how to find an apartment in new york city...

step 1: give up

ha!! joking! (sort of joking, but not really.)

there is literally no way to describe apartment hunting in new york city. i'm not even sure why i'm writing about it, other than because i googled "how to find an apartment in nyc" about 1,000 times, and nothing seemed helpful, so i feel like it's my duty to share that there's no data because the whole experience is so painfully overwhelming, people choose to shove it in the past and never speak of it again. (ahhhh-bviously i'm an expert now;) also, this story is so crazy, how can i not document what happened? 

you'd think in a city with almost 9 million people there would be apartments spilling out. windows! apartments! AND DON'T GET ME STARTED ON THE FIRE ESCAPES AND BROWNSTONES!! they're everywhere!!! there should be lots of options, and they should be cheap. alas, a "2 bedroom" could likely just two literal rooms- none of those being actual bedrooms. closets are optional. as are windows. and kitchens. sometimes kitchens and bathrooms are in the same space... with a drain in the floor. it's the craziest thing you've ever seen.

(photos in this post are some from the 20 apartments we looked at.)

^^ bars! so many bars everywhere! (both the metal and alchoholic kinds.) 

also, this is a room with a window into... nothing.
step 2: tread lightly with online postings

apartment-hunting online is basically smoke and mirrors. there's some good stuff, but most apartment photos aren't actually that apartment. you can tell when they are- it's not pretty. i guess photos aren't that big of a deal when most only stay on the market a couple of days? also, how can you really take good pictures of a mini apartment when you can't really even squeeze in the place? the worst part to me are the windows (which never have screens)- a lot of the time they don't even face a street- they just face a closed up alley!! THE HORROR! it's almost tragic to give up so much and then to only see a closed-up alley! (we saw an apartment that had the electricity turned off, and we needed our phone flashlights just to manage a walk around the place! there was ZERO natural light.)

also, "upper west side" at a great price could mean harlem (that's a whole lot of liberty on the "upper" portion). 

maaaany brokers are shady, mean, and gruff. broker fees are incredibly hard to avoid, and they're insanely expensive (generally 15% on top of of your annual rent). all that being said, rent is insane. we had a budget, then a goal, and finally we just jumped off a cliff with a wing and a prayer. it's the rule of thumb you can't even SEE an apartment without proving you make 40x the annual rent (i.e.: $2000/month apartment requires you to make $80,000 annually). the trick is for a family of 4, there are NO apartments for $2000 a month in manhattan (maybe a studio?). also, you need a broker to show you apartments, and many are terrible. TERRIBLE! i tried and never could find broker-less apartments. (side note: there are "no fee" apartments, but they were more expensive from what we found monthly, and the lease terms were shaky, so we were hesitant.)
step 3: be realistic in your expectations

we went into this "searching for a nyc apartment" thing with eyes wide open, and assuming we'd have to be flexible and accommodating, so basically, nothing surprised me. this is how our wish list looked:


upper west side below 90th
1-2 bedroom (ideally 700 sq. ft.)
natural light
white walls
hardwood floors


a/c unit
high ceilings
black window frames (i have no idea why, but i love black frames against white walls- it's my thing)
near the subway
our couch could fit into the building AND up into our apartment
street view (opposed to this...)
 ^^ in our same building. we almost got this apartment because it was so much cheaper. but you can kind of see why it was cheaper? not exactly the view you dream of from your only windows, plus only 1 bedroom? we just couldn't do it.

also... this is a legit bedroom- i was all the way in the corner, so this is the room in all it's glory:

so now to the story!!

on the saturday before st. patrick's day we got in the car at 6am and made it into the city just in time to grab a bagel, walk to a few appointments (which we were stood up for thanks to some ever-dependable brokers), and then we played in central park while we waited for more appointments. we also threw in a visit to momfuku milk bar for cookies because... well... duh. 

we looked at apartments on the upper west side, upper east side, and in hell's kitchen over the course of 5 hours. we saw 9 apartments, with a broker who was super helpful (we did find a couple great brokers- thank heavens!!!).

6 of the 9 apartments were 5th floor walk-ups;
1 was a 4th floor walk-up;
1 was on the 1st floor (but then you have bars on all the windows! ground level apartments are worse than those with stairs);
the highest we saw was a 6th floor walk-up, and let me tell you: WOW. i'm not sure if it's harder going up or going down. up you climb with fiery quads. down you get dizzy with shaky quads. it's a toss up. 
walk-ups have old, windy, crooked stairs that are, at times, a literal ladder. i have NO idea how people manage laundry (finding laundry IN a unit on the UWS is like finding a purple unicorn), let alone protect children from plummeting to their death. there are certain precautions, i.e., carpeted stairs and landings which i assume minimize head trauma. just an assumption though. i do love walk-ups though. there's something awesome about the fact that you never know what you're going to get.

we survived the day-long trek around manhattan, grabbed bagels around dinnertime (yes, again- this time with turkey instead of cream cheese), and in our attempt to dash back uptown to our car before our parking expired, we took the express subway instead of the local, and ended up exiting in a foreign location, next to a puking girl on 125th, in the dark, completely exhausted. we jumped in a cab (should've just done that in the first place), made it back to our car, and headed home. the kids promptly zonked out, and mike and i made it home before midnight, babbling tiredly things like, "this is stupid. what are we doing?!" over and over and over again.


we found the perfect apartment!!!!

the other 8 paled in comparison to the all-white railroad style 1-bedroom we fell in love with. it was gorgeous! and the ceilings were a million feet high! and it was on the perfect block! it hit all the boxes on our important list, and a few others, too!! and it was "over budget," but just a little.

as it turns out, an offer came in before ours, and due to our weird "situation," we never stood a chance competing. we waited a few days hoping something would fall through on the first offer, but our wait was in vain. amsterdam (as i called it) was the second home we lost out on (the first is another story for another day), and i was crushed. 

we decided to take a break from house-hunting, but that only lasted about a day before we randomly saw another place or two online that warranted a trip to the city. since i was on spring break (st. patty's day!), i jumped on an early-morning bus by myself and headed back into the city. i spent 2 hours that afternoon with another broker who showed me 5 amazing apartments, and then i stopped for some banana pudding, my first acai bowl (WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE!?), grabbed a taxi, then jumped back on a bus back into dc. there are only so many trips you can take to nyc to look at apartments, so we knew if we wanted any of the ones i saw, we would have to jump on them that same day (mind you, this is all still the SAAAMEDAY). 

i ranked the 5 apartments i had seen, and i sent the list to the broker from the bus.

step 4: brace yourself for rejection

my #1 apartment i sent him from the day was dreamy. i called it the penthouse. it was over "budget" (budget was now just a random number with NO actual rationale), but it had a private roof deck! it was literally epic. i told mike it was the one!!! buuut someone else beat us to an offer on this one, too. so it became #3 on our list of, "too bad, so sad, you aren't built for this house-hunting thing."

oh, the pain of rejection!!!!

it was like dating all over again! (ack, i hated dating.)

we thought hard for the remaining hours of that day and put an offer in on our #2 (which was really, like, #5 if you take the others before it into consideration). and then we waited. the longer we waited the more time we had to analyze the stupidity of our decision. i mean, i felt ok with the decision- it was a cool space. and the best option. DEFINITELY the biggest (900 square feet? 11 foot ceilings!? i mean, it wasn't amsterdam, or the first place we didn't get, but i'm trying not to be bitter...) it was super quirky, and the only 2-bedroom i saw the whole day! plus it had a loft bed, making it almost like a 2.5 bedroom! it was cool. we called it the loft apartment. it was also across the street from trader joe's and gray's papaya- the location was an a++ but i still felt a little shaky. maybe it was just nerves? either way, i was mentally and emotionally dunzo.

step 5: show me the money!

we heard back pretty fast that the loft apartment was ours! we paid our deposit, and spent the next 3 days emailing back and forth with our broker, answering question about ourselves and our finances (i.e.: "are you out of your mind? you can't afford this you dummy!" only in nicer-ish words). (i also got a call that "i" left "my" flash drive with "extremely sensitive information" at a fedex in the city... which i clearly didn't... so that was fun. #pleasedontstealmyidentity)

finally we heard back that we would get the lease to sign that monday... about the same time i started this long-winded post. 

as i typed this post, the lease came through. it was a PDF flipped sideways, so as i read with my head tipped... 

'wait- that's not the monthly price we agreed on! that's not right!' i scrolled further down....... 
'that's not the address either!' 

it was a lease, but it was the wrong one. 
i called our broker to tell him they sent us the wrong paperwork. as i looked at the address i realized... it was for the penthouse apartment!!! (are you following? :) the penthouse?? we never even applied to the penthouse! plus we weren't first in line, and our broker assured us we wouldn't qualify. well, apparently he applied for us but say anything because he thought we had a whopping 0% chance of getting it... that is, until he broke the news: "congratulations! now you have TWO apartments in new york city!"

at which point, i collapsed into my seat and smacked my head on my desk.


........i know!!!!.......

our broker said we would lose our deposit on the loft apartment if we went with the penthouse, but we had to make the call between the two. and fast. the loft apartment made the most sense, but we never would get the chance to have an apartment like the penthouse again, and at this point, let's go big or go home (and by big, i really mean small in everything but price). so we picked the penthouse. what's a little more stupidity at this point?

the next morning we found out the loft apartment wanted an additional 4 months security (in addition to the 1st months rent, another months rent for a deposit, and the broker's fee... so basically like a million dollars). we told them it was too much of a stretch and we needed to back out. 
would you believe it- we would have walked away from the loft apartment anyway!?!

here is the loft apartment in all it's 11'-ceiling-glory!

step 6: just do it- and do it now!!

it's crazy that we moved forward with the loft apartment, but that, too, was another "wrong road." somehow, we ended up with the insanely amazing (1 bedroom!!) penthouse apartment, no questions asked. i have no idea how it happened. i also have no idea how we'll ever afford this apartment, but i'm trying not to think about that right now and just trust in the process and path we've been on (also: MIKE. JOB. ASAP! SEND HELP!;) 
it's been been intense and exhausting. it's been disappointing and exhilarating. it's been overwhelming and terrifying... but it feels right. righter than anything else i've ever felt.

we firmed everything up with the penthouse apartment and got our keys last weekend- it was even more than we feared we'd spend in that freaking city, but the silver lining is the broker fee was only 1 months rent! that helps! sort of? they didn't ask for massive security either, which also saved our butts.
also, we found out later that the loft apartment broker agreed to give us our deposit back!!! thank our lucky stars!!

this whole process is NOT for the faint of heart. then again, i think most people are much more level-headed going into this, and most likely don't do it with kids in-tow? our new place is small- and i knew it would be- but it's right in the area we wanted to be in. 
i think it's also super important to note that you can't look in advance- it's insanely hard. when you find something- GET IT. we're not gun-shy people (clearly), and we still missed out for being "too slow." we weren't having much luck with the steps we were taking, so we picked a new path to trod. and here we are! trotting along. (does trod turn to trotting? d to t, really? i'm totally misusing those words but after this 46,000 word post, i'm too lazy to google the accurate description now.) 

we took the biggest leap of faith in our lives, and it may be the biggest "mistake" of our lives. i didn't have a fraction as much stress getting married as i have throughout this house-hunting in nyc process, but it's part of our nyc adventure. (and taytay assures me it's been waiting for me;) so that's the story of how we landed an apartment, easy-peasy, and how one should go into this with your preferred vice (banana pudding rounds helped me), a big ol' box of kleenex, and a sturdy shoulder to weep on. bam. you're welcome.

note: photos of our actual, real-life (penthouse) apartment are forthcoming.


  1. Oh my goodness. I feel like I have so much to say.
    First.... the picture with the lovely blue chandelier, freaks me out a little bit.
    I can not WAIT to see pictures of the "penthouse." The loft also looks lovely!

    Most of the pictures you posted just makes me laugh thinking of Rachel and Monica's apartment on Friends. Even Joey and Chandler's apartment is super nice compared to some of the pictures you took!!!! Friends is more fake to me now, than it's ever been.

    Oh Amanda, I just want to come visit you so you can tell me about everything you've learned. This is all so fascinating! I'm super jealous in a way, that you get to experience this! Prayers for Mike that he'll find something soon!

    Okay, enough of my rambling. This could turn into a novel. Love you! :)

    P.s. If me and Brett decide to take a vacation to NYC, we should do a babysitting swap so we can go see a show, Jimmy Fallon, or something. :) :) :) And that way you and Mike can have a date night!

  2. My head is spinning for you guys--crossing fingers that "THE" job falls from Heaven for Mike, and that your move is a smooth transition. What experiences though, seriously incredible!


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