Few milestones are as soul crushing as the search for one’s first apartment. In New York and most other big cities since the real estate boom began, the process begins with bright-eyed optimism and a fresh copy of the real estate section and often ends with tears, tequila and scaled-back expectations.

You can blame it on the peculiar vocabulary of real-estate classifieds. “Charming” equals dumpy, “bright top floor” means sixth-floor walk-up, “garden” equals low-ceilinged dungeon and any number of words — compact, cozy, efficient and pied-�-terre (anything sounds better in French!) — translate into small, cramped, claustrophobic and teeny-tiny, respectively.

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