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Rugs & Travels

Small Spaces Series-Episode 3:The Hunt

How would you prepare to purchase a property in another city and state? You’re an experienced real estate buyer, this process shouldn’t be that different, right?

As opposed to going it alone, running around from one open house to the next aimlessly we were fortunate to be connected by a friend to a NYC based real estate broker. Our first email exchange of information with Susan made us realize that we were entering uncharted territory, things are not as quite as straightforward as looking for an apartment in your budget, price negotiating, accepting terms of purchase, signing the documents, and boom, move in! Not quite. It’s not that hard to find an experienced broker but a broker who also understands your entire situation? We’re lucky to find Susan.

The process to buy an apartment in New York City was more complicated for out of town buyers like us because the available apartments tend to be in co-op buildings which are less common in other cities. There are also condos but usually at much higher prices. Since co-ops operate with their own sets of rules that might disqualify us from the opportunity to buy at all, we were advised to consider co-ops with more liberal boards, this greatly limited the universe of apartments to choose from. Most importantly we had a move in date before the start of Lena’s school year in early September.

Our first trip was in the last week of April, Lena couldn’t come because she was in the last stretch of her senior year, recitals, school work, etc., so she just had to put her trust in us. Our main goal of the first trip was largely an orientation of New York City neighborhoods. Susan, our broker set up a two day- 8 apartment viewing schedule of studios and one bedrooms. On our first day we accomplished one thing, we eliminated certain neighborhoods and decided to concentrate on others. A one bedroom or studio apartment in any big city could be quite small (from350-500 square feet), along with all the other variables to consider a major challenge was to understand how small we could go and still have a livable space. I visually prepared three pieces of must have furniture; a dining table with leaf extensions that sits 6 people, a queen size bed, and a sleeper sofa. With each apartment we visited I visualized how to fit these items into the space. It’s a mind game I like to exercise, when I go to places, I like to figure out if I could rearrange anything in a room, not thinking that I could do better but to see if I could find other options. After a few viewings I realized that a lot of apartments for sale are “staged” with fewer pieces of furniture, a love seat instead of a sofa, a full sized bed to make a bedroom feel bigger, a small dining table or none at all.

Someone mentioned regarding apartment hunting in New York City, “you see one you see them all”, and how true that is. The studio and one bedroom apartments we saw ranged from 400- 465 square feet. Every time we walked out of one building on to the next I was amazed at how they divided a good-sized unit in to two smaller ones, in some cases we could see the old door in a closet which used to connect to the rest of the original apartment. There’s not much difference square foot wise between studio and one bedroom, most one bedroom units were just a studio with a wall to separate the sleeping area! Some studio apartments have an alcove space to use for sleeping, this at least gives the feeling of separation from other areas.

So, on our first trip we agreed on two apartments to bid on even though I had a lot of reservations on both. The first, a studio, was still occupied by the seller who had done a good job maximizing the space. Sleeping /living area, a small closet, a quite small kitchen with a dining set for four situated in an entry/ foyer area, nice but just there’s no more room to grow. The second, was a one bedroom. After we decided to put in a bid on this unit, I was up all night, it raised enough questions

that the next day, in the short time before we had to catch a flight back, I asked to see the apartment again. The very interesting thing about this apartment is that when we walked in, we were drawn to a newly renovated kitchen with good sized cabinets and a four-foot-long open L shape counter to the living room. But when I started to walk around, a lot of questions followed; wait there’s not enough room for a sleeper sofa in the living room or a dining table anywhere. So where do people sit down and eat? Oh, at the kitchen counter, but there’s a cooktop right in the middle of the counter! Because of the renovation to make a larger kitchen, the size of the bedroom and bathroom next to it had to be reduced, the bedroom got narrower, and bathroom would have a sink and toilet but no shower. The shower stall and another sink were added in to a bedroom a few feet away from the bed. The bedroom was about 6 ½ feet wide and 8 feet long, in the bedroom was a built-in closet with a folding door, the size and layout of the room would require you stand on the bed to get to the closet door. I thought that it’s very odd to have three sinks (kitchen, toilet and shower sinks) in a barely 460 square feet space. There’s a price to pay to have a nice open kitchen, you must take space away from other areas. Susan said not to worry there’ll be more listings, we just have to keep searching. We realized we would have to up the pace of our process, we discovered that we could catch a Sunday 7am flight to New York City in time to go 4-6 open houses and take a 5pm flight back home the same day. While a bit rushed, with no interference with a workday that schedule worked great!

Three more Sunday trips between three of us, by mid-June we finally found the one that seems to meet almost all of our requirements; a very good size studio with a sunken living room in a full-service Art Deco style building near the subway, a

fifteen-minute ride to Lena’s school, convenient connections to gig venues in other parts of New York City. What came next after the seller agreed to our offer was a lot of paper work, personal and financial disclosures, co-op board interview, closing, and moving in. All to be done by the end of August, just before the school starts.

We were told that the co-op board had a meeting on July 26th to review our applications, then we received a phone call from Susan on Monday morning August 1st asking, “if you could all come in for a board interview tomorrow”. If we wanted to keep to our deadline we had no choice, the board will not meet again until sometime in late September. Ok tomorrow indeed!!

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