NY Stories

Welcome back to another edition of “NY Stories,” which is a recurring feature about successes (and failures) at the hands of New York City real estate. 

My situation:

I grew up in Southern California, but moved to New York on a whim in 2009 and have not looked back. In my first nine months in the city, I stayed in a hostel bunk bed, a rented room in Harlem, and then an illegal sublet in Brooklyn. Shortly after I met my (now) husband in early 2011, he and I crammed into my 200 sq ft sublet for a while, but soon after, we decided to upgrade.

What came next:

The priorities for our new apartment were simple: 1 bedroom, walking distance to the subway, a real grocery store, at least a few places to eat nearby, and within 45 minutes to our jobs in SoHo and Midtown. We were comfortable with Brooklyn, Queens or Manhattan, as long as we stayed within our rental budget of $2,200 to $2,400.

To get a feel for various parts of the city, we visited friends for dinner and went on walking tours of their neighborhoods. We went everywhere — from Fort Tryon Park in Inwood, to food markets in Brooklyn, to a community fair in Queens — looking for the right neighborhood match. Ultimately, we decided Sunnyside, Queens was the right fit for us. We had two sets of friends there and Sunnyside provided plenty of options for dining and groceries, many apartments at the lower end of our price range, and it was only a few stops away from Manhattan on the 7 train.

The funny thing was after spending so much time researching neighborhoods and honing in on Sunnyside, when it came time to start seeing apartments, it all went out the window.

While browsing million dollar listings on New Year’s Eve, we asked each other:

If money were no object, where would we want to live?

When we both answered “Upper West Side,” we modified our search area and were surprised to find listings available in the West 70’s and 80’s in our price range. The next day was a holiday, but on a whim, we contacted several random agents to see if anyone was interested in showing us apartments on the Upper West Side. It was no surprise that of the seven or eight agents we reached out to, only one was willing to show apartments on New Year’s Day.

On January 1st, we met up with an agent who was so junior she looked like she was still in high school, but eager enough to show apartments on a holiday. Within three hours of looking at apartments as far south as 66th St and as far north as 122nd, we found our next home.

An open floor plan one bedroom on 93rd St overlooking Central Park, it far exceeded our expectations. We ended up paying $2,800 – $400 over budget – and paid a broker’s fee of one month’s rent – but for the view, amazing kitchen and great subway access, it was worth it.

View from Robert's UWS apartment
View of the Eldorado from our apartment.

The outcome:

We’ve been in this apartment for four years and still love it. It’s an old Mitchell-Lama building, so the original renters are all middle-income rent-control tenants. The diversity in race, age, and background in our building make for a dynamic and vibrant place to live.

UWS kitchen
Our kitchen
UWS aparttment
View into living room

What I learned:

One of the biggest lessons from our search was not to write off neighborhoods (or entire boroughs, for that matter) without doing some kind of research. We assumed Upper West Side apartments were too far out of price range and so, we were looking almost exclusively in outer boroughs. It wasn’t until we switched into “dream home search” mode that we realized Upper West Side offered apartments in our price range.

We also are perfect examples of the “early bird getting the worm.” Our broker got $2,800 for half a day’s work – simply because she was fast to respond and was willing to show listings on a holiday.

Do you have a story you want to share? “NY Stories” is a regular series on StreetEasy Blog, featuring stories about successes (and failures) at the hands of New York City real estate. Send your story to nystories@streeteasy.com so we all can learn a little from each other. Photos are a BIG plus!