A Student’s Guide to Renting in NYC

Congratulations! You’re attending school in New York City! Going off to college is one of the most exciting things you do in life, especially when it’s coupled with moving to a new place.

But it can also be daunting.

Whether you’re moving right into an apartment your freshman year or are looking to move out of your dorm hall, I’m here to help you navigate your way through renting as a student in NYC.

I went to NYU in 2010 and spent my first year in student housing, but after a year spent on a twin XL mattress that was barely four feet away from my roommate’s, I was ready for my own room in a “fancy” Manhattan apartment. My roommate and I had to figure everything out on our own, from scheduling viewings to understanding a lease, and now I’m passing along my knowledge so you don’t have to go it alone. Here are ten pieces of advice to keep in mind when finding your first apartment:

  1. Don’t use a broker! Brokers often sound like the easy way out because they can set up multiple viewings for you and take some of the scheduling stress away. However, there are high fees attached to using a broker and scheduling viewings on your own actually isn’t so hard! Many building management companies have websites that allow you to see all of their properties and easily schedule viewings.
  2. You might need a guarantor – someone to cosign your lease as a failsafe to the building to ensure you’ll be able to pay. This is something I hadn’t considered my first time around! You’ll need your own credit/income or else a guarantor, such as a parent, will have to cosign. Keep this in mind and make sure you let the building manager know what your situation is before setting up your viewings.
  3. Figure out your priorities based on your lifestyle – do you cook a lot? Make sure you have ample cooking space. Do you plan on hosting your friends often? Make sure you have enough living room space. Are you a homebody? Maybe a big bedroom is the most important.
  4. If you’re moving in with a roommate, make sure you’re going to live with someone who is on the same page as you – make sure you’re looking for similar things in an apartment, have similar cleaning habits, and similar lifestyle habits. Often, moving in with your best friend can cause issues, especially if one of you is messy and likes to stay out late at night, while the other is a neat freak and needs plenty of beauty sleep! When considering who you’re going to live in, make sure you take a good hard look at any possible issues that may arise so you can get in front of them and can either figure out ways to get around those issues or maybe choose someone else to live with.
  5. Don’t overwhelm yourself with options. Try to stick to viewing only a few apartments on any given day and make sure to take photos! If you spend the entire day apartment hunting, your brain is going to be overwhelmed and you won’t be able to remember all of the places you saw. Give yourself breaks between viewings to let the place sink in so you can think about what you love and what you don’t love about it before moving on to the next one.
  6. Find a few different neighborhoods that you’d love to live in. It’s easy to pigeonhole yourself to one neighborhood and that area might not have the best options! Keep an open mind and check out a few different neighborhoods. You might just discover the cutest corner of Brooklyn or your new favorite bars and restaurants uptown! Take into account your budget, where your friends are living, your commute to school, proximity to subways, grocery stores, laundromat, etc.
  7. Once you’ve looked at apartments, give yourself some time to let it all settle, and imagine where you’d be happiest. Don’t make rash choices just because it feels right in the moment. Sometimes after sleeping on it, you’ll decide on something completely different than what you felt the day before! Let all of your options soak in so you can make the best decision for you. Of course, you can’t take a lot of time because of how quickly apartments get rented, but if you can wait at least a day, you’ll be able to give yourself piece of mind that you were able to think things through.
  8. Talk to your parents! I know you want to feel like an adult and be independent, but parents know what’s most important and can be really helpful in selecting the right place. Run through your top choices with them and ask for their advice! I’m 26, have lived in 7 different apartments, and I still do this! Parents (or even older siblings) will be able to point out things that you hadn’t even thought of.
  9. If you’re looking for your first apartment after spending a year in the dorms, don’t try to get it done while finals are taking place! Finals are stressful. Finding an apartment is stressful. Don’t inundate yourself with stress, instead either get ahead and find an apartment before the finals crunch happens, or wait until finals are over if you have some leeway before having to move out of your current housing situation. It’s important to keep in mind that if you find an apartment during finals one year, you’re going to have to deal with renewing the lease or finding somewhere new at the same time of each subsequent year, ie FINALS!
  10. Review sites are your friend! Yelp nearby restaurants and shops in your proposed area to ensure you’ll be happy there and use Go Home NYC to find helpful reviews on buildings!

These are the tips that I wish I had known when I was a student first looking for an apartment. I used a broker and was dead set on living in the East Village, and refused to look at apartments elsewhere. That meant that my roommate and I ended up in a tiny box of an apartment with absolutely no natural light and bedrooms that barely fit our full mattresses – and it was on the Lower East Side, not in the East Village! All of our friends lived in Brooklyn or further uptown, near Union Square and Gramercy. It didn’t sound like a big distance, but it was just enough to mean that we only saw our friends when we were on campus or for special occasions. Going from living down the hall from friends to living 20 blocks away was a big change!

After that first year, I got more savvy about apartment hunting and have honed in my skills each year after that. Finding a great apartment in NYC doesn’t have to be stressful or come with a high price tag, so long as you stay organized and know what you’re doing! I hope these tips help you find your new dream home – now get out there and start hunting!

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