Writer Emily Gould’s Real-Estate Hunt
In this series, Looking to Settle, Emily Gould will chronicle her search for a two-bedroom apartment.
It’s a commonplace that New Yorkers only want to talk about real estate, but in my experience, that’s not true. Sometimes they want to talk about things that have nothing to do with housing. Unfortunately, I have lost the ability to talk about anything else since I learned at the end of February – while I was sick with COVID! — that my landlords were putting my apartment up for sale.
A mad scramble ensued, some of which was documented in this magazine. Long story short, we couldn’t afford to buy our apartment at the top of the bubble, but other dumdums could, and last week they did. We now have 60 days to find a new place, which I realize is not the worst thing that has happened to anyone. It’s not even the worst thing that’s ever happened to me! But if you’re with me right now, looking for an apartment to rent in Brooklyn, you already know things are bad here.
I’m talking about a market in which your best and perhaps only hope is to uncover listings from a whisper network – friends of friends, internet strangers, mailing list posters, NextDoor(!!), Facebook groups, building managers and supers – before they went live. If you show up to an open house for a place you saw on StreetEasy, you’ve already lost the battle. Anything you see online that’s passably decent or some sort of known quantity is picked up as soon as it’s posted, sometimes by a renter who hasn’t even seen the place in person. Bidding wars for rental apartments, which are illegal in many other places and should be in New York as well, are now commonplace. Our current accommodation has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dishwasher, a washer-dryer and excellent soundproofing, necessary to prevent the neighbors from being annoyed by the constant high-pitched cries of our children. However, we’ve already started to come to terms with the idea that some or all of these features, which we were just beginning to take for granted, might not be available in our next home. Basically, we’re hoping for two bedrooms, assistive devices, and the ability to get to school, which has been the one constant in our older child’s life over the past two chaotic years. Here’s what happened the first week.
The first one the apartment we saw last weekend was a block away from where I still live too temporarily. It was $3,800 a month and was shown by a friendly young sweatpants broker named Justin. He valiantly ushered me into the place while its current inhabitants put away their groceries in the kitchen, which also served as a living-dining room. They had already packed most of their belongings, which gave the place a desolate feeling underlined by the building’s fluorescent hanging lights. It was, yes, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with a washer and dryer. But something about it was…wrong. The narrow balcony, accessed by a door into the living-dining-kitchen area, had a railing just low enough to allow a fearless child to lean all the way down and swing through the air for a tantalizing moment before diving in. headfirst into the phony trash bank two stories below. “I should padlock that door,” I heard myself whisper to Justin. “Both bedrooms are large enough to accommodate a king-size bed!” he announced, as if I cared. I tried to figure out why I felt like I had been in a similar space recently, and finally realized I was thinking of Lumon Industries break room.
“The living-dining-kitchen area” with a door to the extremely narrow balcony.
Two open houses on two adjoining blocks of Halsey in Bed-Stuy were my next stops. I had started looking in this corner of the woods because I like the neighborhood and it is commutable (barely) with my children’s current school. The first, listed at $4,900 plus first and last month’s rent, security fees and 15% brokerage fees, included the top two floors of a small house. Foolishly, I brought my children to this screening. They really loved the place! They loved that it was a house and that the owner had both an aquarium and a cat. I didn’t like the rickety wooden stairs to the common courtyard or the fact that the promised washer-dryer was in a shed at the bottom of those stairs and was also non-existent or yet to be installed. The apartment however had two bathrooms, two bedrooms and a kitchen which appeared to have working appliances, although some were obscured by a pile of boards. The stairwell leading to the downstairs unit was filled with boxes and trash. The broker pointed to the pile: “A great idea, to use this area for storage!” he proclaimed. He reiterated his willingness to accept offers on the asking price of the apartment on several occasions, perhaps confusing me with some of the many other people present at the open house. As we waited around the corner for the bus, I saw one of these couples rushing towards the house, perhaps to make an offer. Good luck to them !
The aforementioned stairs, which lead to a shed not shown in the listing, where a washing machine is apparently going to be installed at some point.
The next apartment was also a duplex, listed $4,999, and was in much better condition. Its landlords, who operate through an LLC, had hired the broker to ensure there was no gap between the current occupant’s mid-month move-out date and the tenant’s first rent check. next. The broker belonged more to the Selling Sunset school of real estate professionals than any of the gentlemen I had dealt with earlier in the day – even though it was late in the day, his composure and her hairstyle didn’t fade (the latter probably being thanks to the unit’s central air conditioning). The non-bedroom area of the apartment was one long room with windows at both ends – so pretty! But it also wasn’t totally obvious where we would put a sofa AND a table. And the washer and dryer was in the hallway right outside the unit’s front door, which “is actually so nice,” the broker said, because that way you don’t have to hear all the noise and vibration. The broker estimated the square footage of this space at “about 2,000 square feet”, which, because I’m not a complete moron, I realized was a lie. She then told me that she assumed the place would go for “$5,300 or more”.
One end of the apartment looked quite spacious in the listing photo but was really “one long room”. On the other side of the wall is a washer-dryer currently installed.
Photo: Keller Williams NYC/Streeteasy
I just wanted to accept that and end my search and move on with my life and start mentally living a solid 30-minute, twice-daily bus ride to my kids’ school in Clinton Hill. There was nothing horribly wrong with the apartment. But could we really justify paying $1,800 a month more than our current rent to secure our place in a gentrifying neighborhood in a building owned by people who were clearly committed to getting the best out of their tenants? ? So much about the situation just seemed wrong, and in the end we decided we couldn’t bring ourselves to bid on a rental. Can we do better? Only a few weeks left to find out!!!