Chris: Your choice to move to NYC is probably a good one, especially if you want to be a stage actor or to work in commercials or have an aversion to Los Angeles (but really, if film or sitcoms are your dream, then you may want to consider LA).
New York is a stupendous city, as we all know; however, it’s not the easiest place to live. For starters, it’s financially and psychologically challenging. And it’s not a little nuts. I can’t help quoting from Kirk Wood Bromley’s recent play about The American Revolution:
Admiral Howe- Tell me, Major Andre, of yon Manhattan,
Where I expect to sleep tomorrow night.
Major Andre- You will, sir, I’m afraid, get no sleep there.
Cornwallis- For yon Manhattan is the noisiest,
Filthiest, sleaziest, sauciest mess
Of anti-civilized, counter-cultural,
Money-grubbing yahoos ever festered
Unflusht in the devil’s antique outhouse.
Madness and mayhem, sir, that is Manhattan.
But you’re looking to advance your career, so you’ll put up with the madness and mayhem. And anyway, regret is your biggest fear, and the only way to kill it is in the womb by making an attempt. But how?
I know dozens of people who leapt at New York City, but couldn’t get a toe-hold, and so fell back to where they came from. Thinking over these experiences, I’ve concluded that the three tricks to successfully living in New York are to find:
1. An apartment you can tolerate,
2. A job you like,
3. A community you love.
Focus first on these things, not on getting an acting job right away. There’s no sense getting cast in a play if you don’t have an apartment and a job. You’ll be distracted and may even be forced to drop out of the show (a real career killing move, by the way) if you find you can’t make it in the city.
So let’s talk about these things in order — until they are in place, it’ll be very difficult to pursue your acting career. This month, we’ll look at the first step: finding a place to live.
Your first step is to find a place to sleep. If you don’t have a friend (or two) in the city who will put you up for a few weeks (the minimum), then skip here. If you do, then pack as little as you can, and move in.
Temporary Housing: The Friend’s Couch
We’ve all taken advantage of a far-flung friend’s sofa or couch in an attempt to relocate (sociologists call it “chain immigration”). When I came to the city in 1993 I knew only one person, and, as I had no job, no money, and no place to go, I invited myself to live on his futon for a month.
This experience, as well as that of hosting a dozen or so friends making the move to the city over the years, has given me some insight into how to make this kind of situation work.
First, don’t underestimate the strain you can cause. (I myself was kicked off the futon I mentioned above when I started teaching math classes in his living room, but it was the dishes that really got to him.) You really should do everything you can to preserve this friendship because A) it’s the right thing to do, and B) you might need their help in the future.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Fish and guests stink after three days.” As always, he’s right. However, you need somewhere to crash for longer than three days — so here are some tips to make yourself a less stinky fish.
1. Make like Santa Claus. Bring a housewarming and a goodbye gift. A $7 bottle of wine will do. The welcome gift is expected, the goodbye gift is unexpected, and it will therefore erase all the bad memories you’ve created by hogging up your friend’s personal space. Everyone loves presents.
2. Stay singular. Don’t bring any friends over, unless you know absolutely for certain you’re friend won’t mind.
3. Feed yourself. Don’t drink your friend’s milk or eat their cheese. Look, milk only costs a dollar, but the psychological damage that can be effected by mooching off the staples in the fridge is huge. No one likes to wake up in the middle of the night, with raging munches, to find their tuna is gone.
4. Make a small footprint. You know how everyone loves the new iMac? Well, one of the reasons is that it doesn’t take up a lot of room. Do the same.
5. Don’t be a homebody. Now’s a great time to explore New York’s museums, parks, and cafes. Come home to sleep and then make yourself scarce. If you lollygag around all day, reading the New York Times and napping away the day, your host is liable to think: “Is this ne’er do well EVER going to find a job, or is he a permanent fixture on my couch? Jeez!” A great thing to do is attend one of Inverse’s parties or readings.
6. Follow the rules. This (like all these rules) is common sense. Find out what bugs your host (smoking, noise, coming home late, whatever), and don’t do it.
7. Don’t complain. About the rules above, or anything of that matter. Your friend is the King or Queen of their domain, you are a humble pawn. Lucky you to be in the graces of someone who has an apartment — if not for them, you’d be on the street or back in Milwaukee.
8. Have an Exit Strategy. Say, “Thank you for having me, I’ll be leaving in ten days, on Tuesday, August 8th.” People will put up with pain or displeasure for a longer time if they know when it will end. And please, don’t overstay your departure date.
9. Be an asset. Make yourself useful. Tell funny stories if your friend is depressed. Do the dishes, even if they aren’t yours. Replace a light bulb.
10. Find a job. Remember, no matter how cushy the couch is, your goal is to get out. So do the hard work necessary to find that job. (Read on for tips on how to accomplish this.)
And remember, the great thing about these rules is, if you establish yourself in the city, you’re CERTAIN to have guests of your own, so you get to move from ruled to ruler.
Temporary Housing: No Friends
If you don’t have friends in the city, then you have two choices: staying in a hotel for a week (the minimum required to find an apartment), or coming for a visit in advance to find an apartment. Both of these will require you have at least $3,000 cash.
“Normal” hotels in New York city cost around $150 – $300 per night, but you can find bargain hotels in Manhattan for around $70/night. No need to waste your money here, the worse the hotel, the more inspiration you’ll have to look for a great apartment.
Do a Google search for “new york cheap hotels” and cross your fingers.
So once you’ve gotten into the hotel, you’ve got to scramble to find an apartment. Read on to find out how.
Permanent Housing I: A Roommate
A great way to go is to find a roommate. If you have friends in the city, then I suggest sending out an email that says what you’re looking for, and asking them to forward it to their friends. (You might also want to sweeten the deal by adding: If anyone’s recommendation lands me a pad, I’ll fork over a $100 bill as a token of gratitude — trust me, it’ll be worth it for the headache they’ll be saving you.)
Permanent Housing II: Living Alone
If you want your own place, then you’d better be willing to spend some money. A one-bedroom in Manhattan (in one of the central locations), will cost at least $2,000/month. That doesn’t include a brokers fee that can be up to 15% of ONE YEAR’S rent.
So if you’re on a budget, you may want to check out some of the “off-the-beaten-path” neighborhoods. I know several people paying around $1000 for a nice apartment ($750 for a share with one other person) in neighborhoods that aren’t in Manhattan, but aren’t that far, either. Here’s a great article by Noah Masterson (one of Inverse’s genius composers) about getting great deals in undiscovered New York neighborhoods (originally published in The New York Press).
Regarding brokers, the rule of thumb seems to be: if you’re willing to work harder and wait longer, you can avoid brokers (also known as “no fee” apartments). But if you’re in a rush, a broker is the way to go. (When moving back to the city in 1998, I drove in from Chicago at 10am on a Saturday, found a broker, and sealed a deal for an apartment by 7pm. I had to pay a hefty fee, but I had a great apartment and I was able to return to Chicago the next night.)