The New York Times -- Doing The Legwork
Doing the Legwork
WHEN he began a job in New York three years ago, moving here from a one-bedroom rental in Washington, Andrea Farina didn’t need to think about where to live. His employer, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, provided subsidized housing.
His housing, however, came with a three-year limit, which Dr. Farina hit last winter.
He paid around $1,250 a month for a large studio at 475 Main Street, on Roosevelt Island, which he shared with his partner, Jose Ho, an architect who splits his time between Los Angeles and New York.
“I liked it very much, but I never liked it when somebody would come visit and you have to share a room,” said Dr. Farina, who is from Rome and has many overseas visitors.
He wanted a one-bedroom, and he relished the idea of actually living on Manhattan Island. It felt odd that his apartment was close to work yet not reachable on foot.
“I know there are worse commutes in the world,” he said, “but I hated to see my apartment and not be able to get there” easily. He often found himself rushing to the tram, missing it anyway.
Dr. Farina, 41, received his Ph.D. in biology at Sapienza University of Rome and later worked at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. He now researches DNA replication.
Mr. Ho, 38, grew up primarily in Panama City and Caracas, Venezuela. He studied architecture at City College of New York, then moved to Los Angeles, where he bought a one-bedroom condominium in Long Beach. The two met five years ago.
Mr. Ho was glad to take charge of the hunt for a new Manhattan apartment. For their price range, up to $1,800 a month, he preferred a studio to a one-bedroom. “A studio to me is an open canvas,” he said, with few limitations on furniture layout.
To Dr. Farina, however, creativity wasn’t important. “Jose said we could get a studio for less money, and it would be a larger space than a one-bedroom,” he said. “So that was one of the first things we were not really agreeing on.”
As for having a nice building, “that was another issue with Jose,” Dr. Farina said. “Being an architect, he wanted to get the perfect building. He didn’t like a lot of things I wouldn’t have noticed or cared about. For me, it was more the character, so sometimes I liked the places that were falling apart a little bit, rather than being completely new or efficient.”
They had two early East Side contenders, both close to Dr. Farina’s workplace on York Avenue and 67th Street. Dr. Farina preferred a one-bedroom on Lexington Avenue near 71st Street.
The apartment, for $1,800, was “artsy in the way that is villagey, but to me it was too old,” Mr. Ho said. The floors were sloped and the bedroom was small. “It doesn’t have to be perfect, but I like clean and organized,” he said.
What’s more, the terrace was reachable only through a high window. “You needed a staircase or a stepladder,” Mr. Ho said. “It would be a nice feature if it were easier to access.”
Mr. Ho preferred a large studio apartment on East 81st Street, also renting for $1,800. It had high ceilings, lovely floors and good closet space. The kitchen, however, included just a half-refrigerator, the kind “you put in the office if you want some drinks,” Mr. Ho said.
Just as Dr. Farina was about to be persuaded, the agent told them the studio was rented.
They weren’t sure they believed that. So they looked online to see whether they could confirm it, and found UrbanSherpaNY.com, a Web site of no-fee apartment listings intended to let apartment hunters avoid brokers and deal directly with a landlord or management company.
The apartment, indeed, turned out to be rented. But the two found they liked doing the legwork themselves, with no need to rely on an agent.
They considered a studio in a new high-rise rental at 455 West 37th Street, though it was expensive, at around $1,900. Dr. Farina was sold on the view. Mr. Ho liked the long, rectangular space, which could be divided by a bookcase.
The Hudson Yards neighborhood, however, was distant as well as undeveloped, with few shops and services.
“When I’m walking home, I like to have several nice stores I can go to,” Dr. Farina said. “I don’t like to have to on purpose go somewhere to buy food.”
So it was back to the East Side. They enjoyed the system used by City and Suburban Leasing Office (swmanagement.com), where walk-in apartment-hunters with a valid photo identification could go off alone for an hour to visit apartments of interest.
“I thought that was the most fun part, because we didn’t have a broker with us,” Dr. Farina said. “We just had a bunch of keys.”
But they couldn’t afford the units they liked best.
Back on UrbanSherpaNY.com, they found a one-bedroom listing on the top floor of a six-floor walk-up building on East 62nd Street. The rent was $1,750.
They liked the big, sunny bedroom and brand-new bathroom. Mr. Ho said the bedroom was actually too big — some of the floor space would be better used as a closet. The view, which included the Citigroup Center with its angled top, was similar to the view from Roosevelt Island, but closer.
Neither minded the small kitchen. “I don’t need to cook,” Dr. Farina said. “We are happy to go out.” Besides, there was a dishwasher.
It was a place that both could agree on. “Of course, it’s not the perfect apartment,” Dr. Farina said, “but after seeing probably 25 apartments, they were all missing something or something was wrong, and we immediately realized this one had more things that all the other apartments didn’t have.”
Mr. Ho was even willing to overlook the long climb. “If he would walk to the sixth floor, it was really worth it,” Dr. Farina said. “To me, the floor was not an issue. I could live on any floor.”
The two negotiated a free month’s rent and moved in February.
“We like it so much that when the apartment next door became available, friends of Andrea moved in,” Mr. Ho said.
It was a married couple, he said, in “the same situation — they are research scientists and their lease is up after three years.”