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Diary of a DJ: Mike Nouveau Meets His Rental Match

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When he's not playing music in the Boom Boom Room, Tribeca Grand, Avenue or whatever exotic city that's currently in the throes of Fashion Week, DJ Mike Nouveau is ... frantically combing Craigslist for a cheap rental! The downtown scenester is hiking up his skirt and hunting for a new apartment before his East Village lease runs out on March 31. We've heard Part I, II and III of the saga, and now, the conclusion...

When I woke up in the morning, I had three pending offers on the table. An hour later, I only had one. Someone had made an offer on Essex and Canal that was about $100 more than my $1,450/month offer. I had also heard back from Ray about the Nolita apartments. They declined my offer of $1,600 for the bigger apartment, but they said they would accept $1,500 for the smaller apartment. A good deal for that apartment, but I really wanted the bigger one. I decided that I would take the day to think about it while I met with a few other brokers about some apartments in the East Village.

I had a 3pm appointment with Andrew at Best Apartments. Best Apartments is an agency that absolutely plasters Craigslist with their ads, and then insists you trek up to their office to sign a bunch of forms before they show you anything. I guess they're paranoid that someone else will offer you the same non-exclusive apartments but with a cheaper fee, so they make you sign a form promising that anything you see with them must be rented through them... for 15% of the annual rent. So I arrived a few minutes early to their offices at 23rd St and 7th Ave to meet Andrew. I called Andrew about two hours earlier to confirm we were still on. He said yes. Of course when I arrived, I was informed that it was Andrew's day off. Thanks Andrew.

The Best Apartments offices looked more like the New York Stock Exchange than it did a rental agency. About 50 brokers running around in seemingly every direction, yelling into phones, typing furiously. The receptionist asked me to fill out and sign the aforementioned document before we could have any further discussion. I provided my general info, but I didn't sign the document, because the apartment I had called about was in fact a no-fee apartment. Another broker introduced himself and brought me over to his desk. I told him my budget, and he told me it would be nearly impossible. I told him about some of the other great apartments I had seen for $1,600, but he seemed skeptical. I continued to wonder what I was even doing in this office. I asked about the no-fee apartment that I had called about. The broker explained that even if the apartment was no fee, that I would still end up paying the fee in form of more expensive monthly rent.

My brain shut off somewhere halfway through his "no fee = bad, fee = good" speech, and when I snapped back into reality, I was in a taxi with a THIRD broker, returning to the East Village, to check out two apartments that they knew were out of my budget. Both were exactly how I thought they would be. Overpriced and too small. The broker (who to his credit was certainly nicer and less pushy than anyone else I had dealt with at Best Apartments thus far) and I parted ways. I had one more appointment today.

I was referred to Mel at MBD Properties by a friend who swore up and down that he had a ton of amazing underpriced East Village one-bedrooms. As I entered his office on 7th Street and Avenue A, I immediately noticed that it was the polar opposite of the Best Apartments offices. The office was a quaint studio on the ground floor of one of the apartment buildings that MBD represents. Everything about it made me infinitely more comfortable than the other office I had just been in. Mel was extremely friendly and polite as I told him about my requirements, my budget, and the apartments I had already seen. He informed me that he was the exclusive broker for over 65 buildings, many of which he had been working with for years and years, and all of which he had a great relationship with the buildings owners. He had four apartments for me to look at, starting with the cheapest... one on 7th, one on 6th, one on 9th, and one on 12th.

The first one was still being renovated, but it was a nice size and the building itself was very well taken care of. I was looking for something slightly bigger. 6th Street could've been a two bedroom, but one of the rooms was barely large enough to fit my bed. Again though, very clean, and very nice building. The 9th Street apartment was significantly bigger, but I wasn't into the railroad style of the rooms.

I think Mel knew that the apartment at 12th Street and 1st Avenue, at the top of my budget of $1,600 per month, was the pièce de résistance and saved the best for last. In a beautiful building on a beautiful block, this apartment was flat out huge. A big open kitchen, a large living room, and a big bedroom separated by a hallway. The ceilings were very high, and there was a loft built into the bedroom, which they offered to remove if I didn't like. The only other apartment that would have compared to this one was the big Nolita apartment, which I already knew that I couldn't have. I told Mel that I wanted it. I gave him a $500 deposit, provided my pay stubs, letter of employment, and he ran a credit check. The next day I was approved! I have to pay a small broker's fee, in fact it's the smallest fee I've encountered for any apartment with a broker, but it's worth it. After five days of searching and looking at maybe 20 apartments, the hunt is over.

Some tips if you plan on looking to rent an apartment in Manhattan anytime soon:

1) Craigslist is not the be-all end-all of apartment hunting. I've found better stuff through Streeteasy and friends' referrals. If it's on Craigslist, there's a good chance that you've already missed it.

2) Don't be afraid to pay a fee. I know it sucks, it's usually at least a month's rent that you're throwing down the drain, but many times it gets you access to great apartments that you wouldn't see otherwise. And if you plan on staying in your apartment for a long time, it's worth it.

3) Have all of your paperwork ready as you visit apartments. Brokers are busy and are probably showing the same apartment to several people in the same day. Being prepared with all of your documents can give you a big advantage. It also might be a good idea to run a credit check on yourself. Some landlords might insist on doing their own credit check anyway, but it's good to have the information with you anyway.

4) There's almost no point to starting your search more than a month out. However you should start as close to the beginning of the month as possible. Most brokers and owners know what apartments will be available for the entire month, by the first few days of the month. If you don't start looking until the middle of the month (like I did), then you're going to be looking at apartments that have already been passed up by dozens of people.

5) Have money saved up. Whatever your budget is for monthly rent payments, you're usually going to need at least triple of that amount to actually sign a lease. If you find a $1,500 apartment that you want, you're going to need first month's rent, a security deposit, and a one month (usually the minimum) broker's fee. That's $4,500 right there that you need before you can sign a lease. And if the owner also wants last month's rent, add another $1,500 to that total.

· The Mike Nouveau Archive [Curbed]