Apartment Hunting

So you’ve landed a job or internship in New York—congratulations! But now you need a place to live. *Dun. Dun. Dun.*

In our fantasies, we all expect to move to New York and live in the apartments we saw on Sex and the City or Friends. But in reality, we pay big prices for small spaces and pay even more to live in smaller apartments in the coolest neighborhoods.

So how do you manage? Compromise—and with a little help from us. We’ve outlined a list of things to consider to make your search for an apartment in New York a little easier. Just remember, in the end, simply to have an apartment in New York is to have a great apartment.

Length of Stay: Are you coming to New York for a summer internship or are you in it for the long haul? If you have a full-time position in New York, you will want to rent an apartment. But if you’re only in New York for the summer, you may want to consider student housing.

Though it might seem like a bummer to live in a dorm, there are plenty of advantages to student housing. You’ll pay less rent, the accommodations will be furnished, and you will avoid all the complications and risk of a short-term sub-lease. Here are links to universities that offer housing to students interning in New York:

If you want to pursue student housing, make sure you get a head start - accommodation can be very competitive. And if you do rent a sub-let apartment for the summer, always make sure you check the legality of your arrangement with the landlord before paying any money upfront.

New York Apartment Hunting - ZoomdojoLocation: Location. Location. Location. You hear it all the time, “It’s all about the location,” and nowhere is it more true than in New York City. Apartments with stellar views of the Empire State Building or lining Central Park or nestled in the heart of the West Village are going to be the most desired and expensive of the bunch. But for some, these types of luxuries don’t compare to other considerations of what certain neighborhoods have to offer, such as the atmosphere, the architecture, the shopping, the nightlife, the proximity to work, and lower rental rates. Consider the most important features of the location to you, and that will help narrow your search via location.

When it comes to deciding on a borough, Manhattan is by far the destination of choice for its convenience; but Brooklyn has emerged as a trendy alternative, with its own distinct personality and community and a convenient subway ride from Manhattan. Queens comes in third, as a cheaper alternative to Manhattan with a convenient location. Staten Island is a favorite of families and The Bronx still suffers from high crime rates, making these two less favorable for young professionals.

If you’re still struggling to narrow down your search, see Brick Underground’s Top 10 Neighborhoods. At the end of the day, almost all the locations in Manhattan are great locations, with different pros and cons that you’ll come to find endearing.

Roommates or Not? You might not have a choice. New York is expensive (oops – did we say that already?), and sharing the space = sharing the rent.

It may not have been what you wanted to do when you landed that job, but having a roommate will leave more money in your pocket for other things, make you feel safer, and curb the feeling of loneliness.

When choosing a roommate, it is best to share with someone you know, or who knows someone you know well—almost anything is better than sharing with a total stranger. If you do room with someone you don’t know, err on the side of caution and make sure they provide good references.

Internet Listings: So you know your budget, the location where you want to live, and who you will be living with. Searching on Craigslist and Airbnb can be hit or miss. But there are other online sites through which you can search systematically for listings:

  • Streeteasy: By far the most comprehensive site for available apartments in New York City, both for rentals and sales.

  • Citi Habitats: One of the best realtors for rentals. You can look at their available properties online and then contact the broker who has the listing for a viewing. You can also ask one of their brokers to work with you in finding an apartment.

  • Naked Apartments: helps you find a broker who will send you listings based on your search criteria, income, and credit score.

When visiting an apartment, don’t go alone. Take either your future roommate, or a friend, or a family member—especially someone who has had experience renting or home owning in the past, who will ask the right questions.

Brokers: When looking at listings, you should note whether it is a ‘no broker’ apartment or not. If you work with a broker, you will have to pay the broker fee of 15% of the apartment’s annual rent. Why pay a broker at all? They can help you with price negotiations and paperwork - plus they often have access to the best listings. However, if you want to avoid this extra financial burden, look for “no fee” apartments, listed by the landlord or current tenant.

Move Quickly: Once you’ve located your apartment buddy, you should start seeing available apartments as soon as possible. There are a lot of people in New York - good places disappear quickly! Most leases begin on the first of the month, so begin your search as early as possible in the month before you move, to have access to the best listings. But while you want to start your search early, know that landlords often drop their asking price towards the end of the month in an effort to fill vacancies.

New York Apartment Hunting

Negotiating: When you find an interesting listing, you should call right away to make an appointment for a viewing. Try to see the property the same day you call if at all possible to ensure you don’t lose out to a more eager renter. While visiting the apartment, make sure to ask about whether the apartment is rent controlled and if they have laundry facilities—amongst other things! Keep this Apartment Hunter’s Checklist handy as you visit prospective apartments.

When speaking with the landlord, give yourself some room to negotiate by saying that your budget is a little lower than it actually is. If you do negotiate, make sure to indicate that you are incredibly interested in the apartment so that the landlord doesn’t doubt your willingness to sign on the dotted line.

Signing the Lease: To sign a lease, you practically need to hand over your birth certificate and a set of fingerprints. The New York Times gives you a clear-eyed look at Finding Your First Apartment and all the documentation that you will need to nail the lease:

  • A letter from your employer stating your salary and the starting date of your position. Note: most landlords expect a tenant to make 40 times the unit’s monthly rent. If you and a roommate are sharing a $2,000 a month apartment, you need to have a combined income of $80,000 a year. If you do not, you need to find a guarantor (like one of your parents), who does make the required amount and can provide documentation of his or her income.

  • Pay stubs if you are already working.

  • Tax returns from at least the past two years.

  • Recent bank statements.

  • Proof of any other income (like stocks, real estate, or a trust fund).

  • Contact information of any previous landlord.

  • Personal reference letters.

  • Business reference letters.

  • Money—most landlords require a non-refundable application fee of $25 to $150 dollars, first month and last month’s rent, and a security deposit when you sign. This means if you are looking for a $1,500 a month apartment, you should plan to pay $4,650 upon signing your lease, not including any broker fee.

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Now all you need to worry about is getting your couch up three floors of stairs.