From Real Estate Heaven to Craigslist Hell: In Pursuit of a Perfect New York Apartment

Home. (Kim Velsey)

The explanation was reasonable and surprisingly comforting. But unable to sleep, I spent the next few hours combing Craigslist, reading housing ads that I’d already read a half-dozen times before and chastising myself for the slow, non-committal follow-ups I had sent to the handful of decent places I’d seen in the past few weeks (probably how I’d lost apartment No. 1).

None had won me over, but really, they’d been good enough. They were the kinds of places that I would have lived if I hadn’t been so spoiled by my previous good fortune, if I didn’t feel that taking an apartment that was “good enough” would constitute a defeat. If, when it came to real estate, I didn’t secretly believe in, and hold out for that sentimental old saw—love at first sight—that I did not believe of romance, or really, anything else.

The end of March brought with it a tide of cheaper, better, more attractive postings, including a light-saturated bedroom in Bed-Stuy, close to the border of Clinton Hill. It was located in a large shared house, the kind I’d been looking for, with a huge backyard and a pressed-tin ceiling in the kitchen. Moreover, there was something happy about the tone of the post that buoyed my spirits.

Walking to the open house that weekend, the building caught me by surprise—a free-standing wood frame beauty with a mansard roof and a porch swing lodged in a block of brownstones. Behind an iron gate, chickens roamed in the front yard (I immediately coveted the absurdity that 4 chickens would lend to my ongoing roommate count, even as I worried that Brooklyn chickens, and even moving to Brooklyn at all, were too au courant).

There will be eggs. (Kim Velsey)

It felt like providence, but I was not the only crusader. The place was packed with other eager would-be boarders. As I walked around the house, I felt a crush taking hold. But besting the other suitors posed its own challenges—how to write a follow-up email that was earnest and persuasive without being overly ardent or creepy?

The owner, who documented the house’s history in a 2009 New York Times article, told me that the house had hosted lavish parties written up in the society pages during its early years, later becoming an underground R&B bar, then the center of a sizable crack dealing operation whose end was precipitated by a series of murders, and finally, a house that now holds 13 people. Also, it sat over a mysterious hidden tunnel the provenance of which remains unknown.

As she spoke, I felt woozy and excited and, all-at-once, very lucky. Maybe even the first stirrings of love. I moved in last week.

From Real Estate Heaven to Craigslist Hell: In Pursuit of a Perfect New York Apartment