I love peeking inside other people’s homes, so I was kind of looking forward to apartment hunting this summer. But I soon realized that it can quickly become frustrating thanks to eye-watering broker fees, unanswered emails and learning the real meaning of words like ‘cosy’.
But it wasn’t all for nothing… We now (fingers crossed) have a great place in Brooklyn and, even better, I can pass on my words of wisdom to you! So here are some – hopefully not too patronizing – tips to help you find your next home in NYC:
1 :: Check out these websites
Of course the best place to start is online. Have a look at these:
Naked Apartments :: You set your search criteria (by budget, neighborhood, number of bedrooms, pets, desired amenities etc) and when you click on a listing, it gives you a map of the area, an image of the street and a description of the neighborhood. If you see anything you like, you can contact brokers directly. Brokers can also see your preferences and email you places they think might be appropriate. Naked Apartments also sends out a daily email of apartments that might suit you.
A tip :: Don’t use the ‘Go See It’ button because brokers don’t really pay attention to it. Instead click on their profiles and contact them directly.
StreetEasy :: This has a similar setup to Naked Apartments, but it does have some different properties and photos, so it’s worth signing up just to cover your bases.
If you’re looking for a room in a shared apartment, you also have Craigslist. I know, I know, you hear horror stories, but I have only ever had really good experiences on Craigslist. Search by neighborhood and make sure you meet all of your roommates before moving in.
A tip :: I advertized my place on Craigslist and I really liked it when respondents included their Facebook page in their email because their profiles gave me an idea whether they’d get on with my roommates. So consider including yours when you respond.
2 :: Start early (if you can)
Leases here generally start the 1st or the 15th of the month. We planned to move into a place on August 1st so started looking halfway through June, giving us six weeks until the deadline.
This early approach meant there weren’t many August apartments listed at first but it did mean we had time see what our money could get us the following month. It also gave us the chance to contact brokers so they could bear us in mind when they did start listing August properties. This research made us feel a lot more confident when we started making choices.
A tip :: Take the time to walk around the neighborhood – there’s no better way to convince you one way or the other that the apartment is right for you. You’ll also realize that what’s advertised as Clinton Hill or Park Slope really isn’t.
3 :: Accept that you’ll have to compromise
I shuddered last week when a friend shared an advert on Facebook showing that his family were renting out their four-bedroom home with a garden in the Midwest… for less than my one bedroom in the East Village. But that’s the story of New York, which pretty much always goes like this. It’s pricey and you’re going to have to compromise on something, so… get over it.
In the East Village, I pay a lot for a small space but I have everything on my doorstep and I get to walk to work. When I move to Brooklyn, I’ll be compromising on my proximity to the office but I get more room for my buck.
You’ll likely have to compromise on one/some of the following: space, cost, distance to the subway, cleanliness and quality of the living space, washer/dryer and other amenities, so think seriously about what you can live without.. Yes, $2,000-a-month windowless bedrooms really do exist in this city of ‘dreams’.
4 :: Prepare your documents and your game face
Apartments are snapped up within a matter of hours, so you’ll need to have your questions, paperwork and checks at the ready. Ryan and I had also discussed exactly what we wanted so I was prepared to apply for an apartment he hadn’t even seen yet.
Preparing our first application (for a flat we ultimately didn’t get) took far longer than I’d have liked.
So have at the ready: Letter of employment from your workplace (listing your job title, salary and start date), paychecks (2-3 months), bank statements, W2 and a copy of your photo ID. They’ll run a credit check for you too.
These are all negotiable, of course. (When I applied to my East Village place, I hadn’t had my first W2 yet, so I just supplied U.S. and U.K. bank statements instead.) At the end of the day, they just wanna know you have money.
A tip :: Brokers will charge for a credit check, so you can do this yourself beforehand (sometime in the 2 or 3 months before) to cut out the cost/the time.
5 :: Negotiate for a fair deal
I massively resent broker fees and I was horrified to see some fees reached as much as 15 per cent of the yearly cost. Many brokers do work for their money but you still might be able to get their fees down (from 12 per cent to 10 per cent of the yearly rent, for example) so ask if they’re negotiable as you look around the property.
Also, you might be able to speak with the broker or property owners about your expectations before you move in. Our new landlord is giving the place a lick of paint before we get there, for example. Of course not every place will be so happy to help so just read the situation.
A tip :: I know it sounds horrendous, but when you face competition for a place, you can also get what you want by offering to pay more. A couple I know thought the competition would be high for their one-bedroom apartment with a garden in Fort Greene, so offered to pay $2,600 a month, rather than the listing price of $2,500, and they got the place. $100 goes a lot further than a muffin basket, it seems.
6 :: Make sure they’re not being too cheeky
We all know properties in NYC are extortionate, but you can figure out how much they’re making a mockery of you by checking out historical rent prices of the property and area. Websites liked Zillow, StreetEasy and City Data will show you what apartments have set tenants back in the past and whether or not the owner has a habit of pushing up the rent by a ridiculous amount each year.
A tip :: You could consider asking the landlord for a two-year lease. This protects you from pesky rent boosts.
Basically, apartment hunting in New York is a cruel, cruel sport. We remained positive throughout the process, but it can get scrappy once you start dealing with brokers who don’t call you back or repeatedly show you places that don’t look anything like what you want. But with a mini bit of planning, you can do it.
Let me know f you have any other tips!