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What's harder to find in New York City: A great apartment or a great man?

By Ronni Berke, CNN
updated 9:21 AM EST, Tue December 3, 2013
It's easy to get excited about a New York real estate find, but crushing disappointment is common in the apartment hunt.
It's easy to get excited about a New York real estate find, but crushing disappointment is common in the apartment hunt.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • CNN producer Ronni Berke has written about her online dating misadventures
  • Her most recent hunt was for a great apartment to buy in New York
  • Berke says it's difficult to tell which search was more difficult: a partner or a new home
  • She found an apartment to suit her needs, but a mate has been more elusive

Editor's note: Ronni Berke is a CNN senior producer.

(CNN) -- It was spring. I was in love. No, not with a man. But with a New York City apartment. An apartment I had yet to find. But I knew exactly what I was looking for, and exactly how it would make me feel. Like a city girl, tough and tender, coming home.

My place would be clean, bathed in sunlight, in an elegant prewar building, with a spare room for my college-age daughter. It would certainly not be fixer-upper (a "wreck," as we say around here), and would have updated plumbing and wiring. I'd walk out of there every day feeling like a character in a Woody Allen movie.

I simply couldn't live anywhere else.

Not so long ago, I wrote about a similar quest -- for a good man. That didn't quite pan out. Now, after selling my suburban Long Island house of 22 years, I set my sights on finding an affordable apartment in Manhattan in a vibrant, safe neighborhood.

I know what you're thinking: Good luck with that. New York 2013 is the Wild West of real estate. A seller's market? That's an understatement.

Ronni Berke
Ronni Berke

According to The New York Times, a go-to place for apartment listings, in October 2009 there were 8,150 apartments listed for sale in Manhattan. Three years later, there were 6,241. By October 2013, that number had dwindled to 4,344. Based on their listings, the average price for an apartment in Manhattan, according to the Times, is $1.1 million. New York, we have a problem.

The "man-apartment" similarities abound. Sometimes, if you're online dating and reach out to a good prospect, he doesn't respond. Busy, or not interested -- who knows? But unavailable, for sure. Trolling the real estate websites, you click on a link and find the apartment of your dreams. But it's already taken: "Contract Signed."

Strolling the avenue, you see a nice-looking guy. Dare to lock eyes with him? Stop right there. Didn't you see that little gold ring? A good man in New York is like prime real estate, snapped up before you can blink.

Photos are a source of hope and despair for both apartment- and man-hunters. Any veteran online dater knows how important attractive profile photos are -- and how deceptive they can be.

Feeling butterflies before a first date? Perhaps because you're not entirely sure the person you've been chatting with online even resembles his profile photo. Only by meeting will you know if this relationship is doomed, because more often than not, you'll be burned by the big reveal. It's the same with properties. Using wide-angle lenses, photographers can make a closet seem like a ballroom.

To help find my apartment "match," I signed with an experienced buyer's broker: Roberta Moser of Halstead Property. I might be in love with New York, but I needed a reality check. "Be prepared to be disappointed," Roberta said. "It's OK to fall in love with an apartment, but you can't get too attached to an apartment."

Forget negotiating. Unless you're making an offer on a dump, expect a bidding war. Dozens of people show up for open houses, even waiting on line in the bitter cold to see apartments. A broker may hand you the sales sheet, which lists the apartment features and price, while declaring: "That's not really the price. It's going up today."

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It's a head-spinning exercise. You think you're close to clinching a deal, and suddenly another buyer swoops in to offer cash for an apartment. Your bid may be accepted, but until the seller signs the contract, you're in limbo. Could another buyer steal your apartment, and your heart, away?

Moser and I found a lovely place on the Upper West Side. The moment I walked in, I just knew. "I want that apartment," I told her in the elevator. We entered a bid within hours. For days, the selling broker flirted with me, toyed with me.

"There are other offers, but she's a great candidate," he told Moser. We entered our "best and final" bid, but were tied with another buyer. In the end, someone offered $12,000 more. I guess best and final wasn't really "final." Deceived again.

How far will New York buyers go to get an apartment they want? Once, when there were multiple offers, Moser recalled, "a buyer delivered a signed contract with a check for $100,000 over the asking price of the apartment." There had been no negotiation. "The seller, of course, went with them," she said.

After losing two bids, I finally found the apartment I would buy. Moser, the ultimate real estate matchmaker, found me the right space at a decent price. It wasn't love at first sight. (The '80s decor was nearly enough to kill all desire.) And it was not the prewar building I had pined for. But it was a good deal -- and with a little luck, everything fell into place. My bid was accepted. Contract signed.

How could meeting a man in New York possibly be as difficult as landing an affordable apartment? New York matchmaker Maria Avgitidis, of Agape Match, says it's infinitely harder.

Just as in real estate, there's a dearth of inventory. "In general, you have four single straight women to every single straight man," Avgitidis explains.

"It's the worst city. Men here have so much choice that it gets distracting," she adds. "Manhattan, specifically, attracts the most ambitious people on the planet." And all those type-A personalities don't work well for matchmaking.

"You're talking about the top 5%, or top 1% of women. They don't take no for an answer and they have incredibly high standards," says Avgitidis. As for men, "you have single dads, divorced dads, widowers, a good portion looking for women 10 years younger than they are. It's a huge mismatch."

So, now that I've gone to all the trouble of moving here -- how can I ever meet a nice guy?

Maybe I should try another city. In Seattle, for example, "there are four single men to every single woman," says Avgitidis. "The men look incredibly good. They all work out, they all dress nice, they all have nice apartments."

That is, if I can ever bear the thought of moving again.

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