Advice on finding an aparment in New York City
June 28, 2005 4:14 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to New York City this summer, and I have no idea how to start looking for an apartment.

Well, I do have an idea, but it's all very intimidating. I've started combing through Criagslist ads, and while I've seen what seem to be some promising places on there, the cynical bastard in me thinks that I'll never find a place that looks as good as it does in pictures (and I'm a photo major, I know that crappy places can easily be made to look good). I've already been to look at a couple places (roommate situations), but I passed on the places that I was offered (one because I wasn't "feeling" the roomies, the other because it was a short-term thing, and she didn't tell me until after I went down to meet with her).

Right now, I live about an hour (driving) away, and I'm moving to be closer to school (I've commuted to school via train for 2 years, and I just can't do it anymore - door to door it was about 2 hours each way). I do have a full-time job at home, so I can't really go down during the business hours to look at places, even though I know this is optimal.

I'm 26 years old, female, and I'm looking to move to Brooklyn or Queens, or possibly somewhere in Jersey, as long as the commute is alright. I really don't want to live with a roommate if I don't have to, but I'm willing to give it a try if the situation is decent. I'm looking to move sometime between now and August 1. I can afford about $1,000 a month. I really want to avoid the August/September student rush (I've heard about this, but since I've lived at home this whole time, I don't really know how bad it is, or if it's just a ploy to get people to move in sooner. Either way, I'd like to be there sooner rather than later).

Has anyone been in a similar situation? Where should I start? Should I bother trying to find a place on my own through Craigslist or other classefieds? Should I just suck it up and go through a realtor that will charge me a brokers' fee? Does anyone have any advice? Anyone know/work with an awesome realtor? Should I suck it up and take a couple days off work to go down and meet with someone to look at places? How can I avoid getting totally screwed?

I don't know if this is Chatfilter or whatever, but hellllp! I simply can't deal with spending 4 hours a day commuting anymore, it nearly killed me this past spring. I'd ask the advice of my friends, but my nyc friends aren't going to be much help, I fear. You MeFites are the smartest bunch of people I've ever come in contact with (and I'm not just sayin' that), and I know there's a whole boatload of you in nyc.
posted by AlisonM to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
this article tells you what not to do (well, it's a horror story about a con). Not really helpful, but I've only found my places via the paper.
posted by missed at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2005

Though you may still have to deal with them, keep in mind that NYC apartment brokers are the scum of the earth. They're basically a pack of people who decided they deserved to be paid thousands of dollars for two hours (being generous) of unskilled work.

Be aware that everything a broker says is a lie, and be wary of them trying to rip you off for more money.

One thing to try is to go and physically walk around areas you'd like to live in, looking for "Apartments for Rent" signs posted by the landlords. Next to brokers, landlords actually look like saints.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:17 PM on June 28, 2005

Craiglist is a good place to look. I hate the whole broker's fee thing so much that I, personally, would never use a realtor (I think fees are now up as high as 2-months rent...). It is such a fucking scam, and the more people opt out of it, the better.

As far as neighborhoods are concerned, if you're looking in the 1K/month range, you might want to consider prospect heights or kensington in brooklyn, and, of course, astoria in queens. Of course, I don't know where your school is. If you're going to, say, Columbia, Brooklyn will be a bummer of a commute. If you're at, say, Pratt, you might want also to consider Clinton Hill in Brooklyn.

Nice studios in all these neighborhoods can be found for around 1K / month. You might even get lucky with a 1-BR, but that's becoming less and less likely anywhere you might actually want to live.

As far as devoting time to it, there's no reason not to do it on weekends, especially if you're going through craigslist. Set up appointments to look at places all weekend, and if that doesn't turn up the perfect apartment, do it again the next weekend.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

Best of luck.

On Preview:

Missed's article is good to read: just keep in mind that there ARE scams out there, but most of them (especially the ones you might find on craigslist) can be avoided if you remember one simple maxim: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is...
posted by dersins at 5:20 PM on June 28, 2005

One thing to try is to go and physically walk around areas you'd like to live in, looking for "Apartments for Rent" signs posted by the landlords.

This is a good thing to do. And forget about trying to do it from afar with a minimum of fuss and effort; finding a decent, affordable apartment in NYC is a full-time job itself, and you'd better accept that you're going to be taking some time off from work, just as in any other emergency. The alternative is that you're going to wind up paying more than you can afford for a shithole. And unless you're very lucky "about $1,000 a month" is probably unrealistic unless you have a roommate (or are willing to settle for a closet-sized studio). Not trying to scare you, just give you a sense of what you're up against. And if you beat the odds and find that perfect place, think how triumphant you'll feel -- and you'll have years of bragging rights!

*still cursing my friend who has a place on W.31st for $300/month*

On preview:
of course, astoria in queens

Astoria used to be a wonderland of cheap rents (and right across the river -- I never understood it), but not any more.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 PM on June 28, 2005

If you can stay with one of your NYC friends for a week while you look for a place, you should be able to avoid a broker. What I did when I was looking for a place recently was go through craigslist looking for ads that sounded like were written by real people. If you read them out loud, it's pretty easy to spot the sleazy ones and eliminate them off the bat. "Apartments by owner" under the apartments/housing listings on Craigslist are a decent place to start. If you're willing to live with people, you might want to consider sublets first. I've found it's a lot easier to get into sublets and eventually sign a new lease than it is to find a newly empty stand-alone apatment. You tend to avoid brokers that way, and it usually means you don't have to bring as much furniture over.
posted by nyterrant at 5:31 PM on June 28, 2005

Response by poster: Um, I'm not going to say the name of my school on here because I don't want to be googled (actually, I don't know why I don't want to be googled, but whatever), but I take the 6 train to 23rd Street for school. So anything that'll get me to Union Square, Grand Central, or Times Square within a decent amount of time would be optimal. (Not that I'm asking for neioghborhood-specific advice, but dersins mentioned it.)

Actually, one of the roomie apartments that I looked at was in Astoria, and driving in, I was all "omg I love this neighborhood." It would be awesome to live there, but honestly? If I can find a good place in a less trendy 'hood, I'm gonna take it. And yeah, I know that it's not gonna be easy to find a place in my budget.

I do agree that the broker's fee thing is crap, and I'm going to aviod it as much as I can, although I was worried that I'd have to suck it up and pay one. Most places that I've seen (on Craigslist) are asking for 1 month's rent fee, and I've seen figures like "10% of a years rent" or whatever. Screw those guys. Let's start a revolution!
posted by AlisonM at 5:32 PM on June 28, 2005

Response by poster: ARUGH! "neighborhood," not "neioghborhood." I can spell, promise.
posted by AlisonM at 5:33 PM on June 28, 2005

Astoria used to be a wonderland of cheap rents (and right across the river -- I never understood it), but not any more.

It's still a better deal than a lot of other areas. Go through a local realtor and they'll find you a good deal. It dodged the Williamsburg bullet, it's still a cool place to live.
posted by jonmc at 6:22 PM on June 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Your school or other universities/colleges nearby will probably have a housing office too, or at least some bulletin boards somewhere.
posted by matildaben at 6:23 PM on June 28, 2005

A little over a year ago, I spent almost three months of my life searching for an apartment in New York City. It was an experience I would rather not repeat. Having somehow managed to come out at the other end, I hope I can offer some helpful advice.

Try to avoid using a broker or purchasing access to apartment listings, particularly since you are new to this game. That’s fancy talk for “easy to screw over.” I could tell you stories, but instead I suggest you take my word for it. If you insist on seeing documentation of the horror stories, lies, scams, and frauds associated with either of these "services," browse through the Craig's List New York Housing Forum, which is also a great resource for asking questions about neighborhoods and checking out landlords. Along the same lines, take a look around it's a tenant advocacy website that includes everything you would want or need to know about New York City housing laws, and will help you to be an educated consumer. That's fancy talk for “not getting fucked in the ass.”

One of the things that makes New York City special is that seemingly routine tasks- such as going to the grocery store, commuting to work, or finding a place to live- require the kind of strategy usually associated with major military operations, and sometimes, the same kind of budget. Like languagehat said, you should prepare- or resign- yourself to treating this project like a full-time job. The no-fee apartment section on Craig's List is a good option, but part of what makes it a good option is that everyone uses it. Keep your browser open whenever you are on your computer, and hit "reload" constantly to update the listings. When you see a new one that looks like it fits, call the contact person **immediately.** Most landlords and roommates will be showing the place that day, or, at the very latest the following weekend, and there will be a land rush for anything that washes up on Craig's List and doesn't sound like a demo at the Tenement Museum. If you don't have a cell phone, consider renting one so you can look at listings and call landlords and roommates while in the city. You may want to consider taking a short-term sublet so that you can establish a base of operations here and then find your own place (subletting involves its own special set of caveats and potential hazards, so make sure you take a good look at so you know what to avoid).

Since you live outside of New York and would need to make a substantial time investment just to see a place, do yourself a favor and prepare a detailed list of questions for landlords and/or prospective roommates that you can ask them over the phone so you can decide if it’s worth your trouble to see the place. You can develop this list of questions into a more detailed checklist to use when you make your on-site visit. Sometimes it's easy to inspect every inch of an apartment and forget to confirm that the toilet works.

Yet another thing that makes New York special is that everyone who has something nice got it because they knew someone. Make sure everyone you know and everyone they know knows that you are looking for a place, and ask them to look out for you if they hear anything. Send out a group bulletin with a description of who you are and what you're looking for, so when it is forwarded to a stranger with an apartment who is six degrees removed from you they feel comfortable getting in touch.

In the brutally competitive New York rental market, landlords and roommates may be leery of renting to you, since like most students you are probably relatively young and don't have a steady income (I am all of those things, and it didn't make me popular). You will therefore need to win landlords and roommates over with your other winning qualities. Be sure to present yourself over the phone and in person as articulate, responsible, and mature, and be able to give a clear explanation of what you do during the day and how you will pay for the apartment. Prepare a "renter's resume" with a cover letter that makes you seem like a sold and upstanding citizen. Include a copy of your current credit report- landlords will most likely still charge you a fee to run a credit check, but bringing your own copy makes you look like you have your act together.

I know this may sound extreme. And sometimes people get lucky, and don't need the renter's resume or the mace or the surface-to-air missile. But you need to be prepared to do what it takes to find a place that is safe and affordable.

Good luck, and watch your back!
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:40 PM on June 28, 2005

When sessing out a place for transportation and local services, I've found yahoo maps to be quite useful. It will list the local subways, and if you switch it to print view, tell you exactly how far away they are. Google earth also has a decent services overlay, but doesn't show subways.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 7:28 PM on June 28, 2005

a) If you want to rent a really nice studio at 72nd and Riverside in Manhattan for $1500, email me at the address in my MeFi profile and I'll put you in touch with my ex-landlord.

b) I found Craigslist, 2 brokers, and my work and school housing offices to be useless. CL was full of spam and false offers leading to fee brokers, the brokers themselves were completely uninterested in helping (they were interested in getting me to sign a sheet of paper saying anything I rented this week would cause a fee to accrue to them, and then doing nothing), and the housing offices were doing some sort of thing where decent deals were not posted but instead routed to friends and relatives of the employees there.

c) What worked was the NYT classifieds - Thursday, Saturday, and especially Sunday. Get the paper as early as possible, start calling those numbers as soon as you can, and see as many apartments as possible. You have to be physically present, although no one expects you to be there during working hours - I was shown apartments as late as 11pm on weekdays. (it's the city)
posted by ikkyu2 at 9:13 PM on June 28, 2005

hmmm....I'm basically useless as I just moved up here myself and my med school got me 600/month on the upper east side in student housing. (yes I'm kinda bragging, my view kicks ass too. no money for food/beer/hookers though so there you go).

Anyways a good friend of mine found a decent place through someone who was not quite a broker. it was like a match service for young professionals but I remember him talking about how it wasn't a broker and how those people suck. I think the service only cost him a couple hundred but he got a decent roomate and a decent place out of it. Also, he's living at 82nd and 2nd and only paying around a grand a month.

But yeah, I agree with the people here that the best way to do it is to come and check it out for yourself. Oh, and New York kicks ass, in case you didn't know that already.
posted by slapshot57 at 9:51 PM on June 28, 2005

Mentally accept that you will have a roommate. There are very few $1,000 studios or 1-bedrooms that you'd ever want to live in if you're going to school in Manhattan. There are lots of $2,000 2-bedrooms, however, which will be perfectly fine for you.
posted by MattD at 5:24 AM on June 29, 2005

Allison, a friend of mine just got an apartment at 113th street near the northern side of Central Park. One bedroom fairly large for NY standards. $1440/month. The neighborhood is the southern edge of Harlem on the west side and, I,personally, like it a lot. Real people (not just students), real grocery shops (not expensive chains), near Morningside Park and Central Park. The neighborhood is up and coming. My friend also mentioned that she saw a few studios too...
posted by carmina at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2005

Might i suggest also finding a neighborhood you like, and then if the place has a doorman going in and asking whether there are apartments available. Of course you might want to keep in mind that there are plenty of neighborhoods in which the rent would not be at all reasonable for a college student.

I just found myself a sweet (over 1000 sq ft) 2br in Astoria for $1700, and thats a little high-end for the area, rent-wise.

If you do decide to go astoria route, hit me up off-site, i have a pretty good broker who might be able to help.
posted by softlord at 5:25 PM on June 29, 2005


there has been some good advice, particularly from the long winded lady : ) she was helpful but let me fill you in as someone whos searched for a place AND YES BEEN A BROKER

If your price range is 1000, forget about
A) asking doormen if there are any openings, any building with a doorman will not have a place in that price range for you
B) searching in the paper, no one spends the money to advertise a 1000 dollar apartment in print

Here is my advice to you
the chances of finding a place for 1000 is very very slim in manhattan itself, so your best bet is queens or brooklyn. You CAN find studios for that in astoria... there are some brokers in the outter boroughs, but not many most focus on manhattan because thats where the money is, i would suggest not going to one simple because the rent you are looking for is LOW and they will not have a good selection if any for you so theres no probably no point. Also know that if there was no need for brokers they would not exist, many people do not HAVE the time or patience to set out on the task you are asking about and also many Landlords will NOT deal directly with perspective tenants, alot of people looking for apartments waste landlords, subleases, and brokers time.. and because of this many landlords will into rent directly to you, and often when you see a sign it will be for a MANAGEMENT company.

THATS the one of the best ways to finding an apartment without paying a fee to a broker and it not taking 3 weeks and a miracle.

Search online for management companies.. I don't live or work in NYC any more so here are the few i can remember

though to be honest even these places will have very few places in that price range

really your best bet is to find a roommate, go to craigslist and go to the rooms section. for 1000 you can actually find a decent private room, possible even in a doorman building.

but again. not ALL BROKERS are scum, geess lay off, you don't HAVE to go through them they are there for people who don't have the time or patience.

also a word of advice

decide what your willing to GIVE UP

whats most important to you
modern "ness"
walk up
etc etc, put those in order of what you want most and and deal with and keep that in mind, because there is not apartment in new york in your price range that has THEM ALL..

just my advice, someone whos been there, done that


and good luck!
posted by crewshell at 7:20 PM on June 29, 2005

also keep in mind

you wont be able to rent an apartment directly fro ma landlord or management company unless you make roughly 40 times the rent, so if your monthly rent is 100, annually you would need to make 40,000k etc etc.. if you don't your parents can co sign as guarantor but they need to make 75-80 times the monthly rent..

thats why renting a room from someone or a sublease is your best bet.

good luck
posted by crewshell at 7:24 PM on June 29, 2005

1000 not 100
posted by crewshell at 7:25 PM on June 29, 2005

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