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Re(le)nting in NYC
July 21, 2013 3:40 AM   Subscribe

This will take a bit of time as I will go into some details but bear with me please.I have seen the earlier threads but the kinda of questions I had are, sort of, very different. I am in early 30's and have just moved to NYC. I am by myself now and expect my wife to join me after December. Currently, am in a hotel provided by my employer and can have this for a month more. My office is in mid-town manhattan (near grand central) and one client whom I would be visiting often is in long island city. I plan to use subway extensively for my travel. So, I have started my house hunting now. Q1: Is this the right time or am I too late and I should beg my employer to give me couple of more weeks?

Now I have been browsing through a lot of stuff on the net. Apart from previous AskMeFi questions, I have been looking on padmapper.com and streeteasy.com. I have also gone through the multiple property owner websites and I think I noted down the following which I found to be good.

- There is no one site which is good enough for apartment hunting.
- Preparing a standard template/letter for information to be included is essential.
- Have a limited public facebook (or other social networking site) profile. You can share the link easily with people who want to get some information about you. Also, it gives your enquiries more credibility. You can include the link in the standard email that you prepare.
- Craigslist has to be continuously refreshed and each browsing should be carefully evaluated before responding.
- Padmapper is good but it doesnt contain many listings from craigslists or other sites. Also, it doesnt give lots of information about sublets. Its accuracy is as good as the source sites which means not very good.
- Streeteasy is the most useful site for analysis. It focuses on data from property owning/management companies which leads to more accurate results. Property management companies are liable to show higher rents though.
- I found sublet.com or zillow.com etc to be mostly useless. There is a lot of fake information out there and many brokers tend to copy paste from a property management site or craigslist or streeteasy. These websites are also an easy way to get scammed.
- Would suggest going through streeteasy first to get an idea of usual apartment rates given by different property management companies before going for craigslist.
- Then evaluate Craigslist or padmapper postings in context of streeteasy postings for the same area/building. if the CL or PM rates are 10% to 30% lower, the postings should be followed up with. If there is a huge difference, dont go for it. Most likely its fake.
- Craigslist is the best source for getting cheaper options. Keep refreshing and send out emails to everything that looks reasonable. You will be getting around 30% -40% responses of which half might be worth going out to look for.
- Its very difficult to get the baseline prices for a 1 BR in a shared multiBR apartment. I would suggest to check the total rent for a 2-3 BR apartment in streeteasy and divide it by 2/3. For sublets, the prices should be in line/lower than above rates.

Above is what I have gleaned from my online analysis so far. Q2: What are your thoughts on above points? Let me know where I am wrong or where you have an additional nugget of insights

I have not started going out physically to see things. When I do I would have more questions and more thoughts.

Now to my other questions. I have a budget of around $1500 - $2000 but lower is always better. From my perspective, I have the following options:

1. Get a 1-room share in Manhattan in a mid range apartment around midtown: Option of changing apartment and location once wifey is here.
2. Get a furnished studio in Astoria/Long Island city/Weehawken/hoboken - Will probably be one year lease. Tough to get out. might be a bit cramped when wifey is here. But will not have to buy any furniture now and would have the place to myself.
3. Get a 1 Br in sunnyside, forest Hills etc - Will have to buy furniture now. Also, not able to break lease if wifey need to go to office in, say financial district or something. But will have a large, nice and peaceful home.

I am not much of a party person. I read a lot and am comfortable not being out every week. And definitely, I wont be looking to get anyone home. But I do love being the idea of in the hubub of the city and once wife is here and employed, would seriously want to get something good in manhattan.

Q3: What are you thoughts about feasibility of the above options? given that my offices would be in mid-town (42nd & madison) or long island city, any other area that I should consider? I am okay with a commute of upto 45 mins door to door and 30 mins on subway.

Q4: I have seen rates on UES to be low in quite a few buildings. Is there a temporary reason behind this, like some construction/bad roads?

Q5: For sublets, I know only craiglist. sublets.com seemed very sketchy (adding photos of generic apartment, old expired listings, copy paste descriptions, emphasis on getting a paid membership etc). Whats your recommendation for the best site to find sublets.

Q6: What else should I do or look for before starting to visit houses?

Q7: How to decide whether a deal is the best possible? For at least how much time should I look before finalizing anything?

Q8: I am thinking in terms of 3X the total rent for initial payments and renting expenses. Is that enough or should I be looking at higher numbers?

Q9: I read one askmefi advice that its not worth working through brokers at this price point. your thoughts on this?

Thats all for now folks. Thanks a lot for reading it to the end and now get crackin with your inputs.
posted by TheLittlePrince to Society & Culture (18 answers total)
 
On UES you most certainly want to avoid being right up against construction for the 2d ave. subway, which will continue loudly for years to come. Maybe that explains those weirdly low rents?
posted by spitbull at 4:16 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


FWIW, I don't know anyone who put quite as much thought/pre-research into apartment hunting as you're laying out (comparing prices from one website to another; everyone I know just works Craigslist). Is that bad? Maybe. But you're talking about a rental for, at most, a year. Believe me when I tell you- you can do almost anything for a year. Your wife can have a weird commute for the 7-8 months she'll be here, if it comes to that. I think Sunnyside/Forest Hills/anywhere on the 7-line sounds like it could be a good fit for you for now. Hope someone can weigh in on whether brokers are valuable in that part of town- a broker was valuable for us in Washington Heights because he knew Spanish and we do not (a lot of the building supers only spoke Spanish).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:28 AM on July 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I might have missed this in your post, but can you negotiate with your employer to maybe help you partially fund a corporate temporary apartment that's good until December, when your wife arrives? This hotel in Long Island City offers deals for long-term temporary residencies.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:29 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, and as for timing- you have the hotel until the end of August? Start seeing apartments ASAP in August. It'll be a little slow at first, but it'll pick up quickly after a few days.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:29 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Q8: I am thinking in terms of 3X the total rent for initial payments and renting expenses. Is that enough or should I be looking at higher numbers?

I just finished an apartment hunt. In what I saw, the typical up-front payments were first month's rent, the same amount for a security deposit, a broker's fee if applicable (often more than a month's rent, maybe 10%-15% of the annual rent), and for some places last month's rent as well.

In my experience the earliest you can look is one month out from when you expect to move, and looking at the beginning of July lots of landlords were looking for a July 1 move in date rather than August 1. The main thing is to be prepared to apply immediately when you see a place you want. This potentially means having bank statements, pay stubs, tax return, employment confirmation letter, and contact information for prior landlords ready to go.

I think whether it's worth it to use a broker isn't quite the right question. In the parts of Brooklyn I was looking to live (Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy), most listings on Craigslist even in your price range that looked any good were being shown by a broker rather than by the owner. That may be different in other neighborhoods. If you want one of those places, you'll have to pay the broker's fee even if you're not being shown a bunch of places by the same broker.

Based on your needs I would be looking exclusively in Queens but leave it up to others to suggest particular areas.
posted by rustcellar at 7:33 AM on July 21, 2013


Q7: How to decide whether a deal is the best possible? For at least how much time should I look before finalizing anything?

I think you should see at least 2 or 3 places and probably more before you commit, particularly if you're not familiar with the market. At the risk of stating the obvious, every place will involve compromises (price, neighborhood, distance from subway, commute, recent renovations, amenities, size) so there will probably be no one best answer. You kind of have to rely on your and your wife's adaptability to make it work.
posted by rustcellar at 7:39 AM on July 21, 2013


Craigslist has custom RSS feeds for your searches, which I think is easier than constantly refreshing the page. Just run your regular search, then scroll down to the bottom of the page, and the orange RSS link is in the right corner.
posted by hooray at 7:44 AM on July 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think you're overthinking this. Yes, renting in NYC is a crazy process, but as long as you have income verification (annual salary=30-40x monthly rent) and the money for first, sometimes last, and security (and possibly broker fee), then you'll be fine. Avoiding the scams is the hardest part for new NYers, but you seem to have a good handle on what to look for. Places in LIC rented through a broker (fee or no fee) or management company will probably be your safest bet. If subletting, be sure to work with the landlord as well, to make sure you're legally allowed to be in the apartment and aren't getting gouged. Getting to FiDi from LIC is quite quick (in case your wife has to work down there). This may mean getting a studio, but in the event it's too small, you only have to be there 7 months post-wife-move, and it would give you both a chance to figure out the city without having to spend so much of your time commuting. Also, if you're in a close area like LIC, then it is pretty easy to have someone take over your lease if it is absolutely unbearable.

For a Sept 1 move in, you can start looking now, but probably won't find much until after Aug 1.

Re broker fee - they often ask for 15%, you can almost always negotiate this down to 10-12%. For brokers not at the top big companies (citihabitats, corcoran, etc), they will usually discount further if you pay cash (get a receipt). If the listing agent and renting agent are the same, then they might take 7-8%, since that would be their share if there were 2 brokers on the deal.
posted by melissasaurus at 8:46 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But you're talking about a rental for, at most, a year. Believe me when I tell you- you can do almost anything for a year.

I disagree strongly with this, having just got out of a poorly fitting apartment situation in the city myself. I was going crazy after four months; I would never have lasted a year.

However, those four months were extremely valuable, as I had just moved to NYC myself and it took me that long to get to know the city and what I could and couldn't tolerate. For example, I realized that I don't like having a commute that requires a transfer because it makes it feel longer to me. I realized that I couldn't stand having roommates in a space as small as a New York apartment. I realized that I didn't spend much time in my apartment or use my kitchen, so a studio (not a 1-bedroom or a share) was fine after all. Rustcellar is right - you will need to compromise on some metric - price, neighborhood, distance from subway, commute, recent renovations, amenities, size. It's helpful if you can figure out which one before you agree to something long-term.

But I do agree that you are putting way too much research/calculation into this. This is New York - there will ALWAYS be a better apartment. You need to just start getting out and seeing places. See lots of places to get you an inner sense of what you can get where for what price range. Talk to other people about their searches. Get to know the city in the meantime.

Since you just moved and your wife isn't here yet, I'd recommend you get a short-term sublet before a long-term lease, or what thinkpiece said about trying to negotiate with your employer for a short-term apartment.
posted by unannihilated at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2013


I think streeteasy has better listings than craigslist - there's a lot of junk to sift through on craigslist and many bait-and-switch broker listings.

Queens is definitely your best option, and it's a really easy commute to midtown. You'll get far more for your money than attempting Manhattan and I think Manhattan isn't actually a great place to live - better to be within an easy subway ride to enjoy the cultural and fun things, but live somewhere with a bit more space.

You seem extremely well prepared, the only thing I would add is to be ready to take the apartment once you see it. If you see an apartment you love (or like a lot) you need to act fast. Be prepared to put down a deposit immediately not to lose the apartment.
posted by rainydayfilms at 8:51 AM on July 21, 2013


Also, don't be afraid to ask friends and coworkers directly what they are paying for their apartment when you talk to them about what they have and how they found it. This is also helpful for developing a metric for prices.
posted by unannihilated at 8:56 AM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wanted this to also be a good starting point for any other Newbie who comes with questions of apartment hunting. It took me some time to understand the relative merits/problems of one website against another.

And :) all this cross search and comparisons.. a bit of habit from work. I promise I have just looked into making excel based pivots, haven't done that yet.

What are the good websites for subletting? Craigslist?

Any suggestion about no-fee websites for queens? streeteasy doesn't have much information about queens rentals

Is it ok for landlord to ask for first+last+1 month security? Or should I try to negotiate that down?
posted by TheLittlePrince at 11:07 AM on July 21, 2013


First, last, and one-month security is standard. Everyone will ask for that.

I found an apartment through Craigslist, without a broker, but only because I wound up working directly with the landlord. You may have some look walking around the neighborhoods where you want to live and looking for 'For Rent' signs on buildings. You may also see advertisements for apartments in the little corner shops (bodegas) in neighborhoods where you want to live. I really recommend walking around and looking if you want to avoid brokers' fees.

Q4: The UES and Yorkville were massively overbuilt for rental properties during the mid-late 20th century. The rents for apartments in that area have always been relatively low for Manhattan--much cheaper than prime neighborhoods for the past two decades. And as with any neighborhood, there are upsides and downsides to living there. Go see where the apartments are.
posted by yellowcandy at 11:17 AM on July 21, 2013


Move to Astoria, Sunnyside, or Long Island City.

Start looking now. I think six weeks or a month is a perfect apartment search timeframe -- most apartments aren't vacant months in advance, and while I suppose you could have rented something months ago and enjoyed staying in a plush hotel while you shopped for furniture and picked paint colors and such, you certainly don't need more than a month or six weeks to find an apartment in NYC.

One caveat: does your employer have you down for a month from today, or the month of August? It can be hard to move apartments mid-month, so if your current housing arrangement is up on, say, August 20, I would talk to your work and see if you can extend it so that you can move into an apartment on September 1.

To address some specific concerns:

There is no one site which is good enough for apartment hunting.

Craigslist, and you may want to use a broker. What this probably means is that you'll email about a craigslist ad, and hear back from a broker who will say "oh, that place is rented, but let me show you X, Y, and Z." You should let her show you X, Y, and Z. There will be a commission involved, but honestly if you have the money, this will be much less headache than calling a thousand landlords yourself over the course of several weeks and having a bunch of close calls and nightmare scenarios and just barely squeaking into a place on August 29th.

Preparing a standard template/letter for information to be included is essential.

I don't know what you mean by this. You absolutely should know what you're looking for (One bedroom under $2000 in Astoria, for example), and be prepared to submit info for a credit report, and have cards or checkbooks or cash or whatever they want to pay a deposit IMMEDIATELY so that the apartment you like doesn't get snapped up from under you.

You will want to start saving your pay stubs, if you're not in the habit of doing that, and seeing what kind of access you have to previous tax returns, bank statements, etc. You may not end up needing this, but you might, and you don't want to lose an apartment because you can't find last year's tax return.

If you end up going with a broker, they may need more financial information from you, which you should be prepared to provide. Also, with a broker, you may need to be more aware of what you DON'T want, because brokers are famous for showing you apartments a little out of your price range, or kind of not in the neighborhood you wanted, or OK maybe it's more of a 1.5 bedroom, etc.

Have a limited public facebook (or other social networking site) profile. You can share the link easily with people who want to get some information about you. Also, it gives your enquiries more credibility. You can include the link in the standard email that you prepare.

In New York, nobody gives a shit about who you are as a person. There's little or no moralizing about whether you're an "upright" sort, married or not, what your hobbies are, etc. There will be a background check, but even that is probably looking more for "floated bad checks" type stuff than whether you smoked pot at Lollapallooza when you were 22. I would be SHOCKED to know that New York landlords looked at potential tenants' social networking profiles. They care more about whether you have a dog than whether you're a foot fetishist.

Re "enquiries", your initial enquiry about apartments will be "I'm looking for an apartment, and this looks great! I'm a [job] with clients in the neighborhood, and my wife is a [job]. We're non-smokers and don't have children or pets. We'd love to take a look!" They don't really care about who you are as a person or what your background is.

each browsing should be carefully evaluated before responding

Just map the address and make sure that it corresponds to photos the provided and claims they're making about the place, and that the neighborhood is what you want. The biggest scams are obvious -- they'll show a suburban-style 2500 sf ranch house and claim it's in midtown. That... obviously doesn't exist. You don't need to be too worried about this stuff, especially since you're already in New York looking to see apartments within the next day or so. If the apartment isn't as advertised, simply don't rent it.

You are WAY overthinking the listing websites. Just use craigslist (or maybe padmapper), and authorize it to show you apartments where brokers are involved. If you get a good feeling about the broker, you can officially leave the websites behind and let that person show you other things they have available.

Get a 1-room share in Manhattan in a mid range apartment around midtown:

Don't do this. Moving is a pain in the ass, and you're already here, so you should get something you can afford now rather than wasting money in a glorified dorm room. At your price point, you can afford to rent a whole apartment.

Get a 1 Br in sunnyside, forest Hills etc - Will have to buy furniture now. Also, not able to break lease if wifey need to go to office in, say financial district or something. But will have a large, nice and peaceful home.

Do this. Firstly, if your wife doesn't end up commuting to Midtown, honestly, the Financial District isn't that far from western Queens (I wouldn't recommend Forest Hills, though, unless there's nothing in your price range closer to Manhattan). Secondly, leases aren't that difficult to get out of in New York, because there's always another tenant. Also, frankly, it's a lot easier to get out of a lease after living there 6 months than it is after 6 weeks. So you live there form now till December, then your wife arrives, and if after a few months she's really unhappy with her commute, talk to your landlord and see what's involved. It's not the end of the world. It's much harder if, say, you move to Sunnyside in January, and then in February your wife decides she hates it and wants to live in Hoboken.

Furniture wise, just buy your own furniture unless you're only planning to be in New York for a year or so. Ikea is good for this. If you're low on money, check out the Housing Works thrift stores. They sell very high quality gently used things at reasonable prices. If you're really broke, the Salvation Army on Steinway Street in Astoria is a good resource. Keep in mind that NYC apartments will come supplied with a fridge and a stove. You're really only furnishing your living area and bedroom, and any decor you want. Also, NYC apartments are usually small, so you won't need piles of side tables and occasional chairs and the sorts of things people in suburbia want.

I have seen rates on UES to be low in quite a few buildings. Is there a temporary reason behind this, like some construction/bad roads?

Avoid the Upper East Side. Firstly, you say you guys aren't partiers, and the affordable parts of the UES are dominated by post-college frat bros and meat-market ish bars, and ugh. Secondly, the reason it's so cheap is that the walk to the subway is far. It looks conveniently located on paper, but you will spend half your commute walking to the subway. It's just not as nice a neighborhood as Astoria or Sunnyside, in my opinion. Western Queens is full of families, and ethnically diverse, and creatively vibrant. The UES is... ugh. Oh, and did I mention it's on a major parade route, so you'll constantly be dodging belligerent drunk people out celebrating St. Patrick's Day, Puerto-Rican Pride Day, the Yankee's latest World Series win, etc. Seriously, avoid unless you love that stuff.

For sublets, I know only...

Don't sublet. You're already here. You already have a base of operations to apartment hunt from. There is no benefit to you subletting at this point, especially since, as I said, it's much better to have to break a lease after several months living there rather than just a few weeks. If you might have to move again in February or March, better to have several months of rent paid on time under your belt than only a couple months since your wife got there. And won't it be nice for her to arrive to a REAL home rather than a shitty temporary situation?

How to decide whether a deal is the best possible? For at least how much time should I look before finalizing anything?

If you look at an apartment, and it's in your price range, and you like the neighborhood, and the apartment meets your bare minimum specifications (right number of bedrooms, bathroom not in the kitchen, not in the basement, etc), and there are no glaring flaws that make you HATE it, TAKE THE APARTMENT. Be prepared to give them deposit money right then and there and fill out any necessary paperwork.

Be aware that there are minor flaws and issues in every New York City apartment. There will be a bathroom door that doesn't close smoothly, an insufficient number of closets, a leaky sink. These are not reasons to turn down an otherwise acceptable apartment.

The bottom line is that there are a lot more potential tenants in New York than there are apartments. If you say no because you were hoping for a hardwood floor instead of a parquet floor, YOU WILL NEVER GET AN APARTMENT. You can't be terribly picky or overthink whether this is the "right" apartment for you. Just find a place that meets your needs and take it. Also, if you see two apartments you like, and can't decide between them, just flip a coin or something. You will lose both apartments if you dither about which one is best.
posted by Sara C. at 11:19 AM on July 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


The bottom line is that there are a lot more potential tenants in New York than there are apartments. If you say no because you were hoping for a hardwood floor instead of a parquet floor, YOU WILL NEVER GET AN APARTMENT.

Thisthisthisthisthis x 1000.

In New York, nobody gives a shit about who you are as a person. There's little or no moralizing about whether you're an "upright" sort, married or not, what your hobbies are, etc


This is not the case in Staten Island or some parts of Southern Brooklyn, but shoud hold true other places. However, the people who are concerned about your moral uprightness are usually too old to use social networking profiles as a diagnostic tool.
posted by corb at 1:08 PM on July 21, 2013


Besides which, most of the communities that would care anything about who you are as a person are going to be closed to you as an outsider looking for apartments on Craigslist. People who care that much only rent to people who have a connection and can be vouched for. That's how those neighborhoods stay so homogenous in the first place.
posted by Sara C. at 2:03 PM on July 21, 2013


Astoria is definitely your best bet! Join usssssss!!!

What I did once I decided to move to Astoria is: find a broker and have them show us a bunch of apartments in a range of prices and areas around the neighborhood. Then branch out on Craigslist and find stuff rented by owner. We got lucky and found a rental by an awesome owner and signed it immediately. For Astoria Craigslist is all you need though just walking into a rental office and asking to see whatever they have that day could be helpful too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:53 PM on July 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks everyone for the inputs. I have been seeing a few houses and I am seriously considering one in UES.

Its $1400 for a 11x16 bedroom in a 2 br apartment in Normandie court at 95th and 3rd.
with furnishing (such bed mattress etc) for an extra one time $500 payment.

Appreciate all your inputs immensely.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 4:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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