Thursday, April 28, 2005
ah, the joy of the hunt
As I wrote before, apartment hunting in NYC is a terrible, terrible, most terrible experience. I learned that again first hand this week.
I'm not sure what renting is like in the rest of the world, but things move quickly in the NYC apartment game (I feel like a total tool for writing something as lame as "the NYC apartment game", but fuck it - I'm really tired). For example, on Tuesday morning, you see an ad for an apartment. You see the apartment after work that day and like it. The next day, you and your roommate see it. Thursday, you get together the paper work and money. Friday you sign the lease. Over and done in four days, tops.
And so it (almost) was this week. It all started with an ad in craigslist for a two bedroom apartment in an East Village elevator building with no broker fee (jackpot). Big rooms, amenities, nice pictures, the whole nine yards - all for $2200. My roommate Brian and I were hoping to cap our rent at $2000, as he works in the rewarding-but-not-financially-so television industry and my spending so exceeds my income that I will be forced to declare bankruptcy this summer, possibly sooner. But this apartment looked great and all utilities were included, so we figured we could spend the $2200.
And so I called the broker, Mike. A word about brokers: most brokers are complete scumbags. I'm not saying all of them are, but they are usually not the best people to deal with. They are salesman after all, and only make money when you lease a place. Usually, a broker will get the equivalent of one month's rent when you sign on with one of their apartments (some charge as high as 15% of the yearly rent). So they are looking to get you signed quickly, so that they can move on.
It's hard for me to deal with brokers (and salespeople in general) because their profession is based on deception, manipulation, and self-interest. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with these three things - christ, I could make business cards that say "Jason Mulgrew: Deception, Manipulation, Self-Interest" - but I'm saying that there is a lot wrong with these things when they're being used against me.
And so now about to embark on my fifth year and fourth apartment in New York City, I'm wary of the whole renting process and brokers. I've found that the best way to deal with them (brokers) is to let them think that they've got you hooked. Play dumb. Smile. Always act interested. Whenever I work with a broker I try to be so impressionable and easy going so that when they go home to their spouses, girlfriends, or friends at night, they say, "I met with this fat guy with this bad beard today, and I totally got him. He'll sign anything I put in front of him. And he has this weird old man/poo smell to him. It's gross." The more they think they have you in the palm of their hand, the less they'll be prepared when you turn the tables on them and become aggressive to get yourself a better deal.
I spoke to Mike and asked my two most important questions: 1) Is the apartment available June 1; and 2) does the apartment have a decent-sized living room. He gave an emphatic yes to both questions, and so on Tuesday I went over lunch to meet with Mike to see the apartment. As I suspected, it's in Stuyvesant Town, a collection of 100+ buildings with something like 11,000 apartments on the east side of Manhattan. I had mixed feelings about Sty Town; it looks kinda like a glorified housing project, but it has class (it was built by the government after World War II to house returning soldiers). And there are a lot of old people and families in Sty Town, people who generally wouldn't like fuck ups like myself and Brian. However, for the money it's hard to find nicer apartments, and after seeing the model apartment, I was interested.
For some reason, when you rent at Sty Town they take you first to see a fake apartment - one that's unoccupied but set up with furniture and stuff so that you get an idea of what your place will look like. If you dig that, you come back the next day to see the actual apartments that you would possibly rent, and you must do so with your roommate(s). Just more time-consuming crap to deal with.
And so Brian and I went back yesterday to the Sty Town leasing office to meet with our broker and an leasing office agent to see what apartments we might rent. We arrived at 5:10 for a 5:15 appointment. The office was a mad-house, filled with angry people who had been waiting for some time, and the receptionist was being extremely bitchy to everyone. At 5:45, we were informed that the wait would be "about another hour" but that the office was closing at 6pm. Using my insanely awesome powers of ratiocination, I deduced that they wait (60 minutes) was longer than their remaining hours of operation (15 minutes). When both Mike and I confronted the receptionist about this, he said that it's up to the leasing agents if they'd like to stay overtime and he could only tell them that we'd been waiting.
Eventually, after 6, Brian, Mike and I were seated with a leasing agent. After spending 2.5 hours yesterday afternoon seeing the model and filling out forms and waiting for almost an hour today, we were finally going to see some apartments that might become ours. And so it went:
Agent: "Ok, so you're interested in May 15 move-in?"
Me: "No, June 1."
Agent: "I have nothing for June 1."
This was not good. Apparently, Mike "thought" they had apartments available for June 1, when they only had apartments for May 15 or June 15 move-ins. This meant that we'd have two options: 1) not get an apartment; or 2) get an apartment starting May 15, eating two week's worth of rent to secure our place.
Mike flipped out on the agent, saying that he'd been here every day and so-and-so told him that apartments were available on June 1, etc, etc, etc. I sat in my chair building myself into a sweaty rage and Brian stooped in his chair; I don't think he knew where he was. After ten minutes of wrangling and learning that they only had May 15 and June 15, Mike turned to us in desperation.
This is what Mike said: "Guys, I would strongly suggest you sign right now for the May 15 lease. I'm sure you can swing something with your current landlord where they'll let you not pay your full month's rent for May, as you'll be spending half your time here and half your time at your old place. Also, if you move in on May 15, you can take your time and move in over two weeks and that'll be much easier. Guys, this is honestly the hottest property in Manhattan and if you don't sign tonight it will be gone tomorrow, and you'll regret it for the rest of your life, because you can't get these kinds of amenities in this location for this price anywhere else. Let's go see the place and then come back and sign."
This is what Mike meant: "Look, I didn't do very well in school. After graduating, I stumbled from job to job trying to find my way, while maintaining my two passions: riding my bike and DJ'ing. I started doing this only three months ago and haven't done so well. I live in a very small place in Brooklyn and I really, really need the commission on this rental. I've spent a good amount of time with you, chatting you up and becoming your friends, in order to make sure that you sign and I get paid. Now I need you to sign, and I know you're going to do it, because you're not that bright and I can sell anything to anyone. We'll go see the place, and on the walk there I'll talk your ear off, and eventually you'll get so sick of hearing me that you'll sign only to shut me up."
Brian and I looked at each other and said that since we were here, we'd look at the apartment, even though both of us knew there was no way we were going to pay an extra two weeks worth of rent. Mike almost started crying with happiness, because even though he had either lied or completely misinformed us about the availability of the apartment and had wasted a considerable amount of mine and Brian's time, we were still going to let him hang on.
And so one of the agents walked Mike, Brian and I to the apartment. The agent was a really cool guy named Todd, who, when informed that he'd be showing Mike and his clients an apartment, said, "Oh no - not him." While walking to the apartment, Mike whipped out his cell phone and trailed behind, trying to swing some deals. At that point Todd said, "I didn't mean anything against you guys when I said, 'Oh no' back in the office. It's just that every time this guy comes here, he's always trying to dump his clients on us or weasel his way into something. So no offense to you guys." Sweet - it had been confirmed by a third party: our broker was a scumbag.
At that point, almost on queue, things got quiet and we could hear Mike on his cell phone. I swear on my internet quasi-celebritiness that Brian and I heard:
Mike: [hyper, sleazily talking into cell phone] "Listen, I know your grandfather was important to you, but you've seen how amazing the apartment is. And so I ask you, is it that important? [a beat] I'm sorry to hear that [hangs up cell phone]."
From what I gathered, Mike had been trying to convince a client that his/her apartment signing was more important than his/her grandfather's funeral. I mean, wow.
After that is was pretty much all over. We saw the place, and when Mike jumped down our throats about heading back to the leasing office and signing, I told him that there was no way we were going to do that, especially since he had wasted so much of our time by leading us to believe that there was something available for June 1. He protested, but I said, "This is non-negotiable. Not only are we not going to pay an extra two week's rent, but you also wasted a lot of my time this week by telling me something was available when it wasn't. So no way." Like a child, Mike then turned around and stormed off in the rain, leaving Brian and I there. We laughed. Then Brian had a cigarette. And then I said something like, "My feet hurt." I don't recall exactly.
And so I got fucked and I'm back to the drawing board. I can't wait to pour over craigslist some more, making tons of phone calls to brokers, and leaving for large chunks of the work day, because that's all AWESOME. It's going to be a long month, and I don't know if I'm up for it. Are you sure you guys got nothing for me? I mean, help me out here - I'm dying. Please help. I mean, day after day of fat jokes and not one of you knows someone leaving their sweet East Village two bedroom at the end of May? If you help, I promise I'll be your best friend or never talk to you again, whichever you prefer (presumably the latter). For my wishlist, click here.
God I hate moving.