Help me with my move to NYC
October 9, 2011 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Advice for an out of towner hunting for apartments in Manhattan? Lots of questions inside.

I have accepted a job offer in New York. I am slated to begin November 7. Currently, I live in Chicago. I have a bunch of questions related to apartment hunting for out of towners.

Some background about me: I am 26 years old. Male. I'm going to be working in the Times Square area. I'm interested in living downtown. I'm thinking LES or East/West Village. Anywhere I live needs to have good subway access to Times Square. I had considered Brooklyn, but found anywhere with decent subway access to be comparable in price to these Manhattan neighborhoods. I have decided to look for a studio because I don't have that much time to screen roommates and I don't want to deal with the risk of moving 1,000 miles to be stuck for a year with someone I end up hating.

-I was able to arrange to stay at a friend's apartment for four days to allow me to go around to see places. Will this be enough time? How can I use this time most efficiently?

-How much research beforehand can I really do? I feel like most of the listings I see on Craigslist are bogus. I'm also afraid anything I like will be taken by the time I fly out.

-How quickly do apartments in Manhattan get leased? Will the units I'm looking at on Craigslist likely be available when I'm out there in two weeks?

-I know most landlords require a cosign if your annual salary is less than 40x your monthly rent. Is having a salary to rent ratio around this level pretty typical for most Manhattanites? I don't think I could find a studio for much less than this, may 45x if I'm lucky. This doesn't include my discretionary year end bonus however.

-If I opted to go the broker route, what services should I expect from my broker? Will he/she pay to have me driven to the units he's trying to lease? Might the broker units tend to be cheaper, to balance out partially with the fee charged? How do the quality of the units he/she will show me compare to what I might find off Craigslist? How can I negotiate down the brokerage fee?

-I hear brokers are scumbags. Can you recommend good firms and/or people? Feel free to MeFi Mail if you'd prefer.

-I know that I will need to provide proof of salary. My offer letter will cover this. What other documentation should I bring with me out to NYC so that I can snag a place?

-What other questions should I be asking that I am not? What else should I know that I might not know?

posted by prunes to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Other questions:

-How can I know what utilities are included in rent if it is not otherwise disclosed in a listing? In Chicago, water is free and all other utilities are separately metered. I know that this might not be the case in some older NYC buildings.

-How can I best guard against living in a building with a bedbug problem? Do I need to cross reference every place I like with the bedbug registry? Are landlords required to make any sort of disclosure?
posted by prunes at 10:42 AM on October 9, 2011

Oh boy.

I was able to arrange to stay at a friend's apartment for four days to allow me to go around to see places. Will this be enough time? How can I use this time most efficiently?

Wait, do you mean you're coming out in advance of your move date? If you're showing up like... November 7 to look for an apartment to move into... no. Right now, you're looking for a lease start date of Nov 1, Nov 15 or Nov 30. Sure, there's some vacant apartments with immediate move-ins, but...

Why don't you look for one- to three-month sublets while you get your bearings? Your plan above is not a great way to move to town, either with brokers or without. You don't know New York well AT ALL and you do not need to sign a year-long lease immediately; having a month or two or three to discover where you want to live and how you want to live will be a huge benefit. For sublets, yes, you can use Craigslist--though you must have extended conversations with them and references, etc.

The bedbug registry is not particularly efficient or accurate. Landlords are required to make disclosures but, uh, no.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:53 AM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lots of people here will say Craigslist is your friend; I disagree.,, nybits, hotigloos (run by a friend) are all far better.

Yes, most landlords will require that you make 40X your monthly rent in annual salary. Most landlords will require that this threshhold be met by your regular salary, not by any bonus/perk.

Most brokers who are worth anything focus exclusively on sales because the commissions are higher. This means that brokers who focus on rents (for the most part) are not people you want to deal with. I've heard both good and bad things about CitiHabitats. Note that you will likely have to pay the brokers' fee.

Learn the difference between co-ops, condos, and straight rental units. And, learn those terms in the context of NYC housing, not how those words are understood in other areas. NYC's real estate market is a beast unto itself.

Go into any viewing with all your documentaion on hand: proof of employment, pay stubs, information required for a credit check, last year's tax returns, bank account statement, etc.

If you feel comfortable giving a budget on this forum, it will help people familiar with NYC rents let you know whether your desire to live on the LES/WV is a pipe dream or not.

Finally: amenities. Are you looking for a doorman? Elevator? Etc.
posted by dfriedman at 10:55 AM on October 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I live in the East Village and moved to New York 2.5 years ago. Over a year ago, I had to deal with bed bugs in my studio apartment, and my building was not on the registry. To answer your questions one at a time:

* Four days is not nearly enough time. I strongly, strongly, strongly recommend subletting a room or an apartment for a month to give you time to do your apartment search. It's not fun in NYC. Airbnb and Craigslists are good places to find a short term sublet.

* The Craigslist listings are designed to get you to agree to meet with the broker. While they may be real apartments, the photos are shot with super wide angle lenses and are often deceptive. When you meet with them, they may show you the listed apartment or may have a reason why they can't show it to you, but will then try to take you to a bunch of other properties.

* If it's a good deal on a good apartment, they go very quickly. It's worth looking at Craigslist, though, to get an idea of what's available and what amount of money you are comfortable spending, so that when you come out, you can hit the ground running.

* Can't help you on the cosign situation / salary requirements situation.

* The advice I've been given has to always look for no broker fee / by owner listings in the low price ranges. Brokers starts to make sense as you are willing to spend more money, because they get access to the best listings first.

* Brokers are the same as any other service professionals whose services you require infrequently. They take advantage of the huge knowledge differential between them and you.

* When you're close to deciding on a place, visit the block at different hours to gauge noise and the general mood of the neighborhood. This can change dramatically from one block to the next based on what businesses are around.

* You have to ask about the utilities. Most listings disclose anything that's paid for and leave everything else out.

* I ended up getting bed bugs over a year ago, and my building was not on the registry. Landlords are required to make a disclosure, but I wouldn't necessarily trust it ( ). Check the registry, but not being on the registry is no way to guarantee you'll wont' get them. Your best bet is to educate yourself on bed bugs after you move here, take the necessary precautions, and learn how to detect them early.
posted by AaRdVarK at 10:56 AM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wait, do you mean you're coming out in advance of your move date? If you're showing up like... November 7 to look for an apartment to move into... no. Right now, you're looking for a lease start date of Nov 1, Nov 15 or Nov 30. Sure, there's some vacant apartments with immediate move-ins, but...

My plan right now is to look at apartments from the 23rd through the 26th and to enter into a lease commencing November 1.
posted by prunes at 10:57 AM on October 9, 2011 is a godsend for this, as are and you will find both no-fee and broker-represented buildings on streeteasy, while nybits is all no-fee rentals, and cityrealty is just an index (not comprehensive, i don't think) of buildings in nyc. i've had a lot of success calling buildings in locations/price ranges i liked from cityrealty directly to see what their rental availabilities are. often if you call rental buildings directly, there will not be a fee.

if you work with a broker, you can usually negotiate your broker fee down to one month's rent (as opposed to the laughable 15% they start with). i have not found any of the broker services i've used to be worthwhile -- they usually show me more units i hate than not, and then try to upsell me to something over my budget. they're also not very time efficient. you can select a few buildings that you've found from the websites above in the same area and usually cover 4 or 5 in a couple of hours. for comparison purposes, i found my current apartment the first day i went to showings (after spending the previous week selecting listings on the sites and calling for appointments). your four days will be sufficient.

good apartments go quickly, so i would select options no more than a week in advance, and bring your proof of salary and most current bank statements with you, and have enough cash in an easily-accessible account to get a cashier's check to put down a deposit and first month's rent.

your budget might be helpful here, in order for people to provide you with some additional/more specific ideas.

also, on preview, yes you MUST come out in advance (in the next couple of weekends) if you want to get a nov. 1 or nov. 15 move-in date. otherwise you're going to have a stressful rest of november if you've only arranged to just show up in town for good and stay with a friend for four days.
posted by dynamiiiite at 10:58 AM on October 9, 2011

Hi prunes -- welcome to New York! The rental market here is like nothing I've experienced elsewhere, and I've lived in several major US cities (although not Chicago). The good stuff tends to go on the first day it's shown (the apartment I live in now had a 3-person bidding war after an hour of showing). So it's fair to say that none of the apartments you're looking at now will be available in 2 weeks, although things always fall through and go back on the market.

I didn't end up getting my apartment through a broker, but I spoke with a few. The best one was MNS real estate (, they eliminated a lot of the crappy places and really listened to what I was looking for. In the end the place I found was broker-less on both ends. But if you have a tight timeline it's definitely worth exploring.

You might want to reconsider Brooklyn if you're coming from Chicago and like the Chicago feel - it's definitely got the neighborhoody vibe of Chicago to a greater extent, and the commute isn't too bad. Good luck! Oh, and 4 days *should* be enough, but you never know. Keep in mind that most rentals require that your income is 40x the monthly rent, and require a security deposit (equal to 1 month's rent) + first & last month's rent on signing.
posted by iamscott at 10:59 AM on October 9, 2011

One more tip -- have all your documents prepared in advance so you can make an offer on the spot (or shortly thereafter) if you like a place. You'll need bank statement, letter from your new employer with your salary, landlord reference(s), income tax returns from last 2 years (and maybe some other stuff, these guys are crazy, particularly if it's a co-op).
posted by iamscott at 11:01 AM on October 9, 2011

I would re-consider Brooklyn. The studios on craigslist might all look like the same price, but if you're used to Chicago square footage (based on my limited sample size), you could be horrified by Manhattan studios. You usually have at least room to turn around in Brooklyn.

I've done two apartment searches in Manhattan. The first took three stressful weeks of finding places on craigslist, rushing to see them after work, being driven around by brokers on weekends (they will drive you), rejecting and being rejected by apartments. One broker didn't have the right to show the apartment that he promised to get for us. We found this out when a very irate woman ran down to the car screaming at us about exclusive properties.

The second one went much smoother. We took one weekend, met with two brokers, found a place we liked by Sunday and had the lease signed by the next Friday.

Recommendations: Have a clear list of what you can and can not deal with in a building. What are your must haves? Doorman, full kitchen, elevator, laundry in the building, etc. Be realistic with your price range. There will always be a better apartment out there, so know when you're satisfied. Also read up on real estate language (junior one bedrooms are NOT one bedrooms)

Craigslist is a good place to start. If you like the listings that a broker has, chances are they'll have more that you like. Many brokers specialize in an area of the city. I would also understate my price range because they'll show you listings at the top or over your range.

Also, you will probably be asked for the first month's rent as a deposit, make sure that your bank has a branch in New York and does certified checks. Be ready with references, salary information, etc. If you have a guarentor lined up (usually need to be from the tri-state area), have their salary info handy as well.

Four days is a recipe for stress. Even if you find a place you like, it could take you an unreasonable amount of time to be approved and there's always the chance of getting turned down after you've waited and stopped looking at other stuff. And you'll want to spend some time in the neighborhood, find out which cafe turns into a ridiculously loud bar and where the hidden subway entrances are.
posted by oryelle at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and you should ask the broker or landlord about rental requirements right away. One apartment company told us that we both needed to be in our current jobs for over a year. They actually relented because we were otherwise perfect applicants in a somewhat dodgy neighborhood, but be prepared for all sorts of hoop-jumping.
posted by oryelle at 12:07 PM on October 9, 2011

Lots of good advice here. IS the best thing ever, Brooklyn IS awesome, and this—"My plan right now is to look at apartments from the 23rd through the 26th and to enter into a lease commencing November 1"—is actually not terrible.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:14 PM on October 9, 2011

I agree about getting a sublet, and expanding your knowledge of various Manhattan neighborhoods. Lots of good areas that are loads cheaper than the W. Village or LES but still very livable and much closer than Brooklyn. You might also find that you like Queens--lots of great commutes to Times Square from Queens, like LIC.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:59 PM on October 9, 2011

My plan right now is to look at apartments from the 23rd through the 26th and to enter into a lease commencing November 1.

With this kind of timeline you are pretty much begging to be screwed into something extremely subpar. I know people in NYC who can find apartments that easily and that quickly, and it's because they've lived here all their lives and have the kind of necessary connections required to do so, or they have a fuckton of ready cash.
posted by elizardbits at 2:05 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've made the move a while back and had similar questions. I ended up subletting a place for a month and using that as a base to find an apartment from. Honestly, I can't imagine how I would've done if I just *had* to get an apartment in a few days. So I strongly recommend moving.

- For large rental towers, remember that you can talk to the leasing office directly. That will get you around the broker commission and really, for any building that has a leasing office, the brokers can't do much more than show up with you and collect their check.

- Apartments get leased out very quickly. Not all of them -- but most of the good ones.

- Craigslist listings: that's brokers trying to get you in the door. Often, the actual apartment exists but doesn't look like anything described. Sometimes, you end up meeting with the broker and it turns out that the apartment was 'just rented'(maybe ... who knows?) or turned out to be unavailable right now but look, there are these other awesome places you should see. Quite annoying if you are interested in *that* particular apartment but actually not terrible if the broker turns out to be OK.

- In the end, I ended up having a good experience with CitiHabitats where I told a broker what I wanted, they made a list of apartments and showed me. The particular broker I worked with actually did a decent job of showing apartments conforming to my requirements and I managed to negotiate away the broker fee (though that was about a year and a half ago, when the market was very different) but that was because the apartment I chose had been vacant for a while.
posted by bsdfish at 2:24 PM on October 9, 2011

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