Something New York Doesn’t Have Enough of: Serviced Apartments


When Joanna Lau and her husband signed a sales contract for a two-bedroom condo during the conversion of a historic TriBeCa building last year, Ms. Lau, 31, figured that her days as a New York renter would soon come to an end.

She was mistaken. After selling furniture, jettisoning old kitchenware and packing up her rental last July, she learned her new home might not be ready for more than year.

“I was really surprised,” said Ms. Lau, who bought a unit at 108 Leonard, an 1898 office tower known as the Clock Tower Building. “Then everyone I talked to was like, ‘That’s typical of new development.’ They actually have a clause in there that they could take years after the expected completion date — I think until the end of 2020.”

As she hadn’t prepared for this eventuality, Ms. Lau had a matter of weeks to secure a furnished rental for an indefinite number of months. She and her husband didn’t want to sign a yearlong lease, buy furniture and housewares, then deal with the fallout of leaving early. They had to run through a series of options before finally finding something that suited them.

She contacted a number of hotels, hoping that monthly rates might yield a significant discount, but with full-service perks like daily housekeeping factored into the cost, the bill came to around $9,000 or $10,000 a month.

Ms. Lau, who worked as a trader on Wall Street before starting JEMMA, a handbag company that makes functional bags for professional women, and her husband, who works in finance, were looking to pay about half that.

Hotels also presented another problem: Full kitchens were rare.

“Usually the most you can find is a wet bar,” she said. “And I love cooking — I needed a kitchen. Eating out every day feels weird.”

Next she looked into Airbnb, but found long-term rentals of entire apartments to be expensive, especially for what was offered. “A lot of people in New York are trying to do Airbnb as a job,” she said. “But they’re also not trained in the hospitality industry, so you come across things like apartments with no towels.”

The extended-stay rental companies operating in the city didn’t appeal either. “Some, like AKA, were like hotels, with daily cleaning services, which meant paying a lot more a month,” she said. “Or else they were very old spaces, with old furniture, no attempt to make it nice.”

In either case, she felt that the spaces were intended for out-of-towners who would not personally be footing the bill. “I wanted it to feel like a home, not a hotel,” she said.

And then one day a former colleague popped up on her LinkedIn feed. He had a new job at a company called Blueground, which offers flexible leases of furnished apartments in luxury buildings.

“It looked like what I needed,” said Ms. Lau, who liked that the apartments could be rented for as a little as a month or for more than a year, and were in Manhattan rental buildings occupied by other New Yorkers, not in extended-stay complexes filled with business travelers.


$4,800 | Battery Park City

Occupation: Chief executive and founder of JEMMA, a direct-to-consumer brand that makes bags for working women, with compartments for laptops, toiletries, shoes and features like sleeves that allow you to slip the bag onto an extended suitcase handle.
How she started it: “When I was working on Wall Street I realized there was a whole industry built around men’s work accessories — and women had nothing. It was always a trade-off between function and looking good. I wanted it, myself.”
On New York’s limited flexible-stay options: “I’m from Singapore and have studied in London. I thought service apartments were something that existed everywhere. It was bizarre to me. In Europe there are multiple companies, you can rent furnished spaces for as little as a week.”
What she looks forward to: Getting her golf clubs out of storage. Although Ms. Lau, who played golf for New York University, admitted, “I don’t play too much anymore.”

After touring one unit, Ms. Lau felt confident enough in the quality of the space to select a one-bedroom in Battery Park City based on the photos. At $4,800 a month, it was within budget and a short walk to the new condo. The building also had a 60-foot indoor lap pool, which Ms. Lau, who likes to swim, was excited about.

She and her husband moved in last summer. Walking into the apartment, they encountered yet another surprising real estate situation: The apartment had a stunning view of the Hudson River, which the listing hadn’t bothered to mention.

“It turned out to have the best view, which you couldn’t see in any of the photos,” Ms. Lau said. She was also delighted to discover, upon moving in, that the kitchen was not only stocked with basics like plates and cups, but also with baking dishes and wine glasses.

The décor, she said, is comfortable and pleasing, without being too over-the-top — something she encountered a lot in sales galleries. “Our friends were really impressed. I think people were surprised that it actually looks so good,” she said.

And while she was relieved when the condo developer confirmed in January that the new apartment would be ready to move into by mid-February, the rental detour worked out well in a lot of ways. Over the past six months, it’s been possible to settle into the area without having to worry about setting up a new apartment. She has also enjoyed the sojourn with a view — the new apartment doesn’t have one — and living with a full slate of amenities, which won’t be completed at the condo building for some time.

“It was nice to be able to swim here,” Ms. Lau said. “The new building does have a pool, but it won’t be ready for like six months” — or, quite possibly, longer. Six months was, after all, the expected waiting period.



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