Finding an apartment in New York City

November 12, 2013 in New York City

There’s no doubt that apartment hunting in New York City is one of the most stressful, frustrating and expensive parts of moving to the city.

Christine Amorose's New York City apartment

My rental history in New York has been incredibly stressful and frustrating: five living situations in one year! When I first decided to move to New York City, I organized a month-long sublet with my road trip buddy as a cost-effective way to get a feel for the city and have a base to look for a permanent job and apartment. We found a room in Columbia off-campus apartments on the Upper West Side that was $1000 total for the month.

Christine Amorose's New York City apartment

After lots of desperate craigslist apartment dates, I decided to sublet a room in east Williamsburg. The neighborhood and building were a little gritty, but the $1200-a-month room featured a built-in loft, a big living space with natural light and a roommate who was a vegetarian/lesbian/nondrinking/born-again Christian. It was all very Girls-esque, and after two months, drama escalated with the person I was subletting from.

I sold my recent Ikea purchases, packed up my meager belongings, and moved in with Aly on the upper East side for a couple of weeks before I went to Miami and home for the holidays.

When I flew back on New Year’s Eve, I moved into a rent-controlled apartment ($1075 a month) with a craigslist random and a friend from high school. For $1075 a month and a one-year lease, I lived in the middle of the craziness of the Lower East Side, had two big windows with lots of light, a hole that ran along the top of the ceiling of my room to let light into the living room (i.e. no privacy), a newly renovated bathroom and one roommate who did not understand the concept of turning off the heater when we weren’t home to save money.

Aly and I had constantly talked about moving in together—we lived together in college and were super compatible as roommates—but the dates for leases and such never seemed to line up. When she realized in August she couldn’t continue as month-to-month, we decided to bite the bullet and find a place together. Cue desperate deadlines, insane brokers’ fees, and plenty of drama as I finagled my way out of my lease.

Christine Amorose's New York City apartment

Now we have a super cute place in Williamsburg with skylights, a dishwasher, an in-unit washer dryer and a shared outdoor courtyard—all very, very rare in New York City unless it’s a luxury building—and life is delightful. It costs $1375 (just for me!), which is a little crazy, but I’m so happy and it’s so convenient that I figure it’s worth it in peace of mind. It’s wonderful that it’s so delightful because I honestly cannot fathom the cost or energy that it would take to move ever again.

That said, here are my best tips for moving in New York City–I’ve learned a thing or two over the past year.

Christine Amorose's New York City apartment

Resources

While craigslist is the go-to site to find sublets and roommates, I prefer the Naked Apartments interface for finding apartments to lease and brokers to work with.

Neighborhoods

Deciding what neighborhood you prefer is a huge deal in New York City. Brooklyn or Manhattan or Queens? Quiet tree-lined avenues or streets filled with bars and cafes? Hipster or Hasidic? Kid-friendly brunches or slightly sketchy dive bars? I’ve lived in both the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, and love them both: they skew young, hipster, a little gritty and have a ton of awesome independent cafes/restaurants/boutiques. In quieter, cleaner options (i.e. lots of yoga studios, parks and strollers): I adore Park Slope, Carroll Gardens and the Upper West Side.

If you’re new to New York City, I highly recommend spending a whole weekend in a neighborhood you’re interested in (a la Joanna Goddard). Rent an apartment from a service like 9flats.com so that you can check out brunch options and late-night bars, how convenient train service is, how safe it feels.

Christine Amorose's New York City apartment

Important factors to consider

Proximity to a subway stop, and what lines it serves. Is there an in-unit or in-building washer/dryer, or is a Laundromat close? Does rent include heat and hot water or building fees? Is there any shared space, like a courtyard or a rooftop? Do the bedrooms have closets, or is there space for a wardrobe? Are there windows in all of the bedrooms? How long is the lease? IS THERE A BROKER’S FEE? Also, one that’s often overlooked when people are trying to “make it” in New York City: can you afford it?

I can't afford to love New York

Broker’s Fees

The worst thing about moving in New York City, in my opinion, is the broker’s fes. Essentially, you have to pay the person who has access to all the listing and shows you the apartment—usually, it’s about 10% of a one-year lease, or a little more than a month’s rent. You never get it back. I had an absolutely terrible agent who I do NOT recommend (stay away from Capri Jet Realty), but if you find a good broker, it can definitely make the process easier.

Other fees

A credit check can run $100 (which is ridiculous and annoying, because it only costs $20 to run a credit report). You can pay anywhere from $100-$250 for a lease signing fee. You can definitely expect to be required to pay one month’s rent in security, although it’s not unheard of to be required to pay two month’s. If you need a co-signer, they need to make 80x the rent. That’s not a typo: EIGHTY TIMES THE RENT. And they need to be able to prove it, which is a nightmare if you have parents who are self-employed or retired. We ended up negotiating to pay two month’s security instead of asking our parents to co-sign to save them the headache.

It’s expensive and it’s crazy–but once you find the right place, it’s an amazing feeling to be able to call New York City home! 

p.s. here’s a super cute place that’s available for Thanksgiving and Christmas! 😉

  • Lauren

    Awesome post! I have a quesiton – are those prices what you pay per month, or like your roomate and you split $1375? I dream of moving to NY, but on a social workers salary that literally is like 80% of my monthly income!!

  • All this time I was reading your blog about NY you were going through roommate hiccups?! I imagine there was a lot of IKEA furniture involved. Been there.

  • “I hope you read some fine books & kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful” – oh my goodness I love that poster.

  • Anđela Ćenan

    ouch, that sounds painful! but, bravo for your courage! 🙂 I’m glad you found your place finally 🙂

  • Anđela Ćenan

    p.s. I LOVE it!

  • Becky Vickers

    Your Airbnb.com listing is sooooo tempting!

  • monicasuma

    Join the club, recently went through the same shit, pure hell but much happier now that I found a temporary sublet.

  • camorose

    No, I pay $1375 and my roommate pays $1575. You can definitely find cheaper, but we were both pretty insistent on location and certain amenities–like natural light!!!

  • camorose

    Oh my gosh so much Ikea furniture. Glad to be settled now!

  • camorose

    society6!!!

  • camorose

    yes! happy to be here!

  • camorose

    We’ll give you a good deal for Thanksgiving or Christmas girl!!!

  • camorose

    All worth it once you find a good place!

  • Oui In France

    New York can be really insane. I was lucky to find my place for rent by owner on Craigslist and it was in the financial district, 30-sec walk to work and exactly where I wanted to be. I talked him down on the monthly rent by A LOT actually by paying several months’ worth upfront. Luckily my saving mentality paid off! I didn’t think that would work but never hurts to ask. No clue why he had trouble renting the place — gorgeous. Sometimes luck plays a big role too — being the first one to call or see a place and just being at the right place at the right time. Glad you found a place you love!

  • Apartment hunting in NYC was THE WORST. I slept in random craigslist sublets for a year before I finally signed a lease when craigslist lead me to discover the neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens. I have a one bedroom, super closet to the subway for a really decent price. The brokers fee was no fun though.

  • Erica

    Agh for real. I started, but then got so discouraged I ended up just staying with family. There are so many horror stories out there; thanks for adding in the encouraging tips, too!

  • camorose

    That’s a great point about paying upfront! It’s not the best place to be if you’re cash-poor, but having a savings can definitely help!

  • camorose

    I’ve heard great things about Queens for good value–definitely would consider it with my next move!

  • camorose

    Eek! It’s no fun but it’s pretty awesome once things fall into place 🙂

  • Vish

    Have you checked out Apartable.com?

  • camorose

    No, I haven’t–will do!

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  • Johnnie

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