Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Renting a New York City Apartment: Finding that Elusive NYC Living Space

It is uber-challenging finding an apartment in New York City. Especially if you don't have a six figure job or a millionaire mama or a last name like Hilton (oh, wait...) Seriously, though, the rents are astronomical and the dearth of available (and decent) apartments is very discouraging. Note my former post on financial requirements for renting an NYC apartment. Whew!

In the months leading up to my move, I was on the computer until 2:00 am in the morning scouring the New York City Craig's List for apartment listings in my price range. With rents twice what I was paying in DC, I was coming up pretty empty handed. But finding that great apartment is possible, if you have the determination, resources and of course, the funds. About 30-45 days before your intended move, and after you determine how much you want to spend, how much space you really need, and where you want to live, use these techniques to find your new NYC home:

Online Rental Listings: When asked about NYC apartments and how to find one, everyone recommends Craigs List. This online site is a beloved resource for apartment seekers in the city, and provides the newbie with great introductory information on neighborhoods, prices and availability. However, there are some bait-and-switch posts (oh, that apartment went quick but I have another you might be interested in for just five hundred $ more!) and if you don't live in the city, there is no way you'll be able to jump on posted apartments quickly enough. Still, this is invaluable, free, primarily legit info and a great first resource. The listings are conveniently divided into fee, no-fee, and by owner rentals.

Many other online sites offer excellent apartment listings and information, and you can find them in the Find a Rental Apartment in NYC list to the left of this blog. Looking online is a ton of fun, and many listings have photos so you can get a sense of what a real NYC apartment looks like (and just how little space $2000 a month will get you!)

New York City Brokers: Uniquely New York City, many people turn to a broker to find an apartment. That is, they pay a fee of up to 15% of the annual rent (translation: thousands of bucks) to have a third party find their housing. Sounds crazy, but in my case it was totally worth it. Here's why: 1) I had no knowledge of NYC and what neighborhoods were good, bad, scary, 2) I wasn't living in the city, and couldn't run to an open house at a moment's notice, and 3) I'd burnt out on Craigs List. The Manhattan rental market is difficult to navigate, so if you can afford the help, take it. Personally, my experience with Manhattan Apartments was invaluable and I enjoyed working their their talented, professional brokers. They helped me navigate the challenging financial demands of landlords and got into neighborhoods I thought were out of reach. I didn't negotiate on the fee because I was so overjoyed with my new apartment, but depending on the market you may be able to get brokers to come down a few percentage points and save yourself hundreds of dollars.

No-Fee Apartments: If you just can't stomach paying so much upfront for an apartment then you can try the no fee route. Prepare for a lot of work and be on guard against disreputable services that will bait-and-switch ya. Here is a pretty good guide to no-fee services. Be sure to investigate company's Better Business Bureau profile before handing over any moo-lah.

Stalking an NYC Apartment Building: You may have determined exactly where you want to live by falling for a specific rental building. How to get in? Keep checking with the rental office, if they have one. If not, keep talking to the doorman. The doormen in NYC are extremely professional and helpful, and know all the goings on in their buildings. So stop by every few days (without being annoying) and in a professional, courteous manner ask if they know of upcoming vacancies. If they help you out, be sure to tip them generously. And doormen talk to each other, so they also might know of openings in nearby buildings.

Word of Mouth: Many of my newly transplanted friends have found apartments by talking about moving to NYC and having contacts hook them up with sublets or roommates. New York City is a very transient place, as people are constantly moving to LA or overseas. Often, they don't want to give up their rent-stabilized NYC apartments and will search for a recommended tenant. If they own their place, they definitely want to rent to a reliable apartment dweller.Talk to everyone you know about moving to NYC. Everyone. Friends of friends, alumni contacts, old lovers (well, maybe don't go that far.) Let everyone know that you are looking for a place to live. At the very least, you'll get tips on where to look, or they might recommend a reputable broker.

Beware Beware Beware: Unfortunately, there are lots of disreputable NYC real estate listings. In a market this hot, the bad guys can get away with a lot. So as they say, if it is too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of listings that seem unbelievable and never ever ever give anyone money without signing a legitimate contract. The best way not to be scammed is to have all the info you can about renting and your rights. Great sources include the NYC Rent Guidelines Board and

Keep Hope Alive: Finally, don't give up hope. The search for an NYC apartment will be one of the most grueling, challenging things you will ever do. But nearly 9 million people live in NYC, and there is always room for one more. If I can find an apartment that I adore, so can you. Be flexible, open minded, willing and determined and the right apartment will open up for you. And what is a little grunt work and frustration when it means getting to live in the greatest city in the world?


Brandi said...

Great Information!
Apartment Rentals

C.a.C said...

THANK YOU! You've put things in perspective for me.

Anonymous said...

you have no idea how great reading this has been! I am relocating from Omaha, NE and often feel i am in way over my head! ;)

dan said...

Great tips for the uninitiated to think about... Nice job!



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Unknown said...


Thanks for the information.

Its very daunting task to find out cheap rental apartment in New york.But this blog make it very easy for vistors.

Thanks for sharing
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Anonymous said...

This is very true! There's also another outlet to help you
find apartments in NYC. Have you tried Naked Apartments? It's got thousands of listings AND you can write a review of the broker that you end up working with (so there's more incentive to be honest and helpful).