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New York noob needs apartment quickly
August 22, 2014 8:53 AM   Subscribe

My daughter was fortunate enough to get a job in Manhattan right after graduation. Now she's looking for an apartment for 9/15 or 10/1 and is feeling overwhelmed because she's not familiar at all with the area. Help!

She'll have two roommates and their budget is probably 2,500-3,000 ish. We're hoping she can do this without paying a broker fee.

She works in the neighborhood around Madison Square Park but understands that Manhattan is probably out of the question. True?

She is not a starving artist type and is not going to be able handle living in a super small/skeevy place like I did as a 20something.

The general question is, what advice would you have for her? Keeping it intentionally broad because her ignorance is profound. Feel free to advise on neighborhood strategy, real estate, commute, etc.

Then the near-term question is, we're driving up to spend the weekend with her tomorrow. What would be the best use of our time? She is not ready to be committing to any specific place yet because neither of her roommates is in town yet.

We're thinking about just driving around and "getting a feel" for different neighbhorhoods but I feel like in NY one does not simply "drive around" and maybe we need some more concrete goals?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Home & Garden (49 answers total)
 
Should mention she's staying with friends for now while she looks.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:56 AM on August 22


Is the combined budget $3,000? Or the per person budget? If it's per person, then $9,000 a month buys a you a lot of options. If it's $3,000 for the group then your options are much more limited. Astoria might be one option in that case.
posted by dfriedman at 8:56 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I second Astoria- it's not small or "skeevy", they'll definitely be able to find something in their budget (although I think trying too hard to avoid the broker is a mistake- sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay it, necessary evil for access to better listings), it's chock full of young folks and great amenities (restaurants galore), and the subway ride to the Madison Square Park area is very do-able.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:59 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


When my brother moved out there, he and his friend rented an apartment in Hoboken, NJ. Nice apartment with it's own shuttle to the train station that goes into Manhattan and links up to the subway for access to their jobs.

This was a great jumping off point for him and he stayed there for a year to acclimate and get familiar with the neighborhoods in Manhattan, where he now lives and shares an apartment with others. The NJ apartment was REALLY nice and probably fits in your daughter's budget. I would recommend starting someplace like that.
posted by jillithd at 8:59 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]


It's combined $3,000.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:03 AM on August 22


For $3K/mo, they'll be able to find a place in a nice part of Brooklyn or Queens. Not a terribly hip part, but definitely a nice place in a decently safe neighborhood that may be a little out of the way. Unless she's looking to not build a social life or spend half her time crashing on couches, I'd suggest against commuting out of NJ.

What sort of things are she and her roommates looking to be around? Everyone's idea of an NYC experience is drastically different -- hot night clubs full of celebrities or underground punk rock dive bars or highbrow intellectual hangouts or whatever -- and the neighborhood she picks should at least cater to some of her tastes. Although, again, with $3k/mo for a 3-bedroom they're going to be pretty limited options, she still has some choice.
posted by griphus at 9:08 AM on August 22


I was a broker and always ended up paying a broker when I lived there.

*Budget for paying a broker.

Also, distance does not matter as much as travel time. I would not ever ever live farther than a 45 minute commute. For a 45 minute commute, I could be living somewhere outside of the city on the LIRR or The Metro North.

*It really depends on train frequency and stop locations, express vs local, any transfers, etc. Please provide a cross street for the new job. I heartily recommend living and working near express train stops. So much quicker during rush hours.

"She won't be ready to commit to anything until her roommates arrive."


*This is not how this works. A good apartment will rent in a half hour. At some point they need to be able to trust each other to put in applications and fees.


Please give us a cross street to work with. Good luck !!
posted by jbenben at 9:11 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Also, Manhattan might not be totally out of the picture, but with $3K she'd definitely be up in Washington Heights or Harlem which if she wants to be there that's great, but if all her friends will be hanging out in north Brooklyn, it'll become a giant pain in the ass.
posted by griphus at 9:12 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Astoria, or maybe other parts of Queens. That budget in the tony parts of Brooklyn will get them a 1BR.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:12 AM on August 22


I would not ever ever live farther than a 45 minute commute. For a 45 minute commute, I could be living somewhere outside of the city on the LIRR or The Metro North.

Anywhere south of Prospect Park in Brooklyn is a minimum 45 minute commute to midtown. Not saying your daughter should live there, but "45 minutes is too long" isn't a realistic goal for someone looking for a $3K 3-bedroom.
posted by griphus at 9:14 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


(Just for reference: I don't know anyone who has a less than 45 minute commute who doesn't also live in an adjacent neighborhood to their job.)
posted by griphus at 9:16 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Astoria/Sunnyside/Jackson Heights in Queens are probably your best bets, you should be able to find something in that range there. Possibly also Crown Heights or Sunset Park in Brooklyn. If she wants to go the NJ route, perhaps Jersey City. Hoboken is likely out of her price range, as is the Brooklyn of hipster-pop-culture lore (although she may be able to find something on the cusp of that area).

General advice: Her commute is going to be at least 30 minutes, and possibly as long as an hour. There are a lot of places in NYC that look vaguely sketchy, but aren't, really. The subway is very safe, for the most part. Always look like you know where you're going, even if you don't. Manhattan is teeming with people who like to throw money around - tourists, investment bankers. It's quite easy to have fun and eat well on the cheap in NYC, so while her rent will be high, all of her expenses need not be.

Immediate advice: Scour Padmapper and Craiglist. Get the names of a few good brokers, just in case.

Driving around and getting a feel for different neighborhoods is actually not a terrible idea if she is going to focus her search on Brooklyn and Queens. Public transit connections between Brooklyn and Queens can be difficult, and you've got limited time. If you want to go to Manhattan, park the car and get on the train.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:16 AM on August 22


Uptown is not the terrible thing people make it out to be, and with express trains the commute downtown is pretty reasonable. But yes, it will be super annoying if she is spending all her time hanging out with people in Brooklyn.

I would not count on them being able to get a 3br on Manhattan in the time frame provided.

Jersey right across the river will be out of her price range at this point, unfortunately, and anything further west will be an enormous inconvenience. I would rather live along the G line than past the end of the PATH.
posted by elizardbits at 9:18 AM on August 22


I think her idea of a livable NYC nabe would be coffee shops, bars with lots of young people, cute indie boutique shopping. And safe. Hot nightclubs, dive bars and intellectual hangouts would probably interest her at some point but wouldn't be important to have in her actual neighborhood.

I don't know the actual address of her office, unfortunately.

Is a broker fee going to be one month's rent? Upfront? So upfront, is it typically first, last, security, and broker fee?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:20 AM on August 22


Broker fee can also be a percentage of the annual rent, usually 15%.
posted by elizardbits at 9:22 AM on August 22


Also the most important thing she will learn about apartment hunting here is the absolute need to drastically lower her imagined standards.
posted by elizardbits at 9:22 AM on August 22 [21 favorites]


Is a broker fee going to be one month's rent? Upfront? So upfront, is it typically first, last, security, and broker fee?

Often, it's 12% of the annual rent, which works out to a little more than one month. Sometimes, it's one month, and sometimes, it's 15%. Most places I've seen do not require first and last - just first - but I'd have both ready, just in case.

I think her idea of a livable NYC nabe would be coffee shops, bars with lots of young people, cute indie boutique shopping. And safe.

Best case scenario: She might be able to find a place that has a little bit of this stuff and is adjacent to an area that has more of it. But, really, in NYC, if you find a decent apartment, you jump on it. End of story.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:23 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


Yeah, broker fee is usually about a month's rent so she'd be paying 4X rent on the barrelhead. Never hurts to ask for a discount, though. Everything is negotiable if you make yourself look like someone who will always pay the rent on time and not be a pain in the ass to building management. But that means you/she also needs to be amenable to some part or another of the house falling apart or not working too well. I haven't ever rented a single apartment without some sort of structural defect.

I think her idea of a livable NYC nabe would be coffee shops, bars with lots of young people, cute indie boutique shopping. And safe.

This goes only for Brooklyn (I don't know Queens very well), but she'll probably want to find a cheaper place in a quieter neighborhood that's about 2-3 train stations away from a neighborhood like that, because she won't be able to afford to live in a neighborhood like that in Brooklyn just yet. After a few raises, she'll be able to live anywhere she wants, but this first apartment is going to have to be a bit of a compromise in a lot of ways.
posted by griphus at 9:27 AM on August 22


She may be able to do this without paying a broker fee, but it does require more legwork. She and the roommates will need proof of income -- employment letter, pay stubs, etc. Generally you need to have an annual income equal to 40x the monthly rent. In share situations, they often let you pool your income, but some require everyone to meet the income limit independently.

At $3000/month, they should expect to put down between 6K and 12K upon lease signing -- either first and security, or as much as first, last, security, and broker fee.

Streeteasy is a good site for browsing.

I'd look at Astoria, Inwood, Hudson Heights, East Harlem, and Bushwick.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:30 AM on August 22


A friend of mine lives in Weehawken, NJ, and it's about a 20 minute commute to his job in Manhattan. He lives with another roommate and his half of the rent in their two bedroom, tiny apartment is under $500. He's lived there for years, though, so I don't know how realistic that living situation is today.
posted by girlmightlive at 9:33 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I asked a similar question in June, and I was able to find an apartment without a broker fee on the Upper East Side. All the buildings on my block are owned by the same management company, and they have a leasing office right there so you don't have to go through a broker.

I showed up, looked at the 6 available apartments in my $ range, and submitted an application that day. Here's the link to the management company.

They have a few different properties throughout NY, so you may have some luck!
posted by elvissa at 9:33 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Tossing out another possible neighborhoods in Brooklyn - Clinton Hill, Fort Greene or Prospect Heights. Parts of Bed-Stuy may also work.

Also, a general note that in some cases, a given "neighborhood" may only be a few blocks, so also take into consideration the neighboring "neighborhoods" when you are looking around. Meaning: you may hear that Neighborhood A is a lovely place with boutiques and coffee shops galore, but the next neighborhood over, Neighborhood B, doesn't have as many. However, when you realize that it's only a ten-minute walk from Neighborhood A to Neighborhood B, suddenly you can take advantage of the cheaper rent in Neighborhood B and still have access to the boutiques of Neighborhood A.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:35 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


There's no way a 3 bedroom in Clinton Hill, Ft. Greene or Prospect Heights is going for $2.5-$3K on the open market. Bed-Stuy, sure, but not those three.
posted by griphus at 9:41 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]




Note the large conspicuously-empty spot.

Is that map is working correctly? If you zoom in, it shows rentals where there were none in the higher zoom level.
posted by Mr. Six at 9:47 AM on August 22


Oh, yeah, you're right. There's a handful when you zoom in.
posted by griphus at 9:50 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


A few are just rentals of a single room in an already occupied 3-4br apartment. This is definitely something to keep in mind when you go to look at things, especially if the price seems strangely low.
posted by elizardbits at 9:53 AM on August 22


Yeah, after reading your update, your daughter is going to need to drastically change her expectations. Have her make a list of priorities. Maybe living with these two friends is less important than getting a room in a preferred neighborhood.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:54 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


YES that too, all three of them may want to consider that it may be easier for them to sublet a single room each in other apartments in the general area of one another for up to 6 months while they work on finding something for all 3 of them together.
posted by elizardbits at 9:57 AM on August 22


In addition to Padmapper/Streeteasy, also take a look at Triptrop to become familiar with how long transit will take. You can plug in "Madison Square Park" into the search bar, and they will return a color-coded NYC map of subway transit times. Anything 30 min or less away will definitely be out of their price range, but there are several promising neighborhoods in the 40-60 minute range (Sunset Park, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Bushwick, Washington Heights). Mapnificent and Transit Time NYC do a similar thing
posted by twoporedomain at 10:11 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]


Hi there, I'm going to join (some of) the crowd and recommend Astoria whole-heartedly. I live off 30th Ave., but she might like the Ditmars area or down on 35th near Kaufman Studios, where she can choose the N/Q trains or the M/R depending on her mood. Both are great areas.

You will need to get a broker, though. Sorry. Magic sometimes happens but we can't all be magicians. Just accept it and move on.

Point by point:

She'll have two roommates and their budget is probably 2,500-3,000 ish. We're hoping she can do this without paying a broker fee.

The only way you can do this, really, is by getting a broker. They are often the only people who will have access to apartments in that price range. Trying to find an apartment that cheap on Craigslist... well, you better have a damn fast trigger finger and an open schedule for several weeks because you're competing with literally everyone else that thinks they can avoid the broker's fee.

There are 3-beds at that price in Astoria. Not a ton but they are there.

She works in the neighborhood around Madison Square Park but understands that Manhattan is probably out of the question. True?

Unless you want to live far, far north in Manhattan, yes. And commuting to MSP from there is a lot worse than commuting from Brooklyn or Queens.

She is not a starving artist type and is not going to be able handle living in a super small/skeevy place like I did as a 20something.

Might have to learn to deal. Apartments with new appliances, good landlords, etc. are going to cost more.

Then the near-term question is, we're driving up to spend the weekend with her tomorrow. What would be the best use of our time? She is not ready to be committing to any specific place yet because neither of her roommates is in town yet.

Find two or three neighborhoods she likes. Visit them. Have her pick a bar or a restaurant or a store she likes and have a meal or spend time there. Listen to the people around you talk. Walk around.

(If you want a specific idea of things to do in Astoria, memail me.)

We're thinking about just driving around and "getting a feel" for different neighbhorhoods but I feel like in NY one does not simply "drive around" and maybe we need some more concrete goals?

Correct, you won't get a feel of anything but how annoying driving around aimlessly in NYC is.

I think her idea of a livable NYC nabe would be coffee shops, bars with lots of young people, cute indie boutique shopping. And safe. Hot nightclubs, dive bars and intellectual hangouts would probably interest her at some point but wouldn't be important to have in her actual neighborhood.

For Astoria:

Coffee shops — more opening every day, seriously, there were 0 when I moved here and now I can walk to like 4-5
Bars — SO MANY BARS and most of them are cute with great backyards
Boutique shopping — there is some. Most of this is in Williamsburg. She cannot afford Williamsburg.
Safe — so safe
Hot nightclubs — ehhhhhhhhhh, but these are in Manhattan anyway
Dive bars — several of these
Intellectual hangouts — uh? I don't know what this means

If she wants Brooklyn I'd recommend the area along 4th Ave. that's kind of in between Gowanus and Park Slope, between Union and 15th St. ish or Crown Heights, where everyone I know that doesn't live in Astoria lives. Will note that Crown Heights can feel kinda sleazy if you aren't used to NYC boroughs.
posted by good day merlock at 10:24 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]


Here's an example of the kind of thing in Astoria she can get for her money. Part of me wants to recommend she NOT move to Queens to keep the rents down but I think the cat is out of that particular the bag at this point.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:27 AM on August 22


Everyone here has good advice-- the one thing I haven't seen mentioned is a transit time map tool like WNYC's. It'll let you easily see how long your commute will take from different areas, so you can focus on those affordable areas which also have reasonable transit times.

Also nth that she will need to recalibrate her expectations-- I'm in my early 30s and have been here awhile, have a good, professional job, and I've been priced out of neighborhood after neighborhood. I'm still living with a roommate and no doorman, dishwasher, washer/dryer or any other amenities that she might be expecting. And I have an hour-ish commute to work each way.
posted by matcha action at 10:38 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


One other thing. If they're willing to get more roommates, they can spend 5K and that will open some doors. My daughter and 4 of her friends just got a 5 br apartment on 105th and Bdwy.
posted by kinetic at 10:46 AM on August 22


There's no way a 3 bedroom in Clinton Hill, Ft. Greene or Prospect Heights is going for $2.5-$3K on the open market.

Oh, I keep forgetting it's a 3-bedroom, my bad.

Bed-Stuy may still be a dealable option, though. The western edge is close enough to Clinton Hill so as to offer easy access to that neighborhoods' shops, and that part of Bed-Stuy is also growing in terms of its own shops and boutiques as well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:55 AM on August 22


Look for something near the PATH train in either Hoboken or Jersey City. Super easy commute to Madison Square Park. Cool, safe neighborhoods. Good bang for the buck.
posted by spilon at 10:55 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]


If she wants Brooklyn I'd recommend the area along 4th Ave. that's kind of in between Gowanus and Park Slope, between Union and 15th St. ish

I live in this area - though closer to 3rd Ave. Its a good area, safe, good transit access, and close to plenty of cool stuff. She can probably find something in her price range, though rents have been going up. However, its historically been mostly industrial, so there just isn't a large stock of apartments. It's worth adding to the list, though. Feel free to MeMail me if you'd like some more specific info about the neighborhood.
posted by breakin' the law at 11:18 AM on August 22


Just want to add she totally shouldn't be freaking out about timing for a 10/1 move. I would have said she's only a week past the right time to start looking.

However - she needs to be ready to commit when she is looking - there is basically no point at looking at places and not being ready to put money down.
posted by JPD at 11:30 AM on August 22


This may be an unpopular opinion because it can get tricky, but depending on how well your daughter knows her two roommates you could look into two bedroom apartments with a nice sized windowed living room and erect a temporary wall to make a third bedroom. That could really open up her location options. There are lots of ins and outs to this so you'd have to make it work (legally I guess I should say) but it can actually be done.
posted by rdnnyc at 11:31 AM on August 22


There's no boken like Hoboken. For example: http://cnj.craigslist.org/apa/4598000935.html
posted by at at 12:10 PM on August 22


Curbed NY a realestate blog just did their weekly feature on what $2,800 a month can rent you in different neighborhoods.

You can go back few weeks through their "Curbed comparisons" to get an idea of what things rent for where....
posted by larthegreat at 12:29 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


+1 for streeteasy - it's where I found my last two apartments. Based on what you've said, the western edge of Crown Heights (say, west of Nostrand) is probably perfect. Streeteasy has a handful of no-fee 3BRs for 3k in that area right now that look pretty great (and a zillion more that do have a fee). Best part is that not only does the neighborhood fit what she's looking for to a T, it's also right on a lot of the major subway lines so it's super convenient to get to manhattan - I live in Prospect Heights and work in Chelsea, and my commute is ~35 minutes each way.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:36 PM on August 22


Some more specific advice:

The general question is, what advice would you have for her? Keeping it intentionally broad because her ignorance is profound. Feel free to advise on neighborhood strategy, real estate, commute, etc.

Subway access trumps pretty much everything. Greenpoint seems awesome until you actually have to GET somewhere. Don't live on the G, and avoid living on the L if you can help it - both are isolated and crazy unreliable (though the L is way better than it used to be).

Also, if you find a place you like, put in an application IMMEDIATELY. Don't shop around, or hold out for something better. You WILL be left high and dry.

Then the near-term question is, we're driving up to spend the weekend with her tomorrow. What would be the best use of our time? She is not ready to be committing to any specific place yet because neither of her roommates is in town yet.

We're thinking about just driving around and "getting a feel" for different neighbhorhoods but I feel like in NY one does not simply "drive around" and maybe we need some more concrete goals?


That's an excellent use of your time. You can totally drive around, and you will get a feel for a lot of places by doing it. If anything catches your daughter's eye, get out and walk around a little. Also, like has already been said, a lot of neighborhoods (especially in Brooklyn and queens) look kind of sketchy but aren't dangerous at all. Do your research if you're not positive about a place.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:41 PM on August 22


This is something your daughter is going to have to figure out for herself.

Re neighborhoods, Upper East Side. She sounds exactly like the typical UES twenty-something and it will be a convenient commute to work.

Re not wanting to pay a broker fee, she needs to obsessively troll Craigslist and be willing to stratospherically inconvenience herself to look at every single place, possibly at a moment's notice, and with checkbook in hand for a deposit.

Also, she needs to be prepared for the actual reality of NYC apartments. There is no perfect. With three roommates there's a lot of potential for waffling, and that's going to make finding a place impossible if there are also unrealistic expectations like "apartments should have closets".

Any "we" needs to come out of this, ASAP, unless "we" refers to her and her roommates. In my experience 20-somethings who expect their parents to rent an apartment for them do not thrive in NYC. This is going to be her sink or swim moment. Let her do this on her own.

Either way, it sounds like she is already living in NYC and will be a better judge of what neighborhoods she's interested in than you are, as someone who appears not to live in NYC. I don't know what she would gain by you wandering around exploring neighborhoods, assuming she has spent any time in NYC at all.
posted by Sara C. at 3:46 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I should also add that both Astoria and Hoboken are not going to be convenient to Madison Square Park. Astoria is nominally better, but still not ideal.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on August 22


Depending where you are in Astoria, it can be a 30-minute train ride with no transfers to Madison Square Park. That is completely convenient.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:11 PM on August 22 [2 favorites]


The PATH train from Hoboken to 23rd takes 12 minutes. From there you walk a block or two. Seems pretty convenient to me.
posted by spilon at 7:12 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]


I think I hear two questions. First, where should your daughter live? Second, what can you do to help your daughter find a place to live?

For the second - I think you can ferry her around to visit apartments in her price range, even if they're not her timing. Physically getting to see as many actual theoretical possibilities as possible will be most helpful to help her make an informed decision, and a lot of the areas she'll look in may be individually practically commutable to Madison Square but a pain in the butt to travel among each other by transit, and your car could be really helpful.

As for where should she live - the answer is that it almost doesn't matter. Almost everyone I know who moved to NYC ends up moving at least a few times. It's expensive, it's a pain in the butt, but it's part of the process of finding your equilibrium here. In her position, I think it's fair for her to prioritze living with her friends somewhere they can afford versus living in a particular neighborhood (I also think the reverse would be fair, for someone who has strong hankering after a particular neighborhood).

$3k is low for a 3-bedroom but not outrageously low. That means they can find what they are looking for but they may have to be some combination of persistent/patient, flexible, and lucky.
posted by Salamandrous at 8:38 PM on August 22


Thanks to everybody for their help. She wound up deciding she could spend up to $2,400 for a 2-bdrm (1 roommate dropped out). We looked in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Astoria, Morningside Heights, and UES. Looks like she's focusing on UES, as Sara C predicted ;) She's finding things that are tiny but that doesn't seem to faze her. It was fun driving around looking at all the neighborhoods. But exhausting.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:22 AM on August 25 [1 favorite]


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