The End-All-Be-All Manifesto on Finding an Apartment in New York

May 2, 2012
NYC Apartment

Yup, that’s the whole thing

Every time a friend or acquaintance decides to move to New York, they say, “Jay! How do I get an awesome place I can afford?” Most of the time I have to smack their dreams of a sunny, artsy Village studio out of midair and make sure they understand that the space they’re getting here is usually anything but my definition of “space.”

However, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Here’s the rundown I give newcomers on how to endure the process. Share with your wannabe New Yorker friends to save yourself the breath. And if you’re getting ready to find a new apartment here, maybe you can use the refresher. (For you non-readers: try the how to rent in NYC video at Miron Properties, an honest company I recommend that can help you rent or buy.)

First lesson:

There are a bunch of different types of apartments: corporate managed buildings, usually the newer high rises, where the entire viewing and application and renting process takes place internally. Privately owned apartments; you’ll deal directly with the owner or with an agent of the owner’s management company. You can take on a broker to show you a bunch of apartments that are supposed to match your specs and budget. Typically you have to pay a broker a fee (a percentage or one month’s rent), while a management company’s agent will get commission off renting to you without you paying them a fee directly.

Got it? Next point, there isn’t necessarily one best way of doing it. Most people prefer to avoid the fee, while others would rather have the broker do the legwork for them and cough it up. And this is important: most brokers and agents aren’t out to screw you. (I said most, not all.) They may be intimidating and fast talking and literally holding the keys to your future, but they’re not always jerks — they are, however, ALWAYS in a rush. Be nice, and maybe they’ll hook you up or make things easier for you.

Once you find the right place, you have to snatch it up. There’s no time to think, otherwise it’s gone. Fortunately, you’ll have done all your thinking already and know exactly what you want:

1.) You’ve made a list of questions to ask the landlord/agent/broker/management company, and got them all answered before seeing the apartments. Some agents will prefer you text them to calling, but try to get them on the phone before meeting them and get all your questions answered at once.

2.) You’ve studied the neighborhoods and picked one or two that’s right for you. Read people’s “reviews” of different nabes on www.nabewise.com to get some authentic accounts of what’s what.

3.) You’ve been studying the ads for months, and have a pretty good idea of what your budget is going to get you.

4.) You’ve gathered all the information you need to pass the application; here’s a good list.

5.) You’ve read up on what the rental market’s like right now in New York. (The news for right now actually isn’t very good.)

Having your questions answers, your expectations reality-sized, and your neighborhood and market research done will give you the much-needed confidence required to…

Negotiate!

In my experience, most if not all asking prices on apartments can be negotiated at least a little bit. You can maybe talk down the broker’s fee or get them to knock an amount like $25 – $100 off rent per month. If you’re the one standing there in front of them, with all the information you need to pass the application in your hand, it’s likely that they’ll come down a little to seal the deal with rather than spend more time, which is money, showing the apartment to other people.

Other tips to reduce shock:

Don’t be surprised if your neighborhood is not the same in a couple years or even one year after moving into it. New York City is changing fast. Sadly, older mom-and-pop places are frequently replaced with newer, generic ones, and “cool” neighborhoods get more and more crowded on weekends. On the plus side, NYC appears to be getting safer.

You will probably need to make 40x the monthly rent as your annual salary to get the apartment – and be able to prove it. Credit also matters. Can’t vouch for it, but apparently there are companies that will “co-sign” or act as guarantor and help you get a place, for a fee, when mom and dad say no. One example: http://www.insurent.com/.

You can start researching months in advance, but with rare exception you’re not going to find anything more than six weeks out from your moving date. In most cases, much closer, and there are even some great deals to be had in the last two weeks before move-in (but no guarantees).

Other resources:

This four-year-old New York Times article about finding an apartment proves that the only things changing are neighborhoods and price.

www.howtorentinnyc.com/ has solid advice.

Craigslist.org alternatives for no-fee rental searches: http://www.nybits.com/ and http://www.urbanedgeny.com/. Craigslist is probably still the most comprehensive but also most junk-clogged.

For a good laugh, try the NYC Affordable Housing Resource Center apartment hunting tips, which are kind of worthless. They recommend that “if you’re looking for an apartment, make sure everyone you know knows that you’re looking” and also to “walk around.” Good luck with that!

Time Out’s How to Find a Cheap Apartment in NYC is almost inspirational yet has some hard knock life sensibility. E.g., forgo sensory comfort: get a place that faces something ugly or is in a loud construction area for a discount.

When all else fails, don’t forget Craigslist room shares, where people in multi-bedroom apartments are looking to rent out a bedroom. Well, make sure it’s a real room. With a door. Even if you end up with a nuthead, there is no better way to wind up with awesome stories about living in New York when you had an insane roommate.

And lastly, what’s the first thing to do once you get a new place? Call your locksmith and change the locks, add a deadbolt or security gate… make it safe! Here’s why.

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