Advice on finding and renting an apartment in New York City

The dreaded NYC apartment hunt is notorious for super-expensive properties, shady brokers, and cutthroat application battles. While it can definitely be an overwhelming experience, by being prepared and working with the right people, you should be able to secure a great apartment and minimize the drama. Keep your expectations in-check and realize that you are trying to rent in one of the most expensive cities in the world. There is a good chance that you will not get everything on your wishlist and may have to sacrifice when it comes to size, neighborhood, amenities, or budget. Take the time to really understand the rental process and do your research ahead of time to understand the neighborhood that you want to be in, and what your price point can realistically accomodate. Then be as organized and prepared as possible, and ready to act quickly once you find an apartment to rent that you love.


Do understand the process

One of the biggest problems facing renters is simply not understanding the process. By educating yourself on how the NYC rental market works, you will save yourself a lot of time and angst. The majority of rentals are represented by real estate brokers. So, the landlord has an agreement with a broker to rent out his apartment. If a broker is representing the apartment, there will almost always be a brokers fee involved. So, working with a broker to hunt down an apartment does not really affect the fee. Even if you do all the work and find the apartment yourself, if that apartment is represented by a broker (the listing agent), you'll still pay the standard fee. The only difference is that if you work with a broker to find apartment, that same fee will be split 2 ways (between the listing agent and your broker).

Do accept the fee

The biggest hang-up renters have when faced with searching for an apartment in NYC is the broker fee. The thing is, trying to avoid the broker fee will probably eliminate 90% of the apartments available on the market. The fact of the matter is, especially in a very competitive market, the fee will always be paid by the tenant, not the landlord. The only way to truly find a no-fee apartment is to find one listed directly through the owner, or through a management company. If you want to truly find the best apartment, chances are you will have to accept the fact you have to pay a fee. This will typically range from 1 month’s rent to 15% of annual rent, depending on the broker’s agency.

Do work with one broker

The majority of brokers in NYC co-broke, or share inventory. For example - you find a broker that you trust. They work to hunt down apartment possibilities and set up appointments. They can bring you to units represented by other agents (the listing agent), who represents the landlord. In this case, that broker fee is simply split 50/50 between the tenant’s agent and the listing agent. So stay loyal to your broker! If you find a property online that you want more information about, or want to schedule an appointment, tell your broker and let them take it from there. Having multiple agents searching on your behalf is a waste of time and just duplicates efforts. So either search on your own, or find one, single broker to assist with your search.

Do have your paperwork ready to go

The real estate market in New York moves very quickly, so you should be as organized as possible to ensure you do not miss out on a great apartment. Have all of your documentation gathered before you even start your search. Ideally, save it electronically so that when you find a place you like, you can email everything to your broker and they can submit your full application package. While there may be variations depending on each landlord, typically you will need to have: An employment letter stating job title and salary (showing you earn 40x the monthly rent), your most recent tax return, 2 most recent pay stubs, 2 most recent bank statements, photo ID, and a prior landlord reference letter.

Do be realistic

This is probably the toughest part of all. NYC is the most expensive real estate market in the United States, and you will inevitably be shocked by how little your money will buy. Spaces are small. You will frequently have to walk up many flights of stairs to get to your apartment. Closets and storage are minimal. Having a washer/dryer in your unit is a rare find, and even a common laundry room in the building can be elusive. Remember what you are paying for is the location - the excitement and opportunities that come from living in an amazing city. Then try and find the best possible space that suits your needs.


Do not start your search too early

Because the rental market moves so quickly, you really do not need to start searching for an apartment more than a month and a half in advance. Of course, it’s always a good idea to start familiarizing yourself with the market - browsing listings online to see what you can get for your price point in your desired neighborhood. But, going out on tons of appointments way before you are ready to sign a lease will only waste your time and your broker’s time.

Do not rely on Craigslist

It’s a very popular search tool, especially at lower price points, however a lot of the ads on Craigslist are simply a classic bait and switch. Brokers post old or completely fake listings in the hopes that you will contact them and they can convert you to a client. There are a lot of similar sites known for having phoney listings. Alternatively, Streeteasy is one of the most reliable places to look. And of course, finding an agent who will represent you in the transaction as a tenant’s broker is a great way to get access to a huge number of listings.

Do not lie on your application or to your broker

This may seem obvious, but bending the truth - whether it’s about your credit score, salary, or rental history - is never a great idea. A credit and background check is standard practice for rental apartments, so this information will be revealed the minute you submit your application. If you have credit issues of some kind, explain the situation in advance. Some landlords may ask for an additional security deposit or rent in advance, but being up front will save time overall for those landlords that are unwilling to look beyond credit issues.

Do not delay

Once you find a great apartment, don't hesitate. It is a big investment and an important decision, but unfortunately a competitive market does not leave much time to dwell on pros and cons. Apartments in New York can disappear within hours, so gather your paperwork and submit an organized application with all supporting documentation immediately so you do not risk losing out on a great place!

Do not underestimate up-front costs

Make sure you are aware of the full cost of renting an apartment in NYC. Application fees for standard rental buildings range from $50-200 a person. If you are looking to rent in a condo or co-op building, you may also have to pay move-in and move-out fees to the building, which can mean additional hundreds or thousands of dollars. Once your application is officially approved, you will schedule a time to sign leases. At lease signing you will need to bring certified bank checks for the security deposit (typically equal to one month's rent); 1st month's rent (and some landlords may even ask for last month's rent to be paid up front); and the broker fee. Make sure that you have enough money on hand to cover all of these costs at the time of signing the lease.

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Hunting down the perfect new apartment in NYC can be daunting. However, understanding the process and being prepared can simplify your experience and increase your chances of finding a great place to live. Keep your expectations in check and do not expect to end up with a spacious, pre-war gem in the West Village like you see on popular TV shows. Know your budget, and figure out what size apartment and neighborhoods will work for your needs.

More expert advice about Renting Real Estate

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Kathryn BlazeREALTOR

With an upbeat attitude and a true passion for hunting down the very best properties that the market has to offer, Kathryn makes it possible to enjoy the real estate process. Highly organized, honest, and always reliable, Kathryn truly listens t...

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