Handygal is at it again

For the longest time I took the attitude that I wouldn’t try to hard to make my apartment mine because who knew how long I would actually be living there. I’ve thrown all that out the (fifth floor) window this time around because for some reason this place feels real. I don’t really know why that is, but I am pretty sure it has to do with a sense of personal investment (and by that I only partially mean the ridiculous amount of money I had to lay out from the outset).

For whatever reason I’ve actually done more in the three weeks I’ve been living here than I did in the eight years I was living at my old place. I’ve installed a lovely double towel bar and new shower head in the bathroom. I’ve installed a deadbolt and plate on the front door by myself! Look at me! Working with power tools.

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Seriously look at how sloppy those moldings look. You’d think people never heard of sandpaper.
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Oh hello, 3 function shower head. You and I are going to be great friends.
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Why have one towel bar when you can have two?!?

Granted, I’ve also managed to royally eff up the drawers on my Ikea kitchen table, but I blame that on Michael Fassbender. (Note to Self: Do not assemble furniture while watching X-Men First Class or any other movie with Fassbender).

As of now, the bedroom is completely painted, though I may revise that if I decide to paint the window casings. This means I can hang pictures from the picture rail this week! Goodbye bare walls!

And in the biggest news of all, the final box has been unpacked. Personally I think that’s an impressive milestone considering I’ve only had two weekends to get most of the unpacking done. I wish I could say I was also completely organized with everything in its place, but c’mon I’m not a miracle worker or a wizard!

Day 1: My Move and My Tips to Help Yours Go Just as Smoothly

Day 1 began early, as in 1 am when I finally went to bed the night before. Despite the month I’d given myself for culling, sorting, and packing up my belongings, it wasn’t until very late that I’d managed to get everything packed up and ready to go. But the packing was the worst of it, thanks to hiring a team of movers, who did a great job and were able to get all my stuff up far too many flights of stairs for their liking with only one chipped (poorly packed) mug thus far. The sheer terror of watching them cart around all my “fragile” belongings on their backs, probably took years off my life.

So now that the move is done, I have some moving tips.

1. However long you think it will take to pack, double it.

No, really. This may seem like overkill but unless you live the most minimal lifestyle ever, you will need more time than you think. Especially if you plan on sorting for donations or reselling items on Craigslist. A longer packing process can be less stressful, but also has the additional advantage of forcing you to evaluate what things you use regularly, what things are only infrequently used, and what things haven’t been touched in recent memory. Which leads to…

2. Determine exactly what your new place can hold and plan accordingly.

If you have a floorplan of your new home or if you can take detailed measurements of it to make a floorplan, do it. Make note of where windows, doors, and outlets are located, as well as any other features you may need to plan around, like radiators, exposed pipes, or baseboard heaters. Then take measurements of your furniture and plan layouts. I used a CAD-lite website www.floorplanner.com to plan my layout. It’s a great resource that’s free for one project (seriously, commercial CAD software is really expensive, so I think it’s one of the best free/membership sites I’ve ever used). It allows you to add furniture with customized sizes and colors but also has a really good range of Ikea furniture.

Once you’ve made a floor plan you’ll be able to arrange your existing furniture to your liking and really start to visualize where things will go in your new digs. It will also help you determine if there really isn’t any space for your current belongings and you can plan accordingly. Having planned your furniture layout in advance also makes moving infinitely quicker and easier, because you’ll already know where things need to be placed and there won’t be the need to rearrange things after the fact, which can be incredibly complicated with boxes filling up all the available space.

3. Consider hiring movers. 

If you can afford it, or if you have a lot of stuff that would result in all of your friends inconveniently having plans the day you need to move, consider hiring a moving company. I had never hired movers before, but I used a website called www.citymove.com to list my job and have moving companies bid on it. The site is great because you list all your stuff including dimensions of furniture and numbers of boxes and moving companies give you quotes for either hourly or flat rate moves listing the number of men and the size of the truck provided. Then you can read reviews of those companies by past customers to check their qualifications, compare prices, and decide on which mover you want to use.

For my move, I made sure I had an insured mover with an extra large truck and 4 men. I knew it was going to be a big job based on the amount of furniture I own and the fact that I was moving to a walk-up apartment. I could out-of-hand dismiss any mover who thought the job could be done by 2 guys with a small van. I went with an hourly rate rather than a flat rate, but it turned out that either option would have cost me about the same (I suppose it shows that the flat rate movers really know how to estimate time). Also keep in mind that gratuity is extra. Movers recommend a $10-20/hr per man and they typically prefer that tip in cash. The movers were an hour late, which was actually fine because it gave me a moment to finish up and rest before the craziness began (or continued). We were out of my old apartment in 3 hours and completely into the new one in an additional 4.5 hours. Not bad considering all those stairs I keep mentioning.

4. When packing think about what you’ll need access to immediately and make it as accessible and clearly labeled as possible. 

One of the first things you’re going to need is your bedding. So have clean sheets, pillows, comforters and pajamas packed in the same box if possible and labeled “Open First” so you know exactly where they are. There’s nothing more stressful at the end of an exhausting day than not being able to find a set of sheets to put on your bed.

Keep important items like moving paperwork, contact information for the movers and landlords, and small tools like scissors, wrenches, and screwdrivers in a separate bag that you will transport to your new place. Also make sure it has important things like your phone (and charger), your wallet, and the keys to your new home.

Label everything and be as specific as you can. Don’t just name the room, list the types of items inside so you can know at a glance whether the box is a priority. Searching for plates and glasses is not fun when you’re hungry and thirsty. Make sure to write on the top of the box and on several sides in case boxes are stacked on top of each other. And always label the boxes containing glass or other fragile items to aid your movers.

If there’s something you will want right away in your apartment (for me this was my tea and coffee making equipment, garbage bags, and my water filter) make sure it’s clearly labeled so that even if you can’t fully unpack it, you can have access to it. The water filter was particularly necessary so that I could keep everyone hydrated during the moving process.

5. Try to relax.

Moving is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be that bad. Make sure you drink plenty of water, wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and take frequent breaks so you don’t overtask yourself. Your home doesn’t have to be instantly put together, so as long as you have a plan you can deal with it in manageable chunks.

Slowly but Surely

This:

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Has become this:

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This:

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Has become this:

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Not digging the cheesy ceramic tiles or the still grungy tub in the bathroom. And the generic cabinets… well, they look an awful lot like THESE GUYS:

I guess there’s only so much you can expect from NYC apartment renovations, but here’s hoping they don’t use the hideous bathroom tiles for the kitchen backsplash (like they did in my current place).

At this point I’m a little more than a week from my move-in date. The updated photos above were taken by my realtor about a week ago, when the Super informed her that the work would be completed by this week. We hit a bit of a snag when my realtor informed me she’d be on vacation for the next few weeks and passed me off to one of her colleagues, who would handle the rest of the move-in process. I’m a bit concerned because New Realtor doesn’t seem to have a good grasp on where things stood before that, despite a pretty detailed email from Old Realtor to both of us outlining the next steps. But I spoke with NR and she said she was checking out the apartment on Friday to make sure things had progressed to the point I could do my final walkthrough before getting the keys. So fingers crossed I get word from her this weekend.

Day 2: And so it continues

New day, new realtor.

Apartment 4: 1 bedroom, 5th floor walkup. Nice sized rooms including a nice sized kitchen, but not much to write home about. Sloping floors. No laundry in bldg. 1 block from subway.

Apartment 4

Apartment 5: 1 bedroom, 4th floor walkup. Smaller rooms, living room and kitchen are one space. Almost set up like a railroad apartment. Laundry in building.

Apartment 5

Apartment 6: 1 bedroom, 4th floor walkup. Large living room. Good sized bedroom. 3 large closets and a nice bathroom. Kitchen has original cabinets, but under renovation. West-facing windows in bedroom and living room both with park view. Back of building so nice and quiet.

Apartment 6

So in case you couldn’t tell from that rather glowing description… I took that last one. I’m still on a bit of a high that is a combination of excitement and terror. It’s a pretty big deal and it means I’m soon going to be depleting my bank account to pay the various fees and deposits, but all in all I’m happy. I’ll finally have an apartment of my own with good light, good space, and a built-in workout! Yes the stair situation is not quite ideal, but I can make the best of that. Plus I’m planning on hiring movers so it’s not like I’ll be begging friends to haul my stuff up those flights. And I’m going to ask my realtor if there’s any way the management company will leave the original cabinets and let me do my own rehab/DIY project with them. Because, seriously they are fantastic. And I love a project.

And now the fun begins! Well… assuming my application is approved.

Update: Approved! Hooray for good credit. I’ll be signing paperwork on Tuesday. And fantasizing about my next steps for the foreseeable future.

Day 1: And so it begins

This weekend I contacted the real estate company we used 8 years ago to help find a place. My realtor lined up a few places once I’d filled out the paperwork and I was off!

Apartment 1: A “2” bedroom on the 3rd floor of a walkup at the northern end of my neighborhood. Decent closet off the entry (also, the bathroom… odd.) Living room a decent size with a connecting doorway to the “first” bedroom. Probably would’ve had a set of french doors to separate it from the living room originally, but it’s a good size. “Second” bedroom off the first with two decent closets. Both bedrooms face west with a decent amount of light because of the parking lot behind the building that separates it from the next building. Kitchen somewhat small but has a dishwasher. Over budget. A bit far from the train. Also… a walkup.

Apartment 1

Apartment 2: A 1 Bedroom closer to the subway in an elevator building. Decent sized living room and bedroom with 2 closets and slight park view. Nice bathroom. Miniscule kitchen. Like, unbelievably small. Consisted of small fridge, sink with a lip that could possibly be called a countertop and a stove/oven. Forget that work triangle that ideal kitchens are supposed to have. You have to sashay sideways to get from the fridge to the sink to the oven. If you turn 90 degrees you’ll be wedged between the appliances and the wall. Room was probably originally a bathroom. Oh well. But it was under budget.

Apartment 2

Apartment 3: A 1 Bedroom across the street from Apartment 2. Dingy lobby and hallways. Apartment a bit dark, but faces east and this was late afternoon. Kitchen and living room decent sized. Kitchen has original (heavily painted) cabinets. But very cool. Bathroom is a bit of a mess. Bedroom may be a bit small. Security grate over bedroom window. Fun. Three smallish closets. Plaster walls and ceiling heavily cracked. I’d be nervous hanging anything. No views to speak of. But under budget.

Apartment 3

So that’s where I stand after 1 day of apartment hunting. Realtor doesn’t seem super optimistic about availability of apartments now. But I’ll keep looking. Have contacted another realtor, just in case.

How *does* she do it?

Searching for a new apartment is a matter of factors. Which neighborhood do I want to live in? Can I afford it? What amenities am I willing to do without? What is an absolute must have? I’ve come to several conclusions about what I need in an apartment. So let’s give them a little run-down, shall we?

Commute

First off, while having a quick commute would be nice, it is not at all necessary for me. I enjoy the time I spend on the train in the morning, mainly because I have the ability to get a lot of reading and sometimes knitting done. I realize that this is partly because I’m blessed with being the second stop on my subway line, which means I’m pretty much guaranteed a seat every ride. Your mileage may vary on this one.

Size

I’ve done a rough accounting of my possessions, and there is simply no way I can deal with living in a studio. I’ve acquired quite a bit of furniture, and I’ve gotten quite used to having a palatial 3 bedroom apartment for 7 years and I’ve seen what real estate agents have the balls to call a “1 bedroom” in New York City. So because I have no desire to live with a roommate again and all the risks that implies, it’s got to be a one (or more) bedroom for me. This leads us to…

Cost

Cost is probably the biggest factor people consider when they move, and I’m no different. I had to force myself to look honestly at my budget. Sharing a place for 7 years without the burden of owning (and paying for, and maintaining) a car has been a real boon for my bank account. I don’t make a ton of money, but I’m able to put away a fair amount every year thanks to my relatively hermitic lifestyle. But let’s not go nuts here. I won’t be able to afford anything over $2,000 and even something close to that is probably pushing it once things like utilities… and food… are taken into account. I’d like to be able to continue saving money and also have the ability to go out to dinner or drinks on a frequent basis.

Neighborhood

“Neighborhood” is a pretty interesting term because it encompasses so many things. It relates to both the community around you and the built environment around you. Because I work in the architecture field, built environment is really important to me. I’m always drawn to neighborhoods with “character” that have a very clear visual identity. If you showed me a picture of a city street, chances are I could identify the neighborhood where it sits due to the distinctiveness of the buildings, sidewalks, landscape, etc.

But neighborhood more commonly refers to the community: the networks of people and businesses that make up a place. While I’d love an architecturally significant neighborhood, I’d probably rely more on proximity to a decent grocery store, a drug store, a bank, some restaurants and bars, or even some decent shopping. When a neighborhood has these things and you don’t have to rely on traveling somewhere else to get the necessaries, life becomes a bit easier.

Safety

Let’s face it, living in New York you have to be aware of your surroundings at all times. I’ve lived in The Bronx and Manhattan for the past 12 years and I like to think I’m relatively savvy, but that doesn’t mean I want to be clutching a rape whistle or pepper spray on my walk home from the subway at night. So I’m going to be honest, there are neighborhoods that I, as a little white girl, am just not going to be comfortable living in, especially since I’ll be living alone. My current neighborhood certainly isn’t perfect. There’s been a string of muggings and rapes, most of which are to some degree aided by proximity to the several parks in the area. But, again, this is New York. You run the risk of being in these situations by living here, and sometimes it doesn’t matter how safe you think your neighborhood is. It only takes one time. So you need to be alert and aware no matter where you are.

Amenities

Moving away from the scarier aspect of modern city living, let’s talk about something more fun: amenities. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed having a first floor apartment. It makes getting in and out of my building easy, especially during moves or acquisitions of new furniture. But it leaves much to be desired in terms of light and privacy. It would be great to leave my windows open and not have to worry about people being able to see me while I read in bed (and make comments on the book I’m reading). And while stairs would be a great work out, I don’t particularly relish climbing three or four flights with groceries. So I’d put an elevator at the top of the list.

Second in importance, would be a laundry room. Most apartments I’ve encountered in the city simply don’t have a washer or dryer in the unit, so I won’t even bother looking for that. But a laundry room in the building is pretty much a necessity.

This next one is where it gets tricky: pets. I don’t have one now, but I’d really like to keep open the option of getting a dog (or a cat) if only to make the aspect of living alone a little less lonely.

Finally, we have outdoor space. This is something where I’m very flexible in my interpretation. I don’t mean that I want a back garden or a balcony, though that would be lovely (and expensive). I’d really settle for proximity to good outdoor space. Inwood has three great parks plus easy access to the Manhattan Greenway along the Hudson River. I consider myself really spoiled by the access that I have to these spaces especially in visiting other neighborhoods where even street trees are a rarity.

So where does that leave me? 

All of these things have been factored in and basically I’m staying put. My neighborhood isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty damn great, especially once I consider the type of apartment I could get for my budget.

I kicked off the official apartment hunt this week with a visit to a realtor. So far I’ve seen three apartments and while I haven’t found a place yet, I’m feeling pretty good about the prospect.