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5 Insider Tips on Surviving an Apartment Search in New York City

Securing a NYC apartment is like the Hunger Games. But by following these five tips, you can increase your chances of finding a home in The Big Apple to rest your head at night. 

The New York City apartment rental market can be incredibly competitive.

I’m sorry, this is a severe understatement. So, let me try that again: Searching for an affordable, clean apartment in NYC is like participating in the Hunger Games of housing, and the odds are not in your favor! (This is especially true if you’re trying to snag a space in one of the hot spots in Brooklyn like Fort Greene, Park Slope, Bed-Stuy, Williamsburg, Dumbo, Prospect Heights, etc.)

With so many people looking for apartments and a limited supply of available units, it can seem almost impossible to secure the apartment that you want (and depending on what you want it may really be impossible). But by following these five tips, and a willingness to be extremely flexible, you can increase your chances of finding a place to rest your head at night. 

1. Start your search early:

The earlier you start your search for an apartment, the better your chances of finding a place that meets your needs. If you are completely new to the city, start looking for apartments several months before you need to move so that you can become familiar with the different neighborhoods (and the different blocks within the neighborhoods, things can change drastically from block to block!) The caveat about beginning your search early is that you will need to be prepared to start making offers as soon as you find a place that you like.

2. Be prepared to pay a higher rent:

In the New York City apartment rental market, you may need to pay a higher rent in order to secure the apartment that you want. Really desirable apartments almost always have multiple applications submitted for them. One way to have your application stand out is to simply offer more money for the apartment. Being prepared to pay more than you were originally planning can increase your chances of getting the apartment that you want.

3. Consider working with a professional:

If you don’t live in the city and are relocating for the first time, a professional real estate agent can be a valuable asset. A good agent will have access to listings that aren't available to the general public, will screen out the garbage listings and will be able to help you make offers and negotiate with landlords. If you already live in the city and you are not looking for a luxury rental then you should be fine searching on your own on platforms like StreetEasy since a majority of the available rental listings these days are “no fee” listings, which means you will not have to pay a broker fee (Broker fees can range anywhere from one month’s rent up to 15 or 16 percent of one year’s rent!) And speaking of fees . . .

4. Make sure you can afford the move to NYC: 

The number one barrier to securing an apartment in this city are the prices. This is the most expensive place for housing in the world, period. That means you reality have to manage your expectations related to what you will get for your money. If you are coming from a place where amenities like parking, in-unit washer/dryers, dishwashers or central air conditioning are all standard features that are included with the rent, do yourself a favor and throw all of that out of the window when moving to NYC. This is a city where the housing stock is extremely old (in most cases over a century old), and space is limited so what you would pay for a 2 bedroom apartment in Whereverthehellyouarefrom, USA, has no relation to pricing and availability here in New York.

At the time of this writing, a dirt cheap studio apartment in a horrible part of town in the outer-boros will run you about $1600 a month. Landlords prefer applicants who earn 40 times the monthly rent (so if your rent is $2,000 you should earn $80,000 per year) with a credit score over 700. They also want to see cash in the bank that shows that you can cover a couple of month’s rent. When you combine this with expenses like moving costs, renter’s insurance and broker’s fees, you can see that the cost of moving in this city is quite sobering. (In future posts we will look at some alternatives to traditional apartment rentals like sublets and co-living situations.)

5. Be flexible and ready to act quickly:

This is the most important tip! The apartment rental market is constantly changing, and you may need to be flexible in order to find the apartment that you want. Be open to different neighborhoods, building types, and apartment sizes. This will increase your chances of finding a place that meets your needs. Keep in mind that In the NYC rental market, apartments can go quickly. Apartments can come on the market and then be rented within hours. Some people will rent an apartment without even seeing it if it is in the right location for them (I would never advise anyone to do this by the way!) If you find a place that you like, be ready to make an offer right away. Even though this may mean paying rent before you actually move in this can increase your chances of securing the apartment before someone else does.

While none of this will guarantee that you land your dream apartment, you will be much better positioned to find a place that meets your basic needs.

Reginald Richardson is a licensed real estate professional in New York City who enjoys reading books by Octavia Butler, listening to Afro-house music and following the Brooklyn Nets. He also is a founding member of the Skybridge Group of VORO Real Estate.