What's the best way to find an apartment in NYC?
December 10, 2004 1:34 PM   Subscribe

NYCaptFilter: I'm moving to NYC (yay!) and sorry, but I'm going to drive you all nuts with questions for the next few weeks. #1: Best way to find an apartment? I know the city, but would like tips on finding a good place. Broker? Classified listings? Pitfalls to avoid? How do I find something rent stabilized? Any opinion about rentdirect.com? I promise to host a meetup when I get settled.
posted by CunningLinguist to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (37 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you planning on living? Size? Budget? Roomate(s)? There are a lot of realtors in New York, and a lot of them specialize in certain areas and types of apartments. For instance, I got an excellent deal on a place on Orchard St. from a place called Misrahi Realty, which deals almost exclusively with smallish properties on the Lower East Side.

There's mountains of shit to wade through, but occassionally you can find some real gems on Craigslist, too.

Give us some more info!
posted by saladin at 1:51 PM on December 10, 2004

Response by poster: No roomates, bleah. Have enormous mountains of crap so would like somewhere with space. For under 2k. Stop laughing like that!
My first choice these days is Hell's Kitchen.
How did you find Misrahi?
Has anyone tried rent direct?
posted by CunningLinguist at 1:56 PM on December 10, 2004

I live in Hell's Kitchen because it's much more affordable than other areas. And really -- I'm laughing. Hard.
I took a look at rentdirect, and there was really nothing listed.
I haven't rented in a while, but I do have a sworn grudge with CitiHabitats. However, I have heard decent things about Manhattan Apartments.
posted by hummus at 1:59 PM on December 10, 2004

If you want lots of space on the cheap, come to Western Queens. LIC & Astoria have bigger places cheaper than Midtown and you're still close to Manhattan. Plus it's quieter at night and the outer boroughs retain more Old New York atmosphere than Manhattan these days.

We have a huuuge 2-bedroom with a big roofed porch for under $1500 and we found it after only 2 days with a local realtor.
posted by jonmc at 2:02 PM on December 10, 2004

Astoria rocks, I totally agree with jonmc. We have a three bedroom for 2,000 (a little on the high side, even, but a really nice place and they allow dogs, so..)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:04 PM on December 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

Columbia University has a web page devoted to this subject here. Some good advice, I think, the best of which is:

"For more information about rent-regulated apartments, visit the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) and click on "Rent Administration." Non-regulated apartments are known as market rate. They are easier to find and more expensive than rent regulated apartments"
posted by mds35 at 2:05 PM on December 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

I've only moved three times here, twice with a Broker and once through Craiglist. I was very happy with the apartment I got through my second broker but it was in Astoria. If you're interested in Bourough referrals I'd be happy to share that info. Craiglist is great when it works and you can get out of that Broker's Fee.

On Preview: Well, I guess what jonmc and ThePinkSuperhero said. Must. Type. Faster.
posted by safetyfork at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2004

We saw a huge number of apartments on a week-long visit to NYC in September of this year and ended up not using a broker at all. We ended up with a place we saw on Craigslist.

Beware of LOTS of the listings on Craigslist (even the 'no broker, no fee' ones), however, as many of them are bait-and-switch listings that get you in touch with a broker, who will then sucker you in and try to take you around to other apartments. Not all brokers are bad, mind you, but they are expensive (the average fee is 15% of your ANNUAL rent). You only have to pay them if you use them to find a place, so it might not hurt to see what they're advertising.

We ended up in Hell's Kitchen actually. It's great. I don't know how much space you're likely to get for 2K, but this area is worth a try, certainly.

If you send me an e-mail, I may be able to give you a bit of info on a building down the street from us that we've heard good things about from a resident.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2004

Are you sold on Manhattan? Cuz you'd find a hell of a place in Brooklyn (outside of Williamsburg) for under $2,000, and it's where all the cool kids are now.

Like me.

Also, I found my place on Craigs List, and I didn't have to pay a broker's fee. My landlord tells me that he had to keep posting his listing over and over again because the number of respondents falls off after the first day, so troll through listings that are more than a day old for ones you won't be competing with everyone else in the city for.

Brokers'll screw you for 10-15 percent of a year's rent, and no one I know would recommend their last broker to me the last time I was looking. They seem to leave everyone feeling like they were ripped off.....though saladin was clearly happy with his, so maybe you'll get lucky too.

Never heard of rent direct, and if you visist a place you see in the classefieds, you'll be competing with about 100 other people for it. The village voice, however, will email its classifieds out to people who pay a fee on their web site...and it sends the email out a day ahead, which gives you a jump.

It's probably obvious, but make sure the subway from where you're working to where you're looking at living doesn't involve four transfers.
posted by owenville at 2:07 PM on December 10, 2004

Oh, and here are some more links, courtesy of CU.
posted by mds35 at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2004

Also. Must. Type. Faster.
And pay attention on preview.
posted by owenville at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2004

Our place in Astoria (in the Borough of Queens) was 1,100 a month and was enormous.
posted by safetyfork at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2004

Shhhhhh, let's say no more about Astoria- soon it'll become really popular and then we won't be able to afford it anymore!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:12 PM on December 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You know those elitist assholes who think living in Queens is akin to living in Ohio, or maybe Pluto? The ones whose friends won't trek to visit if they do move to Queens, no matter how lovely and large the apartment? Those jerks with the stupid prejudices and the idiotic notion that only Manhattan will do? i'm one of them. please don't hate me.

You know, I was just going to post this and decided to find out how long the subway ride to midtown is from Astoria (and how pricey the late night drunken cab fare home might be.) I didn't learn that info, but damn, the neighborhood DOES look great!
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:25 PM on December 10, 2004

Best answer: RentDirect's probably a plenty scam if they want to sell you a list of apartments or anything like that.

Brokers are huge scumbags who will lie to you and think their time is five hundred dollars an hour, and that's being generous with the amount of time they'll spend on you.

That said, I did get this apartment from a broker who actually turned out to be only a normal scumbag instead of a huge one. (Screwed me for $200 or so in bullshit fees, but instead of a $2430 broker's fee I paid a half month, and got a half month's free rent, so it was mostly no fee.)

That was mostly because the landlord or management company was in cahoots with the realty company. This is called "having an exclusive," and maybe you could look for it for brokers who will only screw you a bit instead of a lot.

Basically you will be dealing with a ton of scumbags. Landlords are generally either inhuman corporations or losers who sit in Long Island or Florida and cash checks from people who are actually useful to society. Brokers attempt to make a pile of money for very little service and by conspiring either specifically or in a general "this is how the system works" way do well at it.

The people who aren't necessarily going to be scumbags are the management companies (that the landlord hires to do all the actual work) and the supers.

"and how pricey the late night drunken cab fare home might be"

Late night, drunken, you still take the subway, buddy. Part of the adventure.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:30 PM on December 10, 2004

by conspiring -> by conspiring with the landlords
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 2:31 PM on December 10, 2004

You might try looking down in the Wall Street area. My SO and I found a place that's more than what you're looking to spend, but we saw lots of things in the $2k range. They'll probably be a bit bigger than comparable apartments in Manhattan and the public transportation in that area is awesome.

I can recommend some brand new buildings, if you're interested.
posted by bshort at 2:33 PM on December 10, 2004

Astoria: It was 35 mins door to door from home to work (the job is a vaguely midtown/timesquare-ish location). It was a 12 to 15 dollar cab ride home late at night (usually from around the Lower East Side). Fares have gone up since I moved to Brooklyn, prices quoted do not reflect tip, and I was drunk at the time. I will stop with the Astoriafilter now 'cause I don't mess with Superheros.
posted by safetyfork at 2:40 PM on December 10, 2004

Best answer: All good advice here.

I just spent two months casually looking for a new apartment and would strongly recommend you avoid brokers at all cost. I've been here for 12 years in seven apartments and have never used a broker nor paid a fee. This time, for the first time, I started working with them, and regretted it. They post fake ads. They don't return calls. They talk the landlord down on the rent so people will be more likely to pay their exorbitant fees--I am NOT paying someone a $2400 fee for a $800/mo. apartment. They show apartments they don't have the right to show: one fellow poaches all the listings off of the NYC government sites and reposts them to Craigslist. Problem is, most of those places have salary caps. I ended up wasting two days making trips to Prospect Heights and getting all the ridiculous paperwork together before I found out on my own about the salary cap which disqualified me.

In the end, I'm moving into another share in Williamsburg. It's just below the bridge, in a mostly Hasidic building, and the rent for the two-bedroom is $1200 a month, which is more than the $1000 for a two-bedroom I shared before, but it is a better and quieter building, and my rent is the same, since I was paying a larger-than-half share in the other place. Plus, it's a sixth-floor walkup so it's like there's a free gym.

I would also say, do your homework. I've been hitting the sites below like clockwork. Type in your address, find out about the neighborhood and building. Using these sites I was able to know not to bother with apartments that were illegal (they had complaints on file), to learn about crime, transportation, the building owner, the increase in building value (which may indicate gentrification or show that a building is typical/atypical for its neighborhood), renovations, boiler repair (which may mean good heat and hot showers), and more. There is much data there and many useful conclusions can be made.

NYPIRG: find out about parks, transportation, building ownership, superfund sites, more, on several kinds of maps.
Buildings Information System: tax records, ownership records (including much archival information: I found the 1926 tenancy record for my new building here)
NYC Property Info: similar to one of the maps on the NYPIRG page, but different.
My Neighborhood Statistics: crime, noise complaints, hospitals, people on welfare, schooling, income, etc. Make sure to judge a neighborhood by how it trends over time, not how it compares to the city as a whole. Also, be aware of taking crime numbers too much into account. They tend to cover very large neighborhoods, and as everyone here knows, NYC can change in a single block from bad to good and back again.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:43 PM on December 10, 2004 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh Mo N., that's fantastic, thanks.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:54 PM on December 10, 2004

Thanks for the Buildings Information Site, Mo Nickels. I knew my building was sketchy- now I know why!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:58 PM on December 10, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: For future reference, archival purposes, the grand scheme of history and whatnot, I've gotten some pretty convincing private emails steering me away from rent direct.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:06 PM on December 10, 2004

geez, i have nothing to add. everyone said anything.

but if you don't mind the Upper East side, I must say that its a pretty safe neighborhood. My SO use to work late nights (2 am +) and felt safe walking the 20 blocks home.

but avoid brokers if you can. or if you use one, get everything they say in writing. i can't stress that last part enough.

oh, and WELCOME!
posted by Stynxno at 5:07 PM on December 10, 2004

Another vote for Astoria (if you want to hold on to your prejudices and pay an extra $1000/month or so for the cachet of Living In Manhattan, so be it). One MeFite leaves, another MeFite enters...
posted by languagehat at 5:42 PM on December 10, 2004

Congrats Helcat! Stick to your guns and don't be swayed by the sirens in the boroughs :) I lived in Soho and while it was a bit commercial for me, I loved wandering over to East Village or the Lower East Side. Having all the bars, restaurants and nightlife and bookstores and theaters and just random strange storefronts at your doorstep was incredible.
posted by vacapinta at 5:58 PM on December 10, 2004

shhhhhh, let's say no more about Astoria

Please. It's no secret. You're already paying twice what people who were 'in the know' and got in 5 years ago are paying. It still might as well be Long Island, as far as Madhatterites are concerned.

Anyway, here's my tip: Walk down the streets of the neighborhood you want to live in. Look at the buildings. Most large management companies will have small signs on their apartments that have the company name and phone number. Write the number down.

Call the management company. Ask if they have any available units. There you go. Side note: this is how a lot of realtors get their listings.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:32 PM on December 10, 2004

I pay $540 for a room on the upper west side, and there are other rooms available in the same apartment right now.
posted by bingo at 8:51 PM on December 10, 2004

you'll find everything on www.craigslist.org

do a little bit of "study" on this website and you'll get a pretty good idea of the prices anywhere in manhattan or ny as a whole.

you'll find everything there. really.
posted by rubin421 at 9:36 PM on December 10, 2004

Yet another vote for Astoria. I've been here for almost two and a half years now, and it's great. (I did move to a new apartment a couple months ago -- a lot bigger for only a little more money, plus a couple friends live in the building.)

Here's my story: I actually did use rent-direct.com when I first moved to town. How it works is this: They're a licensed broker, but you do the legwork. You pay 'em $200 and you get access to their listings for six months. I signed up, went over to their offices since I happened to be in Manhattan on my scouting trip at the time, called four people, left from there to go look at places, and the first apartment I looked at (and the first landlady to call me back) was the one I ended up renting. I was a little freaked out at first, since everyone had told me "if you see a place you like, grab it right then" and also "don't take the first place you see." But the first place I looked at was great, and I had the landlady hold it for a few hours while I looked at one other place, which was foul. So I called back and I was in.

I was completely satisfied with rent-direct. (When I was looking that time, Craigslist didn't have much that didn't sound completely sketchy. But that was a couple years ago, before Craigslist was what it is now.)

I then gave my landlady's name to jonmc when he was looking at queens, and put in a good word for him. He's living here now.

Astoria's a great neighborhood -- lots of interesting dive-y bars, some really great restaurants (including some that'd be literally double the price if they were in 212), friendly people, ethnic grocery stores, easy Manhattan access (my commute to work is thirty minutes, door to door, on the N/W line), et cetera, et cetera. Plus I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off everywhere I go.

E-mail me privately if you want -- I can certainly introduce you to my (eccentric, but harmless) former landlady, show you around the neighborhood, answer questions, or what-have-you.

also: Welcome to New York!
posted by Vidiot at 9:57 PM on December 10, 2004

On posting, I say "great" too much. But I really do love where I live -- it's full of character but isn't annoying. And the restaurants are very good.
posted by Vidiot at 10:03 PM on December 10, 2004

I tried a large variety of methods - broker, Village Voice, online stuff - with little success.

I then decided to try grabbing the NYTimes early Sunday morning, circling likely candidates, and telephoning as early as reasonable to set up appointments to view. Within a week I'd seen 15 apartments, any one of which would've been suitable, and rented the one I liked the best.

So I recommend that, as old-fashioned as it sounds.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:47 AM on December 11, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help people. You're all coming over for cocktails sometime in February, okay?
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:54 AM on December 11, 2004

And please realize that all trains are not created equally. For example, there is a reason that people call the N and the R the Never/Rarely -- anytime outside of rush hour and you are going to wait forever.

I don't know much about Astoria, but somebody once referred to L.I.C. as "The Village of Queens." I laughed. Hard.

I remember that there was a huge amount of love in the Times the other week about Queens -- you might want to see if you can find it. A quick search of the Times didn't dig it up, but with all of this outer borough masturbation around here, I'm sure that someone knows where it is.

Good luck. I always thought that the only thing "If you can make it there..." referred to was actually finding a damn place to live...
posted by hummus at 8:08 AM on December 11, 2004

CL, does this mean you'll be at the meetups this weekend?
posted by bingo at 12:24 PM on December 11, 2004

TimeOut New York's issue no.446 (April15-22, 2004) is all about "Manhattan on the cheap." It's their annual apartment issue.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:45 PM on December 11, 2004

Response by poster: Bingo no, but the next ones for sure.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:59 PM on December 11, 2004

Just wanna get on the list for firee drinks on the 'Linguist. Sweet.

My seconds and thirds from above: I highly recommend living in Manhattan when you first move to New York. At least you'll know why everything is so expensive. Otherwise (out in Brooklyn or Astoria), you might not know why... You can always move out to the burroughs later.

Living in HK (Hell's Kitchen) is nice, if quiet. There is not as much street traffic, restaurants and bars are quieter when they're on your block and further/farther between. But you can walk to Times Sq., which beats the "30 minutes door to door" thing any day of the week.
posted by zpousman at 8:45 AM on December 13, 2004

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