nasty, brutish, and short
January 24, 2006 9:43 PM   Subscribe

I have a questions about apartment hunting in New York.

This summer I will be working in downtown NYC and then a year after that will be moving there permanently working at the same place. I am not really looking for online apartment listings, but rather if there are any websites, books, or publications that provide valuable advice for finding a place in general. Ideally, it would be something that provides information on maximizing one's apartment search, tips and tricks to avoid unscrupulous brokers and other sundry pitfalls, and any other advice.

I am fairly flexible as to the type of apartment and am looking in the $2000-$3000/month range. Although I am asking generally, I am hoping to live somewhere that is with 20-30 minutes of work (by subway), such as the LES or Park Slope. Unless someone magically comes into my life, I anticipate living alone, as well.

I've checked the other threads that are relevant to this topic. Any personal advice or experiences is also appreciated.
posted by Falconetti to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Response by poster: Uh, that should be "question" singular.
posted by Falconetti at 9:44 PM on January 24, 2006

The city recently put up a site, the NYC Affordable Housing Center, that looks like a good starting point, with many useful links.
posted by rob511 at 9:54 PM on January 24, 2006

In regard to brokers, they're all unscrupulous. You may end up having to deal with one, but always watch yourself.

On the bright side, with that price range you should be fine finding a place for yourself to live that's decent by city standards.

You could even live downtown - from my understanding the apartments are nice there and not too expensive, but the area is kind of desolate. Personally I'd take the train from the LES/East Village.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:31 PM on January 24, 2006

On the bright side, with that price range you should be fine finding a place for yourself to live that's decent by city standards.

If that's your budget, speaking from past experience, you won't have a problem finding a good place to live, so you can stop worrying about it RIGHT NOW.

There are lots of dodgy brokers in the city so if you're going to use one, the only way to go is a personal referral. The two best ways to find a good apartment: Craiglist and (again) personal referrals. Most people here, when they move out of apartments that they were happy with, will try and have the next tenant be a friend or a friend of a friend, so make sure people you know in the city know that you're looking for a place.
posted by lia at 11:32 PM on January 24, 2006

Just a suggestion, you might want to consider looking in Ridgewood, Queens in addition to other places you'll consider, particularly in the Forest Avenue and Fresh Pond Road station areas. 20 minutes to Wall St. from FPR via the M train, and if you like the area the (larger) apartments are competatively priced.

Not really on topic per se, and I grew up there, so I'm prejudiced :D
posted by missed at 2:38 AM on January 25, 2006

Seriously, you won't have a problem in that price range. I'd do my damndest to avoid a broker. I ended up getting roped into one (colleague of a friend of my mom's who I couldn't politely tell to get lost) and while I did feel raped by the fee, I scored a nice place so I can't complain too much.

Also, make sure you read through several previous long askmes on this subject.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:42 AM on January 25, 2006

If he can spend $2000-$3000/month, he has no reason to live in Queens. And I say that as a former happy resident of Astoria, who was always propagandizing for my nabe as a cheap, convenient place with easy access to Manhattan. If I could have afforded to live in Manhattan, in a decent place in a decent neighborhood, I've have done it in a heartbeat.
posted by languagehat at 6:23 AM on January 25, 2006

Yeah for that amount of money, you can live quite nicely downtown. You might also want to look in Brooklyn, Hoboken or Jersey City. You can get a bigger place, and possibly score a nice view of the city.
posted by lilboo at 7:01 AM on January 25, 2006

Near Brooklyn would be a good option. Brooklyn Heights/Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens are great neighborhoods, the rent is slightly lower than Manhattan and the apartments slightly larger, and it's really quick to get downtown. If you're working around Wall St, you'll be there in 15 min.

For example, my wife and I live in Cobble Hill in a very large 1 BR for under 2k/mo and it takes my wife about 15 min to get to her office by the WTC site.

I like the LES a lot, but it depends on how much you like to go out. Compared to Cobble Hill, the LES is going to have more bars and restaurants, but it's also going to be dirtier and louder.

Also, depending on your work location, if you look at the map, the LES doesn't really have any subway lines servicing it. It's weird, but you could live downtown, and it could actually take you longer to get to work than if you lived farther away.

Park Slope is, imho, too far to be worth the trouble. It's great if you have kids and can afford a 2 mil brownstone, but otherwise it's pretty dull and inconvenient, and you'll probably want to be closer to the city.

I strongly advise you to not use one of the online "no fee" services like rent-direct; they're scams. I agree with what everyone else has said here about brokers: It pisses away a big chunk of money, and lots of them are sleazy, but sometimes you have no choice. If you decide that you have to go with one, send me an email and I can recommend a couple of decent brokers that I dealt with in my neighborhood.
posted by Gamblor at 7:25 AM on January 25, 2006

Curbed might be worth a look. Also, if you are going to be working for one of the big companies downtown, ask the Human Resources / Personnel if they keep a list of reputable brokers ... many of them do, plus the brokers want to stay on the companies good side so they behave reasonably (at least in my expirience).
posted by R. Mutt at 8:06 AM on January 25, 2006

Oh, and if they try to steer you towards living in Battery Park City ... just say:

"I didn't move to New York City in order to live in the suburbs!"
posted by R. Mutt at 8:11 AM on January 25, 2006

I can only offer my own experience looking for an apartment three times. I've lived in Brooklyn Heights, midtown (sort of--near the Empire State), and now live in the West Village. I've lived in New York on and off for the last 13 years.

I got my best deal (the current one) when there was a lull at work and I was able to go out and look at places immediately after finding a listing. If you can work it so that you have a month or so to look around and check out all the listings that fit your bill, do it. I am still happy with my place after three years, and I pay less than average for the area (and a little bit less than the bottom of your range for a 1-bedroom apartment).

I also decided that I would not pay a broker's fee this time. I have never met a broker that wasn't a complete sleazebag parasite and it is morally difficult for me to give them money.

So I scoured craigslist, the Times, and the Voice every day, religiously, and went to see every no-fee 1-bed within a fairly broad price range and in a fairly broad range of neighborhoods. I ended up seeing about 30 places, most of them terrible, but when I found this place, I knew if was the right one and took it immediately. Interestingly, I found that the Times ads were the most useful--descriptions were a little closer to reality, and they had more no-fee listings. Many of the no-fee craigslist listings actually were broker listings, and the Voice seemed to have been taken over by broker companies.

One other thing--I used Manhattan Apartments for the apartment before this one and I could not recommend them less.
posted by lackutrol at 8:16 AM on January 25, 2006

"I knew it was the right one." Sigh.
posted by lackutrol at 8:17 AM on January 25, 2006

Lacktrol, one of the better places I've had in NYC was also found in the Times - A 1 bedroom in Gramercy Park rented directly from the owner.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:31 AM on January 25, 2006

You can afford to be picky so just be patient and consider what's important to you. Think about all the amenities you need to be less stressed. Could you survive without A/C? A doorman? In-building laundry? Nice restaurants and stores that stay open late? A subway stop that's 5+ minutes away?

You may also consider the importance of your commute time. Most anywhere below Harlem will put you 20-40 minutes from your job so you may consider living in a nicer place like UWS that's closer to the park, etc etc. I speak as somebody who formerly believed that a commute time of more than 20 minutes was unbearable. (My new upper limit is still 30 minutes or so).

Anyways, I can't think of any good guides and I've never used any. I don't think there are any definitive guides on the subject of finding a place in Manhattan--mostly it comes down to luck and luck. I would recommend getting to know the city more. Walk around, visit, read up on the various neighborhoods and locales, and narrow your search after you've come to grasp the pros and cons of living in various places in the city.
posted by nixerman at 8:33 AM on January 25, 2006

$2,000-3000 really your budget? *envy sigh. :)

I know people that have had good experiences going through Citi Habitats. Also, many large apartment buildings/complexes/management companies in Manhattan have their own broker/rental offices. Scope out the real estate discussion boards over at to get a sense of what's going on in various neighborhoods.
posted by moxyberry at 9:26 AM on January 25, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice from everyone, it is much appreciated. I've lived all over the place but never in NY and I hear such horror stories from friends that have moved there, that I want to embody the adage "forewarned is forearmed."

And moxyberry, no need for envy, my job will require long, tedious, and unpredictable hours and will result in friendlessness, depression, and alcoholism before I am 33 (i.e. law). :)
posted by Falconetti at 11:00 AM on January 25, 2006

Eek, don't use Citi Habitats. Very pushy and unscrupulous.

As someone who has worked real estate, I can tell you, in all honesty, you don't need a broker. But that's just between us ;-)

Check out Gabriel's NYC Apartment Guide. It will give you the contact information for most professionally managed buildings in New York. Call these buildings directly and hook yourself up with a sweet place. You'll have no difficulty finding yourself a beautiful apartment in your price range. If you want, I'd be happy to give you contact info for a few buildings that have incredible apartments in a variety of neighborhoods. My email address is in my profile.
posted by discokitty at 2:41 PM on January 25, 2006

I'm curious as to why no one has recommended Williamsburg. I used to live there - moved to L.A. about 3 years ago. Have things changed? Is the 'Burg no longer A Good Thing? Do people just hate the L train? What?
posted by Uccellina at 7:57 PM on January 25, 2006

The official government web site is extraordinarily helpful in laying out the process, and what is legal and illegal, so you can call someone's bluff when you need to. It covers all of the basics.

Have all your ducks in a row in terms of having a flush checking account, recent paystubs/bank statements/W-2s, references. Act decisively when you know you want a place; I'm a big fan of gut instinct when you simply just "know" you want to live somewhere. Don't settle.

When I moved I found this moving guide to be helpful. And this guide to various neighborhoods is slightly outdated but still worth a look if you can find it; all of the quoted rental prices are obviously wrong by now. Books are helpful, but asking New Yorkers about where they live and how they found their place is the best way to assess the current situation. And we love talking about real estate!

Know your terminology.

New York Magazine has useful neighborhood profiles.

Here is a good previous thread as well.

Good luck. It may be a long, involved process, but it's worth it.
posted by kathryn at 8:56 PM on January 25, 2006 [1 favorite]

Also, depending on your work location, if you look at the map, the LES doesn't really have any subway lines servicing it. It's weird, but you could live downtown, and it could actually take you longer to get to work than if you lived farther away.

Do you mean the East Village? The LES has the 2nd Ave stop (F/V), the Delancey/Essex stop (F/J/M/Z), and the Grand St (B/D) stop!

used to live there - moved to L.A. about 3 years ago. Have things changed? Is the 'Burg no longer A Good Thing? Do people just hate the L train? What?

Yes, and yes. Prices have gone up drastically, they built condos, it is considered by many to be "overrun by hipsters," more gentrification has happened, and the L train is still undergoing construction all the time.
posted by kathryn at 9:02 PM on January 25, 2006

The East Village definitely has it even worse. But 2nd Ave and Houston is the northern boundary of what most people would consider the LES, and neither the F, V, B, nor the D go downtown (assuming by downtown Falconetti means the Wall St/City Hall/WTC area). The J would fit the bill, I suppose, but you're kind of screwed if you want to go anywhere besides City Hall and Queens.

My point isn't that you couldn't find a way to get anyplace with the subway. It's that what looks close on the map may not be as fast a commute as you'd think, depending on how long it takes you to walk to the station, and where the line actually stops. My experience has been that living near a subway line that stops near your place of work is probably going to be more convenient than picking a neighborhood just by geography. Unless you like walking/rollerblading/bicycling to work, and then it's moot.
posted by Gamblor at 6:40 AM on January 26, 2006

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