THE great god of homehunting has always smiled kindly upon me.
About 14 years ago, in the glory-days when you could still acquire a home for what is now the price of a small hatchback, I bought my first apartment in Dublin by complete accident. I had gone for a morning stroll by the sea to dispel the remains of a hangover, saw a guy erecting a For Sale sign, got nosy, got inside, fell in love with the sun-filled pad and bid for it on the spot. Best impulse buy I ever made. Only good impulse buy I ever made, come to think of it.
I moved to New York in 2001 for an extended stay, dire warnings about the piratical rental scene ringing in my ears.
Fugeddabout Manhattan, my city friends advised. Head to Brooklyn where rents were just expensive as opposed to astronomical. Otherwise, I could be homehunting for months. Or could get ripped off by an unscrupulous landlord preying on an innocent abroad. Or end up sharing a studio with the son of Sam's long-lost twin brother.
But blessed with a mile-wide streak of optimism, on a rainy Monday . . . my first day as a New Yorker . . . I set out to find a home.
Having been raised in a capital city which has one single high-rise building (and it rises to a dizzying 15 floors), I wanted to live among the forest of skyscrapers in midtown or uptown. Eastside or Westside, I didn't care. Just so long as it was cheap and roachfree. It took me precisely two hours to put a roof over my head. I had circled a few possibilities in Manhattanmagazine The Village Voice's sublet section, and settled myself in the cleanest phone-booth I could find, roll of quarters at the ready. A guy called Jim, offering a studio on 2nd Avenue in the 90s, was my first call. "Can you come and see it now?" he asked. I could surely.
It was perfect. White walls, wooden floors, simply furnished, with a liquor store on one side of the entrance, a Korean takeout on the other, and a 24-hour deli for latenight cigs right across the street. What more could a woman want? Jim it turned out, had Irish ancestry. My godmother has the same last name as him. He decided to embrace me as family, and handed over the keys in exchange for a small deposit and a month's rent. Simple as that.
June 2005, and I'm back for another crack at the city. I returned to Ireland at the end of 2001, but spent the next four years being homesick for New York. Time to make an offering at the altar of the god of home-hunting once more.
It took me a little longer this time around.
The city has bounced back from the property doldrums which followed the 11 September attacks when, I was reliably informed by a realtor last week, the only people who moved into Manhattan were "hookers and transvestites".
Well, the hookers and transvestites have the last laugh now. An available Manhattan pad is almost as hard to find as an available Manhattan man. Unless one doesn't mind sharing with a bloke who robs one's Pradas.
I spent a day scouring the electronic freefor-all for property-chasers which is Craigslist. A listing would pop up which sounded promising, so I would call the attached phone number immediately.
"Sorry, the apartment is already gone, " would come the inevitable response.
How? HOW? Do people organise cracksquads who stand at the ready around the upper east side, waiting for a call, "GO, GO, GO! Furnished 1BR walk-up on E80th available NOW. Bring cash."
And I've gotten fussier in the interim. I like uptown, being close to the park and among the skyscrapers and where I can wear colours other than black without being dismissed by down-towners as a total loser. I implemented Plan B, and badgered the friendly superintendent in the building on the upper east side where I was staying with a close friend and stretching the limit of her saintly patience. He conjured up a free apartment in my old neighbourhood.
But it wasn't a sublet, it was an official rental and therefore I'd have to undergo a credit check.
But I'm new in town, I explained. My bank account, although for once it's in the pink rather than in the red, is still back home in Dublin. I'm not here long enough to acquire a credit history. I'm a financial blank slate. No deal. It's easier to pass a needle through the eye of a camel (or whatever) than to acquire a home without a credit check, references, and possibly a body-cavity search by the FBI.
So long, apartment. Despondent, I rooted through my dog-eared phone-book. There was my old landlord Jim's cell-phone number from four years ago. I wonder? But this is New York, where citizens come and go like Nicole Kidman's boyfriends.
Happily, he answered. "Hi Jim. It's your former Irish tenant here. Just got back into town, and I'm looking for a place. I don't suppose you know of anywhere?"
There was a silence best described as stunned on the other end of the phone.
"Jeez, Lise. Your timing must make you the luckiest girl in the world. . ." Two days later, I'm back in my old gaff. The sacrifice to the gods worked wonders. Hope that little old lady won't miss her poodle too much.