Moving on Up?
Successful Apartment Hunting Takes More Than a Harvard Degree
Four years at Harvard could not prepare me for the grueling experience of apartment hunting in New York City. Graduating from dormitory and dining hall food status to become a Young Urban Professional, I was amazed at how life after college could change so drastically and immediately. From one month's pay check to the next, I would have to keep track of bills, rent, food and clothes. I would work and earn money to survive, and worry about things like savings and IRAs. I would be truly independent. I felt so mature, so grown up.
Reality set in after my first visit to a real estate broker. The Manhattan real estate broker might be considered the lowest from of the many creatures that inhabit New York City. He or she will trick you, pressure you, lie to you and take your money. Once you've paid him everything you can, he'll lure you into his clutches and demand more. But you have nothing more to go on than his word, because he has a monopoly on the housing information in New York City. In fact, it's close to impossible to find an apartment without him.
My roommates and I had such high hopes about apartment hunting in New York. We would find a convertible four-bed-room loft in SoHo with a concierge for a reasonable price. Being from New York, I knew a little bit more about how difficult and expensive finding an apartment really was, but I was not prepared for the laughs and scoffs from different brokers who told us it would be impossible to find such a place, or any place for four people.
And I felt even more naive and helpless when they told me that we would need a parental guarantor for our apartment because landlords do not like shares. Although I thought I was truly independent, making a decent salary, the broker wanted me to run back to mommy and daddy for help. Initially I took the brokers' words at face value. I called my father immediately, thinking he'd be happy to sign a piece of paper making him ultimately responsible for our rent. But he was not so willing, advising me to be more firm with the broker and not to agree to his every request. Perhaps the broker was not being entirely honest. Perhaps there was room for negotiation.
And perhaps, I was not as smart or as independent as I thought I was by trusting him completely with my money. The smarts one needs in dealing with real estate brokers are so different from those we've gathered in college. At Harvard, I have learned not to make a claim or decision without supporting it with evidence. The academic process is careful and meticulous. We search and search for complete information on a subject and never make a decision on the fly. When we do not have full information, we argue that perhaps we cannot draw a conclusion. As an economics concentrator I have read many authors who argue, "We cannot conclude anything because we do not have enough information."
In the apartment search, we did not have the luxury of concluding in such a manner. My roommates and I were told that if we didn't put money down on an apartment we liked today, it would be gone. Four other people were lined up to take it, the clock was ticking fast. "You are not going to find another one like this for the money. If you like it, you should take it now," the broker said. We were told we could not say, "Wait, we need more information!"
Of course, the broker could be exaggerating, lying even. But we had seen other apartments in the past couple of days. One that I had liked, that we decided to keep in mind, was snatched up in 15 minutes. On the other hand, the rest were not that great. We could wait. Perhaps a great apartment would become available. But, then we would have to go through the whole process of scurrying around Manhattan, gathering money and most likely not finding a place that would be as wonderful as the apartment we saw that day. From our limited experience, we decided we should take the apartment. We made the decision in 15 minutes.
I love my new apartment, but I will never know if another one just like it, for a better price, would have come up in the next week or month. But once we had made the decision, we could not go back and could not regret. It was done. And we were learning how to deal with brokers who break their promises and keep asking for more money. Stand strong, but play on their sympathy and fear. "We just won't be able to take it with a 15 percent commission, but we do really want this apartment," I told the broker and gave a heartfelt sigh. And surprisingly, the fixed commission rate was negotiable.
Sandra Favelukes '98 of Eliot House was director of advertising of The Crimson in 1997.