Is finding an apartment in NYC without going there to see it an option?
May 29, 2008 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Relocating from St. Louis to New York (Queens/LI border). I need to find an apartment to move into July 1st. How screwed am I?

Here's the lowdown:
After four months of interviewing and multiple flights and hotel stays, I've finally been hired for this job. It starts in five weeks. Due to prior commitments including two out-of-state weddings, my current job, and studying/sitting for my board exam, I really, really do not have the time to fly out there for a fifth time this calendar year to hit the pavement looking for an apartment. I'm seriously at a point where I basically need to just pick something based off photos, send over a wad of money and then haul myself and my stuff there at the end of the month. The whole prospect of apartment hunting in the NYC area is daunting enough as it is, but am I making it even worse by trying to do it remotely? Am I fooling myself by thinking I can trust a property management company or a broker to find something for me? I've heard enough Craigslist horror stories that I'm not really sure I should bother looking at it anymore. Am I wrong to dismiss it as a viable option at this point? I have a few phone numbers for property management companies and will start making calls tomorrow, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has been through this and can give me any tips, or tell me that there's no way in hell this is going to work, or anything.
posted by makonan to Travel & Transportation around New York, NY (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First of all, you have plenty of time. In my experience, most people find their apartments in New York in two or three weeks before the move in date. I myself have found one in less than 2 weeks before the needed move in date.
What is your budget? The best way to ensure a good pick is to go through a luxury apartment building or through a broker. If you go through a large real estate company (Corcoran, Ardor NY...etc), there's not much chance of being ripped off. Just stick with some well known companies. Hope this helps, good luck!
posted by tessalations999 at 7:54 PM on May 29, 2008

Is it possible, sure. Is it a good idea, probably not. I had this same issue relocating to Chicago and I solved it by finding temporary housing until I could get a place I felt good about. There are just too many variables when it comes to moving into a place sight unseen that make me really uncomfortable. The only option I can think of to sidestep the temporary housing idea is if you have a reliable friend who can look at the place for you. Otherwise, If you must rent sight unseen, try and negotiate your contract or get a month to month lease so that you can get out if you need to.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 7:54 PM on May 29, 2008

Would you consider starting off with a short sublet, maybe 2 or 3 months? That way if it sucks or is in a bad neighborhood, you don't have to be there for very long, but you at least have a place to live when you get there. Then once you get there, you can figure out which neighborhoods are best for you, and go see apartments in person.
posted by boomchicka at 7:57 PM on May 29, 2008

Response by poster: The budget I'm hoping to stick with is $1300 or less for a studio or one-bedroom, preferably somewhere in eastern Queens (Glen Oaks/Floral Park/Bellerose area). I would absolutely consider a short sublet, but I'm not sure where else besides craigslist I can search for them while I'm still here in St. Louis.
posted by makonan at 8:16 PM on May 29, 2008

In Eastern Queens? Yeah, you should be able to find something for that price. You can find nice studios at that price in other neighborhoods as well.

I'd also third the suggestion that you find a short-term sublet so you can actually look in person. It is doable to find a place in a month, but it sounds like you want to take your time with this, and a sublet will let you do that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:26 PM on May 29, 2008

Finding a place to move into July 1 shouldn't be a problem at all, but picking a place based on photos and sending over a wad of money would very likely be a monumental mistake.

You will have no idea what you are getting in an apartment in NYC based on photos alone. You won't know anything about your neighbors or be able to get a feel for your neighborhood. You won't know anything about the state of your plumbing, your kitchen appliances or how well your heat works, or whether your broker or apartment manager is being honest about the square footage -- or anything else for that matter. Is the apartment secretly a basement apartment or a five-story walkup? Is the place infested with cockroaches or bed bugs? Are the pictures even of the place you're going to rent?

Going through a reputable apartment manager might help, but even then, your idea of a habitable apartment and their idea of a habitable apartment might vary greatly. The point is that you just don't know until you lay eyes on a place for yourself. If there's any way you can find two days to get yourself back to NYC to look for yourself, I'd strongly recommend that you do it. As an alternative, do you have any friends or acquaintances who might be willing check out a place or two for you? I'd also add my vote to the sublet option to give you a little bit of time to figure things out.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 8:38 PM on May 29, 2008

I did this exact same move (STL to NYC). Congrats on the new job!

July 1st is reasonable, as most things I looked at were ready to move into right away. Your budget is also reasonable so stick to it and don't let anyone push you around.

When I found my apartment here, I did it in a remarkable 3 (long, difficult) days and I went through a small, neighborhood broker. I wound up with an affordable, rent-stabilized place in a fantastic neighborhood. If you have any time at all I would recommend coming up here and trying to do a crash course with some brokers, preferably ones with offices in the area you're looking at. Be sure to have all your paperwork ready.

In my experience the big brokerage firms were arrogant, showed me things just outside of my price range, and tried to go for some really hard sells. I'd trust them as far as I could throw them. Craigslist was a nightmare and I found myself asking landlords questions like "Does it always smell like this?". They, in turn, asked me "if I was handy" (run), or told me that the other units were all occupied by their relatives, small kids, and large dogs, and that the building was just "one big family" (run faster).

Can you stay with a friend or sublet and put your stuff in storage? Have a reliable friend look at the place for you? IMHO I would NEVER take an NYC area apartment sight-unseen. I'd also abandon Craigslist, but a handful of my friends have had some luck there, but only if they were already here. Best of luck- this experience will probably be funny later.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 8:58 PM on May 29, 2008

Make your new employer help you. They just spent a good deal of money choosing you over other candidates, and they don't want to watch you crash and burn because you're homeless. When I did HR in NYC, we had an ongoing program rewarding staff for updating resources for new employees coming in from elsewhere, ranging from general advice to buddy-system problem solving for exactly this kind of thing.

If your new employer doesn't have something similar, shame on them, and good on you for indicating that you'd be glad to test their beta version in a couple of weeks!
posted by gum at 10:15 PM on May 29, 2008

honestly, the best thing to do is find a sublet for the summer. there will be many. that will buy you one or three or six months to get to know the city, figure out where you want to live, and what you're willing to pay for. also, if it sucks, you're not committed.

craigslist is the way to go.

a lot of sublets are furnished, so if you can just get your stuff into storage somewhere on long island, you'll be okay. you might need to take a day off when it's time to move into your permanent place, but that's okay.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:36 AM on May 30, 2008

Go to HR. They know it sucks to find housing here. Are you looking at that area of Queens because of the job location?

In the meantime, get a sublet/month-to-month--I would actually suggest getting one with roommates, because it'll be cheaper and, hey, they already live there, how bad could it be?*

I moved to Queens sight unseen, but I had a friend to go look at places for me, put down the deposit, etc.

Good luck!

*I am aware that it could be very, very bad. I have also met really cool people this way.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:36 AM on May 30, 2008

Summer is prime sublet time because students are moving away but the lease remains the same.

However, I would, were I in your shoes, cancel one of the weddings and come to New York instead.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:38 AM on May 30, 2008

I grew up around there and I have friends who are paying $1200 for a one bedroom apt in Lynbrook (which is on LI, but close to where you're talking about), so I think your budget is fine.

You should consider that most people in that area (eastern Queens/western Nassau) have cars, so you should ask about parking if you're bringing a car or distance to the Long Island Railroad/bus if you're not.

Feel free to MefiMail me if you have specific questions about the area.
posted by Caz721 at 9:23 AM on May 30, 2008

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