Surviving the Apartment Search If the First Buy Fails, Try, Try Again

I have always thought of myself as a good person. I have a job, I earn a living, I buy American-made products, do community service,

visit my parents at least once a month and freely admit to watching Melrose Place. As if that weren't enough, I don't blast my stereo, I never have loud and large parties, I always pay my rent on time and I have never bounced a check. All in all, I'm a building's dream tenant. Having lived in New York for 27 years, one would think this fact alone would entitle me to be passed by even the toughest board in Manhattan.

I found my dream co-op on East 79th Street just three days after I had started the active search: a large pre-war one-bedroom apartment with a huge living room, fabulous walk-in closets and a small work area. It had charm, style and a personality all its own. There was a solidness and wholeness to it. This was a place where I could spend the rest of my life.

After completing endless paperwork, dealing with negotiations, unearthing everyone who had ever said something nice about me, paying the lawyer's fee, the copying fee, the interview fee, and on and on, it was finally all completed. The next step was the board interview.

Unlike most people, I was looking forward to it. Like a child on her first day of school, I had already planned what I was going to weara conservative but fashionable designer suit with a French cut shirt. But alas, I never got the chance to wear it; my favorite brown wool pant suit hung untouched in my closet.

The first meeting was canceled. Kept standing on ceremony, waiting to be told when and where, I anxiously anticipated the rescheduling. Constantly checking my machine like a maniac, I found myself planning my life around this meeting, fearful of making commitments to others I might not be able to keep. To make matters worse, all this was happening during the holidays which slowed things down even more. Many of the board members were away, taking vacations with their families, forgetting about their responsibilities as members of this elite class of decision-makers.

Legally, a co-op board doesn't need to give you a reason why you have been turned down. As frustrating and demoralizing as it seems, it's the law. The board wouldn't even meet me. They just flat out said M-No' and rejected my application. I was shocked, disappointed and confused.

Who are these people? These God-like apartment owners who hold the fate of your dream home in their hands? And who gave them all this authority?

Of course, this inconceivable brush-off let my mind run wild with a list of possible excuses and explanations, none of which seemed fair or reasonable. As an actor and writer, I am more than used to rejection. I have been to many auditions where casting directors don't cast you for the most pathetic reasonsyou're either too tall or too short, too fat or too thin, too blond or not blond enough. You can't take it personally. And to try to figure why a building has denied your application is pointless.

No one likes to lose and I am the first to put up a fight for something I want. I told the board I would put money in escrow, have my parents co-sign, raise our original bid, and yes, even pay the entire amount in cash. No go. I was rejected a second time and still with no reason why. And still with no meeting.

My broker was wonderfu ffb l and supportive. He shared my anguish and disappointment with me, not because he had lost his fee but because he knew how much I truly wanted this apartment and how unfair the board was being.

Suddenly, horrible visions of moving back in with my folks flashed into my mind, filling me with dread. No, that wasn't going to happen to me. No way. After a day or so of self pity, I got back on the horse, called my broker and I set out to look for something else. Less excited, already jaded and weakened by the system, I went through the process again. I also went back to reading the New York Times Apartment section. As my hi-lighter started to dry out, I eagerly looked for apartments to jump out at me, hoping my yellow lines and red circles would lead to something as wonderful as what I had first seen.

Now nothing appealed to me or seemed fabulous. I would forever be comparing my first love apartment to everything else I saw. Like a juror who has accidentally been told juicy testimony and has been asked to strike it from memory, I needed to forget the great apartment I had seen. Dejected, I was reminded that Barbra Streisand was turned down many times before she moved into her home on the Upper West Side. Feeling as if I finally had something in common with the mega star, my spirits rose just a little bit.

Finding an apartment is a process that could make the most relaxed and easy-going person need a trip to Betty Ford. We all want the same thing: an affordable apartment in a good neighborhood that has great resale value, some sort of view, low maintenance, a pretty lobby and nice neighbors. This is beyond challenging, beyond frustrating and beyond time-consuming.

One thing I have learned is don't look when you're desperate. Give yourself at least an extra month. Even if you think you have found the apartment of your dreams, the contract has been signed by both parties and you are assured everything will go smoothly, keep looking. Have a back-up. Like college, if you're going to apply early decision, make sure you still have a safety school just in case you get deferred. I recently looked at something on 74th Street between Lexington and Park. It's not as wonderful or as large as the 79th Street building, but this one has a much lower maintenance, needs no renovation and, location-wise, it's even better. Like a bad dM-ijM-` vu, I have put in a bid, had it accepted, signed the contract and now I wait.

Buying an apartment is like dating someone, a friend of mine told me when I related my ordeal to her.

I've been searching for the right guy for over a decade. Apartments, I am quickly learning, are no different. Like men, I feel all the great ones are taken. They're either too expensive, in the wrong neighborhood, need too much work, feel claustrophobic or have no charm. But I am optimistic. Like a good man, the right apartment is out there. And just as you need to pass the inspection of your boyfriend's parents, when you buy an apartment, you need the approval of the board.

So who knows, perhaps by the time you read this I will be in the midst of packing boxes and labeling everything fragile, knowing that things will break anyway. And if not, then this article just might be a two-parter.

Ms. Strauss is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.

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  • Rent Stabilized Tenants and Rent Controlled Tenants are no different from buyers who are trying to buy a co-op apartment in the building, except that rent stabilized/controlled tenant live in the converted co-op building and buyers who do not. While the board reject buyers who don't live in the building from buying a co-op apartment, the board refuse rent stabilized/controlled tenants from buying their apartment also. This is a dangerous situation because the rent stabilized/controlled tenants are already living and occupying their apartment and some board members live in the same building as them. It's bad enough to be rejected by boards outside the building in other co-op building if you're a rent stabilized/controlled tenant trying to be part of the community and to be rejected by the board in the building where you live is even worse. This is why all co-op buildings cannot have occupying rent stabilized/controlled tenants in more or less units. It is a conflict and will cause serious static and strife between them and the board. Therefore to alleviate this issue is to encourage rent stabilized/controlled tenants buy their apartment since they are already occupying in the co-op building and the board must embrace them into the cooperative community.