How to rent an apartment in Brooklyn.
April 20, 2013 11:09 AM   Subscribe

My lovely daughter and her friend are graduating from college in May and looking for an apartment in Brooklyn.

Initial inquiries into listings (via PadMapper) trigger a response from brokers. Who universally tell her that they have nothing like what she is looking for.
"Well, what about this apartment that you just posted?" "Before I show you anything, I would need to meet with you, explain my role, have you sign paperwork, discuss my fees...."

Seriously, New York? We are Angelenos and this seems really strange to us. OTOH, if that is how it's done in NY, we need to figure it out.

They want to spend $1400 for 2 bedrooms, which may indeed be unrealistic. But there are ads out there so, why can't they see any of them? Must they have a broker? Do they have to sign a contract? Is there an upfront cost, or only if they find something? What if the broker can't find them something? What if they sign a contract then find something on their own?

Any advice, dear hive?
posted by SLC Mom to Home & Garden (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, she is at school just outside of NYC now, so can look at things. She is not shopping for something sight unseen from LA.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:13 AM on April 20, 2013

The apartments with your specifics that show up in Padmapper when I look are $1400 per person, not apartment. But yes, $1400 for a 2 bedroom is wildly unrealistic for any decent neighborhood.

I would think their best bet is to pay a broker to help them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:16 AM on April 20, 2013

Ok...NYC real estate is unlike all other markets in the US. Inventory is very tight and demand is high. This means that landlords and so brokers are very demanding. $1,400 for a 2br is probably not realistic for any but the most marginal neighborhoods of Brooklyn.

Landlords generally want tenants to earn an annual salary at least 40x the monthly rent. So, $1,400 * 40 = $60,000 or so.

Landlords will also want proof of employment, letters of reference, a credit check, paystubs, etc. guarantors generally have to live in New York, CT or NJ and earn 100x the monthly rent annually.
posted by dfriedman at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

Sorry $1,400 * 40 = 56,000
posted by dfriedman at 11:21 AM on April 20, 2013

Also use Streeteasy to search for apartments.
posted by dfriedman at 11:23 AM on April 20, 2013

$1400 for a 2-BR may not be entirely unrealistic, but if they're looking in prime areas, yes, it is, and so they're getting the scam listings-- the listings that brokers put up that aren't real, but are for getting you to call them so they can show you other, less good (or more expensive) apartments.

She should be looking for 'no fee' apartments if she doesn't want to pay a broker (I don't know about padmapper, but on craigslist you can search only for 'no fee' apartments.)

If she calls for a no-fee apartment and they tell her it's not available, don't go see any of their other listings. They may be legitimate but I wouldn't give them my business, it's a scam tactic.

There are definitely legitimate listings out there, but looking at the price range they are, they're definitely getting the 'too good to be true' stuff. They may need to up their price range. I am paying slightly/somewhat more than that for a 2BR in Brooklyn, in a neighborhood that's not generally considered 'prime'/'desirable'.

Have them do some research on NYC rental scams-- there are lots of things to be wary of, they should at least be aware of the possibility of being scammed, so if things don't seem completely right in any way, they can get out before they're out a bunch of money.
posted by matcha action at 11:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

a NYTimes article on one common rental scam
posted by matcha action at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

New York real estate -- including the rental market -- is a whole different kettle of fish from the entire rest of the country.

A) Their rent is unrealistic for anything they would want, anywhere they would actually want to live. Which is probably why the brokers are telling them "we have nothing like that". They have nothing like that.

B) I find it a little hard to believe that there are legit ads on Craigslist for Brooklyn 2 bedroom apartments in that price range rented by brokers. Which may mean that if they are seeing them, they're getting unscrupulous brokers. You list an apartment at a price that seems reasonable for know-nothing out of town college kids, then you say, "oh, that place is taken, let me show you these other apartments. They're a little more expensive, but blah blah blah..."

C) If there are legit ads listed by brokers for apartments in decent neighborhoods in their price range, those apartments are getting snapped up like hotcakes and likely ARE long gone by the time your daughter is talking to someone on the phone. That is absolutely not unusual in New York City. I have friends who are already living there who will look at 5-10 different places, only to have the apartment snatched out from under them by someone who got there first. And that's people who are actually going to view apartments with a broker, not making calls about ads.

D) It's not required to have a broker, but it's common and going through a broker will widen the pool of potential apartments. Yes, you pay a fee for this, and no, it's not cheap. Usually the broker fee is paid at the time of renting the apartment and is based on the monthly rent of the apartment they settle on.

Also, keep in mind that finding an apartment in New York is really hard. It's not really for the faint of heart. Frankly, the fact that your daughter is even having you ask the internet about this rather than doing the research herself is not terribly encouraging. Especially if she goes to college right outside the city and presumably already knows people who live there. Why isn't she asking friends how they got their apartments?
posted by Sara C. at 11:29 AM on April 20, 2013 [7 favorites]

She may want to take a look at Jersey City as an alternative option. She'll have better luck finding something decent in her price range.
posted by spilon at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2013

Any broker that makes you sign a bunch of shit before they'll even show you an apartment is something to stay away from. There are definitely legit brokers in NYC who are worth working with, particularly if you're moving from out of town and need to look at a lot of apartments very quickly, but there's no need to put up with sketchy behavior.

What you should expect is to make an appointment, meet them at either an apartment or their office, and have them drive you around in their car for an hour showing you a bunch of places all at once. Some people MIGHT ask you to sign something, but it should be pretty benign -- again, if it makes you uncomfortable, just leave and find someone else that doesn't have a bad vibe. Dealing with a sketchy broker is NEVER worth it.

$1400 is borderline unrealistic in a nice, convenient neighborhood. A quick search is showing some places in the neighborhoods I'd expect -- Flatbush, Sunset Park, Bed Stuy, Bay Ridge. But I'll bet that a lot of those places are either scams or kind of shitty.

A couple of friends of mine just moved this winter, and found a very small 2BR in Sunset Park for about $1600 a month, after having looked fruitlessly for weeks for something larger or cheaper. I can look up the info for the broker they used if that would be helpful -- this is the second apartment they've found through him, and they seem happy. I'm sure other people here on AskMe would have recommendations for you, too.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 11:35 AM on April 20, 2013

Real estate agents and brokers (there is a difference between the two) will want to know that you are able to pay the rent and have good credit. There is a chance that your daughter signs a lease, decides it's not for her and bails. This will make the agent or broker look bad to the property owner and now the agent or broker will have to find someone to fill that apartment. Or what's worse, she doesn't bail but doesn't pay the rent. It takes an average of eighteen months to evict someone in NYC so it may be that they give your daughter impossible criteria to make this worth their while.

Your daughter may be better off to look at an apartment up in Riverdale than in the desirable parts of Brooklyn. My neighbor listed his apartment for rent (my building is a condominium) and he rented his two bedroom apartment for $2000 a month. It is a bargain at $2000. The condos in the two block radius sell for $650K+ for a two bedroom so you can imagine what the monthly cost would be.

Mail me and maybe I can help recommend an agent. I have many friends who are experienced brokers and agents who work in the five boroughs.
posted by Yellow at 11:58 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't think she needs a prime neighborhood. I've lived in blech neighborhoods in my time, and live in one now. I expect she may well do the same. What areas should she look in, if ?

Sara C., she is not having me ask. We talked this morning, she told me what's going on in her life, and I'm asking. I like it that she still likes her dad and me enough that she calls us with her problems and joys. She does have friends with apartments and is talking with them. One has a broker she really likes. Two share a crap apartment with unreliable heat and an unresponsive landlord and a lease that goes til August. No one has been taken by a scam, yet. She is looking at the different angles, but is pressed for time.

Frankly, we are used to our area, where every apartment house has a 'for rent' sign on it 365 days a year and I could move in to 30 different places next week if I wanted to. So the NY market is a bit of a shock.

I am asking how to go about renting an apartment in this area (neighborhoods suggestions welcome, thanks all) and if it is possible to do it without a broker, and also, what is customary when working with rental brokers. Given what I'm hearing here, it seems like it might be best for her to use a broker, even if it is expensive. And that a lot of brokers are sort of scammy.
posted by SLC Mom at 12:22 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would look in Queens or the Bronx, if I were her. There are some safe neighborhoods in the Bronx and lots of safe neighborhoods in Queens that are nicer and more affordable than crappy neighborhoods in Brooklyn. I realize that you say you've lived in a blech neighborhood, but the blech neighborhoods in Brooklyn are really bad.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Re the question of Brooklyn vs. some other borough vs. Jersey City, while I do think the popular Brooklyn neighborhoods can be overrated, most likely the experience your daughter wants is going to involve living near friends and feeling like she's part of a larger community of people like her. Depending on her interests, she might also want to be close to a specific creative scene, or certain local institutions, or the like. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that, and I think the advice to move to somewhere like Riverdale is potentially really bad.

You just sort of have to figure out your priorities. If what you really want is to live in NYC at all costs, well then. If what you really want is an apartment with your bestie with a reasonable commute to work, well then. If what you really want is to be an artist in Bushwick, well then. Etc. etc. etc.

In my experience, the popular neighborhoods for post-college recent transplants switch up every couple years. A few years ago I was living in Crown Heights, Memorial Day weekend came, and bright-eyed 22 year olds just started seeping up out of the woodwork like roaches. A few years before that the same thing happened in Greenpoint. Before that, it was Bushwick. A decade ago, Williamsburg. I don't know how this consensus is reached, but there is always a consensus, and it's worth listening to in her case. She should talk to her friends, see where they're living, what they're paying, how their living situations work, what tradeoffs they make, etc. and go with that.

I think living in an out of the way area far from everyone she knows in New York (even with a friend for a roommate) is a recipe for disaster. You might save a buck, but what's the point?
posted by Sara C. at 12:42 PM on April 20, 2013 [6 favorites]

First - dealing with a broker in NYC means that you do all the searching and then call the broker who's handling the apartment. No broker will do the looking for you, especially if you're only going to spend $1400.
Second - since they're college kids, I suggest looking for a one bedroom they can split, either with one person in the living room, or sharing the bedroom (which may be too small for two beds). Otherwise, you should start looking in far neighborhoods like Bay Ridge, or into queens. Maybe they can still find something out in Bushwick.
Third- if you can swing it, I would come out a month early, get an apartment for one month and then dedicate every hour to finding an apartment, meaning walking around to all the real estate offices in the neighborhood you want and setting up a RSS feed to have any new Craigslist apartmens sent to you ASAP.

Good luck! Feel free to ask me any questions. I'm on my 4th Brooklyn apartment (plus 2 in west Harlem), and moving in New York is very difficult. It's practically impossible to find a decent deal in a decent neighborhood unless you're own of those people that seems to always fall into lucky situations.
posted by Unred at 12:47 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

And NEVER pay anyone anything until you're signing the lease.
posted by Unred at 12:50 PM on April 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, they should probably prepare to spend a lot more than they really have to for an apartment that isn't all that great, at least for the first year. Especially if they have their heart set on a two bedroom, living together, in a particular part of the city. Because that's already quite a lot of Important Criteria for a NYC apartment hunt.

Instead of looking optimistically at the lower end of prices in their desired area, they should look at the upper end and assume they won't get much for their money.
posted by Sara C. at 12:58 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

For their price range I would probably be looking in crown heights, flatbush, Bay ridge, bed stuy, and sunset park.

It is possible to do it without a broker (i've rented apartments both ways, been happier when I didn't use a broker). Just have them limit their search to 'no fee' or 'by owner' on craigslist.

If you go with a broker, they can probably expect to sign something before they see apartments, stating their income, intent to rent, etc. They shouldn't expect to pay anything at that stage. The broker should show them a couple apartments, depending, of course, on what inventory they have. If they find a place through the broker, the fee is typically around 15% of the yearly rent.

There are some neighborhoods where you do see apartments with 'for rent' signs, mine is one of them. I don't want to post my exact location, but feel free to memail me and I can give you more info; my neighborhood is relatively affordable for Brooklyn. Good luck to them!
posted by matcha action at 1:13 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Bay Ridge is where my younger cohorts are all ending up.
posted by The Whelk at 1:30 PM on April 20, 2013

Likewise, deep Bushwick, far crown heights, deep bed-stuy, maybe Ditmas/Kensington (these are all Brooklyn).
posted by greta simone at 2:35 PM on April 20, 2013

Check your memail.
posted by Majorita at 2:46 PM on April 20, 2013

Kensington is a good area; a bunch of mefites are right around here. $1500-$1600 for a two bedroom is more likely than $1400 though.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:08 PM on April 20, 2013

Other safe, decent neighborhoods with cheaper apartments: Inwood in Manhatttan, Astoria, Woodside and Sunnyside in Queens, Van Cortland Park in the Bronx. None of those will have any 2 bedrooms for 1400 though. 2000 is an insanely cheap 2 bedroom in new york.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:56 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might join the metafilter nyc google group, or have her join it—there's been a fair amount of apartment discussion on there, and she might get some more helpful advice.

You may have to act as a guarantor for her—I had to have my mother do so when I moved here, and there was no requirement that she live nearby.

I got my first, totally decent, apartment in Crown Heights through no-fee Craigslist ads, but had to do some quick-response shopping around, and probably got a little lucky, too. But it can be done!
posted by felix grundy at 8:21 AM on April 21, 2013

Something they may want to consider is looking in Staten Island. Rents are insanely cheap compared to the rest of the city, and it is also much safer than any other cheap-rent location you could get. It is a little quieter, which might be hard for college age kids, but they can just take a bus to the ferry and be right in Manhattan, or bus over the bridge to Brooklyn. Try looking on craigslist. I'm seeing 2 and even a few 3 bedrooms for less than what they're looking for in decent neighborhoods.

Also, Staten Island is in many ways a lot simpler to do things in, including rent. For better or worse, people will be more willing to rent to "two nice quiet girls" on a handshake basis, even if they don't have great credit or a lot of rental history or really high income.
posted by corb at 8:57 AM on April 21, 2013

Something they may want to consider is looking in Staten Island.


Just no.

Unless they coincidentally happen to know a bunch of people who are all living there already. And even then, no, unless they both plan to work in the Financial District. And even then even then, only if these people they know who live in SI live right by the ferry.

Moving to Staten Island as a 22 year old is a recipe for spending two months in New York, hating it, breaking your lease, being out a bunch of money, resenting your life, and then moving back home with your parents in the throes of a quarter life crisis.

I've known a lot of people who've lived in Staten Island, for various reasons, and none of those situations have been sustainable. It's just too far, too cut off from the rest of the city, and too alienating. Even for friends of mine who grew up in Staten Island, it just doesn't work if you want to do the "happy young carefree bohemian 20-something" deal.

Example: "Just take a bus to the ferry!" means an hour or more spent commuting just to get to Manhattan. From which they will have to embark on a third leg of travel just to get to what they want to do. A good friend of mine grew up on SI, and her family invited us all over for Passover every year. It was a fun day trip, but it was a day trip, not a "commute".

Another example: Everyone I know who's lived in Staten Island goes to New Jersey to do things, because it's closer and more convenient.
posted by Sara C. at 10:08 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rents are insanely cheap compared to the rest of the city, and it is also much safer than any other cheap-rent location you could get.

This is also not actually true. Rents are a little cheaper if you're willing to live a long commute from the ferry, more on the Jersey-facing side of SI.

If you want to live in a part of Staten Island that is "convenient" to Manhattan (convenient being "only a half-hour boat ride"), rents are about on par with other less desirable sorta B&T-ish neighborhoods like Bensonhurst or Forest Hills. This could work if they plan to work in the Financial District, and if they're not partiers, like, EVER AT ALL.

Safety wise, there are some really sketchy parts of Staten Island, and because SI is relatively off the beaten track, it might be harder to judge whether a given neighborhood is safe. A big part of the reason so many fresh-from-liberal-arts-school kids move to Bushwick is that it's a known quantity. And for the other four boroughs, there are commonly understood dividing lines that people can easily advise them about. I lived in New York for a dozen years, all over the city from Inwood to Sunnyside to Crown Heights, and am one of a relative few non-locals who has ever even BEEN to Staten Island. And I still couldn't tell you what areas to specifically avoid. Which is bad news when you're a couple of 22 year old white girls who've never lived in the city before.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

For their price range I would probably be looking in crown heights, flatbush, Bay ridge, bed stuy, and sunset park.

It is possible to do it without a broker (i've rented apartments both ways, been happier when I didn't use a broker). Just have them limit their search to 'no fee' or 'by owner' on craigslist.

matcha action has got it right. Those are great, affordable neighborhoods. You don't need a broker, but it may or may not make things easier for you. $1400 is a bit unreasonable for a 2br -- $1600 is a little more likely.

And do not look at Staten Island, it is very divorced from the rest of the city -- much more so than Jersey City, which might be a pretty okay option.
posted by wrok at 12:12 PM on April 21, 2013

If they truly need to stay at that price point they should consider moving into a 3 or 4 bedroom. Brooklyn should be first (areas others have mentioned), then check out Queens (Astoria, Jackson Heights).
posted by manicure12 at 7:35 PM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they truly need to stay at that price point they should consider moving into a 3 or 4 bedroom.

Yes. The best way to resolve this in the short term would probably be for them to find out through friends of friends who has a couple bedrooms open in a 3 or 4 bedroom apartment and try to convince the leaseholder to let them move in there. I almost assure you that your daughter and her friend are working their social network to find something like this right at this very moment.

I live in Washington, DC and would have been thrilled to find a 2 bedroom apartment for $1400 month in a nearby neighborhood-- or even a slightly sketchy one. That wasn't going to happen unless I lived in an outlying area. New York is even more extreme in that regard.
posted by deanc at 5:20 AM on April 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks to eveyone, especially those who sent broker contacts. They are great.
Dear daughter and a friend have taken a sublet from another friend through the end of August, above board, in East Harlem. a small 2 bedroom for $1550/month.
She graduated and we moved her in about 3 weeks ago. They are liking it so well that they are talking about signing a lease of their own in August, but it's early days yet. And it's not on the most convenient bus line.

I am happy to know that she is in a clean safe place with a friend and enough job to pay the rent.

Thank you!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:11 AM on June 12, 2013

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