Mefites of New York: Where should I live in NYC?
July 18, 2014 6:50 AM   Subscribe

So, I'm moving to New York, and the housing situation looks really complicated. I have a friend I can crash with for a week or two, but I would ideally like to find a place soon after I arrive in the city in early August. I have no idea which areas I should be looking in, or what's reasonable for my budget.

The important facts: Work is based in the Tribeca area. I want to pay between 1600-1800 for a place. I'm a single woman, planning on living alone.

Ideally, I'd rather not have too much of a commute (~25 minutes to work sounds perfect), but I don't know how reasonable that is given my price constraints. I can be quite happy in small studio apartment, but I'm not sure how I feel about rooming with strangers off craigslist.

A number of questions follow:

(1) Should I be looking in Manhattan, or not even bother with my price range?

(2) If Manhattan, what neighborhoods/areas? If not Manhattan, then where?

(3) How does one find a place anyway? Is craigslist the way to go, or should I be using brokers? If I should be using brokers, which ones?

Any and all related advice is super-welcome.
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Craigslist: yes.

Manhattan - on that budget and living alone, ain't gonna happen.

If you're working in TriBeCa - Try looking at Brooklyn, and the further south or east you can get in Brooklyn the better. Parts of Staten Island might also be something to consider, as are parts of New Jersey.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:16 AM on July 18, 2014

You can look in Manhattan, but at that price and with your commute constraints, you won't find much. UES may be in your price range, but your commute may be annoying depending on where exactly in Tribeca your office is.

Craigslist is OK, but I prefer streeteasy. Brokers are helpful, but it isn't always necessary to pay a broker fee (which can get as high as 15% the annual rent).

You'll need some or all of: proof of employment, pay stubs, tax return - you generally will need to be making 40x the rent (i.e. $1000/month rent means you need to make at least $40K per year) or have a cosigner (sometimes required to be a NYS or tri-state area resident) who makes 80-100x the rent. You'll need to be able to pay 1st month's rent and 1 month security deposit, sometimes last month's rent as well.

Much more important for finding a place is the type of neighborhood you're looking for and the amenities you want/need. I recommend you find a temporary place for the first few weeks while you're looking for a place in person (airbnb is a good place to find temporary stays).
posted by melissasaurus at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Brokers in NYC can be very expensive - fees are usually 15% of annual rent. If you can find your way without a broker you can save that fee, but the upside to a broker is of course saving time weeding through crappy or fake ads. Which brings me to craiglist...
It is a great place to start just be aware that there are a lot of spam ads and sometimes just complete lies in there too. BUT sometimes its a great place to start, and also may hook you up with a broker that way anyway.

I think your budget is too low for Manhattan unless you are willing to room with someone or unless you are okay with a longer commute of 25 minutes. You can try for studios on the upper east side or west side as well. UES is until about 91st street and UWS is until about 114th.
Since you are working downtown, I would recommend looking into Brooklyn as there are more options there. And you could also look into Astoria or Long Island City in Queens.

I just found this site via google that might also have some advice.

Good luck!
posted by kmr at 7:21 AM on July 18, 2014

Harlem and Inwood have studios in your price range in Manhattan. I rented a studio in downtown Jersey city in that price range in Paulus Hook, and you can definitely find something like that next to the Grove St. PATH station.

Astoria is where a lot of professionals looking for lower-cost housing are moving to, but that is more easily accessible to midtown than TriBeCa.
posted by deanc at 7:24 AM on July 18, 2014

You may be able to find something in that price range in Manhattan if you look hard and act fast but you'd be able to get something nicer/bigger in Queens or Brooklyn, although your commute may be slightly longer (depending on how close your job is to Canal St., basically.)

Craigslist is fine if you can avoid the scams. The nice thing about Craigslist is that brokers put apartments on there and if the one you wanted is gone, they'll tend to have more in the hopper. We just had to get a temporary rental off Craigslist for the first time in years and it basically painless. The better brokers, IMO, go by neighborhoods so you'd probably want to find a neighborhood you like/would be wanting to live in first and then find brokers who deal with that area. If you have a friend in NYC who knows their way around, see if you can get them to help you find a neighborhood that fits your personality and budget. Get to know a neighborhood at least a little bit before moving there.

Also when you go see an apartment be prepared to say "I want this apartment right now and I can put a deposit down in cash right now." The market being the way it is right now, you don't really get the luxury of taking your time to decide. When it's time to pay, there's a good chance you'll be paying the equivalent of four months of rent up-front: first and last, security (equal to a month of rent) and broker's fee (equal to a month of rent). But everything is negotiable, especially with subleases (renting from an apartment owner rather than the apartment management company) and it never hurts to ask: I've always asked for a $100 discount on rent and I've usually gotten it although I don't mind doing things like paying rent in cash. Subleases can also be a lot more lenient on the rent to income ratio rules melissasaurus indicated above.
posted by griphus at 7:25 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I agree that your price, preference for no roommates, and commute constraints will make Manhattan difficult. If you're willing to consider upper Manhattan, I know people who pay in that range for a studio or one bedroom in Washington Heights (around 150th St I think), but I think the commute would be more like 30-45 minutes (or more, depending on how far your apt or work is from the subway and whether you have to transfer between the express and local trains). Upper Manhattan is also, in my opinion, less like "Manhattan" (in most people's perception) than it is like Brooklyn or Queens.

I second the idea to consider subletting for a month or two before committing. I think the ease of commute is more important than the time for most New Yorkers - it is a lot more palatable to spend 45 minutes on a single train that goes basically door to door than to have to transfer once (or more!) during your commute. I, personally, would hate living on the Upper East Side and having to go down to Tribecea every day. (Note, that unless you're working very odd hours, you are unlikely to regularly get a seat on the subway for a Manhattan to Manhattan commute.)

Unfortunately, I can't offer much advice as to where to find apartments. I just renewed my lease for the fifth time both because I like my neighborhood and apartment, but also because I hate apartment hunting in NY.
posted by Bailey270 at 7:28 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've only been here a year and was asking my "where should I live" question just last summer, but I did my obsessive research and can tell you with certainty the only place in Manhattan you can live alone for that price (unless you get DAMN lucky) are parts of Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. Lots of studios and one bedrooms in the 1400-1600 range, though you will not get to work in 25 minutes.

In BK getting to Tribeca in the 25-30 minute range check out Bed Stuy or Crown Heights near the Nostrand A/C or Throop C stop - there may be studios in your range there on Craigslist and Streeteasy.
posted by windbox at 7:29 AM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also, you're going to meet people and make friends and in NYC questions like "how did you find your apartment," "what's your rent like," etc. are really common so don't be embarrassed to ask. People who have good experiences with their buildings and their brokers have no problem passing that info on to others.
posted by griphus at 7:29 AM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Check out a transit map like WNYC's to figure out where you should live to optimize your commute; cross reference with Padmapper to figure out what's in your price range.

Given your preferences I would look at maybe Prospect Heights or Boerum Hill (though with the disclaimer that I haven't looked for apartments in a couple years and haven't been following rents that closely).

I've done both broker and no-fee apartment searches and to me there's no clear winner-- you may want to spend the first week looking by yourself and then try to find a broker if you're not having any luck.
posted by matcha action at 7:40 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Absolutely with not a single hesitation, seconding crown heights.
Awesome, reliable transporation from the Franklin Avenue subway stop.
Rents are still reasonable but going up super super fast.
Really close to a million fun bars and restaurants
Few blocks from prospect park.
Really, unbeatable.
posted by Riton at 7:56 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Add a throwaway email address so people can send you possible leads.
posted by mareli at 8:10 AM on July 18, 2014

Seconding looking at New Jersey. Should be easier to find something in that price range in Hoboken and Jersey City, and the commute to Tribeca ought to be faster than a lot of places in Manhattan and the other boroughs. (You could easily do sub-25 minutes.)
posted by odin53 at 8:22 AM on July 18, 2014

You can absolutely find studios and even 1BRs for that price in Manhattan but you will be looking in Inwood, Washington Heights, Hamilton, Morningside, East Harlem, etc. It seems super inconvenient when you look at a map, but there are express trains that can get you downtown reasonably fast. I'm not sure how the commute times would measure up against commutes from the Brooklyn neighborhoods people are mentioning.
posted by elizardbits at 8:38 AM on July 18, 2014

You'll be able to take the PATH train from some places in NJ.
posted by brujita at 10:08 AM on July 18, 2014

I'll second what Bailey270 said about EASE of commute vs TIME. It takes me 1.5 hours to travel ten miles from NJ (Bus to Port authority, subway to 81st st then M79 to East End Ave.) Not convenient. Also as a point of reference, I've yet to find a route on the bus/subway that'll get you to/from the UES to the Village in less than 45 mins - and thats if you're lucky. Shop for convenience!
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:23 AM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My advice would be to look in Manhattan for your price range but be aware that your commute would probably take longer than 25 minutes. I say Manhattan based on my personal experience of living in Brooklyn for years but working and studying and having the majority of my social life in Manhattan. If I did it again I would try to find a place in Manhattan since it was such a pain in the butt to back and forth to Brooklyn (I lived in Bay Ridge and South Slope though). Just something to think about.

I also stayed with a friend for a few weeks in Hoboken which was a pretty decent commute on the PATH so you might want to check that area out as well.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 10:56 AM on July 18, 2014

I'll add my voice to the chorus of "consider Jersey City or Hoboken, near the PATH."

(I found my apartment in the former via Craigslist.)
posted by Shmuel510 at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2014

In addition to the ease of commute to work issue, you should try to consider the ease of commute to your friends/your social life. If your friends are all in Park Slope and you live in Washington Heights/Inwood, it is a pain. Similarly, if your friends are in Jersey City, Queens would be a trek. This might be another reason to sublet for a bit, to get a feel for how your social life will go.
posted by Bailey270 at 12:10 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

My girlfriend and I just came out the other end of a hellish housing search. As a result, I can recommend some brokers we liked. Perhaps more importantly, her UES studio is about to become available, and it might be a really good fit for you. Feel free to MeMail me for details.
posted by thejoshu at 12:19 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

(1) Should I be looking in Manhattan, or not even bother with my price range?

- You could look in weird parts of the Financial District and lower lower east side. More like 1900 no chance of 1600. Or Upper Upper Manhattan- a 40 minute ride on the 2/3 and perfectly nice. Do not be afraid of people who are not white, you can live in Manhattan.

3) How does one find a place anyway? Is craigslist the way to go, or should I be using brokers? If I should be using brokers, which ones?

Watch out for scams, but Craigslist is in fact the place to go. Go with some brokers so you can see what you do not want, but I don' t think its AT ALL worth paying for a broker for your first place in NY when you don't know where you want to live or what kind of place you are willing to stand (thats all NY apartments are, the best ones are "I'm willing to stand this!")
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:21 PM on July 18, 2014

Absolutely sublet before committing to a lease; you need time to determine what you like. Checking out lots of apartments, neighborhoods, and train routes will give you the info you need to get the most for your money.

There are gorgeous Brooklyn neighborhoods 25 minutes or less from Tribeca. Look at hoods on the 2/3 line, like Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. (Boerum Hill is great too, but probably pricier than you're looking for.)
posted by jessca84 at 1:04 PM on July 18, 2014

Before signing a lease on a place, use the HPD online portal to look at its housing violations in the past. Knowing this would have saved me from a no-optimal experience.

Briefly, you put in the address and it gives you a way to see any reports that have been sent in about the building.

Totally worth looking at.
posted by sciencegeek at 1:50 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also — we found most of our luck via Streeteasy, but I did find some compelling and affordable places via the Listings Project.
posted by thejoshu at 2:02 PM on July 18, 2014

It's a little hard to make recommendations without knowing what subways your office is near and what you're looking for in a neighborhood. I agree with others that a slightly longer commute along a single train is much easier in the long run than ostensibly living 25 minutes away but having to transfer trains-- never underestimate how badly having to transfer can fuck you over during rush hour, even if it's just switching to the local train.

The A, the 4/5 and the Q are the fastest trains that go to the Tribeca area so based on that I would recommend Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Garden, Ditmas Park, Washington Heights, Inwood, or Astoria. Other options include Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Morningside Heights, and Woodside. These neighborhoods run the gamut in terms of gentrification, busyness, local restaurants/bars/shopping etc. so the feasibility of finding an apartment in your price range with a local vibe that appeals to you may vary.
posted by fox problems at 5:45 PM on July 18, 2014

What train line(s) is/are your work near and where is your social life likely to be? I'd minimize transfers at all possible and try to live near as many reliable train lines (some are better than others, watch for alert patterns) as you can. Brooklyn's pretty sweet and if you live off the Q, you can have a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty on your commute.

Good luck!
posted by wiskunde at 7:34 PM on July 18, 2014

Another factor to consider is whether you think you will want to commute by bike. If yes, look in upper Manhattan on the west side, for easy access to the Hudson River Greenway. Riding to Brooklyn is relatively easy, via the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges (but the former gets a LOT of tourist foot traffic). It will open up the city in other ways, helping you to learn your new town.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:40 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're working in tribeca, you're going to want to live in brooklyn close to an A, C, 2 or 3 train. Brooklyn Heights, and DUMBO would be great options but you're unlikely to find anything in your price range. Downtown Brooklyn, Prospect Heights and the northern part of Park Slope near Flatbush Avenue are the "nice" neighborhoods in your price range. Bed Stuy and Crown heights ate further out and perceived as not as nice, but they're still within your commute goals, are great places and you will probably be able to find something in your price range.
posted by boots at 5:41 AM on July 19, 2014

I admittedly don't live in NYC, but my best friend does, and she said that you absolutely can find a one-bedroom in your price range in Manhattan. Her own words:

"Just go on Craigslist. You will be shown a lot of bullshit places with bullshit fees, but it's part of the game. I live on 145th and St. Nicholas on the ABCD train in a two bedroom that costs less than her budget. I can get to Tribeca in 30 minutes on the A train (probably faster, actually). Prices are going up, for sure, but you can also get a good deal."

Good luck!
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:51 AM on July 20, 2014

"I can get to Tribeca in 30 minutes on the A train (probably faster, actually)"
Sorry, but no. Even google maps best case scenario puts at 32-39 mins, and that's really not accurate. As a daily rider of that line... um, no. Quicker than some but not going to get you to work ever in 30 mins or less. Ditch that requirement. Have a longer but more pleasant commute and neighborhood.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:22 PM on July 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

You might be able to find a decent studio in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn for that price (upper range). I think it'd be a better commute than from uptown Manhattan, and it's a really pleasant area.
posted by DayTripper at 10:00 PM on August 21, 2014

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