Question about Moving to New York
August 14, 2015 12:28 PM   Subscribe

I am moving from California to New York for a job that starts on September 15th. Is there a reasonable way to remotely find a studio/1 bedroom or move in with a roommate starting September 1st? Or is it necessary to do a short-term sublet or Airbnb rental and then apartment hunt in person?

In terms of permanent housing, I am considering either a studio/1 bedroom or finding a roommate in Brooklyn. I'm running into difficulty doing this remotely, and I'm wondering if this might be difficult/impossible to accomplish.

I have been reaching out to 1 bedroom apartment listings via sites like Naked Apartments and Street Easy and also contacting brokers. The assumptions seems to be that I would view the apartment in person, they want to meet me, and I can turn in forms, applications, and a rental check in person. Are there any tips or tricks that would make it easier to identify and secure housing while still in California? Or do I need to be in New York to get this done in a reasonable way?

I have also been reaching out to housing situations with a roommate via Listings Project, Craigslist, and some targeted Facebook groups. With these, roommates seem to prefer being able to talk in person (although I do have one skype conversation scheduled). In the event something works out, many locations advertise first month, last month, and security deposit, which could be $3-$4,000. Would it be crazy for me to do a bank transfer for that much money with someone I've never met in person, even if I have skyped and have a signed contract with them?

Will it likely be necessary for me to set up a 1 month sublet/airbnb/temporary situation and then apartment hunt in person? Are there some other tips and tricks that might make this easier to do remotely? Thanks!
posted by crocodiletsunami to Home & Garden (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Absolutely get an Airbnb and then start looking. Even if you somehow manage to secure a lease/room, the potential pitfalls of renting while never having actually seen the apartment or neighborhood are incredibly vast.

As a general rule, don't transfer thousands of dollars to someone you've never met for property you've never seen. You have no way of knowing it's a scam or not and the chances of it being a scam are really high.
posted by griphus at 12:34 PM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think it is really really hard to rent an apartment in NYC without being here. There are so many scams, and to get a good place you have to really be on the ball. Like see the apartment and then return immediately with a check for a ton of money, paystubs, letters of recommendation, a credit report. You would want to be able to do that in a day, and even then you might, sadly, not get the place. I would definitely do an airbnb for a month or even two, if you can, and then look in person. I think it is possible for you to do this without coming here first, but I don't think it is advisable.
posted by goneill at 12:35 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I have moved to NYC twice. Honestly, it is hard enough getting an apartment when you are there in person. Also it is helpful to see the place and the neighborhood -- neighborhoods can change dramatically within the space of a few blocks.

Would it be crazy for me to do a bank transfer for that much money with someone I've never met in person, even if I have skyped and have a signed contract with them?

Yes. That would indeed be crazy. You would be a prime target for scammers.
posted by mochapickle at 12:37 PM on August 14, 2015 [5 favorites]

Also I'd be really, really suspicious of any $1300/mo studio/one bedroom unless it's way the hell out in Ridgewood or Sheepshead Bay or Kew Gardens or something.
posted by griphus at 12:42 PM on August 14, 2015 [4 favorites]

I've done this for Boston, but not NYC, so YMMV. But, what I did was hire a broker and basically run everything through him. He took me on Skype "viewings" of apartments, and also handled the money (I sent to him, he forwarded to the apartment management company). He had all of my information and filled out applications, etc. on my behalf.

I had confidence this person was a real broker and not some scammer because he was recommended through a friend and also had an obviously legitimate web presence. It worked out for me; that said, it was NOT cheap -- a month of AirBNB would probably have been cheaper. But, my priority was to have a place to move into immediately because I was starting a new job almost right away after the move and I just didn't have the bandwidth to be apartment hunting and moving while starting the new job. So, definitely worth it for me.

Incidentially, I ALSO moved cross-country earlier in life when I was looking for more of a roommate situation, and found a place remotely before moving that time too. In that case, I found my roommates through friends (basically it was an acquaintance of a coworker), so there was both some assurance that they weren't crazy (of course you can never guarantee this even moving in with a good friend, but it made me feel somewhat better), and of course I knew they weren't scammers. So, if you want to go this route I would post heavily on Facebook, other social media, any listservs you are on, etc. etc. to see if you can find a roommate hookup who's at least a degree or two connected to you and not a total stranger.
posted by rainbowbrite at 12:45 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

I've done this for Boston, but not NYC, so YMMV. But, what I did was hire a broker and basically run everything through him. He took me on Skype "viewings" of apartments, and also handled the money (I sent to him, he forwarded to the apartment management company). He had all of my information and filled out applications, etc. on my behalf.

That sounds nice, and may be the way things work in sane rental markets. This, however, is not really the way brokers work in NYC. In NY, a broker is less a person who helps you find an apartment, and more a person who interposes himself between you and an apartment, and extracts a fee for a process that does not require him in any way.

Air bnb is the way to go, unless you're willing to send someone a rather large money order to secure an apartment you've never visited in person, which you very much should not do.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2015 [8 favorites]

I moved from Chicago back to NY using a corporate relocation service. Even if you have to pay, your NYC job may have someone like this to use. Otherwise, temp housing for a month whilst you look, or come out and look now.
posted by AugustWest at 1:18 PM on August 14, 2015

I once moved to NYC from California by finding a roommate virtually on Craigslist. Nice guy, but not a good idea! He showed me around the place on Skype, and while it was a nice (and insanely cheap) apartment in a nice neighborhood, I couldn't tell how filthy the kitchen was until I was there in person. There's too much you can't tell remotely (and most people won't want to deal with you remotely anyway), so it's not worth it. And yeah, there's a huge risk of scams sending money remotely (even in person, occasionally) though I've done that too, and was lucky enough that it worked out. You could possibly find a sublet on Craigslist, but Airbnb is probably the safest option.

I found an amazing apartment, later, without a broker. But it seems like that is very rare.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:36 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Favorited Ragged Richard's comment on the unique disposition of NYC rental brokers - they are the lowest form of scum but tolerated because they are, in certain instances, unavoidable. I would not treat one as a honest independent third party in a transaction like this.

when we moved to NYC (6 years ago this month) we found a place for a month on craigslist and i spent the next two weeks furiously scouring listings and calling every landlord and broker i could find. we looked at probably 15 apartments. i was so overwhelmed that when our eventual landlords called me back to tell me about a showing i had to ask them which listing they had placed because i couldnt keep it all straight.

Im not even sure craigslist would be a viable sublet option at this point - my (rather removed) impression is that its just about 100% scammers at this point, and while AirBnB may not be the most popular business in town it would allow you to overcome the distance and be present enough to get into a permanent living space.

One major advantage of being present while searching is to get an accurate sense of what your budget will get you - looking for 1500 1 bedrooms (six years ago!) we were shown places without closets, places with bathrooms that would be hard to imagine actually using, 5th floor walkups 15 minutes from the nearest subway. . . and it was worth seeing them all so that when we found the place where we ended up, we knew we were getting a good deal and could move on it instantly.

I would not discount the amount of time and effort that this will require - anything you can do pre-move including preparing your own credit reports/rental histories etc is worth it. in the end we found a great no-broker/no-fee apartment in a neighborhood we loved and all it took was two weeks of my life and a willingness to fork over 3 months rent as a deposit (i was barely employed and my now-wife was a grad student).
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 1:41 PM on August 14, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just to add re Craigslist and scammers, I just came out to Brooklyn a couple of months ago and stayed in a sublet, so it's still possible to find non-scammers... (And, in the case I found, cheaper than Airbnb). But yes, there are many more scammers than on any California version of CL I've seen. I think it could be useful for finding a roommate, though.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:54 PM on August 14, 2015

I did a share once sight unseen. I was in Paris, the apartment was in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It was liveable, except that they told me they were not a couple, even though they were, which meant dealing with couple's baloney on top of the usual roommates' baloney.

It worked for me because a) this was 2001 and Craigslist was a little less scammy then; b) I have a long history in NYC and can suss out most scammers right off the bat (till I can't -- it's always a matter of time, isn't it?); c) I got all their information up front and knew who I was dealing with. I can't remember, but I may have called their references -- it's what I would do now, in any case.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:35 PM on August 14, 2015

griphus there are plenty of one bedrooms for less than $1300. I looked at a few for $1100 when I was moving a few months ago but opted to move to Jersey City to get a bigger apartment.
posted by shesbenevolent at 2:40 PM on August 14, 2015

I have an apartment in Brooklyn and have advertised for roommates on Craigslist and the like. I don't bother with many of the people who are relocating remotely because there is simply no incentive to go through the extra risk and hassle. There are no shortage of people who are willing to come look at an apartment in person.

Also, I've found that many of these people did not have any type of plan for how this would work beyond a Skype call. How will I get their money? How will they get a key? When I have asked they have pushed the work back on to me - 'Well, I'm not sure, what do you think?' Again, why would I bother with the extra work? Or they say something ridiculous like that I should hide the key under a rock. (Seriously.) If you present in your opening e-mail a plan to make it easy for them, that could help.

I also axe people if they are not arriving for two or more weeks and not willing to exchange money and keys until they arrive. If it ends up falling through I've lost two weeks of time finding someone. It's too big of a risk.

Are you looking for a furnished bedroom? If you are, that cuts down on the number of places available.

Finally, I just overall find myself a little suspicious of someone who wants to do something like this. If they're not that concerned that I might be crazy, that probably means they're the crazy one...
posted by unannihilated at 3:37 PM on August 14, 2015

griphus there are plenty of one bedrooms for less than $1300.

where on the island of manhattan did this happen and can we borrow your time machine to get there.
posted by poffin boffin at 4:13 PM on August 14, 2015 [11 favorites]

I think that the only way this is likely to work without you doing a short-term situation while you find something is if you have someone who can vouch for you on the NYC end who is friends with a potential roommate or landlord. For example, if someone at your new job knows someone who is looking for a roommate or tenant, they could vouch that you have steady income, are a real person, etc., and then the person looking might be more willing to do a Skype call and you might feel more comfortable transferring the up front costs. There are still risks involved, but I think they would be less if you're going within an established network, especially if you can provide solid references from previous landlords/roommates. On preview, what rainbowbrite said.

Personally, if I were you, I would follow that route only where you really trusted your NYC connection and they really trusted the landlord or roommate (and ideally could speak to their living habits). I say this as someone who just left Brooklyn after 7 years, during which I both sublet/lived with roommates and rented a one bedroom. I also just looked for an apartment in CA while living in NYC and definitely had to come out here to find something. But, I know people who managed to find roommate situations without being here first. That worked, I think, because we were all graduate students and so had that network to work with. ymmv.
posted by milkweed at 6:25 PM on August 14, 2015

Just for an example of Nyc rental prices: I live in Flatbush, Brooklyn in a building that is so broken down an interim super explained to me that the plumbing was so terrible I was likely showering in my upstairs neighbors waste-water. There are all kinds of bugs, and well frankly awesome neighbors but a distinctly lower income building. And a market rate studio on the ground floor that gets NO SUNLIGHT rents for $2200 per month. Just so you know how insane the promise of plentiful $1300/ month rents really is.
posted by goneill at 6:42 PM on August 14, 2015

I am *literally* in the middle of this process (as in, I saw an apartment at 6:30 pm tonight and am going to showings at 12 noon tomorrow, and have been apartment hunting since Monday and will be doing so into the foreseeable future) and I absolutely cannot imagine doing this process in New York remotely, unless your budget is so high that you can safely afford to rent luxury apartments sight unseen.

I sublet a (tiny) studio in Brooklyn for the month and am incredibly glad I did so. To be quite frank, I am really hating this process and can't imagine trying to deal with it remotely. Other cities have been brought up in this thread, and I have apartment hunted in Chicago and Boston, which are big cities and difficult in their own right. I hate being one of these people that's like "New York is special and it's like no other city!" but in this case it unfortunately is.

If I had to state one reason it's because you can't take anything in a New York apartment for granted that you would anywhere else. Kitchens that would be considered insanely tiny by American middle-class standards anywhere else are presented by brokers or landlords without batting an eye; I've seen bedrooms without closets and windows that would have difficulty fitting anything but a twin bed; nobody mentions that your apartment is on top of a bar open until 4 am until you actually see it in person; so on and so forth.

Real estate and Craigslist everywhere is scammy and full of "cozy"/tiny, "vintage"/old, "with atmosphere"/hasn't been renovated in decades types apartments. But I've found New York to just be on another level, and not in a good way.

I know that there is always going to be that one person who has an anecdote of successfully hunting remotely and finding a gut-renovation sunny West Village 1 bedroom that has laundry in-unit for $1500, sure. But I think that if you persist with this plan, what is much more likely to happen is maybe not that you end up living in an absolute shithole, but definitely that the place you end up in will have some severe drawbacks that you didn't foresee and you'll end up moving in a year. If that's the case, you might as well do all the work upfront now.
posted by andrewesque at 9:49 PM on August 14, 2015

Response by poster: Also, I've found that many of these people did not have any type of plan for how this would work beyond a Skype call. How will I get their money? How will they get a key?

Does anyone have advice on how to handle this for a sublet? I'm reaching out to people for a 1 or 2 month sublet, and I'm not sure the best way to handle payment and handing over the key. What is the best/easiest/convenient way to do this? I think that I will need to apartment hunt in person, but I'm not sure the best way to handle the logistics of the sublet.
posted by crocodiletsunami at 10:31 AM on August 15, 2015

Either sublet from a friend or a friend of a friend, and ideally have a friend on the spot who can go visit the apartment, get the key for you, handle the money for you, etc. Really through your extended social circle is the way to get this done, and yeah you'll owe some reciprocity or paying it forward once you get here. The alternatives to that, that I know of, is finding a place to stay for your first week or two, either on a friend's couch (or friends' couches), or by throwing money at the problem through air bnb, a hostel, a hotel, etc, and then throwing yourself into sublet hunting.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2015

NYC =/= Manhattan. There are 5 boroughs. There are places in Brooklyn/Queens for less than $1300. I went to see them.
posted by shesbenevolent at 2:20 PM on October 8, 2015

« Older Does my live movie riffing show have to pay for...   |   Need a camera / camcorder with clean HDMI out and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.