Finding a Roommate in New York (First Round)

Unless you are one of those “lucky birds” who have every minute of their life meticulously planned out, one of the first things you will have to do when you move to New York is to find a decent place to live in. And, depending on your budget, you will have to make the decision if you want to waste spend your pay check on your own lofty apartment or if you are willing to share some space with other random New York people. To me, the decision was pretty clear: I had my limited amount of savings, I didn’t have a job lined up yet, and I was in no position to demand extras when it came to living situations.
It is practically impossible to check out an apartment prior to your move if you are relocating from another country. You could look at pictures online and talk to potential candidates via phone, but in the end you will have to virtually see what you are getting yourself into and interact with the people. So it was pretty clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to have a room until I got here. I already knew of a few Web Sites but I really didn’t have that much of a clue where to start my quest. I didn’t have to wait long, though, as help came in the form of my first New Yorker, who suggested I put my own ad on craigslist instead of seeping through their incredible amount of spam ads, which were almost useless to me because I didn’t know where to live yet and which abbreviation to pay attention to.

The first day I was here, I wrote everything of interest in this ad and was even careless enough to include my new cell phone number. Soon enough I received my first calls from people all eager to be my potential roommate or offering me to take a look at their room. I do have to admit that my expectations were not high during this initial period of time and that I was really lucky when it came to finding a room. Beginner’s Luck, how Paulo Coelho calls this. All I had to do during this first day was to choose from a few of the calls and organize my schedule around these selections during the first few days. I say it again: I was very lucky and I didn’t have high expectations.

The first room I picked was in Spanish Harlem in Manhattan. A guy called Fernando was from the Dominican Republic and told me that a girl from Berlin had lived there up until recently. Sounded good to me. If another German chick could survive in that hood then why shouldn’t I, right? Dang, was I wrong! I got of the 1-Train and was surrounded by tons of bad vibes. As I walked those 10 blocks over to the apartment I had a hard time picturing myself skipping down the same road in a short party outfit during the hot summer months. Fernando was a nice pal and the apartment was a decent size. I didn’t appreciate the other drugged-out roomie, though, not to mention her spaced out boyfriend. I had to pass on this opportunity. When I walked back to the subway station I felt like I was walking on glass. Not just because I was the only white person around among blacks and Latinos. No one said anything to me but I knew that if I took a step in the wrong direction or said a wrong word bad things would happen. I was pretty glad to be out of that one.

Sometime during that evening I got a call from a Canadian girl who lived someplace in Brooklyn. I had this idea of wanting to move to Queens or Manhattan, so Brooklyn wasn’t really on top of my list.
While putting the other 40 potential appointments together, though, I made plans to scoop her in on the following day, not really expecting much from this encounter. “Just take the Q from Union Square and it will take you less than 25 minutes to this place”, she said. I was and stayed skeptic.
But the next day it really only took me 25 minutes of a ride to the Parkside Ave stop on the Q line. And when I got out of the subway I felt fresh air, saw trees shadowing the entrance to a park, and met a bustling lot of people on the streets. The vibes were good compared to last night. And the apartment was right across the street from the train station. Another huge plus for me as I was still unsure of what to think of certain New York neighborhoods by night. When the Canadian opened up the door, I felt like being transformed back to Europe. In a good way, that is. The interior was made up in the same style many German rooms in a city are. My allotted room was surprisingly big and let through a good amount of light. The Canadian also owned cats – creatures I had never looked at before. I wasn’t cat-phobic, though, rather curious what to expect from scratchy, hairy, living fur balls. To sum it up, the overall impression was good and I was considering not even going to a third seeing.

Well, I needed at least some sort of comparison so I took the train back to the City and then hopped on the 7 up to Queens. Bad luck for me as I wandered around and just couldn’t figure out the address of the apartment. After half an hour I gave up and didn’t even cancel the appointment. That was not very well behaved of me, I know, and I really felt guilty after this. But while walking through the neighborhood I had come to the conclusion that Queens wasn’t the right area for me anyways. Some spots over there are extremely family-oriented, such as the one I was in.

Glad to move out of my hotel soon, I met up with my German friend and as we compared our apartment-hunting stories I knew I had been very fortunate. He had slept on his friend’s couch for two weeks straight until he was able to find something close to suitable in New Jersey. Not his first choice of destination, of course, but hey, Weehawken has a good connection to Manhattan. And the prices are cheaper than in New York.

What we both found surprising was the fact that room size and room price do not seem to correlate. In Europe the bigger the room, the more you pay. Not here. Here you have a set amount of money that is divided among the bedrooms and no one pays attention to price in relation to size. Good for you if your room is big but it can be unfair when it is small.

Also, if you find something you like, you have to act fast. My friend had seen many nice rooms but was still in his German mentality of sleeping it over a night or two. Well, that is in general how things happen but in New York the demand ratio is quite high, so you have to be fast when picking. By fast I mean signing a contract before you leave the house. I know, pretty hectic. Deposits are usually three months rent. By an average room price of $600-900 in Brooklyn and more $$ in Manhattan, you can derive what high amount of sum you have to come up with. A good thing is that you can quit your contract if you find something better after your first month of stay. Here you either find a new roommate and suggest him/her to the rest of the household or give one month notice. Decent enough, considering the average three months of notice you have to give in Germany, which I consider pretty inflexible for an insecure life of a young student.

To emphasize my point: My first apartment took me less than 2 days to find and I ended up moving in with an interesting artist from Canada who was crucial in forming my first impressions of New York. I felt really lucky in those first weeks in New York…

My roommate and I having a fun time in Cali

2 thoughts on “Finding a Roommate in New York (First Round)

  1. Great post again Laura! Good information… How come you didn’t search in Manhattan? Is it that much more expensive [excluding the Harlem end}?

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