Monday, April 7, 2008

The Great Apartment Hunt Pt. 3: Brokers Abound

Following that every weekend, and many weeknights, were dedicated to schlepping all over our allotted neighborhoods, looking for that mystery apartment that had eluded us so far. I’d found our current apartment from in about a day, so, I realized, with more effort and two people on the watch, our suitable enclosure would be sure to show up before too long.

But there was always something just a little bit wrong with each place we found, if not much, much more than just a little bit.

There was a nice two-bedroom in Bay Ridge, with lovely people who owned it. The rent was $1200, and it was conveniently located near the subway. Still, not all was well.

“We are really, really concerned about roaches, so we have an exterminator come one Saturday morning a month to spray in every apartment,” said the 40-something Latina woman who owned it.

Once a month, I marveled. And on a Saturday morning? True, our weekend love life might just take a plunge once the shortie comes along anyway, but I couldn’t imagine a bigger buzz kill then having to leave the marital bed so a fat Teamster-ish fella could spray toxic poison from one of those big-assed silver canisters they always seem to have in cartoons.

Even that, however, was not the deal breaker. No, the true deal breaker was that the apartment was in fact right above a sushi restaurant, and a large, glowing white sushi sign, about eight feet tall, was perched right outside the window of what would be our bedroom. It never went off, and filled the room with fluorescent light.

“We can get heavy drapes,” I said to Randi. “And, tape them to the window frames?” But it was not to be. Worse yet, it didn’t even look like a good sushi restaurant.

Another time I took the subway to 86th Street in Bay Ridge to see another apartment for rent. The man showing the place was named Raul, and sounded like anything but a professional agent, or even landlord, on the phone.

“Yeah, come on over, buzz on up, someone will come down, or drop you a key,” he said. I got to the door, at about 8:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night, and called Raul’s number. Nothing.

Then I walked over to the door, past some rowdy teens on their way to the McDonald’s, or so it looked. There was no one to contact so I pushed open the doorway to the vestibule; it wasn’t locked. Bad sign, I thought. The hallway was filled with graffiti, and was lack-lusterly lit by a buzzing fluorescent tube.

“Raul?” I said, not too loudly. I walked upstairs. No one. I started to walk up more stairs to get to the doorway of the apartment, but halfway up thought better of it.

“Am I fucking kidding?” I thought to myself. “No way I want to live in a place filled with ‘tags’ and the door doesn’t even lock.” I let myself down the stairs, waved the door kind of closed behind me and got back in the subway to go home. Had it all been an elaborate prank?

Another time, I walked five blocks from the subway in the daytime before work, again in Bay Ridge. Again the person showing the place wasn’t there; again the door was eerily open to the world, looking for all intents and purposes like the opening scene of some kind of cheaply-shot horror movie, where the killer is actually a real estate agent with a hatred for bargain hunters.

So it was back to the brokers we went. I would gladly pay one month’s rent for someone else to do the dirty work of finding these places, I reasoned. And isn’t my time precious?

The first promising lead came from a place Randi found. It was on a nice block in Bay Ridge, right near the subway—my passion, apparently—and in our price range, at $1300 a month.

We showed up promptly at 10:00 a.m., as the broker, named Lauren, instructed us to. Right away Randi was on edge regarding Lauren.

“I don’t like her, she had a lot of attitude on the phone with me,” Randi said. “Like she was doing us a favor! God! I must be in the wrong line of work, because apparently in New York City all you need to be a broker is show up, and have an attitude, because that’s about all I’ve gotten from her!”

Did I mention Randi is pregnant?

But she was also right, Lauren was now ten minutes late, and we stood outside shivering in the late winter sun. The worst part of all this? Lauren lived right across the street.

“She told me she had to get ready, she’s probably brushing her teeth, or something,” Randi said, annoyed. I called Lauren on the phone to see what was up.

“Okay, I’ll be right there, okay!” she said.

Five minutes later we saw a somewhat heavy-set young woman, with a thick shock of black hair rising off her head like a corona, hustling across the street, looking for all the world like she’d just rolled out of bed. Let’s put it this way: she looked like the understudy for the Tracy Turnblad role in a local production of Hairspray.

“Hi guys! I’m Lauren, nice to see you!” she said extending her hand.

She lead us up to the fifth floor of the building, and immediately we were impressed. True, it wasn’t two bedrooms, but one. But it was a big one bed. The living room was enormous, at least by New York standards, and the bedroom looked large enough to actually hold a bed, always a plus. It had a laundry room in the basement that, although somewhat dank and musty, required a key to enter, another plus. Best of all it had a sweet view of the Verrazano Bridge from our front window, and only cost $1300 a month.

Thanking Lauren we walked down the block to the local Starbucks, and decided right then and there to go for it. Why not?

“Lauren, let’s do it,” I said, once I got Lauren on the phone. I nodded at my wife while saying that positive, empowering, life-affirming word: Yes. “We can get you the deposit tonight even.”

She was down with that.

We still had another appointment, to see other apartments, to uphold that afternoon, though. This broker’s name was Chris, and he sounded, there is no other word for it, like a stoner. True, we’d decided upon a place, but since we were already there, and had made the appointment we reasoned we might as well uphold it.

I called Chris.

“Hi Chris, it’s David, husband of Randi, can you bump our appointment up a little?” We were supposed to meet him at 11:30 p.m., but our appointment with Lauren had taken less time than we’d figured. It was now 10:30 a.m., and we really didn’t feel like killing an hour in a Starbucks, getting jacked on shitty, bitter, but expensive coffee.

“Oh, yeah, man, can I like maybe eat a little breakfast first?” Chris asked. He sounded like he’d been out all night at a rave.

“Sure. Is 11:15 good?”

“Umm, yeah, suuure.”

Cut to: It’s 11:25 a.m. and we’re standing in front of another building, waiting for a neighbor to walk in or out so we can go inside. It's chilly. Chris is coming, man, he’s coming.

“Thanks,” I say to an older gentleman who’s leaving. I feel weird busting in like this to his building even though, with my pregnant wife, it’s unlikely that we’re casing the joint.

Soon Chris rolls up, wearing some kind of “hoodie” contraption that made him look even younger than his likely 21 years of age. In person he is somewhat more commanding than his lank phone delivery led me to believe, but the maturing effect is undercut by a big, honkin’ zit on his nose.

Chris soon shows us two thoroughly shitty apartments, in the same building. Tiny living rooms, probably no more than eight or nine feet wide, bathrooms with toilets and bathtubs that are saturated with mold, and that probably aren’t going to get any cleaner. The wood floors were streaked with grime, and the linoleum flooring in the kitchens were cracked. Institutional might be a good way to describe the general state of repair in each of the identical apartments he showed us.

“I do have one more,” he said. Our hopes picked up.

“I hope it’s not in ‘Tuxedo Towers,’” I said, literally making air quotes with my fingers. His eyes fell. It was Tuxedo Towers.

Gluttons for grime we drove back to the ‘Towers, and Chris proceeded to show us two thoroughly unremarkable apartments that, at $1300 a month weren’t even bargains. The hallways these apartments sat in had a gloomy, depressing air about them, and, somehow, the building just seemed to kind of smell of old people, death and un-enticing cuisine.

But we couldn’t be too down about it. Lauren was going to get us into our new place! And it was only February.

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