Subtitle of this post: tackling one of the worst things about living in this incredible city. When I first moved here I had a totally unique situation where my roommate was already here and we tag-teamed the entire apartment search. I would stalk sites like Craigslist religiously looking for anything that met our criteria and when we found one they would go to the viewing to check it out.
It’s crazy to see how much changes in the rental market and process in 2 years. With sites like Streeteasy, Naked Apartments and Trulia popping up the game has changed. This summer we spent about 2 solid months looking for an apartment and after close to 35 viewings, finally found the spot of our dreams.
During the process MG and I had plenty of nights post-viewing to discuss what we wanted, what we’ve learned from this crazy experience, and what we might’ve done differently earlier on. For anyone else who at some point in the near future will be enduring this same fate, I’m sharing the advice that we would give to anyone who is about to embark on an apartment search!
1.Start doing your research early
We had no idea what we were looking for so we decided to cast a wide net early on and just see what was out there. The positive of starting your search an extra month in advance is that it gives you a sense of the market and what’s out there (i.e., I was surprised to find that there were way more apartments with washer/dryers than when I had looked 2 years ago). The downside is that you might find something that could work and pass on it because you’re looking for something better. In the end, we were so grateful that we had looked for a long time because by the end of the process we knew what was really felt like we had seen what was out there.
2. Choose your apartment style & desired neighborhoods from the beginning
Are you wanting to live in a walk-up? Do you want a building with amenities? Is being close to the subway important? Are you ok with noisier streets? These are all questions that we asked ourselves to make sure we knew what our dealbreakers were. Street-facing units are noisier even if you’re up on the 5th and 6th floor and after spending 2 years in a 6 floor walkup, holy moly is it tiring. Post-move I will say it’s a game changer going in and out as well. We drew lines North, South, East and West of the area we could do and tried to stay within that. In hindsight, had we looked at more amenity buildings downtown sooner in the process we probably could’ve saved ourselves some time. We ended up loving that much more than the walk-up options in the same price range and were happy trade a little distance south. If you’re looking at buildings I would highly recommend doing your research and setting up appointments to look at units with the buildings directly – many of them take appointments on their own.
3. Make a list of your must haves and nice to haves
Knowing what will make you happy in a home is the most important part of the process. It also doesn’t have to be set in stone – what we thought wasn’t as important early on actually changed with the more apartments we saw. Location and proximity to transportation for work, size and layout of the space, and storage were our top priorities coming from really small apartments in SoHo. Would we love to have a washer/dryer still and have access to a pool? Yes! Do we need a gym or a terrace? Eh, could live without those. In the end having nice appliances actually ended up being something that became more important as we wanted to spend more time cooking at home. You tell yourself you can deal with an oven from 1999 to live in the West Village, but the thought of actually cooking on it is another ballgame.
4. Create saved searches with both criteria and turn on email notifications
I’m so grateful that I did this early on. Every time units are added to these sites that meet your criteria they’ll be emailed directly to you every morning. On sites like Streeteasy and Trulia you can also “save” buildings to see if anything new pops up in one that you like or if the rent changes on a particular unit you like. I signed up for 3 searches (with and without certain amenities and with variable rent ceilings) on a few sites and ended up also signing up/bookmarking for some direct realtor sites like Halstead (who I previously rented from), Compass, and Citi Habitats. I found those to be the most helpful and reliable in terms of what you were getting. This is an easy step but takes some of the searching part out of it for you.
5. Know what you’re up against
The most common annoyances in the entire process were:
• Incorrect information in listings – can’t tell you how many times the actual amenities were wrong and a unit didn’t actually have a dishwasher or was on a different floor
• Misleading photos that didn’t match the description – if there’s a back patio in the picture and it’s listed on the 3rd floor, something is off. My advice is to call the contact and clarify the appliances, floor, address, any square footage or storage space if it’s not included and there’s no floorplan
• Lack of detail – “live like Sex in the City in the West Village!” doesn’t actually tell me anything, and I’ll pass.
• Broker fees – sometimes the landlord or building is paying the fee (often the case when you see No Fee) and a lot of times they’re listed as No Fee initially but you end up on a site where a broker has it listed, meaning you would have to pay them if you go through them and not through the main source. Try googling the address and seeing if you can find the main leasing company on another site if that’s the case.
6. If you can afford it or are getting desperate, look at hiring a broker
Until the end of our search I didn’t understand the point of a broker outside of it “saving you time”. Often I would find the apartment myself and show up and they wanted to charge us 10-15% of a year’s rent for someone doing absolutely nothing. We thought we had fallen in love with a building and saw a new unit pop up late one night and e-mailed them immediately. After stalking the woman the next morning first thing I came to find out there was an application put in overnight. What?! How was that possible? Often in cases like this if a broker is working with a client they can see units come to market before they even hit sites that everyone else sees. That’s the main benefit of hiring someone if you can afford it, don’t have time, or are looking for something wildly specific and can wait.
7. Try to view apartments as early in the day as possible
When it comes time to view apartments do everything you can to setup a personal appointment. Open houses are like feeding frenzies and can be extra stressful. It’s usually the first person to get there and slide their check to the leasing agent’s game and not exactly a fun one. I’ve heard of open houses where over 30 people show up to see the unit! I don’t even know how you could fit 30 people in most NYC apartments. If you can setup a viewing earlier in the day your chances of getting to see it and make your decision before anyone else are much higher. In the peak season and at the end of the month, every minute and hour that passes may mean lower chances of you landing that place.
8. Compile your documents at least 3 weeks out from when you want to move
Someone had recommended this to me and when I finally pulled together my documents I was so happy that I did. It’s a pain to do, but when you find the right spot you won’t have to waste any precious time getting that information gathered. You almost always need:
- Letter of employment stating your salary on company letterhead or Last 2 Paystubs
- Last 2 years of W-2s
- Last 2 bank statements from all of your accounts
- Copy of your driver’s license or passport
- Personal and Professional references (sometimes these require cover letters – a friend recommended creating a template and then just emailing to your contacts to sign)
- Previous Rental History and contact information
9. Don’t get bullied but understand it’s a fast process
At the end of the search we were feeling overwhelmed by the intensity and pressure to make such quick decisions, even though we knew we were in it together and it would be ok no matter what. If you start your research early and have a clear idea of what you want, hopefully by the end you’ll be able to make a quicker decision and know it’ll be a happy one. If it doesn’t feel right don’t feel like you have to take it just because there’s someone with an appointment right after you that might rent it. We were so glad that we didn’t say yes when we felt the pressure and held out for the one that we knew was going to be our home. But that being said, they really might rent it. Like 5 minutes after you leave. Be ready to make that quick decision, but trust your gut and heart!
Over the next few months I’ll be taking you guys through the rest of the process and most excitingly, our new place. Stay tuned for more exciting updates!