from New York Times, August 31, 2003
A 4-Room Tenement Flat Evokes Holly Golightly
By Penelope Green
Kate Light, 25, lives in a fourth-floor walkup on East 88th Street with an 8-year-old goldfish, also named Kate, and no one else. There are no closets, and the one bathroom lacks a sink, but there are four distinct rooms in this little tenement flat, and the rent is just $930.78. Ms. Light, who moved to New York City four years ago, has grabbed the brass ring: a decent apartment she can pay for all by herself.
Indeed, this year is a watershed year for Ms. Light, who has a wry sense of humor and a communications degree from Cornell University. Two years ago, she had been working for a dot-com that was "kind of tanking," as she put it. When she was laid off, she took the summer off and worked in a bar on the Jersey Shore. Last fall, she began temping for J. P. Morgan Chase, and by the new year, she had been hired by the company's marketing department.
"Permanent is always good," explained Ms. Light, whose mother is a career counseler, and who grew up in Mountaintop, Pa., population about 3,000, the third of four children.
Ms. Light's four years in the city describe a particular domestic progression for a 20-something New Yorker. The first months of the first year, she roomed with a friend on Long Island, a setup doomed by the one-hour commute into Manhattan. The next year found Ms. Light with a college roommate and her cousin in an apartment creatively described as a three-bedroom in Normandy Court on East 95th Street - and otherwise known as Dormandy Court; the tight friendship quickly frayed within the tight quarters.
There were 10 months in a studio on East 75th Street. "It was $1,400, but oh, to be alone," said Ms. Light, her voice trailing off.
There was a sublet in a railroad flat on Ninth Street and Avenue B. "That was $950, a great deal, and I loved being in the Village," said Ms. Light. "It was all dog collars and spiked hair, and when I looked out my window there was `Revolt Against the Machine' written on a wall across the street. It certainly wasn't the Upper East Side, and Mom was none too pleased."
Still, her landlord doted on her and tried to teach Ms. Light certain urban skills. "He'd knock on my door," she remembered, "and when I opened it, he'd wag his finger and say in his thick Irish brogue, `But you didn't ask who it was!' and then five minutes later he was knocking again and I'd open the door again because of course I knew it was him."
When the sublet ran out, Ms. Light's landlord found her another apartment a few floors down. Its floors had sagged to an acute angle, and before long she had a roommate.
"My little sister moved to the big bad city," Ms. Light said, "and in with me for two months. We had to share a room, and so we reverted to our 10-year-old selves: your-side, my-side stuff." Once again, it was time for Ms. Light to move.
For decades, the real estate bible for young New Yorkers was The Village Voice. You would hang around the newsstands Tuesdays at midnight, jostling for the first editions and the chance to be first in line the next morning for a cheap share or a no-fee flat somewhere in the East Village.
That rite of passage has been supplanted by Craigslist, the eight-year-old Web site forum for finding everything, as an Associated Press headline recently put it, from "Tacos to Trannies" (meaning transsexuals) including real estate. Invented and administered by Craig Newmark, a 50-year-old software engineer, Craigslist has grown from a local San Francisco site to 23 sites serving 23 cities. Postings are free, except for a $75 fee charged to those advertising jobs in the Bay area.
Douglas Hochlerin, a real estate broker whose company (uptown-realty.com) is 10 years old and handles mostly rent-stabilized apartments, began posting his listings on the site only this spring. "I put them up at night, and in the morning I've got 30 e-mails," said Mr. Hochlerin, who has stopped advertising in newspapers and whose entire business is now being drawn from Craigslist.
"The type of people I'm looking to attract are young professionals who are sitting at their desks looking at their computers, and they're not looking at the newspaper," he said. "I just had my biggest July ever."
Mr. Hochlerin's specialty, the stock of rent-stabilized apartments on the Upper East Side, means his clientele are also fairly specialized. They have laptops and cellphones, he said, are recently hired by large corporations and know their credit score. And they are overwhelmingly women. "I compare these to the actresses, waitresses and the young Audrey Hepburns," he said. "Today's young women are more sophisticated and know their way around." Craigslist is how Mr. Hochlerin and Ms. Light found one another. Mr. Hochlerin said fees for rent-stabilized leases generally range from $2,000 to $3,000. Ms. Light paid $1,500.
"My sister inherited my funny Irish landlord, though I'm not sure he's figured out she isn't me," said Ms. Light, "And I moved uptown."
Ms. Light has been decorating for weeks. Her father and her brother, Ben, who is 27 and lives around the corner in another rent-stabilized apartment, courtesy of Mr. Hochlerin (a $711-a-month studio), have built a plywood closet in the bedroom. Ms. Light has painted each room herself: yellow for the living room and kitchen; for the bedroom, robin's egg blue, and that fourth room, which brokers like to call a second bedroom, but which Ms. Light will tell you is a dining alcove, is a deep, rich red.
"It's called Sultan's Palace," she said. "My boyfriend got to pick it out. That was our deal." Stacked against the wall are a few canvases, sheets of color in tomato red and banana yellow, Ms. Light's perfectly credible homages to Mark Rothko.
"I thought I could pull them off, too" she said. "I had them hanging above the fireplace but Mom said, `Kate, you're no Mark Rothko.' She wants me to put a mirror up there instead." The other day, Kate the goldfish was keeping company on the mantel with a cylinder vase full of purple deli orchids and a small gilded frame.
Ms. Light shares some of the improvisational skills of Holly Golightly. Let it be known that Ms. Light does not cook; she orders prepackaged salads and cereal from Fresh Direct and makes tea in her microwave. There is a George Foreman grill stuffed under the sink.
Still, a week or so after she moved in, she promised her boyfriend a home-cooked meal for his birthday, complete with cake. After work that evening, she fumbled with the stove for an hour, but couldn't get it to light. In tears, but still in charge, Ms. Light threw the cake in the microwave (10 minutes) and the scallops and shrimp in the George Foreman grill - with considerable success.
"Until my boyfriend arrives and says, `Kate, isn't that an electric oven?' " she said. In fact, it is a gas oven with an electric ignition. "Naturally, it wasn't plugged in."