What I’m doing.

This post isn’t really for a general audience; it’s for friends and acquaintances who’ve had trouble keeping up with my peregrinations (and who have let me know this in increasing numbers over the last month 🙂 ).

I moved to from San Francisco New York in January 2008. Sort of. What really happened was that I tried to move to New York, but failed, because I’d planned it very stupidly.

Note to kids thinking of trying this at home: Don’t put all your stuff, including your beloved grand piano, into storage, then drive across the country to New York City expecting to be able to buy an apartment quickly, not if you work as a consultant (which makes mortgage lenders nervous), and especially not if it’s immediately after a huge sub-prime mortgage crisis that’s been all over the news (which makes mortgage lenders especially nervous). And if you do try the above, you might find it wise to listen to the friends who tell you that the New York real estate market is not like other markets, and that you should plan on everything taking longer.

Anyway, after a few months of beating my head against the wall in New York (there were some other stupidities along the way, which in the interests of preserving what little dignity I have left I won’t go into here), I finally gave up and decided to move back to Chicago, a city I’d lived in for a long time, where many of my friends live, where the best choir ever is, and where apartments are much cheaper. “I can always do copyright reform work from Chicago,” I told myself, “I mean, it’s really all online anyway.”

So in April I went back to Chicago. I had a wonderful month there, catching up with family and friends, but… I started realizing from pretty soon after I got there that I wasn’t going to stay. I won’t go into all the reasons why — this post is about logistics, not deep philosophical questions about the importance of place[1]. Suffice it to say that I missed the East Coast (where I’d grown up), and, despite having been thoroughly defeated by New York once, I still more felt at home there than anywhere else.

In May I went back to New York City, armed with a more realistic set of expectations and a much greater willingness to compromise in the apartment department. This time things went better: I found a place pretty quickly, and am now in contract to buy it. It’s in upper Manhattan, utterly lovely, in a musician-friendly building in a quiet neighborhood, gets lots of sunlight because it’s south-facing, and I hope someday to cook you dinner there.

If, that is, I ever actually close on the place. The process of buying a co-op apartment turns out to be like having a whole second job, except you pay them instead of them paying you. The reason it’s so hard is that in addition to the seller, the buyer, and the mortgage lender, and all their lawyers, there’s one more party involved: the co-op board, which has to approve any new residents, and wants everything to be thoroughly documented.

So take yesterday, for example. I got a call from the co-op board’s representative, saying that they needed some more information from me. It turned out to be the sort of thing that requires a signature, and involved some hand-corrections to existing pages in the application (an application that was almost an inch thick when I delivered it, if you count the supporting documentation like bank statements, tax forms, etc — I’m not kidding, I measured it). So I dropped what I was doing and went over to their offices and made the corrections, signed, etc.

Something like this happens several times a week. If it’s not the co-op board, it’s the mortgage lender. I’m expecting it to continue for a while. We still don’t have a firm closing date, but we should have one soon. In the meantime, I do whatever they ask as quickly as I can, because after all I want that closing to happen yesterday. Until then, I’m living in a series of rented rooms in Brooklyn (I have to rent them for short periods of time because I never know what the end date will be, and I don’t want to pay for longer than I need).

So that’s everything: I’m in New York; I don’t have an apartment; I hope to have one soon; in the meantime I live a kind of transient life I haven’t lived for years. I wouldn’t say it’s liberating, exactly, but it is oddly relaxing to not have most of my stuff around. Except for the piano — that I miss like a drug addict misses, uh, drug. Whatever. You know what I mean. I hope it’ll be in its new home soon!

[1]: 2012-01-12 update: This sentiment turned out to be premature; I’m back in Chicago now.


  1. (this is Rachel, Kennis’ wife) So where in Brooklyn are you? And where in Manhattan are you buying then? I suspect you’re also doing a little better now because the sub-prime market has semi-bottomed out and new rules and restrictions have been set in place to help protect lenders.

    Co-Op boards are fun. XD;;

    Anyway, you’re welcome to give us a shout out and if you want you can stay in our spare bedroom (once I clean it some) It’s not a grand, but we do own an upright now.

  2. Rachel & Kennis —

    Hey! Thanks for the offer. I’ll be okay for housing, but I’ve been meaning to call you now that I’m back in the city. Just got held up by this sinus infection, which is, I’m happy to say, now on its way out.

    My room in Brooklyn is in North Williamsburg, but that’s just a temporary arrangement. The co-op apartment is in upper Manhattan, 190th and Ft. Washington Avenue.

    Good news about the upright. Is Kennis playing Bach on it?

  3. Co-Op means ‘合作公寓’?

    The sub-prime mortgage crisis hurts me badly, though I’m in China.

  4. rocksun: I think that’s what it means. It’s a situation where all the occupants own the building together. In New York City, this is the most common way to own an apartment; in other cities, condominium is the common way. In a condominium, you own exactly your own apartment, and then you own a share of the building as a whole.

    The biggest difference is that in a co-op, the board of directors (which is elected by all the owners) has to approve each new member. In a condominium, there is no approval process, it’s just up to the buyer and seller.

    I don’t know why co-ops are so common in New York. I think it must be due to the way the laws are arranged here.

  5. rocksun: how is the sub-prime mortgage crisis hurting you, by the way?

    The economy of China is really strange recently.
    The shanghai stock index from 6000 to 2000 just in half a year.
    The stock market eats one thrid of my money, and the house
    price is still very high, especially in Qingdao the city I lived now.

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