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After an extended period of contented real estate monogamy, my family and I have outgrown our one-bedroom Brooklyn floor-through (it’s not you, it’s us!) and so, despite its great location, lovely landlords, double exposures, and adorable mice, we have been looking for new place. And by that I mean, we have looked at about fifty places. At least. Over the course of this search I have come to two conclusions: 1) There are no deals in New York realty, and 2) Apartment-searching is a bit like dating. I say this having never really dated, and so I am open to the idea that this analogy might be absurd, but follow me, if you will:

Because we are not desperate to move, we (much like serial daters in New York) have the luxury/curse of getting to be really picky. You look at a place (go on a date). You think, eh, it’s okay. It has some slightly ridiculous problem as most NYC apartments, and people, do – no tub, or no closets, or it’s on the fifth floor (real estate equivalents of an annoying laugh, or being too short or too tall– all things you could overlook if you were really in love, proving that you aren’t). So you think, eh, I’ll wait. Something better might come up next week. And you look at some more places (go on a few more dates). You start to forget that you yourself are not perfect either. After all, you want to receive a lot and give a little. But it’s easy to forget this because you are in New York City after all, and while there are a lot of duds (dank basements for $2500 a month/drooling hobos peeing into milk jugs on the subway) you know that there is also the possibility of perfection (gorgeous brownstones with jewel-box backyards/surprisingly humble models who really just want to work with children).

And thus, we have become the real estate equivalent of the dater who just can’t settle down because she always suspects there is something better right around the corner. Because there probably is. There must be! There just MUST be a non-crappy, large 2+ bedroom in a decent neighborhood near the train within a young family’s budget…right? With room in the hallway to store a stroller? And if it could possibly not be a directly beneath the freeway/adjacent to a housing project or live poultry shop/actively on fire, that would be super sweet too.

(Dear non-New-Yorkers, know that what I am asking for is roughly the equivalent of hoping to see a unicorn making love to a liger while sliding down a rainbow. Realtors have literally laughed at me.)

(Oh, and by the way, Dear Realtors. Please stop telling me that a “cozy little room” is a “perfect nursery” when it is clearly a closet. And that door-less “bedroom” leading into the kitchen? That’s called a dining room. I’m not that stupid.)

If only I could cobble together bits and pieces of the 50-some places we’ve seen. The windowed sunroom of the Windsor Terrace tempter; the two large, separate bedrooms of the wackadoodle co-op; the backyard with cherry tree of the crazy people’s place in Kensington; the elevator and pristine laundry room of the Ocean Parkway condo; the PS 10 school zone of the livingroom-less wonder. The most perfect apartment would rise like Frankenstein’s monster and shuffle-step over to our current abode, gathering into its guts all of our belongings and placing them just so. Then it could lurch back to its quiet, tree-lined street with ample parking and a cute, never-crowded, baby-friendly, inexpensive café/bookstore/organic fruit stand right by the park. “Dang,” we would say to each other, “it’s almost too sunny in here!” And, “Sheesh, what are we going to do with all this closet space!” And, “Darn this spare bedroom, now everyone we know is coming to visit us.”

Sigh.

On the upside, house-hunting does provide a unique treat for a writer and/or nosy person: the opportunity to boldly snoop where you would otherwise never go. How else would we ever have visited the Sunset Park apartment with the room dedicated entirely to collections of crystal and its bedroom display of hardcore gay porn? Under what other circumstances would we have seen the Queens haunted-house foreclosure with its friendly squatters, or the Crown Heights edifice that’s become affectionately known in our household as “the murder house,” or the dramatic decorative stylings of Alexei, he of the space-ship-Jacuzzi-shower, circus-tent-ceilinged-living-room, and belanterned “wine cellar” closet with its brick-veneer-wallpaper? We’ve dated oh so many homes and though we’ve had our hearts broken more than a few times at least, like a commitment-shy ladies’ man (or man’s lady), we have some stories to tell.

There is no fairytale-wedding-style-ending to this tale–not yet, anyway. But the other we did measure the baby’s crib to see if it would fit in my office. Which is really a closet. And you know? It just might.

[Ed Note: But then that night a leak busted a hole through the ceiling of that room, breaking the plaster and ruining many books! It has not been fixed! And to that I can say only: HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!]

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Amy Shearn AMY SHEARN is the author of the novel How Far Is the Ocean from Here. She lives in Brooklyn with a husband, a baby, and a dog. Visit her online at amyshearn.com.

44 Responses to “Oh Give Me a Home. Preferably With Closets.”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    Amy,

    My husband Victor grew up in Crown Heights. Quite a history that place has. He was mugged on a regular basis, hit by cars in the street, beaten up by gangs, well, the list is endless. We go back to his house in Crown Heights and mine in Bay Ridge and my School in Brooklyn Heights. His area is still a bit sketchy, although lots of places we were not supposed to venture into in Brooklyn are now super-cool-expensive now. I’ve heard of the closet/nursery combos. At least no one can climb in the baby’s windows….

  2. Zara Potts says:

    It always amazes me how many people are proud to display their porn collections. I mean, not that I’m being judgemental or anything – but isn’t there somewhere more appropriate than right out in the open, in all their naked glory??
    But even worse is those studio, airbrushed photos of husbands and wives, ‘tastefully’ posed nude on sheepskin rugs with roses in their mouths, framed and hung proudly above the fireplace. Yuck!
    Best of luck to you, Amy!

  3. Oh, I had a great apartment shopping story I would have told you in December. It basically came down to the fact that my roommate and I traveled up to Jersey City, where we knew we wanted to live. We had four apartment viewings that day, and basically had to go with one of them. The first had barbed wire on the premises. The second was railroad style (AWK-waaaard).

    The third I was worried about. The realtor’d been somewhat brusque when I’d phoned her. I disliked that.

    But then she showed up, and she was charming and ebullient and within thirty seconds told me I had eyes so pretty I should never wear sunglasses, and the way into my heart, as all my friends know, is through my ego. And then she showed us the place and it was gorgeous and sunny and big and cheap, and we took it almost on the spot, totally blowing our last appointment.

    So we lucked out.

    I hope you do, too. You know, I don’t know if your heart is absolutely set on Manhattan, but there are some great deals in Hoboken/Jersey City/Pavonia Newport. With a great view, and the PATH is very much subway-esque. It’s also central to midtown and downtown; after a fifteen-or-so minute walk, I get to WTC in ten or so minutes. I’d like to get rid of that walk, move closer to a train stop.

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Hi Will. I hate you. I mean! Am happy you found a great place so easily! Yay! Yeah, after pretending like we were open-minded we have realized we really want to stay in Brooklyn…but it definitely might break our spirits eventually. Unless we find a big bag of money.

      Oh, by the way. Do you happen to have a big bag of money?

  4. Amy Shearn says:

    Yeah, the porn was pretty, um, interesting. And it was videos! I mean, porn is bad enough, but who BUYS A VIDEO anymore? Hello, internet? But honestly, I was more disturbed by the living room with nowhere to sit and just tons of crystal displays.

    Also. Irene. Are you busy right now? Would you mind terribly taking your time machine back a few decades and buying me a brownstone in Brooklyn for like $12? k thx!

  5. Matt says:

    Ugh. I hate apartment hunting. I don’t know what it’s like in New York, but here in southern California it’s almost impossible to get a good deal on a place if you have pets. If you’re lucky to find a place that DOES accept pets, your rent will easily be $200 more than if you didn’t and your security deposit will be about 30% more. When my (now ex-)girlfriend and I moved back to California in 2005 we must have looked at 100 places before finding one we could afford that wasn’t in a terrible neighborhood. And of course, the owner turned out to be a slum lord.

    When we split up last year, I made the decision to keep the new apartment we were in (we’d been there for about six months) as a single. It was harder on my finances, but I liked the place and I liked the neighborhood; there’s a grocery on the corner, a single bus line takes me to work and I’m fifteen minutes away from the beach on my bike. And mostly because I simply don’t feel like moving any time soon.

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Oh yeah, the fricking pets.
      Sorry about the girlfriend but yay about the apartment and beach!
      There is nothing like moving to make you not want to move. Especially if you have way too many books and records, like we do, which is probably another reason why we haven’t found the place that makes moving worthwhile yet…

      • Matt says:

        Oh, I’m enjoying being a bachelor again waaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyy more than I probably should. It’s so much nicer in here without all her junk. So much more room I can fill up with books and CDs.

  6. Judy Prince says:

    Thanks for the giggles, Amy. Your comments as well as your story! Loved: “the opportunity to boldly snoop where you would otherwise never go” your saying the real estate agents just laugh when you tell them what you’re looking for—oh, and their description of a closet as a “cozy little room” or a “perfect nursery”. Excellent closing riff about measuring the baby’s crib to see if it would fit in your office….

  7. Greg Olear says:

    Reading this, and sympathizing, I am compelled to proselytize for Leaving the City. The Hudson Valley is full of people just like you, cool artsy folks who fled NYC when they had kids. It’s not some weird suburban hell (that’s what New Jersey is, granted; but not up here). Here, you can do things like not worry every time you leave the house that some crazy person is going to swoop in and do harm to your child. The air is cleaner, the schools are better, the vibe is more chill, there are playgrounds and parks and lots and lots of family-friendly activities. You can see the stars at night, there are huge turtles and foxes and turkeys and other cool animals about. And this is, like, the best time in a generation to buy a house upstate.

    Consider this: when we lived in Astoria, we paid $200 a month to park our car. Here, we have two driveways.

    New Paltz, Gardiner, Woodstock, Red Hook (not the one in Brooklyn), Tivoli, Rhinebeck. Beacon, if you need to commute every day. Kingston, if you want Brooklyn without the expense and the hipsters. Think about it. And I’m happy to give you the skinny if the skinny is ever needed.

    Note: I never thought I’d leave New York. But I left five years ago, and I don’t miss it one iota.

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Mmmmm two driveways. Maybe we can just get a mobile home and park it in one of your driveways?

      Really you don’t miss it though? Really? Also, does your child ever have to wait in line to get on a swing at the playground? If not, how is he/she ever going to learn about…um, patience?

      • Greg Olear says:

        Sure. The trailer would be down the hill, behind the lilac bush (which will start to bloom in May), so we wouldn’t even see it from the porch, and it’d be right near our own swingset, for which our kids never have to wait in line.

        In line? For a swingset? For reals? You don’t wait in line for anything up here. Not at the post office, the grocery store, Lowe’s…there are no lines.

        When we first came here, I thought, “I can go visit. I’ll go down like once a month.” Nope. I just don’t want to. The bluster (for wont of a better word) you have to adopt to survive in the city melts away after a few months up here, and once it does, it’s not something you want to take back on. I go back once or twice a year now, and even then it’s to see people, not because I miss the place at all.

        Let me add again that I’m not one of those fly-by-night people who live in the city for a few minutes and chicken out. I was there for ten years. I loved NYC. I never thought I would leave. I made fun of people when they left. And if I didn’t have kids, I’d probably still be there.

        But kids change the equation. I know Park Slope has a solid family community and all, but it’s still a ton of additional and unnecessary stress and expense and noise so you can live in a microscopic apartment, and for what? So you can see arthouse films in the theater? So you can go to a museum? So you can get bombed and take a cab home? I can’t go to the movies, I don’t like museums, and I don’t drink anymore, not since the kids. Now, I’m only interested in things that make my life easier as a parent, and those things are not found in NYC.

        Also: as a writer, the best thing I could have done was leave New York. But that’s a whole other topic of conversation.

        • Amy Shearn says:

          1) Ok, we are moving in near the lilac bush. We’ll be quiet! Can we keep chickens? Quiet chickens?

          2) That is interesting that as a writer it was good to leave New York. I always feel like there’s something nice about people knowing what you mean when you say you’re a writer which seems to happen here.

          3) As a kid I always wished I lived in the city (being in the Chicago suburbs I meant Chicago, but any city) because it seemed like life would be more exciting there. But you probably want whatever you don’t have, eh? Like hair. Curly-haired people want straight, vice versa…?

  8. Oh, Amy – I know, I know, I know, I know.
    This is why Greg and I don’t live in the city anymore.
    Just too many years of five floor walkups, the bathroom that you can brush your teeth in while
    peeing, the outside door lock not working anymore and legless pimps doing their business in the mailroom – stepping over the passed out crack whores to get your mail – and this was all with a realtor fee!

    I think my best realtor story was upon entering the apartment I supposedly was going to love in the east village (before I landed on Fecal Way), the hugest cockroach ever fell from the ceiling right on top of my head- in my hair and everything…shudder. The realtor could not spin this one! Though, really, that could happen in even the nicest apartments in the city.

    Sorry about your leak!!! Burst pipe?

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Well, we don’t have legless pimps in Park Slope! Golly! And the leak was from too much snow piled up on a weak spot in the roof (we’re on the top floor) and the nice man who came to fix it told me about how his Parkinson’s medication makes him a compulsive gambler, which was actually something I had heard about on NPR and so that was pretty interesting and not a total waste after all. There is still a big ugly brown boil on the ceiling though. But if I lived somewhere else I would probably own my home and have to fix it myself and so that would be a bummer too? Ugh, it’s so hard to figure out!

      • Park Slope! Lived there in 1995. And let me tell you – a totally different animal then.
        I was a singer/songwriter then and there were no clubs to play in there.
        And you don’t even want to know what I paid for a 1BR back then.

        Greg (as in Greg from the comment above – totally killer Greg – he and I – yeah)
        and I don’t miss the city AT ALL. I lived there for 14 years. Once you leave,
        you find out there is life outside and it does not have to be suburban hell.
        Our neighbors just moved from Park Slope! And they work up here now doing film editing – see?
        Everyone up here once lived in the city. We have a farm we belong to, we go hiking, we go sledding – and there is culture up here. I never thought I would leave – never – but we did.
        And when stuff happens with our house – I don’t fix it – the guy we call does – see?
        We sold our 1 BR apt in Astoria for a 3BR house with a porch and woods all around us.

        Come visit us!!

  9. Marni Grossman says:

    Subway proximity, for me, is key. Because I am a lazy person.

    Was in New York, visiting my friend Gwen this weekend. Gwen lives in Greenpoint. She claims to live 12 minutes from the Bedford L and six minutes from the Nassau G. These are lies.

    Good luck on the search. In the meantime, you are welcome to move the family into my childhood home. We’re only using two of the four bedrooms.

  10. Simon Smithson says:

    I wish I knew more about NY right now that what I’ve learned from TV, so I could say something insightful.

    I hear nice things about something called a ‘brownstone’?

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Oh yeah, brownstones. The crazy thing about Brooklyn is that a brownstone is the ultimate dream, right, and yet…even those are very narrow, without windows in the middle rooms, and have tiny rooms and no closets…but still, I’d take one. Got any extra?

  11. Amanda says:

    “Actively on fire.”

    All your dating analogies are pretty solid, but this one really stands out…heh…I dearly wish about 78% of the men I went on dates with were actively on fire, which I guess is sorta the opposite of your wish for your dream apartment, but you know what I mean…

    : )

  12. Amy– you have a way with a sentence that is just so damn good — I started copying favorites and then just gave up. You didn’t want me to fill this entire comment block with your own stunning words and phrases now did you? ;-)

    The amazing thing about dating ( and NYC real estate) is that eventually, slowly and achingly– the dream somehow materializes. Smart to start now while the baby is tiny and portable and can sleep in your closet. And I’m adding my two cents here– for what its worth — if NYC is in your blood and Brooklyn is your hood– then no amount of space or land or closets or full size refrigerators or stoves with all four burners and a full size oven that will fit a pan with food more than one person can eat — is enough to make you get on the NYS Thruway and head north. No matter how charming. ( And yes, all the places Greg mentions are very, very, charming).

    Good luck– so happy that you’ve mined your miseries to create yet another laugh-out-loud piece here on TNB!
    ~ robin

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Robin, please feel free to include as many compliments as you can fit in the comment box. I won’t mind, I swear!

      And…I know. The truth of it is, I guess, to me, is: a house is just a house, right? And also, when it comes down to it, my husband, who very graciously supports my a**, has a job in New York. Although I guess now that we are living with the Olears money isn’t really an issue!

  13. Kimberly says:

    Amy, I will totally go real estate shopping with you.

    A: It’s my porn – and unashamedly exposed; not unlike the brick walls in my apt. :)
    B: While I have ZERO dating luck, I am somewhat magical when it comes to real estate. I can’t explain it, it just is.

    If *only* dating and real estate were alike… sigh

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Oooooh! Magical real estate luck! Can you also always find parking spots? Tell me all your secrets. Please.

      • Kimberly says:

        Nope. No parking karma. Just real estate.

        Although I’m not too bad at finding good deals on vintage clothing.

        My talents are random, but awesome (if an apartment or a cheap funky dress is what you seek.)

  14. My wife and I are currently house hunting as well. We figured after 2 1/2 years of watching House Hunters and Property Virgins, we’re ready. Unfortunately, you can’t buy a cardboard box and set up house on the Corner in Charlottesville for under $300,000.

    • Amy Shearn says:

      Oh, fricking House Hunters and Property Virgins! I like to watch those and yell at the people. They’re always like, “I don’t know, the master bath is too small…” and we’re like “MASTER BATH WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT OH MY GOD.”

      You could buy an okay studio apartment in our neighborhood for $300,000, I think. If you really searched.

      • Follow-up: After I got off work today, my wife and I went to look at some prospective houses our realtor told us about. Of the eight we saw today (on our own), we crossed off seven from the list. When I say my wife and I are looking for OUR first house, I guess I should really be saying, my wife and I are looking for OUR DOG, Motzie, a first house. Our budget is definitely under $300,000. Really 250K and under, preferably. We’re trying to find a yard so I can knock my wife up and she can just let the dog outdoors to pee in a fenced in area and run around. Right now, my wife gets in from work before I do and has to take the dog for a walk. She’s knocked her down a few times in the process. If my wife becomes pregnant, we can’t be having that. My future child may already be off a little in the head just because I’m his father. Don’t need the extra falls to the floor beforehand.

        • Amy Shearn says:

          Oh man, good luck. With the house AND the baby! My husband and I were just discussing how it was way easier to have a baby than it has been to find an apartment. And way more fun.

          Anyway I can totally relate, since walking the dog is often the biggest pain in my ass off all, but here is a thought for you: dog walker. Whenever I lament the impossibility of a backyard in my future I think: oh yeah. dog walker. I mean. Isn’t it a wonderful world? Just to know such a possibility exists?

  15. angela says:

    oh, the closets! when i lived in new york, i felt lucky to have even ONE closet to squeeze my clothes into. now my boyfriend and i live in what feels like a palace in san francisco. we have so much closet space that one of them is half-empty.

  16. Joe Daly says:

    “Dear non-New-Yorkers, know that what I am asking for is roughly the equivalent of hoping to see a unicorn making love to a liger while sliding down a rainbow.”

    ::clapping::

    Thanks for the reminder of just how soul-crushing it can be to go apartment hunting. It’s totally like dating. You get your hopes up quickly but they’re soon dashed on the rocks when the first couple units suck. Then you start bargaining with yourself that it’s OK to settle, until you find the perfect place. Then you want to jump into it right away and why can’t this agent move quicker on the paperwork? Then you accidentally encounter another place with an allure that you can’t really articulate, other than it feels right. But then there’s that other one that you sort of committed to. But was it really a commitment?

    OK, I’ll stop now. Thanks for the fun read!

  17. Alison Aucoin says:

    I’ve been both extremes. It took me forever to settle on a house in New Orleans. I must have looked at a hundred. One wasn’t sunny enough, another had loud dog next door, too close to a busy street, etc…

    But when I moved here to Durham after Hurricane Katrina, I just needed a place to lay my weary head. Easiest commission a real estate agent ever earned. Luckily, once the fog lifted, I actually like the place.

    Happy hunting!

  18. [...] a member of the Park Slope Parents website and thus obviously not much of a mother at all, and a lowly renter rubbing elbows with the owners of million-dollar brownstones).     And so I will tell you, dear [...]

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