City Guide: How To Find An Apartment In NYC
I'm not going to sit here and pretend that finding an apartment in New York City is exactly easy. But, it's obviously not impossible seeing as 8.4 million people somehow manage to live in the city.
I don't know if have any sage advice to share since I only snagged my place through a combination of sheer luck and swift action. However, I will share my experience in hopes that it will save yourself a couple hours of stressful Googling.
6 Tips for Finding an Apartment in NYC
1. Embrace The Broker Regime
Long story short, the broker system basically involves paying someone at least a month's rent for answering an email and then letting you into an apartment (in addition to paying the building first and last month's rent, plus a security deposit). It's crazy and ridiculous and one of the many reasons why moving to NYC is absurdly expensive. But, unless you are lucky enough to be passed down an apartment or find a permanent sublet, it's inevitable. Note: those "No Fee" apartments you see sometimes have the broker's fee baked into the cost of rent, so you aren't actually saving money. Or, they are in doormen buildings which are usually more expensive upfront anyway.
2. Plan Ahead, But Not Too Far Ahead
Before I moved, I spent months browsing sites like Naked Apartments (my personal fave—their curated email notifications are 🔑), Street Easy, and Padmapper. However, after eagerly contacting a few brokers over a month before my move, they all told me to not contact them until I was in the city. I'd recommend reaching out to brokers about a week before you move and setting up appointments then.
3. Don't Fall In Love With Online Listings
Direct quote from one of the many broker's I met during my search: "Only the apartments that don't rent right away are put online." Which means, the best inventory is gone before it even graces the internet. Kind of like dating in NYC? Not sure, but that's what I've heard through the grapevine.
4. Be Laser Focused (Or At The Very Least, Choose Between Manhattan or Brooklyn)
This will save you days, potentially weeks, of searching. Sample a few neighborhoods, but once you find one you like just obsess over its listings long enough to find one that fits your criteria (for me, it was natural light and quirky details) and is in your price range. While this is definitely an "all eggs in one basket" approach, I think that channeling your efforts toward something you really want is bound to pay off.
5. Avoid Car Rides With Crazy Brokers
Whatever you do...don't find yourself in the passenger seat of a rented Chevy Malibu at the will of a crazy broker driving the wrong way down a Manhattan street. True story: It felt straight out a scene from a '90s movie set in NYC, except car accidents are much less glamorous in real life.
The best part? After said broker finally got us to our next East Village viewing in one piece, she parked next to a fire hydrant. Low and behold, we returned to find a parking ticket waiting on her dashboard which she then proclaimed was an "investment in finding me the perfect apartment." The Broker Guilt Trip is real - avoid at all costs.
6. When You Know, You Know
The more I'm writing about this, the more I'm realizing that finding the perfect apartment really is like dating. You have to trust your instincts, and when you've found a good one...don't let it (or them) go.
And that's how I somehow found myself the perfect 5th floor walk-up. The story goes like this: After seeing a great listing in my price range on Naked Apartments, I called the broker a couple days in advance to set up a viewing. I already had a whole day of apartment appointments planned, so I ended up scheduling the viewing at 8:30am on a Monday morning. When I got to the building, the broker explained that the apartment I had seen online had unfortunately already been leased (typical, hence Tip #3). However, the next thing he told me are words that every NYC apartment hunter dreams of hearing:
Actually...I do have a unit available that we haven't listed yet. Do you want to see it?
The second you hear those words, just nod your head in agreement and follow them up the stairs. Which is exactly what I did, and it lead me to my dream apartment. (By perfect I mean, a 5th floor walk-up in my price range with windows on both sides of the unit...and floors so slanted you need 6 inch risers to level a bed.) But it fit all my criteria and had a good energy about it.
So, I filled out an application and put down a deposit then and there. And now, 7 months later, I not only have significantly more toned legs but also a cozy place to call my own in New York City.
Godspeed to anyone starting their apartment hunt, hope this helps!