Apartment Hunting Across a Cultural Divide

I know I’ve been quiet lately on the blog, but for those of you follow along with my journey elsewhere on social media, you’ve seen whats been dominating all my free time: apartment hunting.

I have been bogged down in it, using every moment of free time to scour the main websites and sending dozens of emails each day, only to met with increasing frustration and losing my mind. I was discussing this with my new rebbetzin friend (Hi!) and she said – put it on your blog! So, here I am! Sharing my insanity, what I have learned thus far, and looking for your insights on how to cope. Oh, and if you happen to know anyone renting a 1 bedroom (aka 2 room I have learned) furnished apartment in either Baka/Talpiyot-ish (the area near Pardes) or Nachlaot, shoot me an email (melissa at redefiningrebbetzin dot com) – you may become my new second favorite person! (Sorry, but regardless of anything else, D stays at the #1 spot.)

Things I have learned so far:

– There is a distinct difference in Israeli postings between the number of rooms advertised and the number of bedrooms. I have to reread postings regularly to try to see what they are telling me, because often what it says in the subject and what it says in the body appear to be different.

– Israelis (at least in my rental experience, and crowdsourced for validation) are not such big email utilizers. They’d rather talk on the phone. Given the time difference and the fact that I work two jobs right now, thats kind of tricky. However, they more prefer to deal with people in person, so if the choice is between me in America trying to email them, and a person who can meet them at the place now – guess who gets the follow up?

– They also tend to be non-responsive if the place you are inquiring about has recently been rented. I work in donor relations, so customer service is super inherent to me and this is just so not how I operate that it floors me. (Add it to the general dislike of email and I can rant with the best f them.)

– No one has more than like three photos! Seriously, whats up with that one?

– Apartments tend to be available immediately. So looking 6 weeks in advance is almost futile. (The last time D spent time in Israel, he looked for a place and moved in that night! I cannot wrap my brain around that.)

– Even though it is really hard to navigate through them, it is important to try to use Hebrew sites where possible. If you have to use English sites, don’t trust anyone listing in USD, they are most likely taking advantage of you as a “rich American.” (Related: find out if you are dealing with an agent or the renter, this is often pretty clear on the posting, especially as you see the same names over and over again.)

– In the past few days, I have found out that listserves are my friend, even though they really make it hard for me to keep my clean inbox. Getting stuff emailed to me is way less stressful than constantly monitoring every website. (If you are looking, search for yahoo groups for the areas you want to live in and also join flathunters.)

Questions I’ve learned to ask (with much gratitude to Ronit: @rgoldstand*) which work for anyone who is apartment hunting in Israel:

– What furnishings exactly are included?
– Are the bedroom and living room separate?
– What is the kitchen like?
– Is there a washer on the premises? If not, where is the closest laundromat and what are their prices?
– What size are the rooms?
– Is there an Arnona or Vaad Bayit payment? If so, how much?
– Are any utilities included in the cost of the rent?
– Is it a solar heater?
– Are there markets in walking distance?
– Is it an area you feel comfortable walking around?
– What is the bus accessibility like? (or if you plan to drive, if there is parking)
– Do you have any more photos you can send?

So, anyone have any more things I should be asking or learning? (Not that I’m sure my brain could handle much more at this point!)

Oh, how could I post this without the most important thing of all to learn in this process: yiyeh b’seder, it will be ok. Repeat after me… Yiyeh b’seder! (I think I might need one of these shirts from Benji Lovitt and the Nu Campaign in order to keep reminding myself of this important mantra over the next si weeks.)

*Ronit is truly inspiring if anyone is looking to make aliyah. Not an email goes by where she doesn’t slip in subtle plug for how amazing it is to be an olah. She reminds me that she hasn’t given up on us yet, so for those of you who think its in our cards, you should know someone is working on it – and for anyone interested in aliyah, she’d be an awesome person to talk to – she’s real and rational, but totally loves living the dream.
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Renting New York

Post by Jessica (not our street or building - but you get the idea!)

First, sorry to have been a little MIA. We’re in the midst of our big life transition, and although I haven’t lacked in subjects to write about (there are a ton of draft posts waiting), I have lacked in time and brain power. Exactly a year ago last Wednesday, we started our crazy journey that brought us to Hillel for the year. This year, July 1 was our last official day at Hillel, but in keeping with the theme of the year, we worked a little bit on both the 4th and the 5th. On the 6th, we flew to New York to begin our search for a place, and we were successful. It wasn’t exactly an episode of Selling New York but it was definitely educational.

We worked with a broker. Not that a broker is required in the city, but we knew we wouldn’t have time to learn enough about the Manhattan market or set up showings and I got a discount through NYU. Besides, any extra time we spent in NYC would cost us money as well. After checking in with the broker on Wednesday, we met up with a friend from our days at Pardes, someone whom we hadn’t seen in four years. We also met his lovely wife and new baby daughter, and it was great to catch up and get to know each other again knowing we’d have a lot of opportunities to spend more time together in the future.

Back into the heavy lifting of apartment renting, we spent a very hot and humid Thursday trekking up and down the Upper West Side, starting at around 76th street. Although we had looked at a few apartments last year, one of the first things we learned this year was that the market is tighter this year – the vacancy rate has dropped from 1.1% to 0.9% (gotta love Manhattan) and that difference meant we were looking at occupied, smaller apartments versus empty and slightly larger apartments last year.

We never expected a mansion in Manhattan – but some of these apartments were really something else. One particularly memorable one had a porch that was trying to double as a bedroom. However, all hope was not lost. One of our last stops of the day was also the farthest north. It’s at the upper edge of the Upper West Side, but it’s also just a hop from the subway, a bank, a pharmacy and two grocery stores. Not to mention at least two Modern Orthodox minyans that we’re interested in. The biggest bonus though? The washer & dryer INSIDE the unit, combined with a newly-remodeled (although small) kitchen and a super that lives on the block (and seems like a nice guy).

The real downside? Aside from the price, it’s a 2.5 mile schlepp to another congregation, that we (R in particular) are interested in attending. Still, we met friends who make the walk and tell us that it’s doable, so we’re hopeful that it will be a good compromise – bigger apartment with good quality of life vs. a schlepp on Shabbat.

My conclusions? The broker was worth it, although I wouldn’t have minded paying a little less, because he took so much of the stress off of us and worked out all the little kinks in the actual process of applying and getting the lease taken care of. More conclusions than that, I can’t draw, since we don’t live there yet and I can’t tell you how well it worked out!

So, as of Friday (and a lot of forms and back and forth), we have a place in New York City, and suddenly this whole “we’re moving there” thing has become very real. Everyone I introduced myself to over Shabbat, I was able to say that we’re moving to town and had an apartment with a real address, and they, in turn, seemed more interested in us since we weren’t just one-time visitors. It also meant I spent a lot of time talking about myself outside the context of my Hillel work, and I realized that I haven’t spent a lot of time doing that lately. Not only that, but this is the first time that I’m telling the story in this way – that I did Hillel (past tense) and that I am going to be doing (very soon) this program at NYU.

We’re on a much-needed vacation this week, and I’m hoping to take some time to write and reflect on our time at Hillel and this big life transition. And luckily, I’ll be able to share it with all of you.

Nostalgia

Rose-colored Glasses - post by Jessica

This is a time of transition in our lives, which always, always makes me nostalgic. The entire period from when we start dismantling a place I have lived until the time I am settled into the new place, I have the angels and demons of every period of my life floating around my shoulders. I think of unhappy conversations that I haven’t thought about in years, or fantastic events that defined my life somehow. Granted, this process is facilitated by the fact that moving involves picking up the physical pieces of our lives, sorting through them, sometimes evaluating whether they are worthy to be kept, and then putting them into a box. Still, I feel like this time is worse. I have some theories as to why.

First, R and I decided that we really, really needed to go through all of our stuff and organize before we moved. Because of last year’s craziness, we barely sorted anything before it got dumped into boxes to be moved downstate. Our move up to Chicago was also very harried – and we were moving in together for the first time, so we were too busy dealing with multiple utensils and furniture items to worry about the boxes of papers and trinkets that we had collected. Now, our lives from 2006 until now are being spread across the living room, sorted into piles, then recycled or filed. And, I decided to go through our card collections – both my mom and my adoptive grandmother send cards for many holidays, especially Valentine’s Day.  So, I’m spending a lot of time in memory lane, even as we are starting to finally implement our plans for the year ahead.

In just about a week, I have my last day of work at Hillel. While I’m hoping to write about what I’ve learned here and some of my experiences, everything still feels way too close to even think about yet. I am still going to work every day, so it doesn’t feel as though much has changed since the middle of May when all the students left. And we’re still making decisions – trying to hire my replacement, hiring an Office Manager – the business here is still getting done. And yet, on July 1, that all ends, and on July 6 we fly to New York to find an apartment, and then head on vacation for a little bit. At the end of July, we’ll pack our lives up again and road-trip out to New York – and then, September 6, shortly after our fourth wedding anniversary, we’ll both start graduate school.

It’s daunting, and all the more so because I feel as though things are more vibrant this year. Maybe because I’ve been surrounded by student for a year, I’m more excited to be back as a student myself. It was such a risk to come here – whether we would be able to handle the absolute shower of problems here and then whether I would be able to get back into school. We dealt with as many of the problems as we could and we leave this place better than we found it. And I definitely got back into school! Still, now we face another huge life change – and I’m glad that we have made it to this time, place and season.

I’ll be sure to keep everyone updated – especially as things keep moving along with our big changes!

What’s your best or funniest moving story? Or your words of wisdom as we prep for moving?