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West Village Renter Gets In Bidding War For 'Grown-Up' Pad

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In this installment of the Renters' Diaries, a Village resident looks for peace and some more room, but not without a few missteps.

After over two years in a tiny one-bedroom on the corner of MacDougal Street and West 3rd, I was ready for some peace and quiet. Don't get me wrong—the 300-square-foot Village spot I'd been sharing with only an occasional cockroach and a mouse or two had earned a soft spot in my heart, and was located crucially near to the subway lines to my downtown office (A/C/E) and to a Brooklyn apartment that came to house two of my siblings. When I found the place, it had felt like a steal—$2,300/month within a block of West 4th Street? And in the heart of the downtown-yet-Times Square-y twilight zone of MacDougal that's north of Houston. But after two years, the rent had jumped to over $2,500, and after the fifth all-nighter due to yet another couple's lovers spat at Ben's Pizzeria at 3:30 a.m., I knew it was time to grow up.

Tempted by low mortgage rates and dreams of "homeownership," I dabbled in the buyers' market for a couple of weeks—I was committed to the West Village neighborhood but soon realized that pre-nesting yuppie couples and out-of-town pied-a-terre-seekers were more committed than I. It seemed that most open houses garnered serious bids from a handful of eager buyers within the first 20 minutes, without regard to size and amenities, and I didn't have a mortgage guarantee letter in hand to begin with. In desperation, a close friend and I even toyed with the ludicrous idea of two single late-twentysomething men sharing a Mercer Street loft that had clearly been designed for a reasonably sized family. But after a hunt, I saw nothing I thought was worth tying up every financial resource I could muster. Downtrodden, I returned sheepishly to the rental market.

I started with a $4,000/month rent cap, but soon was forced to bump my price range up. I suppose one of the perks of having broken my heart in the buyers' market was that, compared to asking prices approaching and sometimes exceeding $1 million, even high rent levels seemed to bring a sense of economic "safety." Within a couple of weeks, I found a two-bedroom overlooking Bleecker Street and Sixth Avenue that seemed to have it all—two generously sized bedrooms, an adequate living room, and a long, stretched-out kitchen—the apartment was a corner unit on the third floor and boasted nine huge windows with southern and western exposures. Some shots of the place:

My girlfriend and I were taken in by the doleful broker, who said that he'd had the apartment on the market for over two weeks, and who encouraged us to put in an application below the apartment's asking rent of $4,500. We went to the NYU computer lab and had a full application to him within the hour, offering $4,300. And then we waited.

And waited. I'd already told eight family members and every friend I could find about this great new apartment I'd seen on Saturday. But by Wednesday, I still hadn't heard anything from the broker. He had mentioned something about the owner being out of the country and difficult to communicate with, but this was getting ridiculous. Finally, resorting to a desperate-sounding note in the middle of the night, I e-mailed him for an update. He acknowledged that there was another offer in on the apartment—an offer that, I figured, must have come in during the hour I was scanning bank statements and letterhead furiously—and thought he'd have an answer to me the following day. It was Valentine's Day, and the owner had chosen the other offer. That broker last tried to connect with me on a social network last week. I, of course, haven't replied.

I started to think about making another year at MacDougal and West 3rd palatable. Could I install double-thick windows? Maybe a fresh paint job would "open up" the space? Maybe I just needed some new furniture, something light and functional. I had, by now, gotten very familiar with StreetEasy and found myself nervously checking neighborhood listings—while walking down the hall, between courses at meals, even surreptitiously during the occasional meeting at work.

During one of these daydreaming sessions, I saw a listing that looked intriguing—way out of my price range at over $5,200/month, but given the generous private terrace, two very nice-sized and well-lit rooms, an old clawfoot bathtub and even two working fireplaces, I started to think about creative financing arrangements. The molding and detailwork looked beautiful, old and well-kept, and the place looked to be quiet—on Waverly Place between Sixth and MacDougal.

The first time I saw the apartment, I hated it. With the space bare, the "charm" of the apartment's age was lost in the age itself: the sloping old hardwood floors caught my shuffling shoes with protruding nailheads; the bathroom and kitchen were desperately in need of a paint job; and the terrace had clearly been used for a long time as some sort of outdoor greenhouse. I couldn't see past the place's temporary imperfections to see what could be done with it, and walked out of an open house in frustration. These photos reveal how I first saw it:

Thankfully, three friends visiting the following weekend convinced me that going apartment-hunting in New York would be a load of fun for out-of-towners. We saw two disappointing rentals—one up Greenwich Avenue that was adjacent to an active (and early morning-commencing) construction project, and a cookie-cutter apartment on Mercer at Bleecker. Finally, trying to show them something "New York," I brought them to another open house at the Waverly apartment. And, as it turns out, mood had changed. The nail heads had been knocked in. The bathroom and kitchen gleamed. And the terrace, which had before seemed a vined-over briarpatch, had been cleared to reveal a beautiful patio below and a view down onto a charming carriage house. As my advisory council frantically texted me so as not to alert other would-be renters to their interest, I asked the broker nonchalantly for an application.

This time, I had the scanning and collating done beforehand. But I managed to fall afoul of the cutthroat rental-vying process a second time, because another broker had hosted a different open house in the same apartment, ending up with a competing offer. I was asked to participate in my first-ever rental bidding war in New York—at noon the following Monday, both bidders were asked to submit their best offer. I had a couple of qualitative factors in my favor: the other bidder was a couple who might not have supported the rent individually. They had a little dog, and the building's owner, who lived immediately above the unit, didn't care for pets. In the end, the bidding war came down to cash—I'm told I won by $25/month. It was worth it.

· A North Brooklyn Renter Finds More Space In Crown Heights [Curbed]
· Renter Reports archive [Curbed]
· All Renters Week 2013 coverage [Curbed]