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12 Tips for Landing an Apartment in NYC

New York City Travel
by Alexis Wolff Oct 24, 2008
Follow these 12 steps to help secure your New York City abode.

NEW YORK IS THOUGHT to be the city where dreams come true and people put up with a lot to be there. There’s the congestion, the cockroaches and the high cost of living.

With eight million residents and steep real estate prices precluding most from home ownership, there’s also the frenzied and competitive apartment renting process. These tips should help get you in:

1. Consider subletting.

If you’re not familiar with the city and find the thought of both relocating and committing to an apartment too daunting, consider a transitional home. Maybe a friend’s roommate is moving to India for a few months, or browse the plethora of listings online.

You can be less discriminating when only committing for a month or two. Many sublets even come furnished.

2. Find roommates.

We’d all love to have a spacious and well-located Manhattan apartment of our own, but this is unrealistic for most. In fact, it’s not uncommon for single 30- and 40-year-olds to still have roommates.

Although you may be able to find a tiny studio or one-bedroom in your price range, you’ll be able to afford a much nicer place with friends. Round up as many roommates as you can.

3. Set a budget

Compare your salary and monthly expenses to determine a target rent. Remember that things like utilities, gas and cable will be additional.

Most landlords require a combined annual income of forty times the monthly rent, so if you and two roommates each earn $40,000, look for apartments under $3,000 per month. (Also discuss how you might split rent if bedrooms are different sizes.)

4. Temper your expectations.

It’s rare to find a one-bedroom for less than $2,000 in coveted areas like the West Village or the Upper West Side. However, in northern Manhattan neighborhoods such as Washington Heights or Inwood, one-bedrooms may go for as low as $1,300.

Yes, $1,300 for a one-bedroom apartment is a bargain in New York City. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

5. Decide what to sacrifice.

Without a trust fund or a six-figure salary, you’re likely going to have to make sacrifices. Deciding ahead of time what’s essential and what you can live without will expedite your search.

Some factors to weigh: neighborhood, proximity to subway, commute time, doorman, elevator, laundry, square footage, eat-in kitchen, central air, hardwood floors.

6. Explore new neighborhoods.

Treat neighborhoods like you did colleges: have reaches, good bets, and safeties. You probably already know your reaches. Good bets might be Harlem, the Queens neighborhoods of Astoria and Long Island City, or Greenpoint, Fort Greene and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Safety neighborhoods might be Brooklyn’s Red Hood and Bushwick. Check out this useful neighborhood guide. Then visit unfamiliar neighborhoods or take a virtual stroll courtesy of the “street view” option on Craigslist, the Mecca for NYC apartment listings. Check it often and inquire promptly.

Apartments are often rented the same day they’re listed. Although it’s an excellent resource, beware of scams. One of the most common involves an apartment listed far under market value. The owner is overseas and asks you to send money for the keys. Don’t.

9. Understand “Fee” vs. “No Fee.”

Apartments rented directly from the owner are usually called “no fee,” meaning anything you pay beyond a small application fee (which covers the cost of a credit check) is refundable or applied to your rent.

“Fee” apartment transactions are usually handled by brokers, who you pay a portion of the annual rent (usually 15%). Sometimes apartments advertised as “no fee” turn out to be “fee.” Clarify this before moving forward.

10. Exhaust all options.

In addition to Craigslist, check to see if your university has a housing bulletin board for alumni, and ask colleagues and friends about vacancies in their buildings. And don’t rule out “fee” apartments.

Working with a broker doesn’t cost you anything up front, and sometimes he or she has connections that can get you an apartment cheaper than you could on your own, even after the broker’s fee.

11. Prepare necessary documentation

Gather and make copies of your two most recent W2s, your last three paychecks, an employment letter from your boss stating your job title and salary, your driver’s license and recommendation letter from a previous landlord.

If you don’t have any of these things, or a good credit score, you may need a guarantor—someone (usually a parent) whose salary is at least 80 times the monthly rent and who can provide all the above documentation.

12. Search.

See as many places as you can, and bring along your paperwork and checkbook so you can act quickly if you find something good. Be the first person to show up to open houses and try to arrange private viewings as soon as you can.

Let yourself be picky (although not unrealistic) until two weeks before your desired move in date, but if
you still haven’t found something by then, make a few more sacrifices.

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