Not quite ready for the land of artisanal snausages
November 20, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Am I making a mistake in my choice of NYC neighborhood? Details within for your much-appreciated sanity check and suggestions.

I'm on the cusp of my late 20s and have a great job at a big, stable company. I make about $80K annually (with ridiculously good benefits and perks) and have a minor amount of investment income.

My commute takes me to Exchange Place in Jersey City at least 4, and usually 5, days per week - my office is almost on top of the PATH station. Thus, getting to the World Trade Center area with relative ease and in under say 45 minutes is important for me. I will also be traveling to East Midtown relatively often (4-5x per month) at rush hours.

I'd like to live somewhere with easy access to good grocery stores, one or more dry cleaners and drugstores, and a reasonably good selection of sit-down, delivery and take-out restaurant options (including cheap ethnic food). Other cultural things are nice but not mandatory (because I can always get there via subway); large green spaces are a BIG plus.

I'm looking to spend around $1300 a month on a 1-bedroom apartment in a reasonably quiet area with relatively good quality of life (nobody bothering me on my walk to the subway or blaring music at 2 AM). I can afford to spend more, but am not really interested in spending more on housing in which I'll have no equity.

Right now I'm strongly considering and in-process with a medium-sized medium-fit-and-finish 1BR in Kensington (at E 7th and Beverly), which is in my price range and close enough to Cortelyou Road and some good food options. The Q-to-4/5-to-PATH commute via Atlantic Ave or Union Square transfers could be better, but I estimate about an hour door to door.

I'm not sure in my price range that I can afford a nice place in Brooklyn that's less of a hassle and has the right mix of amenities, location, etc. I had considered the far UES and East Harlem but I think there I'm either out of a decent-sized space (UES border) or out of quality of life (East Harlem near 125th). I've seen Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights and was not impressed even though the commute would be great. Additionally, Jersey City seems to be an odd mix of extremely pricey apartments and shitty spaces/difficult transit to NYC, and Hoboken is going to be dysfunctional for a while after Sandy and I have the usual New York spit-take reaction when anyone suggests it (on the basis of zero evidence, mind).

  • I'm wondering whether I am making a huge mistake by not concentrating my search in Astoria - the prices seem to be a bit higher and the space a bit smaller, but the amenities and commute time seem to be slightly better. What are my options for $1250-$1400 up there?

  • Additionally, I'd be interested to hear your experiences in Kensington and surrounding areas - based on the above, will I like it there?

  • How are the Kings County Hospital area and the area up around Franklin Ave and Union? I was somewhat put off by the low-quality-commercial and residential mix up there but maybe I'm looking in the wrong areas.

  • Lastly, if I've made a total hash of things and you can fix it with a more thorough suggestion, I would welcome that too.
  • posted by Inspector.Gadget to Home & Garden (25 answers total)
    You want Astoria, I think. The Q to 4/5 transfer is awful. I did it for years before moving to the Upper East Side. I don't think you're going to get a nice 1BR for that price in ANY area of NYC, though.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:26 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    You can indeed get something nice in the farther reaches of the west side, but it will take a lot of legwork if you want to avoid paying a broker's fee. I would not suggest the UES for any reason at all at any time, and especially not now with the endless, endless construction.
    posted by elizardbits at 9:28 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Kensington is basically where I am trying really, really hard to move to right now as my entire social life moved there (but most of us are from way further south in Brooklyn.) I hang out there plenty and its just generally a great place to live, although not exactly lively in the night-scene sense. It's a really nice neighborhood, but the commute from there to Jersey City sounds awful. So does transferring at either Union Sq. or Pacific during rush hour, but that's the price you pay sometimes.

    Franklin Ave. isn't somewhere I'd want to live and I've spent a not-insignificant amount of time there.
    posted by griphus at 9:42 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Oh, and you can absolutely get a nice 1BR in a nice neighborhood for that sort of money. Not on the UES (or, really, most of Manhattan,) but definitely in Brooklyn or Queens. Although while I'm not privy to your finances/debt/spending, you can also afford to pay more for rent going purely by your per annum.
    posted by griphus at 9:48 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    I love Ditmas Park and Kensington (just bought an apartment in DP after living here for a few years) and am happy to talk to you about the area if you want to shoot me a message. It's quiet and green--you'd be right near Prospect Park--and there's a decent though not stunning array of food options.

    You could consider commuting via F to Jay Street then transferring to the A or C to get to WTC, or F to 6 to get uptown; you'd be closer to the F at 7th and Beverley, though it's got its own issues.

    I like the area around Franklin as well but think that my neighborhood is a nicer place to come home to.

    Based on my earlier apartment searches, I would be surprised if you could get something great for $1300 in a trendier/"nicer" area, though I hope I'm wrong.
    posted by mlle valentine at 9:53 AM on November 20, 2012

    I live in Kensington and I love it, but I would not choose it with that commute.
    posted by ocherdraco at 9:54 AM on November 20, 2012

    (And I live right around the corner from 7th and Beverly.)
    posted by ocherdraco at 9:56 AM on November 20, 2012

    How long do you plan on staying at this job? Or in NYC? I would suggest you buy something, but I don't want to sound like someone's mother.

    You can find many places at that price range, but the travel will wear on you. I would suggest you live in the Chelsea area if you can stand to spend a little more and live in a smaller place. You might find spending more on rent and spending less time traveling to be the way to go.

    I've lived in NYC over 35 years and I have lived in many different neighborhoods. I have used mass transit as my primary way of travel and I can navigate very well above and below ground, I am just thinking of what is the most enjoyable way of living as a 20+ year old in NYC.

    If you like, I can recommend you reputable real estate agents who can give you choices in all the boroughs. Mail me if you would like help.
    posted by Yellow at 9:59 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    Brooklyn to Jersey City is a lunatic commute. Find a nice neighborhood in JC (they are there) and save on rent and taxes ... or if you must get a place on Sixth Avenue (PATH to JC, D and F to Brooklyn) in Manhattan for the one-train benefit.
    posted by MattD at 10:12 AM on November 20, 2012

    Have you considered Jersey City near where you'll be working? There are really nice brick residential buildings right there and then you'd avoid the almost 4% NYC local tax.
    posted by valeries at 10:13 AM on November 20, 2012

    Response by poster: Have you considered Jersey City near where you'll be working? There are really nice brick residential buildings right there and then you'd avoid the almost 4% NYC local tax.

    I'd definitely be open to that given the ease of getting to lower Manhattan by PATH (when it's working, that is) and the beautiful brick buildings, but I haven't found any listings for comparable apartments here - all the new condos up here are at aimed at Goldman employees, judging by the price. Any leads on reliable brokers or listings? Thanks.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:32 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    My coworker lives there and has a really nice place for about that price, but he's out for the week. When he gets back I will ask him for his management company's phone number. I will memail you when I know.

    That said, I think people are exaggerating the pain of a Brooklyn --> Jersey City commute. I did it from south Park Slope (F to C to Path) for years and it was not that bad. I think the commute from Astoria would be worse.
    posted by valeries at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2012

    Just a heads-up: living in New Jersey and having a social life in NYC aren't particularly compatible. You can basically forget about people visiting you for anything but the most special of occasions. This may be a bonus, however.
    posted by griphus at 10:41 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

    I have nothing of value to add but just wanted to say that your "land of artisanal snausages" headline is brilliant.
    posted by Jess the Mess at 11:54 AM on November 20, 2012

    Where in Jersey City have you looked already? I'd be surprised if there was nothing around the general Grove St PATH area that worked for you.

    I also wouldn't write off Hoboken just yet - have you visited at all? The HBLR is already running on a normal schedule and will take you right to Exchange Place, so it's really just transit in and out of NYC that would be the major issue for now. (I think the HBLR is actually kind of beautiful for public transit, and Hoboken to Exchange Place is a pleasant ride IME -- but I have a small sample size and have never had to rely on it for work, so there's that.)
    posted by en forme de poire at 12:13 PM on November 20, 2012

    I understand your desire not to spend more on rent. I really really do. But on your income, I would encourage you to consider going up to $1500. Quailty of life in NYC is *so* much about where you live, how close you are to your friends and the things you like, how much time you spend on the train and how likely you are to get a seat. If you're really all about saving money, you may as well go all out and move further out in NJ or live with roommates. Actually I guess that's my concern is that you're making a compromise that's neither here nor there. Not saving enough money to make the quality of life sacrifices really worth it but not spending enough to get the benefits of living in/closer in to the city.
    posted by Salamandrous at 1:06 PM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]

    Response by poster: Actually I guess that's my concern is that you're making a compromise that's neither here nor there. Not saving enough money to make the quality of life sacrifices really worth it but not spending enough to get the benefits of living in/closer in to the city.

    That's what I'm getting at when you strip away the detail. Thank you for phrasing the issue so clearly.

    Kensington looks nice and it's a shorter commute than my current one but it's sort of isolated and not close to the places I need go to on a daily basis.

    $1500 is doable, grudgingly but not wallet-damagingly (avoiding broker's fees would make it more palatable), so I guess I'm back to looking at Harlem, the distant UES/UWS, and maybe Astoria near the R or far western Brooklyn near the 4/5 and A/C.

    Any suggestions on that basis, or is churning NakedApartments/Craigslist/etc. the best way to go about this?
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:52 PM on November 20, 2012

    You can find really good deals on Craigslist, especially if you're not in a hurry. Keep hitting refresh - the good deals are out there. I pay $1200 for a one bedroom in a brownstone in Prospect Heights (granted, my apartment is very small - probably too small for most people, but to me, it's the perfect balance of location, price, space, amenities, and not having roommates). My wonderful, amazing landlords live on the first floor. I have a beautiful view over backyards and many of my friends live in the neighborhood. Keep looking.

    After my first apartment in NY, I have never paid a broker's fee. I ONLY look at "By Owner" apartments with no fees. Avoid anything that has all caps in the title. Look for descriptions written by real people (not brokers / management companies / and their ilk). Find out the real neighborhood boundaries and avoid anything mislabeled (like apartments way out in Crown Heights but labeled Prospect Heights). I find it pretty easy to identify the apartments that have actual promise - making a daily scan of Craigslist a less-arduous task.
    posted by valeries at 2:05 PM on November 20, 2012

    Oh, yeah, I don't know how it goes where you're living (Manhattan?) but in Brooklyn, brokers will straight-up lie about the neighborhood the apartment is in. I don't know how long you've been living in NYC, but before Bushwick was somewhere young people actively wanted to move to and didn't just settle on because they couldn't afford a place in Williamsburg, living in "East Williamsburg" (read: Bushwick boonies, not actual East Williamsburg) was a running joke just because all the Bushwick apartments showed up on CL under that header.
    posted by griphus at 2:47 PM on November 20, 2012

    Where do your friends live?
    Where do your colleagues live?
    If you increase to $1500 (I paid $1500 for a studio in Park Slope on a $60K salary a few yrs ago btw, totally doable) you will have options in the western Brooklyn area. Though brooklyn to NJ everyday seems like torture to me, even if you live near the 4/5.

    I would look around the Nevins 4/5 stop in Gowanus/Boerum hill/downtown brooklyn/LIU area and I bet you could find something good.

    As others have said, if you're paying money to live in the city, make sure you are getting what you want out of living in the city.

    Also, if you are willing to go out most nights and not have people come to you, JC is a totally fine and pleasant place to live and you can come in for funtimes.

    The best way to find a place without paying a fee other than those you have mentioned is to beg for one on Facebook and ask your friends to all re-post your sad pleas for a place. Someone might know someone who is moving out.
    posted by rmless at 2:54 PM on November 20, 2012

    Response by poster: Oh, yeah, I don't know how it goes where you're living (Manhattan?) but in Brooklyn, brokers will straight-up lie about the neighborhood the apartment is in.

    Yes, I've found that "brokers" lie about pretty much everything. I will be exercising full skepticism at all times.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 2:55 PM on November 20, 2012

    You probably know this already, but do you use Padmapper? It is extremely helpful and aggregates from a few different listing sources, including Craigslist (again! - there was a skirmish about this for a while but it looks like they've since come to some sort of agreement).
    posted by en forme de poire at 2:57 PM on November 20, 2012

    I'm also wondering where your friends live. I have a ton of friends in the kensington area and whenever they ask me to come out I'm like, omg so far (even though it isn't, for dumbo where I live). But I'm always tempted to move places
    Where I am walking distance from friends.
    posted by sweetkid at 5:32 PM on November 20, 2012

    If you are willing to look further inland, there are places that meet your price range near Journal Square in Jersey City, a short PATH ride away from Exchange Place.
    posted by fings at 7:38 PM on November 20, 2012

    Knowing both neighborhoods, I'd say Astoria is better than Kensington for noise culture, general surroundings, and subway access. To know about real noise levels, you MUST visit the apartment you're considering at day and night times (including a weekend late night) before signing a lease. Inconvenient but worth every minute. This is especially critical everywhere in Harlem and the Heights (even in the gentrified-feeling pockets) because the noise culture can be different building to building.
    posted by kalapierson at 4:31 AM on November 21, 2012

    « Older The show of the future   |   Dry shampoo recommendations Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.