How do I get over my fear of moving in NYC?
September 12, 2006 9:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I get over my fear of moving? How do New Yorkers deal with this overblown rental market?

My fiance and I are moving. We need an apartment with rooms and walls (living in a one room loft is hard on a couple), I'd like to be able to walk to the park like I could in Chicago, I'd like trees on the street (Park Slope/Windsor Terrace). But mostly we need walls, oh and our current apartment is way overpriced for this shit neighborhood.

The last time I moved it was really bad. I regretted moving to New York at all. Chicago to New York, lost the apartment we had halfway there, drove through the aftermath of hurricane Ivan, stayed in an extended stay place on Long Island for 2 weeks with my cat and plants, we put our stuff in storage while we looked for a place, no one would take us, finally we get a place, we get in an accident with our rental car while moving in, and our new apartment has 12' windows with no shades for weeks, and we have no furniture and no money and no jobs. It took about 2 months for things to get settled at all.

I know there are a lot of factors in that story (the accident, the hotel, no furniture, no jobs, no money, the chicago to nyc transition) that don't apply here. We actually have a place to live right now. But, I feel a small fear that that is going to happen again, everything falling apart, that that is what moving in NYC has to be. I feel that I'm getting paralysed in the face of it and that I'll just put off looking for an apartment. I'm scared of dismantling what was such a struggle to put together, the packing, putting my things in boxes again. I'm scared of dealing with New York brokers.

So should I just not make it personal? Is that possible?
Stay motivated by keeping in mind why I have to move, what I need, at all times?
Emphasize the differences between where I am now, maybe being a more attractive renter, with our situation back then?
How do I deal with a system I beleive is fundamentally wrong, unfair, and exploitative?

I think I need to get out of my own head, so all outside advice is appreciated. Any moving sites, articles that have addressed moving in nyc are appreciated as well.
posted by scazza to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
First step: stop viewing 12' windows in New York City as a bad thing, ever.

Next: Look, finding a nice apartment in NYC is one of the hardest things you can do in life. It takes a ton of work; make sure that you give yourself plenty of time before your lease is up. Have all of your documents ready beforehand so if you like something, you can jump on it. Documents include: current bank statements, proof of employment (save your paystubs), print out your credit report (free once a year), and a check for down payment.

Walk around neighborhoods where you would like to live. There will be for rent signs up; write down the numbers of the places that look promising and go see the places. If they don't work out, tell the broker/agent what you're interested in, at what price, and they'll help you find that. Figure out the correct search on Craig's list (i.e. 1 bedroom, less than X amount of dollars, in this neighborhood), and make it your home page. When something appears, immediately call the number and set up an appointment to see it. The tricky part is making sure you and your partner have time to see it together; sometimes you just have to see it yourself and bring a camera and trust each other to have good opinions. If it's worth a second look, take a second look.

If you have friends whose apartments you like, ask for the number of their super or landlord and see if there are other places available in the building. Sometimes you can avoid the broker's fee this way. Try different neighborhoods; after work, take the train as far as you're willing to commute and see where it takes you, get out and walk around. See if it's okay.

No, this is not easy. It took me a year in the city before finding a semi-permanent residence. It's hard, it's expensive, and you'll be a better person for it once you're done. Don't fall into the trap of why-me-ing. Everybody in New York is going through this, almost continuously. The harder you work in finding an apartment beforehand, the happier you will be with the results.

As for the actual moving, just hire some movers. It's worth the money.

If your work isn't too far from Inwood, it's (in my opinion), the greatest neighborhood in New York for people who aren't that jazzed on New York real estate. It's cheap, most places are big and have great views, and it's surrounded by parks. And the express train can get you downtown in about 40 minutes, with no transfers, and with a seat the whole time (= 40 minutes of quality reading time). But it's far from where all your friends live (i.e. Brooklyn and Queens).
posted by one_bean at 9:21 AM on September 12, 2006

I don't know when you're planning to move, when your current lease runs out, etc, but I've found the easiest way to keep moving (somewhat) less stressful is to start looking at your options long before you're planning to move, even if it's just on the internet. Obviously, there's the down side of possibly finding a perfect place and then either letting it slip away or else breaking the lease and moving earlier than you wanted. However, it's a good way to know your neighborhood choices better, get to know a broker you feel comfortable with, and most of all, remember that moving is usually a voluntary activity. You can also start boxing up things you know you won't use for a while, so that when the time does come to move you won't have as much to do. You'll also be more mentally/emotionally prepared for it. All in all, when you don't have to worry about finding a place in two weeks or else risk being homeless, it's a lot easier.

It sounds like you had a nightmare move last time-- this time it will be easier. You can handle it. Be prepared to spend some money on movers and incidentals so it doesn't catch you by surprise. (I actually used movers for the first time the last time I moved, instead of doing it myself, and it was the easiest thing ever. Expensive, but worth it.)
posted by np312 at 9:25 AM on September 12, 2006

First, get to know Craigslist. There's no reason to use a broker in NYC, unless you're pressed for time or very wealthy.

Second, I think this issue is particularly emotional for you because the home, job, and car issue were all wrapped up for you. The next time you move, don't be unemployed. I know this sounds like obvious advice, but there you go.

Also, my opinion of home quality breaks down into three things- beauty, location, and price. In NYC, pick one. Understand that you're not likely to get the other two.

Next time, try to overlap your leases for a little bit if you can. If you rent direct from an owner (via, say, CL), they may be more amenable to letting you in the apartment before the lease technically starts to move some things in, do painting, etc. We did this the last time we moved and it made the process infinitely more bearable.
posted by mkultra at 9:26 AM on September 12, 2006

That's a good idea about the overlap, mkultra. Moving day is bound to be hell in or out of New York, but "moving week" isn't so scary. Much better way to spend money than on a broker.
posted by Doctor Barnett at 9:32 AM on September 12, 2006

I second getting in touch with your friends' landlords if possible, though I disagree about moving week: to me that just prolongs the torture. Also, I have found that a less pretty neighborhood close to the subway totally beats a pretty neighborhood further away.

Anyway, the way NYC real estate works is you keep moving till you get a deal and then you never ever move again. You need to decide which kind of move this is. If you have to move, get something bearable with the knowledge that you will be constantly looking. Otherwise, live with what you have and keep feelers out till you find your deal. The thing about deals, though, is very few come from brokers and most of 'em aren't pretty right away. Even fewer have property managers. You put in your time and in five years you'll be thrilled you got what you did. At least that's how it is in my socioeconomic corner of the world.

And, yeah, it isn't easy. It sucks and is stressful. That's just how it is. Don't fall into the trap of stressing about your stress, though. If you can, try to detach. Then in five years, show off.
posted by dame at 9:43 AM on September 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Second the movers. Best couple of hundred I ever spent.

One piece of advice to add to the above, all of which I say is spot on: figure out how much your deposit is likely to be, and get that much money in travelers checks. When you see a place you like, be ready to put money down on it right then and there.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:53 AM on September 12, 2006

also in favor of craigslist. don't deal with brokers - you will find alot from owners. that means no fees.
posted by BigBrownBear at 10:01 AM on September 12, 2006

My philosophy is that even though it is pure hell, in New York City these things happen fast. So it's a quick pure hell, and the relief is just beyond delicious when it's over. Also in your particular case you can keep in mind how unlikely it is for this time to be anywhere near as bad as last time. You survived what sounds like one of the worst moving experiences...just dealing with the NYC real estate market should be a piece of cake in comparison. Also remember that people who are far more poor and far less desirable as tenants than you still manage to find places to live. You won't be homeless. As for brokers, if you do decide to deal with them, just don't let them push you around. They want the commission--make them work to get you the apartment YOU want--you know, within reason:)

What worked best for me was finding out from friends what they liked about their neighborhoods, and searching on craigslist in the neighborhoods that sound right for me. There are still some places that maybe aren't exactly one's dream home, but are close to the subway, pretty nice, and affordable on a NYC salary.
posted by lampoil at 11:06 AM on September 12, 2006

Is your credit good? Do you have enough money in your bank to bring a money order with you for closing costs? Will you need guarantors? Do you have references? Get all that crap answered and lined up and ready to go. The rental market is hard right now, but the buyers' market is softening. This would be not a bad time to buy, if you're looking for a long term solution. That will take you longer, to be sure, but the market's got nowhere to go.
Also, if you're committed to renting, and you have the money, consider NOT using Craigslist (heresy!) and just going straight to the source: big leasing agents for new buildings. Check the NYTimes. Something like 20,000 units of new housing will have opened up in NYC by the end of the year, and they've got lots of amenities. AND finally but plus, well, Park Slope/Windsor Terrace: Done. Pricey. The new Manhattan. Consider LIC, Roosevelt Island, Jersey City, Hoboken. If you're not that flush with cash, consider Maspeth, Astoria, Woodside, Sunnyside, Bushwick.

Also: Don't fuck around. Get professional movers - but make sure you rigorously purge your old house of stuff that you just won't use in your new place. No sense in packing crap that you'll just recycle later.

Alsox2: if you have a cat, no need to mention this to anyone.

And, if it makes you feel any better, not every broker is a crook.

And finally, of course it's possible to not make it personal, particularly if you believe the system is unfair. Go read Maximum City's section about real estate in Bombay and then you'll be quite glad you only have to put up with NYC.
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:20 AM on September 12, 2006

One thing to remember, and I'm going through this frustration right now, is that in NYC, the window of availablility is smaller than most other places. Unless you're looking at new construction, there's no point in looking more than 6 weeks prior to your move. You should definitely do the research and educate yourself about neighborhoods in advance. But the experience of everyone I know here shows that they found their place 2-4 weeks prior to their move-in date.

Also remember that it's very very frustrating and then all of a sudden you've signed a lease and poof, it's over. Well, there's the whole moving part, but in comparison to the finding, the moving is easy.
posted by hsoltz at 12:11 PM on September 12, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good advice and encouragement (np312, lampoil). I have survived, and I forget that. I guess that's mostly what I was looking for. Just writing the question made me realize that this stuff need not be feared, brokers won't really do anything random because I know what to expect. I've known the worst.

Some things, practicalities, I already have ironed out, as I have moved in NYC before. I have no lease so I can move whenever I want (I didn't think of overlapping though, thanks mkultra), I know the neighborhood I want (and Inwood keeps coming up, I will have to take a walk there), I have enough money, I'll have my credit report in hand when I start looking, I have my pay stubs, etc. I'm only using Craigslist for "by owner" ads not brokers, otherwise I'll be using the NYT. I've already emailed my friends.

I've used movers ever since my second year in college when my parents stopped moving me out. I get it.

Alsox2: if you have a cat, no need to mention this to anyone.
Really? One cat maybe, but I have 2. I thought this would be hard for owners of the building to miss.

And 12' windows looking out onto an autobody yard, with a draft in the fall when the gas is not on, and you'd like to sleep past sunrise, suck.
posted by scazza at 2:24 PM on September 12, 2006

« Older Will catching NYC mice make my cats sick/dead?   |   Water hemlock? Disposal? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.