Fast and Efficient Ways To Finding An Apartment In New York City

Searching for an apartment in the biggest City in the country is a daunting task; whether you are new to NYC or a 12 year veteran like me, you will need thick skin to navigate this concrete jungle! Let me start with my personal experience.

I am originally from Portland, OR, I moved to the Big Apple back in 1998. My first 5 months living in New York were spent living out of a hotel because I had a hard time finding a place. My original intentions were to stay at my hotel for 2 weeks, but I had to extend my stay since I grossly underestimated the difficulty of finding a decent apartment in New York. Now after 12 years and 7 moves I consider myself an expert in New York City apartment hunting and now I will share the knowledge I have accumulated over the years of searching for apartments by myself or using a broker.

This article is a guide that will help make the process of finding an apartment in this “crazy city” easier, more efficient and less confusing (it might even save you a couple of dollars in the process). It is all laid out in an easy to follow 6-step process.

Step 1: Figure Out What Neighborhood You Want To Live In!

This may seem like the easy part because you obviously want to be in an area that is convenient, trendy and safe, however you will soon figure out nothing is that easy in New York City. You need to determine what neighborhood fits your personality/life style and at the same time determine what kind of space/amenities you will need. For example you may work in the East Village and love the energy there but are you willing to pay the steep price tag for a “shoe box”(and by “shoe box” I mean a tiny apartment) in a run down building that is a 4th floor walk-up. Do you feel comfortable living in an area where it’s a constant party scene every night?

A book that is an amazing source of info for the ins & outs of every neighborhood is the NFT (Not For Tourist) guide of New York City. You can buy this in any Barns & Noble and make sure it is the most up to date version because there is a new version every year. Another great way of getting to know a neighborhood is by Googling it. With an endless source of information in cyber space why not take advantage of it. If you prefer doing it the old fashion way, taking a stroll through the neighborhood, go for it! But make sure you have your trusty NFT guide with you so you can spot the important things.

Step 2: Determine What You Are Willing To Sacrifice

In your apartment search you are going to have to sacrifice something whether it be size, location or amenities. You are going to have to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally because the grim reality is the perfect apartment doesn’t exist (unless you have an unlimited budget) The general rule of thumb in New York is the further uptown you go the bigger and cheaper the apartments will be. The further downtown you go the smaller and more expensive it will be.

You need to determine what is most important to you within your unique budget and find that middle ground. My advice, is if you find an apartment that is 70-80% ideal, take it, because the pickier you are the harder the search will be! I learned this the hard way a longtime ago and you do not want to get stuck chasing around that “magical apartment”. Yes, it is possible you might get lucky and find that perfect apartment but so is hitting the jackpot in the lottery!

Step 3: Determine What You Can Afford And If Your Budget Is Realistic

Once you have an idea of which neighborhoods you prefer to live in, now you have to determine if your a budget is realistic. Determine what is the average price for an apartment for those neighborhoods. How? I recommend going to a website called apartmenthero.com. This website will provide current market averages for every size apartment rental in every neighborhood in the city. Results are usually pretty accurate but sometimes they can be a little off, about plus or minus $300. When you first enter the site you will be prompted to enter information to compare your current apartment to the current market rate. If you’re a “newbie” and do not have an apartment yet, go to the right column of the website, click on “average rents in Manhattan”. Another great way is to do your own research on nytimes.com. I find that nytimes.com rental listings are much more accurate and up to date, as opposed to Craigslist and other sites where there are tons of bait & switch scams.

Next, determine what you can afford, landlord’s make this part easy because to qualify for most apartments in the Big Apple, you need to have a good credit standing (650 or above), earn a yearly household income of 40-50 times your monthly rent and if you don’t, then you need a guarantor. He or she needs to earn 80-100 times the monthly rent. For example the average one bedroom apartment in East Village is about $2,300 -$2,600 per month; you will need annual household income of $92,000 to qualify and a guarantor, would need a yearly income of $184,000 minimum.

Step 4: Timing Is EVERYTHING

I have a good friend whose ex-wife worked as a real estate agent for eight years. When they were still together, I had the unique opportunity of getting some great tips on how to look for an apartment in New York. The most impacting tip she gave me was that timing is everything. New York is unlike any city in the country when it comes to this, in most cities you generally start your apartment search two or sometimes three months before your move out date. In New York the market moves so fast that most landlords want to sign leases immediately after your application is accepted. At the very most, you have a month to search, the best deals generally come out the first week of the month or the third week of the month. Approximately 70% of the listings in the first week of the month are for movers moving on the 15th, 30% are meant for movers moving at the beginning of the next month.

Make sure you secure an apartment at least 1 1/2 week prior to when you want keys! My advice is you only need 5 days (sometimes less) to find an apartment. The first 2 days should be getting to know what’s out there, the 3rd and 4th day should be narrowing down your search and 5th day should be getting your paperwork together & submitting your application. With every rule there are exceptions, if you find an amazing place that is 95% ideal on your 3rd or 2nd day do not hesitate, take it! What is great to you is more then likely great to most apartment hunters. The vacancy rate in Manhattan is usually around 1-2% so there will be always more people looking for apartments then there are availabilities.

Step 5: Determine What Strategy You Will Use To Find Your “New Home”

This decision can make or break you depending on your situation. There are two ways to go about finding an apartment in New York City, you can do it the easy/expensive way and hire a broker to find you a place or you can do it the hard/affordable way by doing it yourself. I personally have done it both ways and it all depends on what you are looking for and what is your situation. Here are the benefits of both methods:

Benefits of doing it yourself

1) You will save MONEY!!!

-Broker fees are expensive; they range from 1-month rent to 15% of the annual rent. If the broker has an exclusive on the listing, you will likely have to pay 15%

2) You avoid shady money hungry brokers

-Lets face it in every industry there are bad apples and the real estate industry is no exception.

3) You will learn the City

-With all the walking you will be doing you will get to know the city better then you ever have before.

4) You’ll be in better shape when your done

-You will be in better cardiovascular shape because you will be walking a ton! So you better have on some comfortable sneakers.

Benefits of using a Broker

1) Faster and more efficient

-Your apartment search will be less time consuming and more efficient because brokers have access to thousands of listings you will never have access to and can show you a bunch in one shot.

2) Avoid outdated listings

-Websites like Craigslist, Renthop.com & Apartments.com are flawed and poorly regulated and most of their listings are barely updated. Brokers listings are updated daily because they have direct contact with the landlord

3) Brokers know what a landlord wants

-Each landlord in the city has their own preferences and application requirements. Brokers know what each landlord is looking for in a tenant; this can save you time, heartache and expensive application fees.

4) You will have access to more Apartments

-Approximately 41% of available listings in New York are only accessible through brokers. These types of listings are called “broker protected listings”, the land lord will only take applications represented by a broker.

Step 6: Here Are Some Great Tips

1) Talk to a Doorman

-If you do decide to try doing it yourself talking to doormen is a great way to find an apartment. Doormen not only have info to the building they are working in but to other buildings the landlord may own.

2) More is not always better

-If you do decide to use a broker, more than one broker at a time is not always better. Brokers have almost all the same listings because most listing are open. For example if you call ten brokers and give them your detailed description of what you are looking for there is a distinct possibility you will be shown the same apartments. At the same time you should not limit yourself and work with one broker, you might be missing out, because some brokers have exclusive listings. My advice is, you should only use three brokers and if you find one that you feel is competent and trustworthy, stick with him/her.

3) Use NakedApartments.com

-This website gives you the ability to not only look for rental listings while discreetly contacting brokers/landlords but you can give them a review if you had a bad or good experience. You can also look at the reviews of other brokers or landlords before you decide to contact them.

4) Don’t be afraid to negotiate a broker fee

-Most brokers would rather negotiate and get the deal done then risk having the next broker showing the apartment and rent it before him/her. Do not get carried away, no broker will take less then a month. Remember if the apartment is an exclusive listing you will have no leverage for negotiations.

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Spotting Fake Apartment Ads on Craigslist

The rental market in New York City is one of the most competitive markets in the world. There are fewer apartments on the market at any given time than the vast number of people who are looking to rent one. This has made websites like Craigslist a breeding ground for fraud. These fake listings are so pervasive; it is likely that 90% of the ads you click on aren’t real.

However, it’s not just the bait and switch ads brokers post that you have to watch out for. There are professional criminals posting apartment ads everyday, making an already difficult process even more disconcerting.

So, the question is: how do you spot these scams? The following are a few things to watch for.

Does the rent seem extremely low?

Does the landlord tell you he or she lives in another country?

Look on the bottom of the ad and see who listed it. If it says: Management Company, Owner’s rep, a series of commas, or anything you cannot put into a search engine and pull up results – this is a red flag. Ads like these are posted by brokers looking to pull a bait and switch, or con artists looking to scam you – so pass on these.

Look for the phone #. If you see a picture with a phone number and it is not actually a written part of the ad, pass on this ad. This is a scam.

When replying via email, does the email have typos or poor grammar? Does something seem off? If so, pass on this apartment. This is a scam.

If you see an apartment and a small landlord owns it, ask to see their ID. Write down their information. There have been cases where someone “rents” an apartment to multiple people. These people collect rent and security deposits from as many people as they can and then disappear with tens of thousands of dollars. To ensure the person you rent from is legit, run a search on their name with the word “scam” attached to it, run a search on their phone #, run a search on their address. If this person has had any previous scams or has duped a renter in the past, chances are you might come across some information that will save you a ton of headaches and the loss of your money.

If you have contacted the legal landlord or the management company of a real apartment and you receive a phone call from a broker claiming you owe them a commission, call the owner and management company immediately. DO NOT sign anything with the broker who calls you “out of nowhere.” If the landlord or management company tells you they have an “exclusive with this broker” and you really do not want to pay a broker fee, then pass on this apartment. If the landlord or management company didn’t disclose this information to you in the first place, this isn’t the type of landlord you want to rent from.

Take a close look at the photo and when calling for an appointment, always ask if this is the exact photo of the apartment. And then ask when the picture was taken. Even landlords and management companies will post old stock photos taken when the apartment was newly renovated.

In the current economy, if you are looking to rent a condo or coop, ask the owner of the apartment for proof that they are not in arrears on their mortgage. If they do not want to share that information with you, pass on the apartment. No matter how good the deal may be, it is not worth having to move again because the person might go into foreclosure.

Brokers have earned a bad reputation. But they’re not the only ones you have to watch out for. So before handing over any of your money to anyone, it is up to you to do a little research.

Finding an apartment is a stressful and challenging experience, but if you’re on your toes you’ll succeed in renting an one without the hassle of dealing with a con artist.

Introduction to the Ways You Can Rent an Apartment in New York City

In New York City, almost 66% of all residents are renters, according to the 2000 US Census. This equates to an average vacancy rate of about 3% at any given time. Because there is always intense competition for housing space, the rental market in the New York area has characteristics you won’t find anywhere else in the US.

This brief article will introduce you to the various ways that most people look for rental apartments in New York City.

The Role of Brokers… It has been traditional in New York for renters to use the services of a broker to find their apartment. This is because unlike most places in the US, landlords in New York City rarely advertise their vacant apartments. They don’t have to spend their money on ads because real estate brokers are happy to assume that expense in exchange for being able to collect a hefty brokerage fee from the renter when a lease is signed. (It is illegal for an apartment owner to charge a fee to rent his/her own apartment.)

Most NYC brokers do not share their rental listings with other brokers because there is no true Multiple Listing Service (MLS) in New York for rentals that all brokers belong to. As a result, the market is extremely fragmented. Using the services of a broker to find an apartment is no guarantee that you will ever truly know about all the apartments on the market that fit your price, neighborhood, and size desires. Also keep in mind that if a NYC broker finds you an apartment, you will most likely have to pay a broker’s fee (commission) equal to about 15% of the first year’s rent. That’s almost two month’s of rent! Ouch!

FACTOID: Rental brokers tend to specialize in one limited area because New York is a big city and it takes too much time to go to all NYC area neighborhoods with potential renters. The broker’s convenience is more important than your convenience because Time = Money. Therefore, a broker will expect you to limit your apartment search to the neighborhoods closest to the broker’s office.

Because Time = Money to a broker, you’ll be shown a few apartments within the broker’s territory and will be expected to choose the least objectionable one. If you still haven’t found a home after a few days of service, a broker will lose interest and move on to a more urgent client. After all, brokers don’t get paid to show you apartments. They only get paid when one of their clients rents an apartment from them. Their job is to sniff out the most desperate renters, the renters who absolutely need an apartment TODAY. That’s the only type of client guaranteed to pay a broker!

About using “Free” Websites…

Budget-conscious renters like Craigslist.org and other free sites because there’s no registration fee to access the data. You can browse through perhaps hundreds of ads in Craiglist, with many of them sounding so sweet and tempting. But that’s the problem! You might indeed find many apartment listings with too-good-to-be-true rents, and guess what they ARE often too good to be true.

More likely you will find that most of the posted listings are from brokers, whether disclosed or not. So the “free website” becomes merely a way to channel potential renters to brokers. Brokers need to make their phones ring with potential renters. What easier way to do that than by making up listings that are enticing, then placing them where all can see them? You’ll make the call, and often enough, wind up paying a broker to find you an apartment. What did you gain by going to a “free” website? It seemed like a great way to find a “no broker fee” apartment, but you got caught in the trap.

There’s got to be a better way!

The Subscription way to find an apartment. A superior model…

What you want to do is find an apartment rental website that does the following:

1. Does not take any broker listings at all, only listings directly from landlords, owners, and managing agents.

2. Can guarantee its users that all listings are 100% No Broker Fee.

3. Has listings updates 7 days per week, and

4. Customer Support for any question or concern without any bias.

Doesn’t this just “feel” like the right way to find an apartment?

There are several such websites in New York, but only one that stands out because of the user testimonials and the yelp testimonials. It is the one that’s been around the longest (since 1995) and is the largest by traffic and usage. I’ll let you look in the “about the author” section to see which one I’m talking about.

There is so much more to say on this topic that can’t possibly be addressed in this article. To find out more on renting in New York, I highly recommend a free guide to renting called ” The Essential Guide for Smart Renters “. It’s got 20 pages of the best information to renting in New York today, even if you have credit problems, need a guarantor for your lease, or use government programs. You can find “The Essential Guide for Smart Renters” on RDNY.com’s website.

Good luck in your apartment search!