House hunting in NYC

Let's face it. Adulting is hard. When we were kids, we thought 20-something year olds had their entire lives together. Now I count doing laundry and taking out the trash on the same day as having it together.

Oh, and I also know my bank account number off by heart.

After moving to NYC, there has been no greater or harder task than finding a house. And now that it's my 5th move (yes you heard me right), I think that I have successfully lived in all living situations with all manner of people.

I'm going to reel off some tips so grab a pen and paper. Or just screenshot this. I'm going to make this as concise as possible but there seriously is a lot to cover. There are so many ways to find a living situation in NYC - don't just feel like you need to throw down on a 1 year lease the moment you land here.

And yes - this is particularly aimed at people who are from other countries, who may not have friends and relatives in NYC to crash with.

1. Where can I live?

You may want to live like a Gossip Girl but you probably are gonna end up like Max and Caroline (props if you get the reference). Don't feel like you need to live IN Manhattan. If you have a budget that can accommodate that - then go ahead. But trust me, with the subway system, you can pretty much live near JFK and still get to work on time (for reference, that's around 15 miles/25 KM - and I know because I've done it). As long as you get an apartment near (10 minutes walking) a subway line OR a bus stop, you will be fine. Look at Queens, Brooklyn - loads of people end up living in Jersey. Again, you'll be saving on rent a TON, even with the additional travel expense (Jersey isn't covered by the NYC subway system, passes are more expensive). I go to school near Grand Central, and I've lived an hour away and have been totally fine with making it to class/work.

2. Where do you find apartment listings?

There are three main places I think I've looked for apartments.

  • Craigslist (no, I'm not kidding)
      So since I looked for apartments last, I feel like the number of listings on CL has gone down. Maybe cause of all the new apps/sites? But I found my last living situation there and it was a beautiful apartment. Had some issues from the landlord end but I lived with 3 other perfectly nice girls in a HUGE 4 Bedroom, 2 bathroom in Bed-Sty. I also know a lot of friends who've found apartments/roommates from Craigslist. I will give you one piece of advice though - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Promises for 2 bedrooms for 1200 in Park Slope are a LIE. Also, if anyone asks you to wire them money/give you credit card details, don't do it. Sounds like stupid advice but trust me, I know some stupid people with stupid stories.
Try looking at apartments which have realtor numbers/management companies attached to them. A call is always better than a vague email. And if they have posted the exact address, put it into Google and see if it comes up on any other more legit sites like Zillow/Trulia. They will usually list a broker and a management company, along with better images/info about the house.
  • Apps/sites - Zillow, Trulia, Streeteasy, Naked
This is probably the safest way to rent out an apartment. There's a lot of information given about each apartment and it's often linked to a broker and a management agency. This way, you can call them immediately to schedule a viewing. And some brokers will have other listings you can look at if you don't like the one you see/don't get approved for it.
  • Facebook groups - Gypsy, NYC Roommatchers - there's loads if you just look. Some of these are private groups, but apply to them anyway.
The BEST place for leases and subleases. This is perfect if you want an interim situation for a few months while you're still house hunting. Write up a nice post about yourself, put a smiley picture up, state your budget and someone will probably be looking for roommates. Alternatively, people post roommate seeking ads which basically means that they have a house set up, and they want one person to come in to replace themselves or another roommate that is moving out.  More often than not, you'll have to sit down for a roommate interview with the other members of the house, to see if you fit in.
Be nice. Bring wine. Or beer. Or anything really. Free food is always appreciated.

Should I use a broker?

Brokers are agents that work for management companies that have apartment listings with them. They will also be in touch with the landlords of these apartments. So here's the deal. Brokers work on commission. That means that if you get approved for an apartment, they can charge you a fee (ALWAYS ask what their fee is before you work with them). It ranges from one month's rent to 12-15% annual rent (usually for fancier places - completely justified because you literally have the entire weight of house hunting lifted off - or if the broker is just a greedy <insert bad word> and wants to charge you a shit ton even if the apartment is a shoebox and he knows you can't afford it). SOMETIMES, apartments are listed as no fee. This means that the LANDLORD pays the broker fee, and you don't have to. These are usually for higher priced apartments or if the apartment has not been rented out because it's a horrible space/has violations/is a 20 min walk to the subway. Make sure you always find out if it's fee or no fee before hand - some brokers will double charge you.

I've worked with brokers twice - both were very nice people. One was a no fee apartment and one was a fee (the place I'm moving into now). Shoutout to my broker here, but she actually worked with us a TON and even gave us a discount on her fee because she knew we were spending a little more than we needed to on the apartment.

So it's up to you. If you are able to find a hit on CL or FB, no broker needed. If you're kinda desperate to move, and you don't have the resources/time to keep scouring the internet, or if no one is getting back to you, work with a broker. Find one online listed with an apartment and they can work with you till you get a place.


App fee - the application fee. Usually ranges for 50-100$, includes a credit check and bg check. This is non refundable, even if you get denied.

Credit Score - To all of you non-US citizens, a credit score is basically a score that tells you how responsible you are with your credit cards and loan payments. It denotes your financial history and basically tells the brokers/landlords if you are capable and responsible. BUT, being a foriegn student, most times you will NOT have a credit score and thus, you need a guarantor. The only way to rent an apartment with no credit score, being an international, is to pay like 6-12 months rent upfront. So...yeah.

Guarantor - A person that essentially guarantees that you will pay your rent for the year. There are financial and legal obligations, should anything go wrong, so if you EVER have to use a guarantor, make sure it's family or a close friend. They should be living in the US, ideally in the same state as you (but this wasn't the case for me) with a good credit score. This is the only way you can get a house/sign a lease, in my opinion, without paying a ton of rent upfront.

Good faith deposit - A lot of brokers need you to pay a deposit (ranges from half a month to one month's rent) along with your application to take the house off the market. Otherwise people can still apply for it and get approved really quickly - especially people with credit scores of their own.

Another tip - look up your potential apartment (after you get the address) on the NYC Buildings website. It tells you the past violations, complaints and status of the buildings. Learned this the HARD way.

I know this doesn't really cover EVERYTHING, but it's a decent amount of info if you've never house hunted here before and don't know what to expect. Again, this is all information that I have collected from my own experiences, maybe there are better ways to get apartments but this is perfect if you're looking for an apartment with a lower budget and don't know the ins and outs of landlords (in NYC, some of them are absolute predators).

Leave a comment below for any further questions that you have - I'll reply to them ASAP!

Post a Comment

© Seriously Noir.. Design by Fearne.