Apartment hunting in New York is unlike anywhere else. However you look for a place to live in other cities, it is at least slightly different here. The biggest exception to this rule is if you have no price limit, or an extreme price limit (ex= your max. price for a studio is $4000). Since that exception probably does not apply to most people (and if it does, I am very jealous), read on.
Fee vs. No Fee: A majority of apartments that you will look at will be shown by apartment brokers. These are people whose job it is to show the apartments for the landlord, and then get paid for doing so. Sometimes, when working with a broker, it is a “no fee” apartment. This means that the broker fee is being paid by someone other than you. Usually the landlord…could also always be a random generous third party, but either way, who cares because it’s not paid by you. The other, more common option, when working with a broker is a “fee” apartment. This means you do pay the fee. On the cheap end, it’s a month’s rent. On the more expensive end, it is 15% of the total rent over the course of a year. This can be negotiable, but not usually when it is an apartment that would draw a lot of interest. If required, fees are paid at the signing of the lease or around that time.
By Owner: Exactly what it sounds like. The owner of the apartment is listing/showing the apartment themselves. This allows you to avoid a fee, but can also be sketchy situations in the form of illegal sublets or unreliable landlords.
Supers: All buildings (should) have a superintendent. This is the person you call if something goes wrong in the apartment, and can take care of anything from a malfunctioning appliance to not being able to leave your apartment because the door is stuck (true story). The difference between one building and the next is that not all supers actually live in the building. If they don’t live there, they are generally just there during business hours. Your landlord may provide an on-call person for emergencies, but it is considered better to have your super live in the building, as it ensures faster service.
Rent Controlled/Rent Stabilized: If you happen to get lucky, you can find an apartment that is either Rent Controlled or Rent Stabilized. The principle is generally the same, but with a rent controlled apartment, your rent does not increase while you are living in the apartment (Think Monica living in her grandma’s apartment on Friends). Before you get all excited, let me take you back down to earth. This no longer exists. Sorry! But, the good news is, rent stabilized apartments DO exist now. This means the rent increases are regulated by the city, not the landlord, and can only be so much per lease term. For example, the city may decide that the max. percentage your rent can increase on your next lease is 3% for a one year lease. Your rent then cannot increase by more than that. By contrast, for non-rent stabilized apartments, your landlord can raise your rent by however much they feel like it.
This is generally what you need to move into an apartment (first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit). These would be your start-up or move-in costs, plus whatever broker’s fee you may owe. Some landlords may only require first month’s rent plus security, but it is more common that they also require last month’s rent as well.
There is a very annoying standard in the city that landlords want you to make 40 times the monthly rent in order to live in the apartment. One of the traits that separate New Yorkers from the rest of the world is that we are often willing to pay 40 or 50 percent of our income towards our rent just to live in New York. This, unfortunately, does not always fit with the standard of 40 times the monthly rent. Dilemma! There are a few ways to work around this:
1. Find a landlord that is willing to be flexible. This is usually only good if you make just under 40x the rent. Making 20x the rent usually is a no-go.
2. Be able to pay many months up front. Another way to get around it is to be able to say something like “Sorry I don’t make enough money yet, but I have this amount of money in savings that I am willing to pay you up front”. Landlords don’t have to accept this, but a lot of people like the idea of guaranteed money and will allow you to rent the apartment despite not meeting the income requirements.
3. Get a guarantor! This is probably the most plausible option for most people. Some landlords do not accept out of state guarantors, but it is relatively easy to find the ones that do, assuming that is something you need. The only downside to this option is your guarantor doesn’t need to make 40 times the rent, but rather 80 times the rent. Crazy, I know. If that doesn’t work, often you can use more than one guarantor that together make 80 times the rent. The best tip is to be up front about this situation if you find yourself having difficulty with the income requirements. Sometimes, landlords want the apartment rented ASAP and will be less picky about the income requirements if you aren’t too far off. They also may be willing to work with you depending on your circumstances.
The Internet is your friend, but unfortunately, it is also your big, overwhelming, expansive friend. There are tons of sites out there that will tell you they can help with your apartment search, as well as broker sites that say they are the “best”. You can end up spending a good amount of time going in circles.
Craigslist: You might be thinking this is a joke, but seriously, Craigslist is your best bet when apartment searching. Instead of going to multiple broker’s sites, you can use Craigslist as an easier option. Why? Because brokers use it too. Major companies post their listings on Craiglist as a way to get people interested in their agency as a whole. This is also an easy way to work with multiple brokers, which can give you the widest range of listings available. You can select to just look for apartments being listed by owner, just for apartments with no broker’s fee, or include for-fee apartments.
You can also search directly on the broker’s website. Below is a list of just some of the brokers in Manhattan:
1. CitiHabitats: www.citihabitats.com
2. Manhattan Apartments Inc: www.manhattanapartments.com
3. Hecht Group: www.hechtgroup.com
4. Best Apartments: www.bestaptsnyc.com
5. Bond: www.bondnewyork.com
Although I have personally found this to be the least rewarding option, you can also look in the local papers for apartment listings, as well as the Village Voice’s website (http://villagevoice.backpage.com/ApartmentsForRent/classifieds/Results?adLanguage=All&category=4416). I would advise this as a supplement to your search, not the only thing you choose to do.
Tips When Searching
So you’ve found apartments to view, now what? One of the biggest differences between New York and some other cities is that no two apartments are the same. In places where they have apartment complexes, for example, it’s pretty standard. A one bedroom apartment is x price, a two bedroom apartment is x price, and they all have similar layouts. Manhattan is the opposite. A studio apartment on one street in one building can be much bigger and much cheaper than a studio apartment on the same block in a different building. There can also be hidden things wrong with apartments, that you may not get a chance to really inspect because you will often only view an apartment once before deciding whether or not you want it. With that being said, here are some tips to get you through:
1. Prioritize your needs: Again, if you are someone without a budget, this does not apply to you. But, if you are working within a price limitation, you need to prioritize your needs. Chances are, you will not find your 500+ square foot studio apartment with an elevator, laundry, rent under 1500$, and no more than 2 blocks from the subway in a nice neighborhood. If you do, please get that apartment by any means necessary and then brag to all your friends. But for everyone who is not that lucky, make a list of what is most important to you. For example, will you live with going to the laundromat down the street if you only have a 2 block walk to the closest train? Will you give up your elevator if it means your apartment gets great sunlight and is on the bigger side? Is it okay if you aren’t in the nicest building and the apartment is a little small because your rent is 200$ below market price? These questions and more are ways to try to prioritize your needs/wants so you can make an educated decision on which apartment to get and manage your expectations.
2. If you love it, TAKE IT. With the above being said, if you step into an apartment and get “the feeling” that it is the one you are meant to be with, TAKE IT. There is no room for “well maybe I will look around just to see if I find something I like better”. Chances are, your first apartment is gone by the time you figure it out. Let this be your NYC apartment mantra: NO APARTMENT IS PERFECT. If you find one that you love, take it. You could spend the rest of your life trying to find “better” and weighing the pros and cons of different apartments. Meanwhile, you are homeless or living in a shit hole. If you love it, take it.
3. Make sure everything works. Turn on all faucets, the oven, the stove, open the windows, lock and unlock the doors, use the blinds, make sure there are no holes in the wall, look for rodent droppings, look for dead bugs, make sure all other appliances work. Sound like a lot to do in a short period of time? It is. But since you will probably only view an apartment once before accepting or rejecting it, you need to make sure you don’t end up moving into your dream apartment and then finding out the fridge isn’t cold or your shower just trickles out water. If something doesn’t work and you like the apartment, make sure you speak to the landlord about getting it fixed before the lease is signed.
4. Start looking about 2-4 weeks before you want to move in. Landlords generally want tenants to move in on the 1st or 15th of the month. When you are looking for an apartment, the lease will generally start on the next 1st or 15th after the date you are looking. For example, if you are apartment hunting on October 21st, the landlord probably wants the lease to start on November 1st. There can be some flexibility in this, so don’t panic if you are hunting on the 14th of each month, but as a general rule, do not start seriously looking more than 1 month before you want to start paying rent.