n00b ChroNYcles: Apartment Shopping

Looking for an apartment in New York is one of the worst things about living in this city after rats, and before Times Square during tourist season. Here is the run down:

Timing:¬†About a month before your move in date, the search begins. Do not even THINK about getting a head start on this in this city because there’s no way you’ll find anything available during your move in date. I’ve reached out to some brokers 1.5 months in advance. They responded…Too early, talk to me later. FINE! I won’t plan ahead…

Listings: My roommates and I have gone the Craigslist route and this is not uncommon. Basically, search Craigslist with your parameters. Keep the search simple with just the number of bedrooms you are looking for. A picture is worth a thousand words on this quest. Don’t even bother checking out a place if the ad doesn’t have any pictures.

Here’s what you should know if you see an ad like this:


The apartment looks great, let’s sign the lease now, right? Well, these types of ads are generally for luxury buildings so what you see in this ad isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get when you check out the apartment. Meaning, the pictures are standard photos brokers use to represent every unit they intend to show you. Luxury buildings also have quite a different feel to them - e.g. hotelesque, so think about if you want that too.

Most listings are posted by a broker hired by the management of the actual building. That means they’ll charge a fee but more on that later. Here are a few questions I would ask when responding to an ad:

  1. What is the move in date?
  2. What are the cross streets?
  3. Square footage?
  4. How many bathrooms are there, really?
  5. Is there laundry in the building?
  6. Elevator in building or walk up? If its a walk up, what floor is the apartment on?

Viewing: Once you’ve coordinated with the broker and you’ve determined that you won’t be far into alphabet city, or in the projects somewhere, you coordinate a viewing with the broker. Often times, a broker wants to meet at his office first so you can sign paperwork stating you won’t go behind their back and directly to the building itself to rent the apartment. This is extremely annoying to me and I try to move on if this is the case, but if an apartment looks extremely promising, you’ll need to suck it up. Once you meet up with the broker at the cross streets, they will walk you over to the actual apartment. Check if the rooms have windows (with natural sunlight, if this is a requirement - for why you would want this, check out my previous blog post here), and closets. If the tenants are there, I would ask the following questions:

  1. Any history of mice/other pests?
  2. How responsive is management to fix lights, locks, etc.?
  3. General feelings about the place?

Application: So you finally have that funny feeling inside and you found the one. You want to put an application down. This part almost causes more anxiety than the actual search because the trick here is speed. If the apartment is good, its likely that a ton of other folks are going to put an application down so you need to act fast. The faster you put an application down and prove you’re a good applicant through your paperwork, the higher priority you’ll be.

To be jack rabbit-equipped, have the following paperwork on hand:

  1. W2s (past 1-2 years)
  2. Income verification
  3. Proof of employment
  4. Permission for a credit check
  5. Past 2-3 bank statements

All management companies require a different combination of the above, but I’d be prepared for the worst.

$$$: As with all things in New York, finding an apartment will burn a huge crater in your pocket. Here are some of the fees you’ll need to prepare for.

  1. Security deposit (1-2 month’s rent depending on the management)
  2. Broker fee - 15% of the rent for a full year (standard)
  3. First month’s rent
  4. Guarantor - your and your roommates’ combined income should be 40x the yearly rent, but in some cases, even if the combined income meets this criteria, management companies may want a guarantor. Basically a parent or someone that can CYA if you can’t pay the bills. A guarantor’s income should make 80x the rent.

Once your application, and paperwork are submitted, you wait to hear if you get the apartment…Alls I gotta say is…GOOOOD luck. Its definitely not for the faint of heart but once you find the one, and you get it, it feels…real nice.

Look out for a future post on the complications of actually moving into your new place…