Apartment Hunting tips in NYC?
May 7, 2004 6:48 PM   Subscribe

Well, I'm moving to NYC at the end of June/start of July and I need to find a place to live. I'm looking for a 1 bedroom apartment, hopefully on Manhatten. Now, I've never gone apartment hunting and I was hoping some nyc mefites might be able to give me some pointers on what to do, how to do it, and where a good place to live is.
posted by Stynxno to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
well this is a good first step. you need to talk to people who know the game, because that's what it is. if you walk in with the ignorance (no offense intended) you display here, you probably won't do so well. so do a lot of research before you check out any apartments. start by spelling Manhattan right. heheh, just joking... couldn't help myself.

the first time i looked at apartments here, i was shocked at how small they all were -- and that's coming from someone who has never lived in anything but an apartment. don't expect much in terms of size, but worry more about location. get a place that's close to at least one subway line, preferrably several. be very aware of the price ranges out there. look in the village voice for listings to learn what's out there but ignore the ads by companies that list a bunch of places that are "fantastic" yet cost hundreds less than any other place. if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

try looking at craigslist for no-broker-fee apartments. be ready to see a place and say yes in a damn hurry if you like it. hesitation means you lose.

as for what neighborhood to choose, it depends on your personality. where do you live now? what are you used to? what do you wish for? are you a downtown rocker or an uptown suit?
posted by edlundart at 9:46 PM on May 7, 2004

Seriously. You're already starting too late on the research, so you have some catching up to do. Read all the ads you can get your hands on. Start getting a feel for what rents cost in certain neighborhoods. Lay out your budget. Start thinking about a roommate. Get a couple of guidebooks, and start looking at neighborhoods that are not filled with tourist attractions. Be realistic. Be open to differences. Call from wherever you are now on some places, at least to get a feel for what you're in for. Have a backup plan. Have another one. Make sure you arrange couch-surfing opportunities to use while you're looking. Be prepared for the process to take weeks. Be prepared to lay out upwards of $3000 to start, which is not unreasonable to expect for a place which costs $1000 a month, which is probably less than you'll pay unless you have a roommate. Get a New Yorker to accompany you. Don't act like a rube or a newb. Read a lot of this, especially this. Read this. Don't feel like you have to pay a fee or key money (I've lived here 11 years in six apartments and have never paid either). Consider some place besides Manhattan. Forget everything you've seen on Friends or Sex in the City. Get a job: some places won't rent to you unless you have one. Check your credit record so you can explain it if it gets checked. Consider a short-term sublet or share as an option while you're looking. Don't think you can furnish a New York City apartment like you can a house in the suburbs.
posted by Mo Nickels at 1:07 AM on May 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

There are *tons* of good (and not so good) places to live in NYC, so it's hard to recommend one without more information. Why are you moving to New York - do you have a job lined up; are you starting school? If so, where? You might be able to narrow your search to the neighborhoods with the best train access to where you'll have to go every day. Do you know anyone you can stay with at first? Getting to know the city in person is the best way to determine where you'll want to live. Of course, you'll still want to be open to a good deal in a safe neighborhood outside your preferred areas.

The aforementioned Craigslist and the Village Voice ads are probably the best places to find a no-broker-fee apartment. (Brokers in NYC can charge more than a month's rent as a fee - on top of your deposit (also a month's rent) and first month's rent.)

Once you start looking, time will be a major factor. If you can, it's best to be ready to go see an apartment the moment you call about it if necessary. Once you find one you like, have your money ready and be able to write a check on the spot.

Anyway, if you can give us more info about you and your situation, we'll be better able to recommend neighborhoods.
posted by boomchicka at 6:00 AM on May 8, 2004

Forget everything you've seen on Friends or Sex in the City.

Instead watch Fort Apache: The Bronx, Taxi Driver and Midnight Cowboy.

I kid.

Manhattan real estate is insanely expensive and there's a huge feild of competition for it. If you do wanna stay there, Inwood & Washington Heights are worth a look. And don't rule out the outer boroughs. Williamsburg has become expensive and hipster-infested, but there's always Fort Greene. Over in Queens there's Long Island City and Astoria (where I am) which are great too. These areas are relatively affordable, safe, vibrant, convenient to Manhattan and have the added bonus of giving you somewhere a little bit quieter to come home to.
posted by jonmc at 6:24 AM on May 8, 2004

I second tenant.net, and the having a job thing, and being able to write a check on the spot.

I've found all my apartments thru the midweek NYTimes listings (the paper version--tues,wed,thurs)--never thru an agency. I looked at the tiny ads only, and it took a while. I was always ready to run out of work to look at a place.

Neighborhoodwise, i'd say if you're new to the city, avoid way uptown--washington heights/inwood/harlem, and you might have luck in my neighborhood, rentwise--the far West 30s (also try the East 20s or 30s). Or Astoria/LIC in Queens, which is a minute to midtown and much more affordable (but that's changing day-by-day)

I'd say get here, have a temp place for a month or so, then walk around looking for an area you like. It's one of the hardest things about being here--finding a decent place you can afford.
posted by amberglow at 6:30 AM on May 8, 2004

Also, a lot of people new to the city first live in the East 60s, 70s and 80s (bet. 1st and York aves, or 2nd and 1st)--you might have luck up there, but it's a post-college ghetto and inconvenient for subways.
posted by amberglow at 6:32 AM on May 8, 2004

sublet.com might be a good way to hedge your bets, if you aren't sure about committing to a neighborhood.
posted by lilboo at 8:35 AM on May 8, 2004

The really important part of your question that has been (purposefully?) left out is the price you'd like to pay. This is probably the single biggest determining factor to getting a place in NYC.

You can live in the city for about $1700'mo. By "in the city" I mean Manhattan proper. Subtract a couple hundred if you don't mind living in Brooklyn, subtract another couple hundred for Queens.

The key, the single crucial element to getting a place is this: HAVE ALL YOUR SHIT TOGETHER WHEN YOU GO SEE PLACES. What is "your shit"? This is your shit:
  • ID: Have copies of your driver's license, passport, anything official.
  • Credit report: Suck it up and get one, because every landlord in Manhattan will want to see one.
  • Your checkbook. With all the cash ready and available in the account.
  • "All the cash" = First month's rent, last month's rent, security deposit, and realtor's fee (anything from 1 month of rent to 15% of the years rent)
  • Phone numbers of previous landlords, and any other references that might be helpful
  • A statement of income: an employer's letter on company stationary, or a bank statement for the past couple months, anything that can prove that you: A. Make Money; and B. Won't miss a rent payment. Nobody cares how noisy you are, if you smoke, if you've got a pet fish -- they just want to be paid, on time.
Apartments are everywhere in NYC, and they are nowhere. You have to be willing and able to decide, on the spot, if you want a place, because there's going to be someone that will, and that someone will probably coming around in 5 minutes. By having all your shit together, you also send a message to the owner/realtor that you're reliable. As I said, landlords just want their money. They really are the money-grubbing, soul-sucking asses the movies play them out to be. Cope.

If you'd like more info on neighborhoods and such, just ask. Personal recommendations for price/location:

Under $1500/mo.:
* Queens or Brooklyn. The advantage of Queens is that you can still get fairly decent digs in a nice neighborhood, but the commute downtown is a pain. With Brooklyn, the commute can be better (if you're in, say, Williamsburg), but it could also be a lot worse (Brooklyn is HUGE). General rule is, the farther out you are, the cheaper digs you find.
* Manhattan. Only if you are very, very lucky, or willing to live in an apartment the size of a closet in Washington Heights, and even then probably not.

Under $2000/mo:
* Brooklyn. You can get a nice place in Brooklyn, in a nice nieghborhood (Carrol Gardens, etc.) or you could get an "OK" place in Williamsburg. But then you'd have to deal with all those annoying brats. :)
* Manhattan. There's actually a lot to choose from in this bracket. You can live in the mid to upper easties as amberglow mentioned, or find a smaller place in the Lower East Side. I once found a 2-bed in SoHo for $1700 (really!) but the rooms were the size of closets, and there was no living room. :) Oh, and the Hell's Kitchen area has some decent-sized 2-beds for ~$1800.

Over $2000/mo.:
* You really aren't going to have any problems living the city.

Where to look? (in descending order)
  • The Village Voice
  • Craigslist
  • Walk around and look for numbers on the buildings. This is actually a pretty decent trick, since most management companies will have small signs on their apartments that have their office numbers on them. Just call up the office and ask if they've got anything for rent. This has the added advantage of bypassing the realtor's fee.
Hope this helps.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:41 AM on May 8, 2004 [15 favorites]

also, if you rent for close to, or over 2000, be aware that you're not covered (or won't be after your new lease) under rent regulations--every year the board determines the amount of rent hikes (usually like 2-4% for a one-year lease, and 4-7% for a 2-year), but these only cover apartments renting for less than 2000. I'm in the far west 30s, and moved in at 954 and change, and now am at 1071 and change after 3 leases/5 years.

And get a 2-year lease if you're sure about the place--it saves you money.
posted by amberglow at 9:03 AM on May 8, 2004

What Civil_Disobedient said (great comment, C_D!). Mo is seriously misleading in talking about "a place which costs $1000 a month"; you ain't gonna find anything near that in or close to Manhattan. Even Astoria (which used to be a tremendous bargain) has shot up the last couple of years. You may well wind up in a studio in the middle of Nowhere, Brooklyn (a bus ride to the nearest subway) unless you have a lot of money or even more luck. You, um, do know what you're getting into here, right? I think we're all afraid of seeing an AskMeFi in a couple of months: "I couldn't find an apartment, but I read about this NYU student who lived in a library -- is that practical?"
posted by languagehat at 11:48 AM on May 8, 2004

I may get a beat down for this, but have you considered New Jersey? Hoboken or Jersey City might give you more bang for your buck if you're not tied to living in one of the boroughs. Of course, I could be hopelessly out of touch, having fled the Eastern and Mid Atlantic states years ago with no plans to return years ago.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:30 PM on May 8, 2004

Phooey. Pardon my redundant years ago.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:33 PM on May 8, 2004

Again, what Civil_Disobedient said. If you don't know anything about Manhattan, consider a sublet first. It will give you time to explore the city and figure out where you really want to live before getting stuck in a lease in a neighborhood you realize too late that you hate.

Apartments far away from subways lines do tend to be a bit cheaper, but in my experience it's not worth the savings. Being close to more than one subway line is also highly recommended- if something goes wrong with one line, you have options. Figure out which subways best serve the area you will be going to every day, and explore neighborhoods on those lines.

Do not expect your landlord to be anything more than an extremely unpleasant monthly drain on your bank account. If the apartment you see needs repairs, and the landlord "says" they'll be fixed before move-in, don't hold your breath. Unless you are paying top-drawer rent, my personal secret theory is that landlords try to make their apartments rather unpleasant, so that people get sick of it and move every few years, as they need the turnover to be able to raise the rent.

Look carefully at the business on the ground floor of the building, if there is a commercial space there. Bank is fine; dry cleaner usually ok; restaurant or grocery store (anything food-related) means you are *guaranteed* to have roach issues, and likely rodents as well. Also grocery stores tend to have delivery trucks idling loudly forever outside, which can be a drag.

Look for the nearest fire station. Even if it is the wrong way down the one-way street, that's no guarantee the fire truck won't go the wrong way up the street, blasting its foghorn the whole time. (Speaking from experience.)

Brace yourself for awkwardly subdivided spaces (toilets placed in front of floor to ceiling windows), lousy to non-existent closet space, leaky skylights, and getting in the elevator to discover your elderly neighbor has a three bedroom apartment for which he pays $140 per month, because he rented it in 1947.

Oh, and enjoy Manhattan. There's no place else quite like it.
posted by ambrosia at 1:54 PM on May 8, 2004 [1 favorite]

I rent a room on manhattan's upper west side for $600, furnished, including utilities.
It's a small room.
posted by bingo at 2:28 PM on May 8, 2004

Mo is seriously misleading in talking about "a place which costs $1000 a month"; you ain't gonna find anything near that in or close to Manhattan.

Dude, you underestimate Greenpoint. My roommate and I share a two-bedroom for $1000 a month total. I'm a ten-minute walk to one stop away from Manhattan on the L train, and a two-minute walk from four stops away from Manhattan on the G.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:57 PM on May 8, 2004

OK, granted there are such places, but it's not that easy to find them. And if he needs a roommate, is he going to be able to find one within a month or two who a) is good for the money every month and b) isn't going to drive him crazy (or kill him and turn him into soup)? The thread waits with bated breath for Stynxno to drop by with more details about his needs and resources...
posted by languagehat at 3:53 PM on May 8, 2004

Really good point about living above a grocer or restaurant. You really don't want to meet the sort of mutant insects New York City has produced over the years. I'd be more comfortable with crocs in the sewers...

$1000 a month in Greenpoint is crazy-good rent. It's entirely possible to find these gems, but more than likely you'll have to resort to the standard rent-and-wait practice most New Yorkers are accustomed to. Basically, rent a place that's too much, too far, and too small, then keep your eyes and ears open for better deals, and be prepared to jump ship when they show up.

This is part of the reason New Yorkers don't find talking about rent prices as a big faux-paus -- it's just standard operating procedure for living in the city. A friend of mine that was living in the LES for two years (nice building, $1900/mo.) moved a couple of months ago to an even better place for less rent when a mutual aquaintance moved out. It's just the nature of the city.

Also, I would advise against Hoboken. I have nothing against Jersey (I grew up there) and Hoboken's a decent place, but you're tied to the PATH, and the rents are practically identical to Manhattan rates. Jersey City is a different story -- you can get some really nice deals there, but then, you're in Jersey City. It's a shithole mascarading as a dump. You're better off living in the Bronx -- at least you won't get as much shit about it, and the subways run 24/7, as opposed to the PATH, which has dodgy night hours.

Before I moved to New York, I thought the most important thing was the rent, next was size, last was location. Truth be told, the single most important thing about your home in the city is location. Really.

New York is BIG. To put things in perspective, I lived in Williamsburg, which is a hop, skip and a jump to the lower east side. It's just across the river. No problem, right? Even if the subway was down, you can always walk across the bridge. But it took me a half-an-hour to walk across that bastard, and the area near the entrance of the bridge on the Brooklyn side was sketchy at 4am at night. New York is not a walkable city, in the sense that you can just take a light stroll from downtown to Columbia whenever you feel like it. The subway is there because it's necessary, but the subway is expensive after a while. Your primary concern should be to get on the island, somewhere at or under Harlem. Everything will be gravy after that.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:32 PM on May 8, 2004

I was born raised in the Bronx, and left in the 1960s when the city let the South Bronx go to seed in a sleazy racist attempt to manipulate real estate prices. I visited my buddy there last year and was really surprised at how nice and livable some parts of the Bronx have become again. While it is still almost impossible to get a regular licensed cab to go up to the Bronx, it is only getting better. Worth a peek.
posted by zaelic at 1:19 AM on May 9, 2004

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