WHEN Jason Zaler lived in Boston, attending Northeastern University, and in Washington, working as a lobbyist, he said, he “had my fill of dumpy apartments.”
Later, while earning his M.B.A. at the University of California, Irvine, he lived four doors from the beach. When the garage door was opening or closing just beneath his apartment, “I felt it through the apartment,” Mr. Zaler said.
So when he landed a job as a management consultant in New York after graduating last spring, his aim was to find a nice place, which meant recent construction and a doorman building. He knew that plenty of New York apartments were less than ideal — “fifth-floor walk-ups that haven’t been renovated since the Eisenhower administration.”
“I wanted to live somewhere I would be proud of when I walked in the door, knowing I worked hard to earn it,” he said.
Mr. Zaler, 26, did his research. He decided that if he rented a condominium from an owner, he would almost certainly get a nicer apartment at a lower price than if he stuck to ordinary rental buildings. Such a place would very likely come without a broker’s fee, too. His maximum price was $2,200 a month.
So he hunted mostly in the rental section of Streeteasy.com to find condos, then checked for commentary about the building on curbed.com. If a place seemed reasonable, he contacted the owner or manager directly.
Mr. Zaler, who is from Arizona, flew to New York last spring for a few days of intensive pavement-pounding. He found a studio at 1 Carnegie Hill on East 96th Street for $2,100 a month. The building’s lap pool was a bonus.
But when he returned to California, he was informed that the owner had decided to let a relative stay there instead.
The news was annoying but not surprising, Mr. Zaler said. “It seems like everyone has a nightmare New York real estate experience, and this was par for the course.”
Again he flew to New York. This time, he focused on two different neighborhoods, the financial district and Harlem.
The financial district was conveniently situated, with good prices. The housing stock was newly converted, and buildings were filled with amenities.
Harlem, also well priced, “fit the bill for diversity, a burgeoning restaurant and nightlife scene, and express trains to Midtown,” he said.
He thought he had a deal for a one-bedroom at the Morellino on West 118th Street, but negotiations went nowhere. The owner wouldn’t go below $2,300, and Mr. Zaler wouldn’t go above $2,200. “That’s a principle thing,” he said. “I am a fantastic tenant.” With similar units renting for less than his offer, he didn’t think he was being unreasonable, he said.
On Streeteasy he found a listing for a 500-square-foot alcove studio at a building on South William Street, renting for $2,300. He negotiated the price to $2,250.
“I did go above my budget by $50 because I was desperate to find a place before my flight took off” later that afternoon, he said.
The unit was on the market for sale. He would be given a day’s warning if any prospective buyers wanted to see it, which was fine with him.
But “after I furnished it and made it look fantastic,” he said, “the first person to see it wanted to buy the unit and wanted their son to occupy it immediately.” The buyers paid $495,000, and Mr. Zaler negotiated a buyout for himself, to cover the hardship of moving and a few months’ rent.
Now he had two weeks to move. This time he decided he would rather live in a one-bedroom uptown than another studio downtown. “I had the chance for a do-over, a mulligan,” he said. “It was about value for money.”
He scoured Harlem, but nothing quite fit. He was tempted by the Sloane, a small condo building on 119th Street near Second Avenue, for the bargain price of $1,850, but it was inconveniently far east.
Then he found a Streeteasy listing in a condo building on West 116th Street. He loved the quirky construction, with the building cantilevered over the mosque next door. The 630-square-foot one-bedroom had a washer-dryer and even a linen closet. “I thought, this is too good to be true and I better move on this fast,” he said.
When he walked into this one, the 39th of all the apartments he had seen, “I knew it was where I had to be,” he said.
The rent was $2,350. But Mr. Zaler figured he could bargain, assuming that condo owners were more concerned with finding a trustworthy tenant than with getting top dollar.
He offered $2,150, emphasizing his reliability. “I will take care of it like it’s my baby,” he said. He was told that a couple was interested but their credit wasn’t as good as his.
He had a deal. Last fall he signed a one-year lease, and he was able to move in right away. The experience was nerve-wracking, he said, but added: “I have a totally irrational faith that things will work out if I’ve worked hard enough. I did it twice. I pulled two needles out of a haystack, but it takes a lot of work and focus and obsession with knowing what you want and not compromising.”
He is always happy to be home, he said. So many city apartments “make you want to come home from work, drop your stuff off and spend as little time as possible there,” he said. He finds himself “going out at least one night less per week.”
His view of Harlem rooftops is so open and sunny that he added blackout curtains so he can sleep in on weekends. The curtains block the light and muffle the noise from the bus stop across the street. He was concerned that there would be long wait times for the building’s one elevator, but that hasn’t been a problem.
In Harlem, which he is having fun exploring, “you see it all — young and old, black, white, Latino and Asian, and everyone is friendly, warm and genuine,” he said. “There is a sense of camaraderie and fellowship among the people in the neighborhood.”
When his friends visit, the typical response is: ‘I can’t believe this is your place and you’re paying what you do. How did you find it?’”
"Just luck," Mr. Zaler said with a wink and a twinkle in his eye, "Just luck, baby."
It's NYC. It *IS* that expensive, and that competitive.
It's ferociously competitive for rentals now in Chicago, and the rent for a new build condo 1BR xlose to the city wouldn't be so different in Chicago.
He has a hard life. Is there some sort of foundation for him we can donate to?
In fact they should just turn his tale into a movie. It's really a story of the human condition everyone can relate to.
Another of the NYT's pointless local life features:
Man Is Prepared To Spend $25800 a Year on Small Apartment, But Says "Absolutely Not" to $26400, Seeks "Diversity" and Mosque View. Ain't NYC Grand?
What's amazing to me is that he got his MBA from UC-Irvine and was somehow able to get a management consulting job in NYC.
How ironclad is a lease with a condo owner?
I realize NYC is a world-class city, perhaps even "the best" in the world, but you can OWN a MANSION in some pretty nice smaller cities all across this land. I just couldn't justify throwing that amount of money away, essentially.
[quote]How ironclad is a lease with a condo owner?
It depends. If it's the developer he probably has the right to sell the apartment and evict you. Most private owner's don't put that in the lease, but they can refuse to renew and put you on month-to-moth status.
Anyone can get a dream apartment in Jersey for $2150. a month!
The real problem, R8, is that you actually have to be in "pretty nice smaller cities all across the land."
[quote] "Just luck," Mr. Zaler said with a wink and a twinkle in his eye, "Just luck, baby."
If it's in Jersey, it's not a dream apartment for most newcomers. However, I have a 3-bedroom loft in Jersey City that suits me fine. I've done the Manhattan thing.
What a douchebag.
So much money to live somewhere like 116th or 118th? I'm in Brooklyn, closer to Chelsea than this guy and I pay $1300 for a big one bedroom.
Some people want to live in a city, some in the "pretty nice smaller city." NYC is expensive, but it's also going to be the highest paying city for most business/finance.
You can live in, say, Lincoln, NB or Toledo, OH and pay $400 for the same space, but your salary will be a third of what it is in NYC.
It's all what you want and what your priorities are. I live in the city mainly because I want diversity, I hate the suburbs and I want to live somewhere where it's not deeply evangelical/antigay. Your mileage - and priorities - may vary.
Jason's where he needs to be for his field to make the big bucks.
What parts of Jersey City do you recommend, R13?
True r11, as I said.
But my world does not revolve around New York City, obviously.
What part of Brooklyn are you in, R15?
Depends what you are looking for, r17. Along the waterfront there are many newer apartment towers that charge high rents. The nicer parts of downtown are in my opinion the brownstone neighborhoods around Van Vorst and Hamilton parks. Van Vorst is closer to the Grove St. PATH station which is the heart of downtown. Newport is a self-contained (and transient and sterile) neighborhood that is very convenient because it is built over the Pavonia PATH station. There is a large shopping mall between Hamilton Park and the Pavonia PATH which HP residents pretty much have to walk through, though you can also walk to Grove St.
Less expensive options are the area around the Journal Square PATH and the Heights above Hoboken, the West Side and Bergen-Lafayette. Stay away from Greenville. It's still pretty dangerous.
What kills me is not the rent...it's the "too far east" comment.
Manhattan isn't that freakin wide for anything to be "too far" east or west - there are subway lines on both sides that meet a a variety of hubs throughout the borough.
We own a massive 6 br/4bth Victorian - 3 car garage - 200ft driveway on 1/2 acre with only a 250K mort. for 1800/mo - the house is worth about 1.2M - it boggles my mind now to think of paying rent that high - however looking back my first apartment in Boston was a 2 b/r - luxurious at that time (1987) and was $975 which was a fortune and easily 3X my parent's mortgage payment. I left a small apartment in Providence for $150/mo and that included heat and I think like this guy I had landed my first real job making a high salary and wanted to live in the city - I guess it's all relative.
That's about $72.00 a day.
"I hate the suburbs and I want to live somewhere where it's not deeply evangelical/antigay..."
You have to get along with all kinds of people in the real world.
He's much too ugly to get away with using phrases like, "Just luck, baby!"
No. I'm moving into a beautiful 3/2 house near the yacht club for $1500.00. Waterview, two story deck, vaulted ceilings and gorgeous hardwood floors. Can't wait to sit on my deck with a glass of chilled white looking at the sunset.
What the hell does at 26-year old have to "consult" about?
Don't you have to have worked in a profession for a few decades before you can "consult" others about that profession?
R27, I was a management consultant at the age of 26. The job isn't as glamorous as it might sound...I doubt he makes more than $60,000.
I've never understood what consultants do. A firm hires you just to give your opinion? At 26?
Consultants are usually paid to produce "expert" and "disinterested" justifications for the things that management already knows it wants to do, but doesn't quite have the time, power or the stomach to do without back-up.
Senior consultants are salesman. Junior consultants are the grunts. Their job is often recycling advice previously given to other clients by changing the details of the analysis. That way the senior consultant can claim that the analysis was the product of the best minds focused like a laser beam of the client's unique issues and justify a very hefty bill.
Sometimes, if the company management isn't too bright, the consultants can bring them new ideas that the company never would have thought of on their own, but usually they are just providing cover for management to make a drastic change.
Thanks, R20. I'd be looking for safe and relatively cheap.
I did not find this shocking. New York is very expensive. My friends who live in the suburbs can't fathom why I live in a 500 square foot place downtown in my city. Yes, it cost the same as a big house in the boonies but I love being so close to work and being a part of life of the city.
But my city is no New York. Nor is my budget. So I live here.
I pay $2150 for a one bedroom in a luxury building on Third Ave in Yorkville/Carnegie Hill. Concierge, doormen, outdoor space, 750 sq ft, subway 4 blocks away, 24 hour shops across the street. Super safe neighborhood.
I'm renting from the owner. The apartment isn't luxurious but it's clean, sunny, quiet, lots of closet space. I don't live there fulltime, and recently I've only used it as a base when I visit. I usually only go in on weekends. We decided to share it with friends, so now we pay $1150 and they pay $1,000.
It's cheaper than bulk hotel rates.
[quote] What's amazing to me is that he got his MBA from UC-Irvine and was somehow able to get a management consulting job in NYC.
I was just talking to my partner about this. We know a lot of people who have kids who just graduated from college and all of the ones who moved to NYC got fabulous jobs. A girl who graduated from an arts college in CA is now in advertising, her brother is now in finance less than one year after graduating American U, another girl walked into a job at Goldman Sachs, a kid from some liberal arts college in NC is working for the NY Mets as a writer and a girl who lived down the hall walked right into a teaching job at a prep school (which happens to pay very well -- some prep schoold don't).
My cousin's kid worked in NYC as an intern and has a radio show in Philly now.
I just don't get it. None of these kids is extraordinary in any way. They're nice enough and of average intelligence. I know much smarter people with great personalities who were never even able to get into a field they really loved back in the day.
None of these kids had an inside relative or friend where they got their jobs.
They all live in Brooklyn (except for the kid in Philly), eat organic foods, drink designer coffees and sparkling mineral water, have iPads and everything else.
I worked while putting myself through school and couldn't afford a newspaper after I paid my rent.
Times Have Changed
R21, Manhattan's not that wide, but far eastside commuting is a real bitch.
These articles about apartment or housing hunts are appalling to anyone who lives outside of the NYC "bubble" -- you can buy an entire house, for what this young man pays in cash each year, in many parts of the US.
This is about extraordinarily privileged people (mostly white, mostly from one narrow segment of the economy, i.e., 1%), who can pay more than most people take home in salary, for an apartment smaller than the average American's basement.
Meanwhile, I imagine that many tens of thousands of New Yorkers are priced out of the market -- forced to commute long distances or live in border states -- or even homeless. What about the million in this nation in foreclosure, or homeless, or about to lose their homes?
There is a massive housing and mortgage crisis, but what this publication finds "relevant" is a 26 year old MBA, whose first job is "managing and consulting to others" (with WHAT experience???) and who has no sense that $2200 for a tiny studio is obscene highway robbery for a miniscule rental.
Not very hip to the world, are you R36?
R36 is hip to the world...just not to over-priced New York.
I have my dream house for $943 a month in mortgage payment.
It is a stone throw from a state park, 1 acre of back yard, beautiful hardwood floor, back patio, flowers and plants surrounding the house, extremely fresh air, beautiful sunrise and sunset.
The best part is, after another 5 years, the whole is all mine. If I decide to sell it. I would have been living rent free for the past 10 years. That is, if I don't make any money on selling at all, which I highly doubt.
R39 lives in Crowder Mississippi.
What does a 26 year-old have to "consult" about.
If $2150 is a steal, $2350 is hardly ridiculous.
I dreamed a dream!
The idea of a 26 year old consultant is beyond laughable. Consultants at that age are basically just temps at a slightly higher price.
The article is titled Proud to Be a Renter?? No, it should be Proud to Be An Owner!! I don't care it's nyc or has a rooftop view. For that money I'm going somewhere where I can own something. After you finish with renting you have nothing to show for it.
Some nerdy Jewish boy schnorrs around for still over-priced apartments in shitty neighborhoods. And this is news?
NYC is a horror, no thanks
For most apartments in NYC, I think you have to earn at least 40x the monthly rent. So, with a $2,150 place, he has to be making at least 86K. And since it looks like he was approved for the $2,350 rent, then he has to be earning no less than 94K.
All you bitches who can't afford this are jelly, I see.
We just got out of a 500 sq. ft. apt. in a nice part of downtown Vancouver. It was $2800/month.
It was furnished, but the furniture was crap. I won't miss it.
You can rent Grant's Tomb for a dollar and paint it purple, Jason, and you'll still be a homely, icky thing.
His parents clearly have some deep pockets.
Chicago is fierce??? LOL, there are tons of rental units everywhere. You can get a one bedroom for $1,000 a month on the Gold Coast.
In my neighborhood a studio with everything included goes for about $500 a month.
Chicago has vacancy after vacancy.
New York has bed bugs though and who would pay $2,000 for Harlem and live in the ghetto. Yes, I go to NYC a lot and Harlem is still a ghetto.
He left NYC...
That is a mortgage payment, OP. Just sayin'.
In NYC, you get what you pay for. I bet this schlub has no money left over to DO anything in the city after he pays his rent. It's called being rent poor. This is what most young New York transplants are when they think they are "living their dream in the big city." They get tired of just WALKING AROUND trying to look chic and busy and important....and eating ramen noodles.
The cost doesn't shock me at all.
It's always apples and oranges, but even out in the sticks where I live, rent for a very modest 3-bedroom townhouse in an ugly 1980s suburban development would tip a bit higher than this guy's small one-bedroom. A one-bedroom would be more than half that, and again, nothing luxurious except somewhat in square footage.
A one-bedroom apartment in London for $2150 would be a bargain or represent a great deal of compromise in location and quality. Likewise in DC or Philadlphia, $2150 doesn't rent anything very impressive, let alone mansion-like. In Charleston SC, a reasonably (but not top-tier) luxurious one-bedroom could easily be in the $3000s or $4000s/mo. -- vastly better than the NYC one-bedroom, but more expensive and 1710 miles and cultures apart Lots of other cities, big and middling come to mind where $2150/mo. for a one-bedroom is no guarantee of luxury of space or fittings or location.
[quote] I realize NYC is a world-class city, perhaps even "the best" in the world, but you can OWN a MANSION in some pretty nice smaller cities all across this land. I just couldn't justify throwing that amount of money away, essentially.
There are certainly some mansions for sale that would cost less in mortgage payments than the monthly rent of this guy's place in NYC, but the mortgage equivalent is only about $325,000 (mortgage amount x 5% x 30 years equals just about $2150/mo.). If you like the idea of a grand Greek Revival pile that needs lots of expensive work and is 45 miles to the very smallest sort of city in Mississippi, or some down and out flyspeck in Indiana or in Pennsylvania (2.5 hours from anywhere), sure you can do it, $325,000 doesn't buy a mansion in good repair in very many places; it barely buys a nice, reasonably large house of good quality in many secondary or tertiary or lesser cities.
The average monthly mortgage in the U.S. in 2012 was $1060, but few of those are mansions, even at twice or thrice the price.
Living on the East side can easily add twenty to thirty minutes to your commute if you live in an inaccessible area like he does in East Harlem. I looked over there as well for a couple of weeks and gave up because it was simply too many transfers on subways and walking to make the prices worth it, and now the prices are not appreciably lower.
Not in New York, r55.
r54 is right. He left NYC after just one year, and is back in Arizona. The consultancy firm must have shitcanned him when a new batch of MBA's entered the job market. Happens all the time at places like that.
What the hell is a "dream apartment" anyway? Do you just waft and twirl about in your caftan, singing Broadway tunes? It's just a bed and a toilet and you don't even own it.
A 1 bedroom cracker box for $2150/mo. Just to live in New York City? I don't think so. I'd rather live in podunk in 3 bedrooms with an acre of land and no mortgage and visit New York occasionally.
People who think Manhattan is worth this kind of money never saw it when it was actually cool.
An island covered with brand logos does not equal sophistication. You just got here too late, princesses; consider your high rent your penalty for tardiness.
[quote]People who think Manhattan is worth this kind of money never saw it when it was actually cool.
I try to resist the "living in the past" urge, but anytime I see black type on a yellow street sign in a movie or TV show that takes place in Manhattan, I can't help but think "Now *that* was New York."
[quote]An island covered with brand logos does not equal sophistication.
I miss the real Soho.