Living in New York City is intense. New Yorkers subject themselves to living situations where their bed barely fits, they walk up and down five flights of stairs to get to their apartment, and the view could be facing the brick wall of an adjacent building. But! Where having an in-unit washer and dryer means you’ve made it.
Why? Because it’s New York — the best city in the world.
If you are an experienced New York City apartment hunter, you know winter is the off-season. From May to September, there is a huge influx of people and it starts to dwindle in October. By December, many brokers take vacations because they feel there isn’t enough demand to bother sticking around. Know this — if you are a renter and have time on your side, renting in the winter (like, right now!) is the best time of year.
Contact a broker you see on any listing. Tell him or her your budget and living needs and they will possibly show you other apartments that are not yet listed. Heck, contact multiple brokers who have listings you are interested in. This will cast a wider net and provide you with a more comprehensive view of what’s available, but when you find a broker you like, stick with them. They deserve their commission.
Aim to visit at least five apartments a day. Try to schedule your appointments according to neighborhood and proximity to one another. And remember, NYC apartments go fast, so come prepared. That means having documents with you during your tours:
- Three forms of ID (i.e., driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, Social Security card, etc. This may seem like overkill, but it’s necessary).
- Checkbook (If you have one.)
- Recent two bank account statements
- Last two pay stubs
- Letter of employment, or letter of intent for employment.
- First two pages of last year’s tax return.
- Guarantor information (if applicable).
Also, keep these things in mind when looking at apartments:
- Does the entryway provide adequate lighting and security?
- What floor of the building is the apartment on? If it’s on the bottom floor, it’s important to consider the levels of street noise and security (i.e., make sure the windows have guards on them, especially if you have a child under the age of 10 years.)
- Does the building have an elevator? If not, be wary of upper-level apartments — especially if you have a stroller, like I do. You’ll also be hauling groceries, packages and yourself up those stairs on a regular basis. But hey, it might be worth the daily exercise.
- Is the building pet-friendly?
- Does it have a dishwasher?
- Is the washer/dryer in unit? Many apartments do not have them in unit, so do not be alarmed if you have to go to the basement to do your laundry, or down the street!
- Is there adequate storage space? Is there a window in the kitchen for ventilation?
- Does it have an air-conditioning unit? New York gets pretty hot in the summer months and there’s nothing worse than a hot apartment in the middle of summer in NYC.
- Are you looking out onto the interior shaftway? If so, the apartment may get limited lighting.
- Do the windows offer privacy or are you looking into your neighbor’s bedroom?
- Are the bedrooms overlooking the street or the interior? Street-facing bedrooms are louder and subject to more pollution.
Be aware that each time you apply for an apartment you will have to pay a fee to cover the cost of running a credit check, which is about $75. That fee is usually non-refundable regardless of whether you get the apartment or not. An additional concern is your credit rating can be negatively affected by running multiple checks.
Submitting an application
When you apply for an apartment, the broker will act as the middleman. On the application, you’ll fill in personal information including your social security number, employment, relationship status, pay stubs, and bank statements. Once your application is complete, you turn it over to the broker who hands it off to the landlord or property manager. It is then up to the landlord to make a decision.
Making an application stand out
Obviously, you have a good shot at getting the apartment if no one else is interested in the space, your credit is stellar and your criminal and rental background checks out. However, if the apartment is in high demand and there are many applicants, the landlord will more carefully scrutinize your pay stubs, your bank account information and will likely check references and run a credit check.
Landlords are mostly like to select the applicant who has the most stable financials, does not require a guarantor and who applied earliest.
In some cases, aggressive applicants will offer over the monthly asking price to make their application more appealing to landlords. This is a slick move, but often effective.
Rental inventory is in high demand in New York City and people commonly use these moves to seal the deal. Don’t feel pressure to do so because you can surely find one without outbidding other applicants.
When will you know your application was accepted? – About three days to one week.
There are really just a few factors to help narrow it down such as cost, proximity to public transportation, noise levels and space.
It can be tempting to overpay for an apartment in New York. Rents are high, the market is tough, and after a while you might be persuaded to go over budget just to avoid the grind of the apartment search. Don’t do it!
If you’re like most people, you’re probably tired of searching and you found a place that seems about right. Before you throw in the towel and submit an application, make sure you’ve visited enough to accurately assess how it compares to other apartments.
Most experts agree that it is wise to spend up to 30 percent of your income on your rent, but New Yorkers pay almost 60 percent of their income on rent. You may need to compromise your dreams of the perfect Manhattan apartment, but remember there are wonderful emerging neighborhoods in outer boroughs, and you’ll thank me and yourself every time you have a little extra cash for a night on the town.
New York City has one of the greatest public transportation systems in the world and you should take full advantage of it. Are there subway and/or bus lines close by? Will you be able to get to work or school conveniently? Proximity to public transport will make your commute much easier and encourage friends to come see you and your great new space.
New York may be the city that never sleeps, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to. Be realistic about what level of noise you are willing to put up with. Are you a light sleeper? Do you enjoy a quiet run in the morning? Or is the idea of an apartment without a neighborhood bar not acceptable to you? Just remember the trade-off for a lively neighborhood with great nightlife might be the club downstairs blasts music until 4 a.m.
One of the first things you are likely to compromise in order to live in New York is personal space. Population density here is insane, and that translates to less livable square footage, but that doesn’t mean, however, you need to resort to using your oven for storage, like Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and The City.
But truly, how does it feel?
The best way to get a sense of a neighborhood is to visit it and walk around — get a sense of the vibe. And don’t just visit during the day. Explore at night, too, to see whether it feels like the right fit for you and you feel safe enough to get home at all hours. If you can’t visit personally, try to find locals — online, or through friends — who will give you their honest, unbiased opinions.
There are certain lifestyle factors that are different for every renter, but are always important to consider. Families may be concerned with having good schools in the neighborhood. Pet owners may want a neighborhood with lots of green public space. Single women may be concerned about safety and look for a neighborhood with good lighting and 24-hour bodegas.
Think about what the most important factors are for you, and be sure to ask your broker those specific questions regarding your deal breakers. If you work from home, or love throwing dinner parties, or just get claustrophobic, consider neighborhoods in Brooklyn or Queens that allow you to spread out even more.
Don’t settle. Keep pushing through the process and you will land on a great deal! Be on the lookout for a rooftop patio or backyard space; those additions can make smaller apartments much more manageable.