Updated: May 7, 2020
Planning to move within the five boroughs? Here are the basics of how to make it as stress-free as possible, as well as a few tips from the Lunita team.
If you haven't already checked out the episode, head on over to The Lunita Podcast and give Episode 3: Finding an Apartment in NYC a listen. Remember to subscribe to the podcast, leave us a review if you like the show, and give us a follow on Instagram for updates and conversations with the community.
On this episode, Nina and Justin discuss apartment hunting in NYC -- something every New Yorker has an opinion on. We talk about what makes the process so stressful, some necessary resources for beginning your hunt, ways of finding an apartment, and some pro tips to keep the process moving along as seamlessly as possible.
Justin and Nina have lived in NYC for nearly ten years and have lived in a total of six different apartments within NYC, so they have moved around a lot (including where they currently live and have lived for the past seven years).
Justin worked in NYC real estate for over four years. He worked in both sales and financing; first, as a sales rep in a leasing office in the Financial District of Manhattan, and then, as a manager of an appraisal firm in Midtown Manhattan, covering four of the five boroughs.
Nina's early years of graduate school were focused around helping people navigate the hellhole that is Brooklyn Housing Court.
While we do not claim to be experts, we want to share our knowledge on NYC real estate, from both professional and personal experiences, with the rest of the world in hopes that it will help someone in their journey as they navigate finding an apartment in NYC.
Why is it so stressful to find a good apartment in NYC?
Finding the perfect apartment in NYC (and anywhere really) can be an extremely daunting task. You don't want to settle for just any old apartment; this is where you'll be spending the majority of your time; this is what you consider your "Homebase"; this is one of those big "adulting" moments; and most importantly, it's something many people attach to their personal identity, whether it's a sign of success, a sign of financial independence,
So, why is it so damn stressful?! Well, here are a few of the reasons we came up with:
1. Apartments go FAST
While working in real estate in NYC, I can not even begin to count the number of times someone came to see an apartment, absolutely loved the place, and by the time they got their paperwork in order, the place they were preparing to call home fell into the hands of someone else that was more prepared.
A "good" rental (especially a large, cheap one) is a rare commodity in this city, and they fly off the shelf in literal hours. It's important to come prepared with the necessary paperwork and prepared to make a decision THAT DAY. Here's a link to what you should be showing up to your apartment hunt with.
2. High Prices
This goes for the entire country (and possibly world at this point); even when sales prices are leveling off or going down, rental prices are CONSTANTLY on the rise.
This doesn't need much of an explanation -- people want to live in good neighborhoods with good schools and great restaurants, and they don't want to (and shouldn't have to) pay an arm and a leg for it. Well, we're here to tell you that, if you do your preparation and manage your expectations, it's not impossible!
3. There are SO MANY neighborhoods to choose from
Do you want to live near a cultural institution? There's a neighborhood for that.
Do you want to live near the nightlife? There's a neighborhood for that.
Do you want to live in a more residential area away from the "hustle and bustle"? There's a neighborhood for that.
Do you want to live near families? Good schools? Bars? Great food? Easy parking? Neighborhoods for all of that!
There are neighborhoods that fit any lifestyle you want to live here in NYC, but sometimes it's difficult because there are just so many dang choices! Use guides in the resources section at the end of this article to help you find the perfect fit for your style of living.
Must-Know Resources for Beginning the Hunt
Honestly, I WISH someone would have told me about some resources I could use to better understand the market, the neighborhoods, the school districts, and more when I was first looking for an apartment in NYC. They didn't, and I couldn't find someone that could, SO, here you go (you're welcome):
This website is the single best resource we've used for real estate in NYC, both professionally and personally.
You can get an idea for prices in specific areas, sizes of units in the neighborhood, amenities being offered, and so much more. You can also filter your searches to fit just about any list of "must-haves" with ease and a simple, yet sleek user interface. Lastly, if you find an apartment you absolutely love, StreetEasy will even connect you with the agent or owner.
We used Yelp to find which real estate firm and broker we felt would best be able to meet our needs. A simple search for "Real Estate", and within the hour, you'll have an appointment ready to go and apartments you're ready to see.
The last thing you want to do is to find the perfect place only to have a landlord that refuses to fix anything, harasses you and other tenants on a regular basis, and plans on raising the rent by $2,000 a month every year. Luckily, the Public Advocate's Office releases a yearly list of the worst landlords in NYC!
A great resource for more than just a weekend vacation, Airbnb gives you an opportunity to:
See what apartments in the area look like
See what hosts recommend for you in the neighborhood
Even request longer-term rentals at discounted prices, so you can get a real feel for the neighborhood.
Finally, if you've got some additional resources at your disposal, Airbnb can be a great way to check out a neighborhood as a local -- go ahead and book a stay for a night or two. There really is no better way to get a feel for a neighborhood than by staying a few days and checking it out for yourself.
Be Practical and Realistic
So, you've made the decision, you are ready to make the move to a new home in NYC... push pause, and let's ground ourselves.
All too often do I come across people looking for a 2,000 square foot, 4-bedroom apartment with laundry in the unit, a gym in the building, storage in the basement, a doorman for security, all tucked away in a neighborhood with flawless public transit, Harvard-level elementary schools, and beautiful tree-lined streets -- all for under $1,500 or less. Guess what, it's not going to happen. Remember to be practical and realistic during your search and keep these tips in mind.
1. The MOST you should be spending on an apartment in NYC (and it's still high) is 30% of your monthly income. Why? Because not only is rent high, the cost of living is high too, and you want to enjoy the city you live in, right?
2. Lower your expectations (but not your standards): Sex and the City and Friends are NOT realistic portrayals of life in NYC. Real life in NYC is a small apartment with laundry across the street, crazy neighbors (alright.. Seinfeld is a bit more accurate), and ridiculously high prices. Be prepared to make sacrifices when searching for a new home in NYC; whether that's less closet space, a smaller bathroom, or even loss of privacy (hello, roommates!).
Finding the Right Neighborhood for You
Yes, you're itching to get out there and find your next home in NYC, but in a city this large, where do you even begin?! Well, finding a neighborhood or two that feels like YOU is a great way to start.
1. Do Your Research
NYC is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. There are also over 100 neighborhoods in NYC. It's important to have an idea of where you would like to live before beginning your search. StreetEasy has a great neighborhoods list, as does NYC's tourism agency, NYC & Company. We highly recommend both to help better understand which neighborhood is the best fit for you.
Please be sure that if you are moving to a neighborhood with a different demographic than you, especially a neighborhood that is already experiencing gentrification, that you are educated on some of the struggles the community has had to overcome. Also, realize that to call the police on a person of color or undocumented person in the year 2020 is to put their life in immediate danger. If you do not feel comfortable getting to know your black/brown neighbors then you should rethink moving to a historically black/brown community.
3. Visit the Neighborhood Before You Move There (if possible)
If you have the opportunity to check out the neighborhood you are moving to beforehand, it is strongly advised. If possible try to check out the neighborhood more than once to get an understanding of what it's like on a weekday vs. a weekend etc. A few tips, check out the nightlife, check out the local grocery scene, both are great ways to see what the neighborhood is really about.
4. Proximity to Your Must-Haves
If you are new to NYC it's important to understand that each borough can feel like a city within itself. Make sure that you are being realistic with yourself about how much of a commute you are willing to travel to get to places you go to daily, such as work or the gym, etc.
5. Know Your Own Vibe and the Vibe You Are Looking For
Are you looking for a neighborhood with young singles who want to stay out until 3 am? Are you looking to meet other stay-at-home parents at nice outdoor parks? Are you looking for a neighborhood with plenty of dog parks? Try to be real with yourself in terms of what you need, what makes you happy, what are things you can not live without and what are things you can compromise on?
6. Plan for the Future
So maybe you don't have kids yet, but you plan on doing so in the near future. Making sure you look at neighborhoods with decent schools might be a wise thing to do. Of course, things happen in life that we can not always predict, but it's important to plan for our futures as best as we can. This might also mean not taking an apartment that is at the top of your budget so that you can put a little extra away for savings (just in case you end up hating your new job).
Methods to Apartment Hunting in NYC
When looking for an apartment in NYC, there are several routes you can take to find available units.
1. A Real Estate Broker/Agent
Pros: In our personal experience, the decision to use an agent was well worth it. We let our agent know exactly what we were looking for in an apartment and exactly what we were definitely NOT looking for. We spent an entire day with our broker, but it was well worth it, and we were shown a lot of great places to choose from.
Cons: Not only is a broker a more costly method but due to the history of segregated housing in America, the effects of redlining and the discrimination against LGBTQ and poc couples still exist. It is completely understandable to want to avoid this method altogether.
Pro: Apartment websites are an easy way to get an idea of what an apartment has to offer without actually going to see it. It also gives you a better sense of what typical rental prices are in an area. This is especially helpful for those of you who are planning on moving TO NYC.
Con: The literal con here is that you may get "apartment catfished". As in, you saw pictures of a big beautiful sunny one bedroom with high ceilings and brand new appliances, but you did not see that the fridge is broken or that there is no hot water. If you do decide to go with this method, be sure to still check out the apartment in the flesh before you give anyone your hard-earned money.
3. Management Companies
Pro: They are extremely efficient, typically quick at fixing repairs, easy to get in contact with and you can avoid broker fees; most management companies don't charge a fee. Sounds lovely right?
Con: Management companies tend to have a bit of an impersonal vibe to them; they are, after all, companies. This means you may feel as if you are living in a hotel or a building more than in a home. There is less room, aka no room, for negotiating on prices, and if your rent jumps up and you are unable to pay it, you may just be shit out of luck.
4. The Walk and Knock
Pro: A great way to find out what a building or neighborhood is like is to ask people who currently live there. Most likely they will be upfront with you. Finding long term tenants can be especially useful if asking people in a specific building because they will be able to give you the most insight.
Con: This is not a popular method and takes some courage and a bit of extra effort, not all of us have the time for this method, and you can actually get some people angry depending on whose door you're knocking on and what time of day it is.
5. Ask Other New Yorkers
Pro: Talking to people you know and love who live here is a super-easy way to find an apartment. Believe us when we say that someone is always looking for a roommate or an apartment in this city. Try to utilize the connections you have; friends, colleagues, weed dealer... Whoever you are comfortable asking.
Con: Reliability -- friends and family are great and word of mouth can get you some wonderful deals, but sometimes this is not the most reliable way of finding a place.
Take a few of these suggestions into account to find the best deals for you:
1. Time of year matters
Statistically speaking, WHEN you rent is more important than you may initially think. According to RentHop, you will find the highest prices during the summer months. This could be for a multitude of reasons -- new college graduates are looking for jobs in the city, college students are moving to prepare for the upcoming school year, or it's just nicer moving weather to name a few -- so take advantage of it, and move in the winter months if possible.
2. Have a list of MUSTS and MUST NOTS
Know what you are looking for in an apartment, and know what you definitely do not want; this sounds easy enough, but being aware of what you're looking for in an apartment and what you're absolutely avoiding can save time, money, and a lot of headache.
3. Come Prepared
As stated earlier, apartments go fast, so having all the necessary paperwork ready to for when you begin your search.
4. Be OK with saying NO
Lastly, be prepared to say no thank you if the unit is not what you are looking for. Agents and landlords can be pushy, and they can sometimes make people feel rushed or pressured into renting a space that isn't truly what they are looking for.
Stick to your plan. Yes, it's true that apartments fly off the proverbial shelf, but the same is true of new units being placed ON the shelf -- people are ALWAYS MOVING. People move into NYC, people move out of NYC, people move around NYC. There will be more vacancies, there will be more apartments, and if you don't find one you see yourself living in on the first go, don't worry, there will be plenty more opportunities to find your new home. Be patient, and don't allow someone else to make a decision for you.
This is a great resource for anyone who wants to learn more about a landlord they are considering renting from. With this site, you can put in your potential address (tip: you will have to type the actual word "street" or "avenue" in its entirety) and review any complaints that have been made against that landlord regarding the condition of the building or violations they may have accrued over the years.
6. Hire Movers
We know it sounds bougie, but you will thank us when you don't have to spend the first three weeks living in your new spot in immense pain. Not all movers cost a fortune, and if you simply can't afford to give a stranger one dollar of your hard-earned money, then just ask some reliable friends to help you and pay them with a meal.
Moving to/in NYC can definitely have its stressful moments, but if you do your research, know what you are looking for, and show up prepared, it's actually a very fun and exciting process.
We wish you the best of luck in your search for a happier life. We would love to hear from you, whether it's something you think we missed, something you would like to add, or an anecdote you would like to share from your experiences, send it our way via Instagram, in the comments section, or to our email.
Lastly, down below, you can find a list of resources mentioned in the episode and that we have found helpful and informative. Thank you for reading, remember to subscribe to the show if you haven't already, and sign up for our monthly newsletter to get updates on what is new at Lunita.
NYC & Company, NYC's tourism agency - A guide to every neighborhood
Streeteasy.com - Neighborhood Guide
CityMapper App - Great for finding how long of a commute it is to work
WalkScore - NYC is a WALKING city.. so, know how the neighborhood you plan to move to fares