I started actively looking about three weeks ago, but it was really for my own sake because I had no way of visiting the places I was interested in, and even if I did, I wasn't ready to make a decision. I had to see a few places before I could commit to somewhere, right? Hell, I found a place on Craigslist that looked really good on a Friday. By Monday, the listing had been deleted. That's how fast apartments go around here. And I was only using Craigslist because hell if I knew where else to look.
My requirements were few: I wanted a one-bedroom under $1,000 that was near a BART station. Preferably near downtown Berkeley, as that's where all the cool stuff was. I soon discovered that really wasn't a possibility, so I concentrated my search around Ashby BART. Even then, though, my pickings were slim. A couple people, however, had suggested north Oakland, and one day I idly moved my Craigslist search to the north Oakland/Temescal area and, to my surprise, I found a lot more choices and, more importantly, choices that looked more appealing, apartment-wise. As long as I stayed close to Macarthur BART, I could walk to the station and take the Emery Go Round to work.
My relatives, it seemed, were going on vacation for over a week, leaving me to fend for myself. What this meant, however, was that my commute was my own, and I could finally spend a great deal of consecutive time looking at potential places to live.
The hunt was on.
Before my pre-Comic-Con airport hijinks, I saw my first apartments. The first place was tucked away and down the street from BART. The person showing the place was late. This would become a trend. The rent was $850, which was a plus, but oh my God, was it small. See, I've been spoiled. My last two apartments were a two-bedroom where my bedroom was huge and an 800 sq. ft. one-bedroom. So I'm used to having way more space than I need. This place was estimated to be a paltry 425 square feet. Now, I know 800 square feet is larger than your typical one-bedroom apartment (it was, in fact, billed as a "large one-bedroom"), but come on! A decent-sized living area and a small bedroom, but the kitchen, really, was the dealbreaker. It was so small you couldn't even open the refrigerator door all the way. I kid you not; there was about a foot of walking space to squeeze through.
Just around the corner, the girl showed us a larger place for $990 that wasn't completely ready to show. It was significantly larger, yes, at an estimated 625 square feet (it had a nice bedroom, a large living area, and a dining area), but it still felt kind of...old. The kind of old I wasn't going to pay a thousand dollars for. I don't want quaint, dammit! Quaint is nice to visit, but I don't want to live there. I like things modern. Why didn't any of these places have a bleeding dishwasher?
A co-worker, let's call her Red, had lived in the north Oakland area for five years and loved it, so she pointed out to me the best places to live. Like, "Here's a street corner where they sell drugs. Here, you might hear a lot of gunshots." Oakland was awesome! Even the neighborhood she lived in wasn't a place she thought I'd like to live in, although I did come across a listing for a nice-looking place that was, like, right across from her. Unfortunately, it looked like the frontrunner in my apartment search, a 625-square-foot place down the street from BART for a mere $895, was in a worse neighborhood than hers.
I had been sending out e-mails and leaving phone messages (luckily, I didn't have a lot of work to do), but I hadn't been getting enough responses to set up appointments. There were some places that looked really good, but it didn't matter how good they looked if I couldn't get in contact with the damn landlord. There were other places that looked really good, but it didn't matter how good they looked when the response I got was that there were already two applications on it or it had already been rented.
Tuesday after work, I walked to that $895 place for a 5:00 appointment. It was right on 40th, so a little more urban than I was used to. But the building looked really nice, actually. Very secure and not run-down or anything. If only I could see an actual apartment. I waited for the landlord to show up. For about ten minutes. I checked the back to see if he was waiting for me there. I ran into a woman in the laundry room, who said that, oh, he never showed up on time. Grand! After another five minutes or so, I left a message on the machine and walked away.
I had attempted to tell a Mexican man who didn't really speak fluent English (and actually asked me if I were Mexican, for some reason) that I would meet him at 5:15 (to which he responded, "Okay, 5:00!"). The building was tucked away from the hustle and bustle, but the area wasn't very pretty. I found the landlord and told him I wanted to see the place, and he said it wasn't ready, that it would be ready to move in in mid-August, and for like the fifteenth fucking time, I tried to explain to him that I didn't care; I just wanted to see it. We'd already done this dance over the phone, dammit! It was $795, for crying out loud, so I wanted to check it out because a place that cheap couldn't last long. Unless it looked like a converted motel room, which it did. A small living area, a kitchen to walk through on the way to the decent-sized bedroom, a good closet, and a very nice bathroom. The bathroom was the best-looking place, because, you know, CONVERTED MOTEL ROOM. I'm such a snob. He told me there was an Indian family across the street (well, he referred to them as "Hindu").
I was already late for my 5:30 appointment at what sounded like a good deal, a 1.5-bedroom for $950. I'm going to make a long, painful story short here by saying that I spent about ten minutes LOOKING ON THE WRONG FUCKING STREET. And I had forgotten to bring the lady's number with me.
So, out of three places I was intending to look at, I only saw one. How the hell was I going to find an apartment in time?!
I also had three places scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Tuesday afternoon, I had been refreshing the Craigslist page when a place for $827 popped up. It sounded decent enough, but it was a ways from BART. Less than a mile, but about twice as far as the other places I had been looking at. It did have an attic, however. I sent an e-mail and received a prompt response. I had normally only followed up on listings with pictures, but the price of this place overruled that.
I had also come across a place for $925 that had sorted under studios despite being a one-bedroom, and the description sounded lovely. Also, I left a message, and the landlord called me back within, like, half an hour. He was very pleasant to talk to as well. And if there's one thing I've learned from hearing other people's horror stories, it's that a good landlord is key. No matter how cheap that $795 place was, I was very afraid of that communication barrier and how much it could fuck things up. The landlord said the place wasn't exactly ready to show until next week, but he could still let me see it Wednesday afternoon at 5:30.
And after that, I planned to give that 1.5-bedroom a second try.
Bonus, however! That morning, I finally received a call back from a man advertising a purportedly HUGE studio that was right across from BART, and so I drove over and checked it out during my lunch break. And it was pretty sizable. Good living area but no real "bedroom," per se, since it was a studio. A closet you could stick your bed in. Ginormous kitchen with an extra nook space that you could stick your bed or an office in. The place was very spacious, but I would have to be creative in using it. Red warned me that I would get both BART noise and highway noise, although it seemed pretty quiet when I was inside. At $925, it wasn't that bad for the size and location.
Also, funnily enough, on Wednesday, that apartment I talked about that I liked on Friday and was gone by Monday...appeared again. I guess the application wasn't so successful! It was being shown the next day at 6, but I didn't have any other appointments scheduled for Thursday, and I didn't want to hang around that long just for the one place. And I should probably start making appointments for the weekend to see places in Berkeley. TOO MANY APARTMENTS.
Anyway, after work on Wednesday, I drove over to the first place. As I neared it, I was surprised to see that right down the street was a goddamn Safeway. And a Bank of America. I would get my own Safeway?! There was a Burger King and a Subway, too. I also passed a high school, which, to me, spoke well of the area.
Street parking seemed ample, which would be good for people to visit (and people better visit, bitches). The landlord had not arrived, so I called him, and he sounded a little surprised. Apparently, I was supposed to have called him beforehand, even though I thought we'd agreed on meeting a little after 5. This whole business was getting tiresome. He said he would be on his way.
Meanwhile, however, I looked around and felt really good about the area. It was quite pretty! There were lots of trees around the building, and it was fairly quiet. The place was secure, too, with a gated lot and a locked entrance.
The landlord called me to tell me he was stuck in traffic. This was the first landlord who had given me his cell phone number. I waited. As I waited, a pretty young woman pulled up and parked ahead of me.
Finally, the landlord arrived and let me in. He apologized for keeping me waiting. The young woman was also here to see the apartment. Competition!
First, he showed us around the lot, which had more than enough space for parking. And, God, so pretty. Chinese willows and bougainvillaea planted all around. If it weren't for the concrete, it would be quite a beautiful little backyard. The laundry room was in the back so as not to be noisy, and it looked pretty clean. $1.00 to wash, $0.75 to dry.
Then he took us upstairs to see the apartment. The previous tenant hadn't moved out yet, so it was a different experience from seeing the other four places I'd looked at. Because as soon as he opened the door, it looked like a livable place, you know? It gave the illusion of a place one could reside in happily. The living area was a pretty good size and made a good visual impression upon opening the door. Plus, it was carpeted. I know that hardwood floors are supposedly the shit, but I don't understand the appeal. They're so hard!! Carpet is much nicer to walk on barefoot.
The kitchen was so big! Lots and lots of counter space, which I like. The bedroom was perhaps a bit small, though it may have seemed that way because the guy's huge bed took up most of the width. But it didn't seem like I would find any place with a ginormous bedroom; most bedrooms were basically a space for your bed. I would have to do most of my living in the living area.
All through my inspection, I was muttering to myself, "I really like this place." I couldn't explain it. The landlord showed us the attic, which, unfortunately, couldn't be used as much more than an attic, but it sure was nice to have a place for storage. He had even had a phone line installed up there for some woman who for some reason spent a lot of time in the attic and didn't want to keep running downstairs to answer the phone.
Back outside, the kooky old French landlord told us more about the place and the other residents. He said the main downside of the apartment was that the bedroom was small. He was telling us this to discourage us because as soon as he had posted on Craigslist, he had gotten something like twenty e-mails. He suspected people had some sort of computer program. I was trying to downplay my interest because I didn't want to incite the other woman to act more quickly. The landlord continued to babble about his political views, and I knew I was going to miss looking at any other apartments, but I felt okay about it because I had a really good feeling about this one. He said he tried to keep the rent conservative because he served a lot of grad students, and how could they afford to live? He assumed the both of us were grad students, and we both laughed and disagreed. I was a medical writer at a pharmaceutical company, and she worked at a spa in San Francisco.
He handed us applications and told him to fax them to him. He would have to get a credit report, but although it cost him money, he wouldn't charge us. This guy was great. The girl wished me good luck as she left.
As I drove away, I deliberately took the route I would walk to BART. I passed a middle school and a playground. This was a really nice neighborhood! And it wasn't that far a walk, right? Twenty minutes at the most! Come on! See, you know you're in love when you start rationalizing the flaws. But, seriously, I would get my own Safeway! The other places were close to BART but close to nothing else useful. And they were mostly a hundred dollars more expensive.
This place, I swear, made me gleefully happy all the way home. I could not explain it. No other place had had that effect. Even though the place had totally cheated by being lived in and giving me a pretty woman who did not, unfortunately, come with the apartment. But it was a sign! That the place was a babe magnet!
There were other downsides besides the distance from BART. It was the only place that didn't include water as part of the rent. But water couldn't be that expensive, and it certainly wouldn't be a hundred dollars a month. Also, taking a look at my pictures, there didn't seem to be a lot of closet space. But: attic! Not that I could hang my clothes in the attic, but we could work something out. And although the landlord had estimated the place to be about 500 square feet, which was decent, I felt like it was maybe smaller than I thought it was, and I could find a bigger place for a little more. But...the location! So pretty! Trees! Flowers! Half a mile from the library! I could buy a goddamn bike with the thousand dollars I would save by living farther away from BART. I could buy TEN BIKES.
I was both afraid to commit to the apartment so soon after seeing it (and seeing nothing else afterward to compare) and afraid not to commit because it was clearly in high demand and would be gone by the time I made my decision, and I would be sad. What if there were something better out there?
What if there weren't?
The next morning, I e-mailed the landlord with my interest.
To my horror, he responded that there were already two applications in.
So hurry up.
I hurriedly finished filling out the application and frantically faxed it over. I told Red about the place, and once she realized what area it was, she practically squeed. It was by her favorite shopping center, in the very nice part of Temescal. And it was on the border of Rockridge, giving me access to College Avenue and Piedmont Avenue. Take it, she said! Take it! I WAS TRYING.
I asked the landlord if I had any chance at all since there were two applications in already. He said...that my odds were excellent and that I was at the top of his list! Picking a tenant was not a precise science, but he could still try to be objective and businesslike. Eep!
I was too freaked out to get any work done. I wanted to know the answer NOW so I knew whether I needed to keep looking at more apartments. I printed off a credit report and faxed it over, hoping that would speed up the process. I e-mailed the landlord to tell him a credit report was on its way.
AND VICTORY WAS MINE.
We needed to set up a time and place to meet to go over the paperwork and give him the security deposit. I started composing an e-mail and then decided, fuck it, just call him.
"Hello, who is this?" he said.
"Sunil," I said.
"Can you spell that? My hearing is not so good." Oh, Lord.
"S...C...R...O..." he began before realization dawned on him and he exclaimed, "SUNIL! Oh, of course, of course, Sunil! Are you happy?"
"I'm very happy!" I said.
Now, off the record, he could tell me why I was at the top of his list. One of the applicants was a doctor making a hundred thousand dollars a year, but she wanted to stay for only six months. So that didn't work for him. The other applicant was a grad student, and from what I could tell, he had only stayed at his previous apartment for a year, and (my new!) landlord was looking for someone more stable. Thank God I had stayed at my last apartment for 20 months! I really wasn't sure how his rationale was working on that one, considering the lease was supposedly going to be month-to-month after a year anyway. But it was valid reasoning! He lauded himself for making an objective and businesslike decision.
And it had nothing, nothing to do at all with the fact that he had a good, old friend who was from India. Nothing to do at all. If anyone asked him, he would deny it. For once in my life, being swarthy paid off. I mean, it didn't pay off at all, really. Shhh.
I kid you not, as we were talking on the phone, an application was coming through the fax. It was from the young woman who had seen the apartment with me the day before. If she only knew how well her luck had worked...for me. The apartment was gone before lunchtime, missy. Next time, work faster. You're totally welcome to visit, though.
We agreed to meet at the Rooz Cafe on Piedmont on Saturday at noon. He even offered to pick me up, since he lived in Palo Alto and drove back and forth between Palo Alto and Oakland all the time. I told him I could get there myself, it was all right.
Saturday morning, I left a message for him before I left to confirm the time, and on the road, I got a call asking if we could move it to 1:00. I said I was already on the way, so he said 12:30, which was fine, as it would give me a little time to explore the famed Piedmont Avenue. I was a little worried that we couldn't ever meet somewhere on time, but at least he was considerate about it and, like, called me.
I found some parking in a lot for some ice cream place that, surprisingly, didn't actually have any sign that said "Parking for customers only," so I chanced it. It would only be for an hour or two anyway. I went inside and sampled the mocha almond fudge to validate my decision. Then I wandered around and checked out a used bookstore.
Close to 12:30, I took a seat in the Rooz Cafe and read The Onion, which I was pleased to see they had in paper form. I got a call from (my new!) landlord, who said he had just parked and was on his way. He was in shortly, and he asked me what I was having. I said I was having lunch with friends afterward, so I didn't want anything. And I wasn't really a coffee person. We took the corner table by the window, and he pushed again, suggesting a cookie. I relented, asking for chocolate chip.
Then, we flew through the lease and all the regulations of Oakland, which he said were very stupid. A lot of the things in the lease were just kind of there for appearance's sake. For instance, I noted that no charcoal barbecues were allowed and said that was unfortunate because the lot seemed like a great place for a barbecue. He said, oh, whatever, as long as you don't burn the place down. And he had so many barbecues at his place, so I shouldn't waste my money; if I wanted to have a barbecue, he could bring his grill over.
I wasn't sure whether I'd have a car, but when I did, I would have to tell him, as I would have to pay a parking fee. Crap! He'd never mentioned that.
It was a whopping FIVE DOLLARS. It was to maintain the gate, and he calculated that about five dollars from everyone would cover it. Through and through, his entire philosophy seemed to be not to screw over the tenants, and as long as they didn't do anything, you know, actually illegal, they were cool. He was actually going to shop around to find the bank that would give me the most interest for my security deposit. I mean, who does that shit?
It was his birthday. He showed me his driver's license to prove it. He was turning 65. And he needed to get to his birthday celebration, so we would work out all the kinks and specifics of moving in later. We had put in a date of "approximately" September 1, but the weekend before or after would be more convenient to do a move-in, of course.
He even gave me three days to change my mind. But I don't think I'm going to. Because "approximately" a month from now, I will once again have my own place.