Harry Wolff

You can't escape my laugh.

Finding an Apartment in NYC

November 5, 2013
Read time 4 minutes

apartmentFinding an apartment in New York City is one of the most ego deflating, energy sucking, and soul-destroying processes I've ever experienced. In case my litany of adjectives isn't descriptive enough, let me sum it up for you: I had a real bad time recently while trying to find a new apartment.

For the past four weeks I've been on an exhaustive hunt across Manhattan and Brooklyn. I've searched high and low to find a new home, sacrificing the better part of most my days while hunting to find that diamond in the rough.

So, so, so, sadly that diamond was never found. However I did learn a bunch and I wanted to write it down so that during my next go around I don't repeat the same mistakes.

I'm gonna call this Harry’s Guide to Apartment Hunting in NYC.

Tip #1: Don't search at the end of a month

All the apartment listings that are still around at the end of a month are usually the overflow that didn't get rented at the beginning of the month.

This I heard from multiple realtors and saw my self when browsing the many apartment listing websites. After my first week of looking I no longer saw anything new being posted. It was the same things as the week before. The entire market did not seem to be moving, leaving me with nothing to pick from.

Tip #2: Don’t search in the winter, it's the off season

Most people move in the spring, between March and September. During those months you have many more options to choose from - albeit much more competition.

During these months you will be able to see and rent many more places but you'll need to be in your top apartment hunting shape. That being, ready to submit an apartment app at a moments notice so that you secure your chances of receiving the lease.

Sure, looking in the winter is calmer, but you also won't have as much to choose from. Pick your demons friends.

Tip #3: Look exactly one month before when you want to move in

You want to move into a place on April 1st? Start looking March 1st.

Apartments go fast in NYC. There's no way to rent a place two months in advance. The standard is one month in advance.

Some places will try and twist your arm and ask for immediate, forcing you into a lease overlap that you may or may not want.

Trying to rent a month and a half in advance is near impossible as well. If you want to move in on November 15th your best bet is to start looking October 1st and see if you can get lucky.

Some owners are more lenient than others obviously, but ultimately it's a roll of the dice if you want to do anything that isn't the standard one month.

Tip #4: Don’t fear the fee, incorporate it into your rent

Depressingly it's almost impossible to avoid paying a brokers fee in New York. I thought it’d be easier to avoid in Brooklyn, but alas that does not seem to be the case.

If your budget is $2,000 a month for rent then you should tell brokers you're looking for places that are $2,000 including any fee.

So if you find a place that rents for $1,800 and has a one month fee that turns into an extra $150 of cost when divided throughout the year (1800 / 12 = 150). So in net effect the apartment costs $1,950 a month. The main down side of a fee being it has to be paid up front.

Arming yourself with this state of mind will make deciding on your apartment costs a little easier. I found it incredibly useful.

Tip #5: Know ahead of time exactly what you want

Don't go into an apartment unsure if a dishwasher is a deal breaker. You need to know that ahead of time to save yourself many headaches and a great deal of time.

By filtering out apartments that don't fit your criteria (amenities, size, cost, location) you'll be able to truly focus on the apartments that may be a good fit.

Do not waste your time trying to delude yourself that an apartment that is super close to the subway would make up for not having a dishwasher: you know what you want and do not sway. You'll thank yourself later.

Tip #6: Don't rent in New York

It sucks. Don't move to the greatest city on earth. It sucks. (But it's so great).

Addendum: List of apartment listing websites

Originally I was going to go through and do a mini review of every site I've tried but I just don't have it in me. Also you may have vastly different experiences than I.

So here is a very loose order of my favorite to least favorite / unused apartment listing websites.

Good luck on your ill begotten search you wretched souls.