Help a Housing Newbie in NYC
August 5, 2012 5:58 PM   Subscribe

How do I navigate looking for a room/roommate in NYC? Hope me, AskMe!

So, I've found myself in a situation where I pretty much have to find a place in NYC by September 1. I was planning on moving out anyway (I work in NYC, live in nearby suburbia, and the commute was getting to be too much), but some recent events kind of hastened it. I've gotten in touch with various people/connections and am looking on Craigslist. But I have questions.

(For the record, this is strictly a situation where I'd live with a roommate. I can't afford to live on my own right now, and time isn't exactly on my side. Also, assume I know nothing about hunting for rooms, especially in NYC-- you'd be pretty much right.)

1. Are there any places to look besides Craigslist? Sometimes I'll look at ads, and I won't know if they're real, especially if they have phone numbers. How do I know?

2. What kinds of questions should I be asking when I look at places? I've kind of been going into it blindly, with absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I have yet to see whether or not this will work for me. But are there any must-ask questions?

3. How do I handle moving once I have found a place? I don't need any traditional movers, since I'm leaving my furniture behind, but I will have boxes of my stuff (books, clothes, etc.) that I just need to get from Suburbia to Place in NYC. Also, they'd need to get me there. Are there any legit people in NYC who would do this? That would be pretty much my only option, as I don't drive/have a car, nor do I know anyone who does who'd be willing to do that.

4. This is all so overwhelming and stressful. I also have an ambivalent relationship with change, so this is making me especially anxious. I'm seeing a therapist, but how do I stay sane during this trying time?

5. Would I really be able to find a place by 9/1, realistically?

That pretty much covers it. Thanks so much in advance!
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yes you can totally find a room by 1 September, this is exactly the right time to be looking, don't sweat it. Also, note that Craigslist is filled with "Man with Van" ads in Services. (I'm sure there's a more gender-neutral term for "person with a small truck to help with light moves" but I don't know what it is, my apologies.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:17 PM on August 5, 2012

My trick to looking for a roommate on Craigslist is to look for ads that sound like they were written by an actual person.

So for example this would be good:

Hi there! We're two girls and a guy looking for a roommate of either gender to share our four bedroom loft space in Bushwick! We love good coffee, have a household subscription to the New York Times, and are in the process of building a rooftop garden. Please drop us a line if you're interested in sharing our awesome Brooklyn existence.

And this would be bad:

Room to rent Williamsburg $900 utils incl. Open house 8/19 7-9 pm. Call Jim at 718-555-1234.

Re your questions.

1. I've always used Craigslist or word of mouth.

2. I mostly ask questions about logistical stuff. How are utilities paid each month? Is smoking allowed in the apartment (I'm a nonsmoker, but definitely good to know whether others will be smoking in my space)? Are there pets/are pets allowed? Any other big house rules that need to be discussed in advance? If I'm looking at apartments in spring or summer, I ask what the apartment is like in winter. If I'm looking in winter, vice versa. I also try to have some kind of conversation about cleanliness expectations, but without outing myself as a slob or being judgmental about my prospective roomate's housekeeping skills.

3. You want a man with a van. Look for someone who is willing to come to your suburb. Searching Craigslist (man, what would we do without craigslist) for "man with van suffolk county" or whatever should probably do you. Be sure to mention that it's a move to the city when you set it up.
posted by Sara C. at 6:49 PM on August 5, 2012

Oh, and another suggestion along the lines of "what questions to ask when you look at apartments."

If possible, visit the neighborhood you're looking at -- and ideally the specific block -- at a few different times of the day. When I moved into my last apartment, I went to look at it on one of the first warm Saturdays in spring. The neighborhood seemed bustling and homey and safe.

Then I went to pick up the keys after I'd already committed and paid a deposit. It was then that I realized my new neighborhood was the hood.

I ended up moving into the place anyway, but it's definitely one of the more sketchy areas I've lived in and there were various problems with the overall quality and safety of the neighborhood that I didn't anticipate because I happened to catch my new block on a lovely day.

This is especially important if you're mostly used to living in a suburban landscape, as (in my experience, anyway), it can take a while to develop an instinctive sense of whether a neighborhood is safe or not.
posted by Sara C. at 6:54 PM on August 5, 2012

Another point: NYC is a hellish landlord's market. The brokers who help you find a place work hard, but their commission (at least 1-2 months rent) is paid by the renter, not the landlord as is the case in most other cities.
posted by yclipse at 7:00 PM on August 5, 2012

you can do this via craigslist, but also work facebook and word of mouth. make sure everybody around you knows you're looking.

i understand feeling overwhelmed and anxious about the situation. do you have any friends who you'd feel comfortable telling your budget and priorities to, who could look through craigslist on your behalf and send you promising ads? i've done this before for friends, and had friends do it for me, because it's actually FUN when it's not your own apartment hunt.

as far as questions to ask, it really depends on what's important to you, although definitely ask about the lease or rental agreement, if you'll be on the lease, if you owe a deposit, etc. i like to know what places there are to dine out or get coffee in the neighborhood, where the nearest laundromat and supermarket are, if they've had any problems with pests, if the landlord is responsive, what the neighbors are like. i also like to ask "do you mind if i look in your fridge?" which is potentially weird and invasive, but i can't stand an overcrowded fridge. asking to use the bathroom can be helpful too; it never seems weird and it gives you a chance to have a little privacy, gather your thoughts, a get a sense of how clean they are. another great tip i may have read on is to remember that an apartment will never be any cleaner than it is when it's being shown to you.

if it's starting to seem like you might not find a good place in time, and you really don't have much stuff, you might go for a one-month or month-to-month sublet while you get to know the area better and look for just the right place. that'll take the pressure off of finding somewhere great asap.
posted by nevers at 7:23 PM on August 5, 2012

Ditto what nevers said, word of mouth is super helpful in terms of finding an apartment share. Write up a cheery one or two sentence blurb about what neighborhoods would work for you and what kind of apartment atmosphere you're looking for and post it on facebook and email it to all your friends, asking them to ask around for anyone who needs to fill a spot in an apartment. If you're in a work, school, or alumni network and people post apartment listings there, think about posting that you're looking for a room. Mention it to everyone you talk to, especially anyone in the city already. Don't be shy!

In terms of listings besides craigslist, check out The Listings Project -- it's rather geared toward art studios, but often has apartment shares listed as well.

You can do it! You have plenty of time and seem very nice and thoughtful. Interviewing potential apartment sharers is kind of stressful, but just channel your most pleasant self and remind yourself that most people are pretty nice and want a reason to like you and have you work out for their apartment.
posted by EmilyFlew at 7:30 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

also remember that a lot of times the people who are looking for roommates via craigslist see a dozen of so potential roommates, and they are looking for a personality fit more than anything else. whatever you can do to establish common interests or make yourself sound like an interesting person to be around is likely to help. i've been on both sides of that game; saying i'm a circus performer always improves my situation, and my roommates and i have always been more inclined to show the apartment to people who tell us in their emails that they spent a year in west africa and like to cook ghanaian food to share, or they're buddhist monks who like to fix bikes.

the sooner you express your interest in a place, the better (if you know right away, tell your potential new roommates before you leave that you definitely want it).
posted by nevers at 7:34 PM on August 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

i keep thinking of more suggestions, cause i've been on both sides of the roommate hunt too many times. so here are some more.

this may be obvious, but do a craigslist search for your preferred neighborhood and price range, then subscribe to the resulting rss feed in your feed reader. respond to promising ads right away, and set a time to see those places ASAP. good rooms go so fast.

also post a "housing wanted" CL ad. they don't usually get many bites but i actually got a brooklyn apartment this way once.

the nonsensenyc mailing list is another source of housing ads. they're mostly in bushwick/bed-stuy and the like, with artsy folks.

don't be afraid to be very vocal about an apartment you really want if you're one of several potential roommates they've seen. we once gave a room to a girl we were on the fence about just because she was SO EXCITED about our house and wanted to live there SO BAD.

most potential roommates consider it a big plus if you're not around a lot, so if you work long hours, spend all your free time socializing away from home, and/or go away for the weekend often, emphasize that.

re sara's "and this would be bad" example above, in my experience sometimes those terse ads don't necessarily spell out bad news -- they're just written by someone who's not much of a writer or internet user. shocklingly, these types of people can still be perfectly nice and awesome roommates. but if you don't feel comfortable making phone calls and wanna stick to email, and you'd rather only contact people who seem like kindred spirits, that's totally understandable and that approach will serve you fine.
posted by nevers at 8:04 PM on August 5, 2012

My trick to looking for a roommate on Craigslist is to look for ads that sound like they were written by an actual person.

This pretty much worked for me in San Francisco. Likewise, when you answer the ad you should try to sound like an actual person.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:08 PM on August 5, 2012

Not saying my latter example would necessarily be a bad person to rent from or live with. But if you're concerned about whether it's a legit listing, or trying to deal with Craigslist's high signal-to-noise ratio, it's an easy way to find places that are more likely to at least be real and also stand a good chance of being a better than average fit.

Certainly if you see something that seems ideal and it's written in a minimalist style, by all means check it out!
posted by Sara C. at 8:28 PM on August 5, 2012

3. How do I handle moving once I have found a place? I don't need any traditional movers, since I'm leaving my furniture behind, but I will have boxes of my stuff (books, clothes, etc.) that I just need to get from Suburbia to Place in NYC. Also, they'd need to get me there. Are there any legit people in NYC who would do this? That would be pretty much my only option, as I don't drive/have a car, nor do I know anyone who does who'd be willing to do that.

CityMove is the best way to find a mover. I would avoid calling Man With a Van ads on CL.
posted by mlis at 10:01 PM on August 5, 2012

nothing wrong with Man with a Van ads on CL! For one of my recent moves, I emailed (OK, I didn't call) about ten folks, sending them lists of all the things i had to move and descriptions of the moving situations at both places (stairs, number of helpers). Most of them got back to me with quotes within 24 hours and I loved the guy I went with. The two times before that I did something similar and never had a bad experience.
posted by nevers at 5:55 AM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've used craigslist man with a van ads every time I've moved in New York, over the course of 12 years. Moving from a suburban landscape just outside the city to the city proper will complicate matters slightly (definitely double check that they can do what you want to do and get a price quote), but they typically are not sketchy or flakey or otherwise a bad way to go.
posted by Sara C. at 12:35 PM on August 6, 2012

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