Although we’re only writing about it now, we moved out of our old apartment back in March. The reasoning for the delay wasn’t particularly cryptic, we simply hadn’t thought to include it as a post. We were happy with our apartment near the East River — unfortunately, that meant that other people would be as well, so the new owners of the building decided to convert it into condominiums. We were given right of first refusal (as required by New York law), which means that we were allowed to buy the apartment if we wanted it and continue living there as owners rather than renters. Even though the price was in line with the New York market, it was still way more than we would be willing to pay for a two-bedroom apartment no matter where it was located. Continuing to rent wasn’t an option either. While we were legally entitled to continue living there for at least three years, the new owners decided to forgo the tax benefits of rent stabilization, which meant that our rent would go up significantly when we renewed our lease. It was very clear that they either wanted the renters to buy their apartments or leave.
This actually worked to our advantage. Because the apartments needed to be renovated before they were sold, our managers were willing to let us out of our lease early with no penalties and a good reference. This meant that we had the luxury of time when it came to looking for a new place. So we began our search in August in a relaxed manner, and started looking more seriously after the Christmas holidays.
We learned some interesting things about the market for apartments in Williamsburg during that time. First we discovered there is actually a renting “season” that happens during the summer months. Many landlords try to set up their leases so that they expire during this time, as it’s when people move to the city (let’s face it, people don’t move to New York in the dead of Winter if they can avoid it). As a result, there are a lot more options available. The prices are also a lot higher, and NOT subject to negotiation. As summer changed to Fall and Winter, prices started going down and landlords were more willing to entertain lower offers. On the other hand, there were a lot fewer apartments available.
We also learned why so many apartments offer one month of rent for free. It has to do with applying for a commercial property loan. Higher rents on the books indicates better cash flows, which makes it more likely that a loan will be approved under better terms for the borrower. However, to get people to sign these higher cost leases, they have to be enticed through offers such as no broker fees, or free rent for a month. There were even several buildings in the neighborhood that offered two free months of rent. That being said, this wasn’t a good deal for us. Even if we could justify it by saving the month’s free rent and splitting it among the remaining months, that “benefit” would vanish after a year and we would be forced to move again. We tried to stay away from these deals whenever possible, but it wasn’t always easy. In many cases the rent listed in an advertisement was the “net” rent with the free month calculated into it. Often, we didn’t learn about this until actually meeting with the broker.
We ran into several places we really liked. The first was on the top floor of a building nearby, but it was too expensive and the landlord wouldn’t consider lowering the rent because we found it during the busy season. In hindsight, we’re glad that we didn’t rent the place. We began noticing that there was a lot of turnover in the building, with some apartments becoming available less than six months after they’d been rented before. In a place like New York, where moving is a huge hassle, that is not a good sign.
The second place we found was perfect. It was huge (around 1,300 square feet — a mansion by New York standards), and it had all the things Maria wanted: a nice dining area, a living room, and a large balcony (it really had two large balconies, one in the front and one in the back). The landlord was also the building’s owner and was more interested in having stable, reliable tenants than making a lot of money. We got along really well, and he even spoke to Maria’s father about the possibility of construction in Brooklyn. Unfortunately the apartment was on the third floor and had no elevators, making it impossible for our parents to visit comfortably, or to manage with baby equipment. We had to say no, but we found a new friend with the owner Aaron, who is a really interesting person.
The third place we found didn’t have a balcony, and the second room was only seven feet wide, but it was cheaper, really close to the pier, and the living room was huge. We liked it a lot, but unfortunately we spent too much time debating over the tiny second room. Although it would have been perfect for an office, trouble would have come the first time we had Maria’s mother visit. By the time we’d decided we could deal with the smaller room, the apartment had already been rented.
However, an apartment we’d looked at in December had stayed on the market into February. We had liked it, but we didn’t want to pay a broker fee if we didn’t have to. We’d looked at it once before, so we thought we’d take another look. It was at that time that we discovered that the owner had decided to pay the broker fee. David met him a while later, a nice Australian man who worked for Google and had the opportunity to move back to his home country with his wife and child while maintaining his career. It had been a while since we’d rented directly from apartment owners, and we liked the idea.
There are a lot of nice things about our new place. The layout is great, and there is an elevator, which is important. Even though we’re on the first floor, it will be essential for when David’s stepmother visits (she has ALS). More importantly, there’s a backyard — a luxury that is almost nonexistent in the city. Now that it’s warming up, we’re just beginning to use it.
There are some drawbacks as well when compared to the other place. There’s not a gym, but that isn’t a problem. The city rec center is a block away, and for a hundred dollars, you get access to state-of-the-art equipment that includes a swimming pool for a year. It’s also a little smaller, but all our furniture fits, and the backyard more than compensates for this. It’s also much farther from the ferry, but this isn’t much of an issue either, as we have bicycles, and is very close to several subway lines. We were concerned about having to care for the plants in the backyard, but it seems that watering and occasional pruning are all they need — plus, we’re looking forward to spending time outdoors while still in our own place.
Our experience moving was… wonderful. In the past, our moving experiences have been nightmares. This was due to the fact that our previous five moves were all international, and therefore required a lot of work. This time, we only had to move eight blocks. We moved a lot of things ourselves to make it easier, and hired a company for the big stuff. The movers made things much easier, and managed to get all of our stuff into the new place within the space of about three hours.
Since living here, we’ve also discovered a lot of neat things about the apartment that make us like it even more. First, the beasts love the place. They’re constantly chasing each other and playing, and they’re particularly attached to the backyard. The owners had cats, and they “cat-proofed” the fence to prevent escapes. As a result, Luna is able to enjoy the outdoors for the first time since she was a street kitten in Panama. Now, whenever she sees a bird or squirrel in the window, she runs to the back door and begs us to let her out. She is also enjoying her window hammock again, which she used to lay in while observing the mango trees in Panama.
It also turns out that it’s close to a lot of cool stuff. The rest of Brooklyn is much more accessible because of our new proximity to the G train, and we’ve begun exploring East Williamsburg and Greenpoint. We’re really settling in well into our new neighborhood, and enjoying a great change of scenery.