Anyone who has ever lived in New York City at least once suffers the ailment called the apartment hunting – unless you are extremely lucky, or you are the offspring of a president or a king (or you are a president or a king), so maybe I should just change my ailment name to ‘apartment hunting on a budget’ (but of course, anyone who ever lived in New York –or any big city, I suppose– also knows that ‘on a budget’ is a reaaally relative term. You can live like royals in other places with just your NY rent money. But, I digress). It’s not just the passive-aggresive roommate bullshit or the claustrophobic room sizes, it’s the actual apartment hunting process that’s the pain. After all, there is such a thing called the perfect apartment with the perfect situation (if you lower your expectations, of course) but nobody hands it to you. Actually, more often than not, you can’t even find it. Because there are a handful of perfect apartments and a buttload of apartment hunters. So even if you do find it, the competition is so fierce that the chances are you’re not gonna get it unless you move super fast and have everything ready at hand. So like most New Yorkers, I had my fair share of apartment hunting stories. It actually took me a long and windy road to get to the Ranch. So here’s my tale.
Up until I graduated from college in New York, I was more or less lucky about my accommodations. Well, mostly because I started out with a dorm and then continued with an apartment my friend had found for both us. But after a violent series of fights, I had to venture out on my own. That month, I had no place to live, no job and money that would keep me alive in New York only for a month. My parents had made it clear that if I couldn’t find a way to make money, I had to go back to Istanbul.
On the job front, I got lucky (after a fashion). On the last few days, bam! I got one! On the apartment front, though… Man. Was I unlucky. I didn’t have any credit, my SSN was brand new, I hadn’t even gotten my first paycheck yet! And by the time I figured out subletting would be my only option, the pickens were the slimmest. And I have an unfamiliar name and a Turkish background, AND IT WAS SEPTEMBER. So obviously, I couldn’t get Kristin’s apartment’s lease because A) I didn’t have any credit and B) I got no money for deposits, fees and etc.
So hello Craigslist! My eternal hell. There were 3 days until the end of the month, nobody was returning my e-mails and my brand new job was taking so much of my time and my sanity, I didn’t know what I was going to do! So came the 31st of the month. Thank god, my dear friend Selen said I could couch surf at their apartment for a few days, so I grabbed all my stuff, got a cab and rode to Astoria, New York. I thought maybe after the end of the month rush, I would get an early chance at the 15th of the month starts… Well, same thing with them! At this point, I knew there was no chance I would get my own apartment, but even the sublets were so picky! I mean, yes, my budget was low and my standards were moderate-to-high but I had learned to make sacrifices by now!
But at least, I was getting some replies now. But as I mentioned before, the turnover was too quick for a working gal like me. There was this one room in Park Slope, perfect on every aspects, the roommates were cool, and they said seeing the room at 8 PM that night would be OK, but by the time I got on the subway to Brooklyn, I got an email saying they already rented out the room. And the ads… Some said they were only interested in 20-23 year old models. Some said the rent would be $700 IF I would be OK with seeing the tenant naked every once in a while (otherwise it would be $1,700). Or even free if you sleep with them! And the rooms I got to see? They were another story. I have to mention one room especially. The ad said it was a cozy room in midtown, sharing with a musician for $800. It was 2 blocks away from where I worked! PERFECTION! Right… I went to see the apartment on my lunch break. The tenant was this British, 45-year-old washed out Rock guitarist. Weird, but OK. The apartment was really small, but OK. Everywhere there were guitars and records which made walking around really awkward, but OK. I was so desperate that I said fine, I could live there, so show me the room! He opens a door, and it’s a linen closet! I kid you not. He had put a wooden plank right in the middle, put a child’s mattress on top and was advertising it as a ‘cozy room’. And he shows me under the mattress saying ‘see, you have tons of storage space’. Naturally, I said ‘are you kidding me?’. And he said ‘look, sweetheart, if you’re looking for a place in Manhattan for $800, this is what you get. If you don’t like it, go to the boroughs or find a rich husband’. I left immediately.
I was getting more and more desperate. I put an ad on Craigslist saying ’23-yr-old professional looking for apartment under $800′ like a fucking lonely hearts ad. I got the creepiest replies, obviously. And then I saw one reply, $700 bedroom in Gramercy Park. I said what the hell. I went to see it, and again, it was a 45-year-old British guy! It was a 1 bedroom apartment, but he was in a very bad shape financially, so he was renting out his own bedroom. I said hell no, and went straight back to Selen’s.
You know how in sitcoms, you see one situation where this one character would swears they wouldn’t do something and then things would get so bad that at the end of the episode, you see that person doing it and you laugh? That was my life.
It was the 7th of October, I was feeling so bad about living at my friend and her husband’s couch, that I called that guy again. Thankfully, nobody had rented it out, so I moved in the next day. It was the first time I was staying with someone I didn’t know and he was this bald, creepy and old dude. That first night, I locked my door and put the dresser in front of the door. I was scared shitless. I woke up to the littlest sound and checked the door. Nothing happened, of course. But that doesn’t mean that month was eventless. His alarm clock, for a start, was the loudest and the most annoying thing ever, and he was the heaviest sleeper on earth. I would go nuts, screaming ‘Kaaaaaarl! Shut that fucking thing off!!!!!’ I am not a morning person. And then one night… It was the hottest October I ever experienced (which went on to become the hottest winter in New York). I came home one night, seeing the lights were off, I went giddy! I thought, yes, I can enjoy being home tonight. But my internet wasn’t working, so I went to the living room to restart the router. I did that, and when I was returning to my room, I saw Karl lying on the floor in his underwear and in a weird position. He looked dead! Seriously! I went to him, nudged him with my foot, and nothing! He wasn’t moving. I was so fucking scared. Oh, the thoughts in my head… I was an immigrant with no credit and my fingerprints were in this dead and naked stranger’s house! Why hadn’t we drawn up a contract!? Should I just clean my fingerprints, call 911 and get the fuck out of there? I kept calling his name and was starting to cry when finally he woke up. He thought I wouldn’t be home that night and he was so hot that thought that sleeping naked on the floor would be a great idea. Idiot!
And one day, my luck just turned. I got a reply from a decent apartment right on Selen’s block – the 26th Street. It was within my budget, it was a basement but that meant privacy and my own bathroom. I went to see that apartment one night and it was not bad at all! The original tenant was this Greek artist and the other roommates were this girl from Singapore (my dear Jolyn) and a German guy. Because it had a ranchy feeling and one roommate whom I would be replacing had a photo with George Bush, they had dubbed the apartment as the Ranch. He gave me wine, we talked a while and he said the room could be mine if I wanted. And did I!?
I moved in immediately and that first day, I knew I would be super happy in that apartment. I was unpacking and Jolyn called down to say they were watching Merlin (who even knows about Merlin in the States?) and they had beer. I couldn’t be happier. And in that little apartment in Astoria, I’ve met some of the best friends I had in New York. German Martin left, Italian Marco came. He left, French Valentin came. Even Selen and Kristin moved in for short terms. There was always a circulation of people from different backgrounds but always super cool people. That apartment made my job a little more bearable. Oh, I miss it so much!
So friends, if you ask me any recommendations for apartment hunting on a budget in New York, well, be prepared for anything, attack everything and move fast! Don’t lose hope. Even if you need to move a lot, you’ll sure find your perfect apartment at one point.