Harrisburg Apartments: Crunch Time

Just over five years ago I did The Adult Thing ™ and moved from downtown Harrisburg into a house in semi-rural suburbia.  This place was never a particularly nice home, nor was it really my style.  But it was cheap, had decent square footage, and endless potential for upgrades.  I paid down the house on an extremely accelerated schedule and made my final payment this past summer.  And just when I finally got around to re-doing the landscaping and making those renovations, when I was beginning to consider living with the shortcomings of my home (location and style being the two biggest) in exchange for cheap living, I had the sudden revelation that I didn’t have to live here if I didn’t want to.

So I sold it.

I tried to sell this place once before using one of the better-known local real estate companies.  I was flexible on pricing, willing to offer closing assistance, and made sure the place was presentable.  But after six months on the market and only a few bites, I gave up.  For the next few years I put up with a house that offered little more than shelter and equity.  A house that I was ultimately unhappy with in a location I was ultimately unhappy with.

About a month ago, I decided to try again, but without the hassle and expense of a realtor.  Within a week of putting my house on the market at an absurdly fair price, I had a buyer.  We closed in record time.  As you read this, I am packing boxes and discovering exactly how gigantic the cargo space of a Honda Fit really is.

I’ve spent the last week picking through the apartment offerings in downtown / midtown Harrisburg.  Here’s a quick recap:

  • The Grayco is easily the classiest building of the bunch.  Art-deco fixtures and trim, very-well-kept hardwood floors, and extremely attentive management make it a top contender in my book.  I have known and heard from numerous residents who have nothing but praise for the place.  Unfortunately the building lacks dishwashers, parking, and air conditioning (sorta).
  • Pennsylvania Place refused to disclose their rent, show an apartment, or even try to hide how much they loathed talking to a lowly potential tenant like myself.  Needless to say, this laughably-bad behavior knocked them out of the running.
  • Towne House had an amazing corner apartment on the 18th floor.  The roomy, pass-through kitchen and semi-sheltered balcony are perfect for company, and the location isn’t bad at all.  Unfortunately, their rent doesn’t include electric and indoor parking is not available.
  • Executive House has everything I want: location, square footage, tile bathroom, dishwashers, air conditioning, balconies, indoor parking, and extremely attentive staff.  The fact that my only qualms are cosmetic (the lobby and hallways could use — but do not urgently need — a refresh) ties this place with Grayco.
  • Old City Hall is far and away the most unique building — and the most expensive.  For the character and location, I could live with higher rent and even uncovered parking, but two important factors made me turn the place down:  having to heat huge spaces with heat pumps & baseboards, and not having electric included in the rent.

Pennsylvania Place was ruled out off the bat.  Old City Hall, while worth every penny, was ultimately too far out of my budget.  Towne House had a very attractive deal, but due to electric not being included in the rent, was ruled out as third place.  So that leaves The Grayco vs Executive House.

The Grayco drips character.  You can not walk into that building without feeling it.  It’s just not possible.  The present owners have worked miracles to turn that building around and make it a highly desirable place to live.  They could have easily gutted the place, thrown up some drywall and recessed lighting, and rented for a sky-high premium.  Instead, they did things the hard way by choosing to preserve as much of the building’s character as possible, replacing only the mandatory (fuseboxes) and obvious (the elevator from hell is long-gone).

Pointing out that Executive House doesn’t have the same character is ridiculous.  Executive House is 30 years younger than The Grayco and as such is considerably more modern.  Executive House has this 1960s jet-set thing going for it (again, you’ll have to excuse the lobby).  The building must have been pretty damn impressive when it was built in 1966, and if you look at it with just the right kind of eyes, it still is.

If “character” is the one word that describes The Grayco, then “awesome” would be the one word that describes Executive House.  The floorplans are built to accomodate social gatherings, the apartments are loaded with outlets for us tech-savvy crowd, and their layouts present a huge living space.  And having spent five years living there previously, I can attest to the building’s thick walls (quiet neighbors) and demographic (mostly single 20/30-something professionals).

Where The Grayco has flawless parquet floors, Executive House has fresh carpeting.  The Grayco has built-in bookshelves, Executive House has an obscene amount of closet space.  The Grayco has steam heat, but so does Executive House.  Executive House has air conditioning, while The Grayco sort of does.  Both buildings have management that is proud of their respective buildings, that have been in the building for over ten years, and — this is critically important — bent over backwards to accommodate my schedule and relentless questioning.

That last part is important.  I don’t know why some landlords can’t be bothered to return calls or even quote rates, especially now.

In a side-by-side comparison, it’s hard to imagine going wrong with either Executive House or The Grayco.  Both buildings have strong points, and each building’s strong points are extremely strong.  But there are a few issues that I can’t get over.  Executive House has dishwashers; The Grayco does not.  Executive House has much more counter space in the kitchens.  Executive House has attached, reserved, indoor parking.  And … air conditioning.

If it weren’t for those last four factors, it would have been a coin toss.  And even with those factors, the decision was difficult.  Both buildings are, put simply, great.  But I’m moving this weekend, and — let’s face it — those four factors are important.

So today I signed a lease at Executive House.  My new mattress and sectional are on the way, I’ve got a carload of stuff ready to roll, and I’m going to do my best to make it to the tweetup in one piece.

9 thoughts on “Harrisburg Apartments: Crunch Time”

  1. Thank you so much for these articles. I found them very informative. Although I currently own a home, and not in the market to move to an apartment, I always wondered about apartment options in the city. Thanks again, and good luck with your move!

  2. Too bad you didn’t go with the Grayco. I love that building. The back of the house I own faces the Grayco. The rooftop deck and fireworks shows would have made my decision. I just can’t stand to pay rent.

  3. Also some of the apartments have been remodeled and have loads of counterspace, but then the tennants did that themselves.

  4. Great posts! I am considering moving to Harrisburg, and wanted to know a bit about the rental market downtown. What you have given me is a fantastic comparison. You’ve saved me all sorts of time and trouble!

    THANKS! (And I hope you are happy with your choice!)

  5. Thanks all. I am extremely happy with Executive House, but The Grayco was a very close second. It has really become the renaissance residential property of downtown Harrisburg.

    I still can’t believe it. The Grayco. Wow.

  6. Thanks for the great info. Just came across your site and it’s really helpful as I try and figure out where to live when I get to town. Had a couple of quick questions and would love any insight you could provide. Is there any storage at the Executive House? I have a ton of stuff and don’t know what I’ll do with it. Also, how’s the laundry situation? One last question: Did you check out Mulberry Station? If so, could you provide any insight on that property? Many thanks.

  7. Had one more question for you. Does Executive House allow any pets? Thanks again!

  8. Executive House does include bulk storage in the basement. It’s meant for things like grills, bicycles, storage containers, and so on. I’m currently storing the box for my 46″ TV down there. It’s semi-secure, in that it’s a large room behind a locked door — but I wouldn’t put anything hugely valuable down there. Cats are allowed. The laundry room is “sufficient”. As long as you’re not trying to do a week’s worth of laundry on a Friday night, you’ll be fine. I do mine on weekday evenings and never have any problems with availability. It’s $1.50 to wash and $1.50 to dry.

    I’m familiar with Mulberry Station, but I didn’t seriously consider them as I was trying to stay with lofts & hi-rises.

    Glad I could help! If you need any more info, drop me a line.

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