living room / bathroom combinations reminded me, there will always be people willing to trade their firstborn for a crawl space in which they sleep standing up. This is, after all, Manhattan.
But as long as you're open-minded about where you live and don't require such indulgences as "a room in which a mattress will fit" or "a hallway that doesn't smell like and / or induce death," you should have no problem finding a suitable place. My four-man crew was a bit more selective, which made our search a significantly greater challenge. The fundamental problem was that we couldn't agree on size, location, price, flooring, apartment number, sink composition, number of windows, square footage of bathroom, height of ceilings, color of cabinetry and permissibility of pets while scouring for places. I wanted a single room in which to work as a starving writer. "Voetsch" wanted an arena-sized living room. Carl just wants world peace.
As the quest progressed we began to prioritize certain criteria over others, with relative distance to . . . anything . . . becoming a primary concern. Though we could've had a great, affordable place in Harlem, Brooklyn or Ghana, those locales would've put us further than we wanted from the mid-Manhattan jobs we don't have. So instead we paid for the luxury of a location, with prices steadily increasing as we approached some assumed epicenter of Manhattan, a point at which you pay thousands per square inch and the water is made of pure gold, or something. Our apartment isn't there. It's in the East Village, is slightly bigger than standing-room-only and may still demand the sale of my kidney for rent money.
Making the search even more difficult were the constant reminders from my parents that I had a room waiting for me at home. Mom skipped no opportunity to lobby for my tenancy, even relating things to me in apartment-ese. "Friendly landlords!" she'd entreat, "And free rent!" If the topic moved to other single-living expenditures, she'd surely chime in, "No utilities to pay over here!" or "No rummaging for lunch in the garbage outside your apartment when there's a perfectly rummagable fridge back home!" She nearly had me with an offer of full laundry service, but my pride and fear of New Jersey eventually won out.
Of course, deciding to live in the city and actually having a place to do so are drastically different things. Though actually securing an apartment is near-impossible, the ease of locating up-to-the-minute candidates on websites such as Craigslist.com and the NYTimes classifieds makes the whole process seem deceptively simple. As encouraging as the voluminous listings were, we quickly learned that the odds of getting an NYC apartment we saw in print are worse than those of getting a girl seen in print. Upon finding a reasonable apartment in an online listing, we'd check when the ad was posted: if it was a livable apartment and the ad was more than 25 minutes old, it was immediately assumed that the place was sold. If the ad was placed within the past 25 minutes, we would grab the closest subway / cab / hang-glider and get to the location as fast as possible. If we were quick and lucky we were able to see the group that got to the apartment a moment before we did and had already closed on it. That way, we knew who to attack.
Having limited success with online listings, we briefly enlisted the aide of a broker. Named for what they do to your bank account and spirit, brokers specialize in finding apartments that you don't want, a service for which they charge an extortionate price. We found our broker under the "no fee" listings on Craigslist, though an argument soon developed over the definition of "no fee." Doe-eyed and naive as we were, my group assumed that "no fee" meant "no fee." Citing her experience and omnipotence, our broker assured us that "no fee" actually meant "fee." The dispute would soon prove irreconcilable.
As wrong as friends may have been about the necessity of a broker, they were right about one crucial piece of advice: if you find an apartment you like, you need to immediately decide, close and move your underwear in. Predictably, we initially chortled at this presumed nonsense and proceeded to get burned on apartments we didn't even want. By the time we found our apartment we had realized the wisdom in that original suggestion we were actually sitting on the stoop when it became available and were the first ones to see it and an application was submitted within three minutes of entry. As we filled out the credit-check forms in the landlord's apartment, at least twenty other suitors stopped by or called with futile offers. After receiving a rejection, two couples looked in the windows to see who to attack.
Now that we finally have our Manhattan apartment, discussing it with chums back in Rochester is useless. The conversations just alternate between awe and ridicule. My friends have a colossal house off-campus, for which they pay lunch money. Our apartment is the size of one of their showers at three times the cost of their entire rent. And two of our guys are sharing a room. But I suppose that's all part of the experience. Long have I heard horror stories from friends or of friends, if they weren't fortunate enough to survive about the rigors of New York apartment hunting, and now I have my own. And in the end, we prevailed. We slew the beast. We spent three eight-hour days touring mighty Manhattan on foot, inspecting apartments at which cockroaches would scoff while nearly pistol-whipping brokers, and eventually, at the last place we looked, we found an apartment.
Now to find a way to pay for it.