Location, location, yadda yadda

Last week, I gave you my secrets to making the big bucks in New York real estate.  For those who missed it, here’s the refresher course:  buy low, sell high. Now that you know the basics, I’ll finish your education by dishing up some pointers on location.

Location will make or break you.  So choose wisely.

A positive indicator.

Oh, you want details?  OK – first, buy a nice place in a real neighborhood.  Next, move in and let your investment increase slowly over time, growing in the warmth and dark like something your podiatrist should take a look at.  Finally, when your apartment is worth a whole pile of cash, sell it.  I call this the “fungal growth” method of making money in real estate, and you can read all about it in my bestselling book, “The Wart of the Deal” (sorry, I get one bad pun per annum).

Central to the effectiveness of this brilliant plan is your ability to know how to spot a real neighborhood.  As in most things, New York is not like the rest of the country, so just toss your rules out the window and get to know New York City’s many neighborhoods.  You


may wish to live in a trendy Manhattan (or Brooklyn) neighborhood — the  kind of place that tourists think of as New York City – but you’ll pay.  A lot.  Your other choice is to sally forth into the kind of area that strikes terror into the hearts of your folks back home.  Those are the neighborhoods with potential.  Those are the neighborhoods you need.  You should buy a co-op or a condo (special note:  there aren’t any condos) in one of those neighborhoods, and live there for as long as it takes until you get rich by selling it.  Which will happen eventually, because this is New York City.

Basic Dos and Donts

  • DON’T buy anything that is more than a 6 minute walk to a subway entrance.
  • DON’t buy if the only restaurants that deliver are national chains or local places with no place to sit and deep-fat friers with week-old oil.
  • DON’T buy in a high-crime neighborhood.  See the sidebar on the crime map.
  • DO buy in a working-class neighborhood.
  • DON’T buy in evacuation zone 1 or 2 – check out your address here.  If you are extra cautious, you’ll want to avoid 3 through 6 also.
  • DO check the walkability score.  Anything under 95 is going to be trouble.  Someday, someone needs to do a sidewalk-width-to-street ratio indicator (hint – wider sidewalks are better).

Armed with these indispensable basics, what do you do next?  You need to start spending some time in the neighborhoods you’re considering.  Subletting or renting first is always a good idea.  Make a list of prospective neighborhoods, then cross off all the names that are listed in this guide.  If you need help, this other guide is a lot more comprehensive and realistic.

How to use the New York City Interactive Crime Map

First, pick 2 months to compare – one in winter, the other in summer.  Why?  Because, for the most part, it’s cold in the winter.  Warmth makes all activities, including crime, easier.  Next, get the stats for robbery and felony assault.  This is at the heart of actual neighborhood safety. Check murder also, just to be on the safe side….a high murder rate is a sign of drug and gang wars.  Burglarly is important,  of course, but since most people experience burglary on the day they move in and never again afterwards, this isn’t a completely valid guide to overall neighborhood safety (tip: the burglars follow the moving trucks).  You can completely ignore grand larceny of a motor vehicle, because you don’t own a car…or, if you do, you can afford to put it in a garage.

Next, go case the joint.  Make some mental notes from this fast checklist:

  1. Is the closest hardware store more than a 4-minute walk away?
  2. Can you see a Godiva or Coach store?
  3. Is everyone walking around over the age of 18 and under the age of 45?
working nabes
A promising area

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, you are not in a real neighborhood.  You’ll need to turn right around and get back on the subway.

Rent’s going to be a bit pricey around here, though.

If the area passes the first checklist, apply …

Checklist Number Two

  1. Can you get takeout from a place where no one speaks English very well?
  2. Can you see guys sitting around card tables playing chess/dominos/cards and eating picnic food (summer only)?
  3. Can you see grandmas selling pudding out of travel coolers?
  4. Is there a shoe repair store?
  5. Would you need to get on the subway to go to the nearest Whole Foods?
  6. Can you walk to a park?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re on the right track.

Last thing on your list…find the starving artists.  I’m actually not sure where they are these days, so if there’s a Starving Artists’ Guild, can you get in touch with me?  I’m not

You’re home!

talking about expats who get jobs in tech or finance, I’m not talking about trust fund kids trying to live La Vie Boheme.  I’m talking about stand-up comics, actors and dancers who are actively auditioning and not just saying they are,  digital and physical material artists and writers (content providers to you), and singers / musicians of all types.    If you follow the starving artists, you’ll soon find cafes, juice bars, and non-Starbucks owned coffee venues springing up to accommodate them.  Before you know it, the neighborhood has been gentrified, my husband is snarling under his breath, and it makes it onto the radar of the type of people who like to say “Williamsburg is RUINED, but have you been to South Ozone Park lately?  So retro!”  Next thing, you’ll be a know-it-all like me.

This goes on for 6 more floors

Mini-Guide to Apartment Terms

A Walk-Up A building with no elevator, 6 floors or fewer.  You’ll get a firm physique if move to the top floor of a walk-up, but on the downside you will be a prisoner for weeks if you break a leg.
Cold-water apartment In the old days, you could get a cheap place if you didn’t need to shower.  Term is now obsolete – every unit must have hot water.
Shotgun Apartment Each room runs right into the next (you could stand at the front door, fire a shotgun, and have it go out the back wall).  I don’t think you can even build those any longer.
Railroad Flat See “Shotgun apartment”
Pre-War Built before World War Two.  These are usually much better than post-war, and you won’t hear your upstairs neighbors sneeze through those paper-thin walls.  Of course, climate control is a bit iffy.
Rent Stabilized I don’t have time to go into this one, so check it out here
Studio I think you’d call it a “walk-in closet with a stove and toilet” everywhere else.
Garden Apartment A dim cave on the first floor where the light never shines and small children put greasy handprints on your street-facing windows.
Illegal sublet You don’t have the lease – someone else does, and the landlord (or co-op board) wants you out.
Key Money A bribe to get an apartment, and technically illegal.  But effective in some cases.
Tenement They’re long gone, but make an effort to see the the museum.


A shotgun apartment layout


  1. Thank you for explaining “walk-ups” and ‘shotguns’ et al.

    I’ve got a new question: what’s the difference between “felonies” and ‘misdemeanors’ and whatnot? What’s “larceny”?

    • Glad you asked! Felonies are serious crimes, like murder. Misdemeanors are not legal, but not serious — like running a red light. Not sure about larceny, but robbery is gun-in-your-face “this is a stickup”, and burglary is now called “home invasion”.

      • Thank you.

        I live in a place where the English language is almost illegally illegal – it’s healthy to have your help like this.

        Up here, reporting misdemeanors to the police is useless; they’ll only pursue Criminal Code infractions reported by citizens. That means, for example, that it’s useless for me to photograph drivers and their license plates for texting at the wheel. Is it the same there? It’s somewhat frustrating to know we have laws against stuff, and watching them go unforced.

  2. Tenements are NOT “long gone”: I live in one right here in Hells Kitchen. In fact I live in an Old Law [rent stabilised] tenement (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Law_Tenement for definition). There are still hundreds left in Hells Kitchen, the East Village, Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Actually Hells Kitchen still passes your checklist Number Two except for Item #5: the Columbus Circle Whole Foods is a healthy walk, although I have seen some of the new gentrifiers taking cabs.

      • Old Law: every inhabitable roommust have a window: old law tenements have air shafts between adjacent buildings. Old Law tenements usually have four apartments per floor, with the entry opening to the kitchen containing a washtub alongside a sink opposite a wood-burning fireplace. Two bathrooms were located on the landing in the hallway for common use. My building was modified when the New Law came into existence so that two apartments had their bathrooms inside and two had the hallway bathrooms, now private for each apartment. Not short, but…..

          • The tub is still in the kitchen. It’s on claw feet. When apartments become vacant, my landlord takes out the tub and puts in tacky shower stalls which look really dumb in a kitchen. My tub has a cover which is great when I’m cooking or need put stuff down when I come home. The fireplace in the kitchen has been bricked over and I have a regular gas stove. The fireplace in the living room is still there but inactive. Walk around the city and look up: where you see chimney stacks, there are fireplaces. Chimney stacks + fire escapes = old [built before 1900] buildings.

  3. Replying to PentaclesQueen’s answer to washtub (because WordPress isn’t offering thread continuation):

    A clawfut tub in the kitchen makes me think of cowboys bathing; it sounds quaint – lucky you!

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