As of last Thursday, I became a resident of New York City. Since I've gotten an apartment in San Francisco as well, I feel like I can contribute to this discussion.

Getting an apartment in New York was so much more amazingly difficult than almost everything else in my entire life. I thought coming out to my parents was stressful (and it was), but this latest adventure was quite an ordeal too.

Comparison: San Francisco and the Silicon Valley

First, some comparison. Three years ago, I moved to the Silicon Valley. The dot coms hadn't yet dot-bombed, so housing prices were still a bit high. I was convinced that I was going to have to pay $2000 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, which I thought was outrageous. Fortunately, after a week's worth of looking, I got a phone call from a friend who knew someone who lived in a building with an opening. The next weekend, I drove all my stuff up from Southern California to my spacious $1150 one-bedroom apartment, and counted myself lucky.

Two years later, I moved to San Francisco. In 2002, it was almost easy to find an apartment in SF. I logged on to Craigslist, found some listings, and walked around the neighborhood I wanted to live in. I found an apartment the first day I looked.

These aren't exactly easy housing markets, and they all expected me to have a month's deposit before moving in, but in both cases, it was a relatively straightforward transaction.

New York

Compare this to my New York experience. I arrived in New York on July 5, to "visit". I decided to move here in the first week of August, and started looking for a place. I tried the whole Craigslist thing again. I didn't get many e-mails back until I realized that in order to actually hear back from a Craigslist poster in New York, you need to call within minutes of the posting going online. Seriously. Once I figured that out I managed to see some places, but they weren't the fabulous apartment I was looking for. The studios were all a bit small, and the roommate situations just wouldn't have worked out too well. (One potential roommate asked me if I wanted a foot massage, right before he told me about his foot fetish.)

I had a plane ticket back to California (I needed to sell my car), and when I had a week and a half left in New York, I decided to bite the bullet. If I was going to have a place to move into on my return, I was going to have to treat this problem like the Manhattanite I wanted to be, and throw some money at the problem by hiring a broker.

Everyone I talked to about brokers told me the same thing: it's a big scam. But they also told me that brokers often know about things that other people don't. When I met the broker, she immediately handed me a contract that said that if I moved in to any of the buildings she showed me, I was going to have to pay her 15% of one year's rent.

At this point, I was a bit dazed by what had just happened, but it turned out that she had access to more apartment listings than I had gotten my hands on. Some of them were even really nice apartments that were in my price range... By the end of the day, I had narrowed my choice down to two studios in Chelsea. They're both in great locations, reasonably sized, not too much street noise, well-maintained buildings. It was either the cheap one that I thought I'd be happy with, or the one that was absolutely beautiful in the doorman building with rooftop access (with the Empire State Building in sight) with a much nicer layout. The only drawback was that it was in a co-op building, so my broker informed me that there would be an application before getting in.

From the previous paragraph, I'm sure it's obvious what the choice was. My advice: don't get a co-op apartment, unless you're going to be buying it. It's just too much hassle. Here's everything I had to come up with:

  • broker's fee to my broker
  • broker's fee to the owner's broker
  • deposit (one month's rent)
  • first month's rent
  • credit check fee for my brokerage ($60)
  • credit check fee for the co-op board ($35)
  • move in deposit ($750)
  • application fee ($300)
  • two years of W-2's and 1040's (full income tax returns...)
  • a notarized financial disclosure form, detailing all of my worldly possessions and liabilities, with supporting documentation (three month's worth). These had to be real statements; online statements weren't sufficient
  • three business references, with letters from two of them
  • three personal references, with letters from two of them
  • a letter from my previous landlord

Unfortunately, my broker was incompetent enough that she didn't tell me everything I needed until a few weeks later. So when I got back to New York I ended up crashing on my lesbian ex-girlfriend's couch. For three weeks.

Next bit of advice: don't look for an apartment in New York during the Jewish holidays. Granted, if my broker hadn't been incompetent, it wouldn't have dragged out that long, but by the time the banks and insurance companies had mailed me my statements, not only did I need to get a new notarized financial disclosure (remember, I'd sold my car) but it was also getting close to Yom Kippur.

Once all of these materials were assembled, the next step was to get interviewed by the co-op board. Of course, I didn't have contact information for them (I only had the contact information for my broker). So my broker turned in my application to the management company, which contacted the board and set up the appointment. This took approximately four days. The board decided to conduct the interview on the roof of the building. In the rain. After I convinced them that yes, I was serious about moving to New York (there was any doubt after going through this?) they sent me along my merry way. Two days later, they informed the management company of their decision to let me live there.

The management company then needed to get in touch with the owner, but for some reason didn't have her number or her broker's number, and so called my broker. It was Yom Kippur that day, so my broker couldn't contact the owner's broker (he's Jewish). The next day, he answered his phone, and called the owner, who then called the management company, who called the superintendent, who then told the doormen that I was allowed to move in. If this was on Friendster, I think the links are so far that these people wouldn't even be in my personal network.

It's a beautiful apartment...