Looking for a rental apartment in NYC can be a bit of a nightmare. Sketchy real estate agents, false listings, insane prices, and hidden fees galore are what you come to expect. I’ve lived in 4 different places over the course of 7 years and learned A LOT during this time. I’m going to share all of my tips, tricks and any general information you should know when it comes to apartment hunting in NYC.
How To Find An Apartment in NYC
You don’t have to hire a real estate agent in NYC to find a rental apartment. I’ve found all of my apartments on my own through either: Streeteasy.com, Zillow.com, or Craigslist.org. I’ve looked on Apartments.com, but never gone to see a listing from there in person. Don’t underestimate Craigslist – there are a lot of sketchy/false listings on there for sure, but if you comb through it, you’ll end up finding a legit listing like I did for my old West Village apartment.
Each time I was ready to move, I basically STALKED these websites everyday and pounced on new listings that popped up. The key is acting FAST which I’ll talk more about below… If you don’t have time to be actively searching, looking and sifting through listings, then absolutely hire a realtor – but like I said, I’ve had great luck at finding spots on my own! If you’re interested in buying an apartment and need a realtor for that – email me because I know a great one who specializes in sales!
How To Choose An Apartment
Narrow your search down based on neighborhoods (I highly recommend walking around TONS of areas so you get a feel for them!), proximity to work, price, size, and amenities. Call and email each agent for the listing you’re interested in, and set up several appointments back to back in 1 weekend. You’ll want to see a handful of spaces so you can compare them. Then do your research.
Is the apartment right next to a fire station or popular bar? Has it been infected with bed bugs recently? You can easily find that information by typing in the address to a Google search. Does the management agency have bad reviews online? (Honestly most do, so don’t let that be a total deciding factor…) Once you’ve found the place you love, put in an application immediately because places go quick – as in 1 day quick. A few hours could make all the world of a difference.
How To Get The Apartment
If you’re serious about moving, then you should have ALL of the paperwork for an application ready to go and saved on your desktop. Typically an apartment will want; past 2-3 paystubs (cross out any secure information), past 2-3 months of bank statements (cross out your account numbers), proof of income (in NYC your annual salary needs to be at least 40x the monthly rent, if you don’t meet that requirement you’ll need a parent or someone who does to co-sign it for you), and a credit report. If you’re trying to rent in a co-op building you’ll need the paperwork I mentioned above, plus letters of reference from past coworkers, friends, and landlords. You’ll also have to write an introduction letter about yourself.
I recommend including a “cover letter” in your regular apartment application even if they don’t require it – bonus points! If it’s a co-op building, the approval process can take up to 60 days (usually it’s 30 though); so plan accordingly. Sometimes you’ll have to do an interview with the board of the building so just be prepared! The biggest thing I’ve found is that if you want an apartment you need to ACT FAST and have everything ready to go immediately after seeing + loving it.
When To Look For An Apartment
You’ll find the best deals aka lowest monthly rent – in the winter. Summer is prime time when all of the new graduates are moving to the city and many people are relocating, so prices and places are higher and more in demand. You should start looking and seeing places about 1 month in advance. Any further out than that would be unnecessary unless you’re set on moving into a co-op building (which could take 2 months for approval), or if you don’t mind paying rent before you’re ready to move in. Most places will approve your application within a few days. If a place is empty it will most likely be ready immediately, or it could take a few weeks until the other tenants move out and they clean/repaint. Be sure to ask the listing agent for details.
Things To Look Out For
Don’t sign a real estate broker agreement first thing when you walk in the door of an apartment. They often try to rope you into signing one which basically says that you HAVE to pay a commission to that person/their company if you rent the apartment they’ve shown you regardless of how much leg work they’ve done. Tell them you’re looking at multiple apartments and haven’t decided on which real estate agent or agency you want to work with and you’ll get back to them. If you like them, and are willing to work with them EXCLUSIVELY, then sign it – but READ THE FINE PRINT. I always recommend meeting with several different people in a profession before deciding on ONE to work with. This goes for lawyers, accountants, doctors, therapists, etc. The ball is in your court as the customer.
You really want to find a real estate agent who is going to be ON IT and has YOUR best interests in mind. If the apartment you’re looking at is a sublease, which many Craigslist ads are for (my apartment in the West Village wasn’t; it was directly through the building’s management agency), then you need to make sure that the person leasing to YOU is allowed to sublease. You can look into this by seeing their original lease or going straight to the owner/management agency for the building. Make sure there aren’t random building fees that you’re responsible for ON TOP of the rent in a sublease situation too. Again, READ THE FINE PRINT.
Check to make sure the building you love hasn’t been repeatedly infested with critters.
Often times, what can happen in an older building is, (I’ve heard too many horror stories from friends…) you’ll have a tenant who’s been residing there for 40+ years, is a total hoarder, and refuses to allow anyone inside to spray, so the building continues to get re-infested and the problem never goes away. In addition to critters, you should ask the listing agent or building managers about construction plans for the area; because you certainly don’t want to move into a place and hear drilling for a year straight. Lastly, DO NOT WIRE MONEY to anyone that you are not 100% sure of is legit. Wire transfer frauds happen ALL THE TIME.
Be Willing To Sacrifice
If you want to live in NYC you’re going to have to sacrifice something. No apartment is perfect. Maybe it doesn’t have a washer/dryer in the building, maybe it doesn’t have an elevator, maybe it’s extremely small, but in a great neighborhood, maybe it’s big, but not in the greatest neighborhood, etc…. You ultimately need to figure out what you’re willing to sacrifice and what’s most important. I will share the things that I sacrificed early on and never cared/minded: no doorman, no microwave, tiny kitchen, no washer/dryer in building, no view, and no AC.
Having a doorman is great, but if you can get a PO Box or send packages to your office then do that. Having a tiny kitchen with no microwave honestly isn’t a big deal. You eat out in NYC so much or order take out that it’s just not a huge inconvenience. Not having a washer/dryer in your building isn’t a big deal either because it’s so easy to find a dry cleaner to pick up and drop off laundry. Not having a good view never really affected me as long as I had good natural light.
And lastly, barely anyone has central AC in NYC.
I always just bought a window unit from Home Depot and installed it in the summer, then placed it in storage for the rest of the year – no big deal. Things that I wouldn’t be willing to negotiate for now (and again this is just me/my personal preferences; we are all different): elevator, neighborhood, good natural light, and low noise levels.
Having an elevator is a game changer for heavy suitcases when you’re traveling and God forbid if you ever break something. Decent natural light from windows is important during those dark, dreary winter months. Neighborhood is SUPER important to me because it’s what I’m exposed to every single day when I walk out my door. I want to love the restaurants, shops, hotels, people, parks, architecture, and the overall vibe I’m surrounded by.
And in terms of noise; it’s NYC so you’re never going to have total peace and quiet, but of course, there are certain areas that are more quiet than others. Just be cognizant of where your apartment is situated and ask things like; Is it overlooking a busy street or in the back of a building where the noise is muffled? Is it near a fire station? A bar? A nightclub? A school? A hospital? A construction site? All things to be aware of!
Cost of Living in NYC + Negotiating Tips
It’s no secret that housing in NYC is expensive. I can’t say exactly how much you should pay because I don’t know your financial situation. I also can’t say how much a typical apartment costs because prices vary widely much based on neighborhood, building, amenities, etc. When you’re looking for an apartment, be sure to do ample research and compare the price per square footage of other similar apartments in the area to the one you’re looking at. You should look at past rentals in the same building (Streeteasy provides this info) to see if they compare to the apartment you’re interested in, and what rent those tenants were paying going back as far as 2 years.
You can use that as leverage if you’re trying to negotiate the monthly rent. Usually, you can finagle a little bit off the asking price, so don’t be afraid to offer $100-$200 less per month for rent. If you REALLY want the apartment and think it’s a pretty fair price, then be careful not to low ball because you might lose out on it. You can usually negotiate the broker’s fee down too so don’t be afraid to say you only want to pay 1 months rent; not 15% of the yearly rent. I have always had to pay a brokers fee even when they barely did anything. It’s just how this game works, but I’ve never paid more than 1 months rent. If you’re hesitant on getting a roommate in the city – don’t be! It’s extremely cost effective and really nice when you’re just getting started!
Where To Live In NYC – Neighborhoods
Every neighborhood has something special to offer. And everyone’s preferences are so different. Maybe you have kids and want more of a residential, tree lined street feel. I’d recommend certain parts of the West Village, Tribeca, or Brooklyn; particularly Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill. Maybe you are fresh out of college and want something super safe, quiet, and affordable. I’d recommend the Upper East Side. Maybe you’re single and love going out, so you want a lively neighborhood close to the best restaurants and bars. I’d recommend Soho or West Village.
Maybe you don’t want to feel like you’re living in the city. I’d recommend Brooklyn. The best way to figure out what neighborhood is ideal for you is to walk around it. And if you’re really unsure, rent an Airbnb or hotel room in the area for a few days to get the full experience. I’ve most recently lived in Soho and West Village and have only amazing things to say about both neighborhoods. If those neighborhoods didn’t exist I’d probably live in Noho or Tribeca. There are SO many wonderful neighborhoods though, so be open and see what sticks out to you!
Before you move in, I recommend doing a walk through to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape. The walls should have been repainted, the apartment should have been deep cleaned, and all appliances should work. Test things out – turn on the hot and cold water, run the dishwasher, open the fridge, and make sure all of the windows lock. Before you move your furniture in, I’d highly suggest getting an exterminator to come in and spray + seal any holes.
This is NYC and something we all need to think about. Critters come up through the back of the oven, holes in closets, gaps in doors, etc so be smart and seal your place early on. Also, if you have a fire escape outside your apartment, I would get a wood bar from Home Depot to put in your window as an extra safety precaution. Speaking of fire – get a fire extinguisher to keep under your kitchen sink. You never know when you’ll need it! And lastly, if you don’t have a dead bolt, add one.
I hope I covered all of your questions about finding an apartment in NYC! It can be a daunting experience – and stressful for sure, but in the end it’s so worth it to live in the best city in the world. Feel free to leave any questions below!