So you’ve arrived at your budgetary limits, but you’re not close to the boundary of your target neighborhood. What to do? It’s all about balance — and some savvy accounting. Your top tips from a NYC real estate agent (and who could know better about living the high life lite?):
- Take into account everything you spend on housing and everything you spend because of Renting an apartment in NYC or places like it costs more than just the sticker price. Rent, utilities, cable & wifi, home-cleaning services and the like are the obvious ingredients. But what about cab fare you unthinkingly spend when you live in the boonies? Or the high-priced egg sandwiches you’re lured to cause your kitchenette is actually just a boilerplate? Be realistic about where you spend your money, and you may be surprised to find that your cheapest sticker price doesn’t equal your most cost-effective option —or, that your cheapest sticker price is also next door to the cheapest neighborhood services and grocery options. Here in Harlem, we have an amazing network of community supported agriculture projects (CSAs) like Corbin Hill Food Project that make getting farm fresh foods cheaper and easier than in many other neighborhoods with a high price-per-square foot on real estate.
- Explore new neighborhoods. Remember that you’re when you rent or buy in NYC or places like it, you’re staking your claim in a neighborhood, community, and packet of amenities as well as a physical apartment. Do a little digging with your key search terms or use a neighborhood guide like those posted on the NYTimes or Bohemia Realty Group and then get on the ground! Pick a pretty Saturday and walk the neighborhoods that best fit your budget, eyeing amenities, community activities, and gauging your own gut. Look up (and out, and all around). When I did this upon first moving to NYC, I was surprised to find myself attracted to apartments in Washington Heights and Inwood. Those neighborhoods seems far away from lower Manhattan, but have a pleasing feeling of oasis, tons of parks, super-speedy express trains — and yes, lower rent.
- Examine your priorities. There’s a certain glamor about saying you live in a glass tower in Tribeca, but you may find that your actual heart beats fast for green space, or the crown moldings in a Harlem apartment, or (gasp) a longish commute that allows time to decompress. Everyone wants their own space, but yours may be a crashpad, a launchpad, a nest, a communal gathering place, a party spot. Your need for peace may demand a tucked away street; your extroversion may make living alone difficult. Get real with yourself and then:
- Compromise smart. I’m basically a light-fed plant. So I’ll walk up many flights of stairs if there’s a sun-flooded apartment at the top. Since many folks aren’t willing to make the climb, higher floors in non-elevator buildings rent for less. That’s a win for my top priority (mood-boosting Vitamin D!) and the side-perks include noise reduction and stronger legs. If you don’t cook, don’t be picky about the kitchen — that’s where the renovation money goes. If you’re a natural extrovert and crave the feeling of coming home to a full house, but don’t have a family of your own, own it. In major cities like New York, London, and Paris, colocation is a simple reality and if it pleases you, it can be a budget-savvy fit no matter your age. Plus (bonus), apartments are like coffee cups— it’s cheaper per ounce to get a venti than a tall.
- BONUS: Ask yourself, do I want to own a home someday? You may be surprised to find that a purchase in a developing neighborhood isn’t a far-off goal — and ownership confers tax breaks and peace of mind unmatched by rental-hopping. Plus, if you’ve fallen in love with a neighborhood where rents are rising, you want to buy before the peak. If you’re not ready to buy yet, knowing it’s an aim can change the way you budget, because it gives your savings a clearly-visualized home — if you’re ready to buy, that knowledge may also make fringe areas where you could own rather than rent more attractive than their heavy-on-the-radar neighbors.
Ultimately, the focus should be on attaining your best quality of life. And nobody feels their best with their head buried in the sand; look at your budget, lifestyle, aspirations, priorities — then look at apartments. Your heart — and your wallet — will thank you.
AUTHOR BLURB: Michaela Morton is a senior licensed real estate salesperson and Certified Buyer Representative at Bohemia Realty Group, where her special focus is on first time buyers. A performer, writer, and fluent French speaker, Michaela loves making friends of neighbors and neighbors of friends. Read more on the Bohemia blog or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @michaelabohemia.