Good news for those seeking a decent apartment in NYC: They’re available, even if you’re fresh out of college with an entry-level job. At least according to realtors. I contacted someone who knows stuff—Wendy Maitland, managing director of Town Residential real estate agency—and she told me that newbies have a solid chance of getting quality homing, with three provisos: They should be willing to share, they need to “stretch the parameters of their neighborhood specifications,” and they must have some kind of workable budget. But still, there’s a chance.
“We’ve placed some people in great apartments in the Hudson Yards area where MiMA is,” Maitland tells me. “The East Village is another great option—the block on St. Marks Place between First Avenue and Tompkins Square Park is gorgeous, and it’s safe, and the park has improved tremendously. Then you have Brooklyn and Harlem as options, as well as the financial district. It’s perhaps the most overlooked area in Manhattan. With Condé Nast moving in, how can it be cooler?” Maybe if they’ll let me use the cafeteria.
Actually, I happen to have friends who live in that area, and they say it’s surprisingly accessible. “Manhattan’s very narrow there,” agrees Maitland, “so you’re never more than five blocks to a subway. And it’s super quiet at night. And if you take the time to learn a little bit about the history, you feel like you’re in the most magical, romantic place every time you walk out your door.” Just ignore all the protesters, lol.
But is the East Village really affordable? “It depends,” she says. “You could get a small, two-bedroom apartment [in a walk-up], with a kitchen you could cook in for $3,000 a month. I’m not saying the rooms are going to be the size of Texas, but I think that’s a bargain. And you have fantastic restaurants.
“But the market today in New York is many markets,” continues Maitland. “It’s extremely segmented. The best thing you can do is get to know the city neighborhood by neighborhood, which is the greatest adventure of all time.”
The same goes for buying, but I needed to turn to Gil Neary, president of DG Neary Realty Ltd., for some free insight on the old rent-versus-purchase dilemma. “The rental market in New York City is actually pretty strong,” he says. “We’re now finding that people can buy apartments, and there’s a low interest rate on the mortgage and on a monthly basis, they’d be spending less than a rental, assuming you’d be paying at a market rate, not rent stabilized.”
But again, of course, there are provisos. “The catches,” he says, “are that you have to have cash to put down on the purchase, and banks aren’t allowing you to borrow more than 80 percent of the purchase. But people think of the down payment as investing in their home. Also, if you don’t have a fairly traditional job history or paycheck, it’s not as easy to borrow money as it used to be. You need to be able to prove a regular stream of reliable income and solid credit.” But if you fit all those criteria, now is a peachy time to buy, and the lovely tax break you get on the mortgage could make it a capital “Duh” decision.
Apparently, there’s even hope for people who already own. “I feel optimistic,” Wendy Maitland tells me. “New York City is essentially high ground for real estate in terms of the country and the globe.” A Corcoran brochure recently informed me that one-bedroom co-ops depreciated even more last year, but Maitland says that was largely based on closings that had started in motion in 2010. She predicts I’ll one day break even on my place, which was sweet news. (After years of inflation, breaking even won’t feel all that triumphant, but, hey, make lemonade.)
Neary agrees that co-op and condo values will rise, partly because renting mania will drive them up. “The rental market moves faster because it’s easier to get in and out of it,” he tells me. “And typically, the sales improve when the rental prices go up because that makes sale properties more practical homes.”
To taste the other side, I talked to a few apartment seekers, one of whom corroborated the fact that the rental market is hotter than Shake Shack right now. He’s a thirtyish Health Department worker I’ll call Bruce, and he was happily living with a roommate in a West 53rd Street two-bedroom when the rent suddenly shot up 33 percent a month to $4,000.
Bruce was desperate to move and eventually found a $2,800 one-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights to share with his boyfriend. But they were strangely told that they had to put down 10 months rent in advance, plus the security. After some consideration, they were willing to do so—but they were rejected anyway!
The official reason was the boyfriend’s uneven freelance income, though he happens to have a huge trust fund. But Bruce thinks they were really done in because they’d found the apartment through a double listing, and one of the two agents preferred to try for the whole commission.
They kept looking, but realized that for anything decent, the competition was crushing. So Bruce is staying put—and to help make up for the rent hike, he just canceled his cable and has decided to bring his lunch to work.
So you all might want to ignore everything I said before. Just stay where you are and start packing a tuna sandwich!
Read more Michael Musto at La Dolce Musto