NYC Apartment Guide (Part 1)
I’ve been through the process of finding an apartment in NYC many times now and it never seems to get much easier. Through my moves, I have been able to pick up little tidbits of information along the way, so I thought it made sense to put my thoughts together for you in three posts. Part 1 (this post) deals with the process of finding an apartment. Part 2 deals with finalizing the lease and Part 3 discusses the logistics around actually moving. I hope you find these posts helpful and as always, if you have any tips or best practices for finding an apartment in NYC, I’d love to hear from you.
Part 1 – Finding an Apartment in NYC
Every time I’ve had to move in NYC, I’ve had a good idea of the area I wanted to live in (i.e., within five blocks from work), so the process was a little easier for me, but the hard part was finding available apartments with the right amenities at the right time. Finding an apartment in NYC can be very difficult depending on the season. Apartments can go on and off the market in minutes or hours so you may have to know immediately after seeing an apartment whether you want it or not. Below I’ve outlined the process I went through for looking for an apartment in NYC.
1. Decide What Amenities You Desire
The first thing you need to decide is what amenities you want and which ones you don’t. These include doorman, elevator, laundry in the building, fitness center, and proximity to public transportation. There’s no guide that will tell you these things.
2. Find the Right Location
After you decide what amenities you’d like, the next step should be finding the right location. Every neighborhood has its own nuances and you have to decide first off what you desire in your apartment. Some people desire to be close to work and everything else (like myself), while others want to be away from all of the commotion after work. Whatever it is, it is always good to know what you want and then do your due diligence about locations before even looking at apartment buildings. There are several broker websites that outline the idiosyncrasies of the different neighborhoods in NYC including the following:
In addition to these guides, New York Magazine created a “Livability Calculator” that tries to determine the best neighborhood matches for you based on a set of 12 criteria. I’m not sure how accurate the calculator is, but you can give it a try here.
The broker guides and the “Livability Calculator” could be good references for those that don’t live in the city. For those that do live in the city, I think the best way to find the right location is to actually walk around the neighborhoods.
3. Price Range
While you’re deciding locations/areas, you should also be cognizant of average prices of rent in each neighborhood to make sure you’re not getting ripped off once you start your search. Rentometer is one site that can help you approximate average rent in a given neighborhood.
4. Search for Apartments
Depending on what amenities you choose, there will be different sites that will be more useful than others. I chose to live in a standard high rise building, so the following sites were extremely helpful:
High-Rise Buildings – Directories
New York Living Magazine: This 2008 guide highlights high-rise buildings by area. Though slightly dated, it is still a great directory that gives you most of the contact information for high-rise buildings.
NY Bits: Provides a list of high-rise buildings in NYC. Their definition of high-rise is any building over 20 stories.
Wired New York: An additional resource for lists of high-rise apartments.
High-Rise Buildings – Listings
StreetEasy: Allows you to search for rentals using different criteria including location, price, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, amenities, and many more.
NY Bits: Allows you to browse rentals based on ones most recently posted or search for rentals by location, price, number of bedrooms, and certain amenities.
The links above cover most of the high-rise buildings in NYC so there may be no need to go elsewhere. The good thing about high-rise buildings is that, though they are generic, you know what you’re going to get, and you can just contact the leasing office directly to inquire about availabilities and view apartments.
If you’re looking for a walk-up apartment, you should reference the sites below.
Walk-Up Buildings – Listings
craigslist: There are a lot of apartments posted on this site daily. You can find a lot of good stuff on here and many of my friends have found their apartments on this site. The downfall is that sometimes brokers get lazy and use the same picture for multiple apartment listings so you don’t get a good indication of an apartment just from reading the ad. Brokers may also put up an ad, but when you inquire about the apartment, they may try to do the old bait and switch. If you want to avoid these situations, you can search “by owner only” apts.
StreetEasy: This site has listings for walk-ups too!
NY Bits: Has listings for walk-ups in addition to high-rise rental listings.
HotPads: Combines mapping with apartment listings. Some listings are from craigslist while others are exclusives.
NY Times: This site has a good amount of listings, but be careful, most listings are by brokers.
These sites provide a variety of listings by owners and brokers. More often than not, you’ll have to go through a broker for a walk-up building. A typical broker fee is 15% of one year’s rent, but this is usually negotiable. Most brokers will go down to 10%-12% of one year’s rent or just one month’s rent.
In terms of timing, the below timeline is generally what I follow when looking for an apartment. However, note that some people have said that I have a tendency to “overplan,” so I would use the below timeline as a guide and tweak it as you see fit.
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