5 Tips For Finding an Apartment in New York City

We are currently deciding if we are going to stay in our current apartment or move elsewhere.

For anyone who already lives in New York, you know how complicated moving can be. It’s not as easy as loading up your own car/truck and driving it over to a new place.

Moving around the city is probably the most frustrating process about living here. You usually can’t find a place until about three weeks before you move in because they don’t have openings until then. Then when you finally can see apartments, you’re running around town, trying to beat out other applicants and meeting with aggressive realtors at weird hours of the day. SO MUCH FUN!

The thing is it really shouldn’t be that hard — and it doesn’t have to be if you follow some of these tips I’ve learned after living in SIX different places in the past three years. I clearly have yet to find something that suits all of my needs, but in New York, you gotta take the good with the bad.

1. Know there is no such thing as a perfect apartment

Well, there is, but it is most likely millions of dollars and reserved for people who look like they once starred on Gossip Girl. You have to have the most open of open minds when apartment hunting. If the kitchen is actually in the living room, but the rent is cheap and on a good block, so be it. You’ll never find a place that looks exactly like what you pictured, and that might be the hardest pill to swallow.

2. Avoid paying a fee

I’ve heard so many of my friends here talking about paying ginormous fees for someone to essentially unlock the door to the apartment they’re viewing. Realtors usually receive one month’s rent or 15% of your total rent cost for the year just for showing you the place if you decide to move in. I have yet to cough up a fee to anyone who has shown me an apartment and I hope I never have to because there are ways around it. I mean, yes, we all have to survive here — even realtors — but I’m essentially too underpaid and knowledgable to be taken advantage of at this point (and think you should be too!).

MORE: A Letter to Someone Considering a Move to New York City

3. Go directly to the management

Which leads me to my next point — avoid the realtors altogether and walk into the building you want to tour. This obviously will only work for high-rise or doorman buildings who usually have leasing offices on site. They should be happy to show you around and give you an idea of what they have to offer. That is how we found our current apartment and the process could not have been smoother. We even secured the place two months before we moved in. Talk about no stress!

4. Look on StreetEasy and Craigslist

I can hear you now!: Craigslist?! Are you trying to get me killed?! 

It’s actually the route I’d suggest most if you’re new to the city and have no friends/roommates. You definitely should not be paying a fee because they’re usually listed by the current tenant who is looking to fill a room. The best advice I can give for looking on Craigslist is to have good judgement and be willing to live with strangers (who you should absolutely meet in person) and never sign a place without seeing it in person first.

StreetEasy is an apartment site I like to use most because you can search for no-fee apartments and really customize what you are searching for. The realtors also seem to respond very quickly to make appointments.

5. Look early

This last bit of advice will probably give me some bad karma down the road, but we are living in New York and nothing is really fair anyway. If you’re deciding between staying at your current place and leaving for somewhere else, I recommend sniffing out the situation.

To get a feel for what’s available, the size of different units, how much you can get for how much you’re paying — set up appointments to see places before you’re ready to move. Because you usually have to give 60 days notice at your current place, that means you have to get a feel for other places two months before you give your notice. As I mentioned before, apartments only open a couple weeks before you can move, which means you usually have to tell your current place you’re leaving long before you can start searching. For example, our move out date is Aug 15. We have to tell our landlord if we are staying or not by June 22. If I go online now to search for apartments, they only have options available for July 1.

In life I’ve learned to try my best to avoid all panic attacks so I do what I need to in order to stay sane.

If you’re still with me, this means you need to lie when you book appointments and say your move-in date is sooner than it really is just so you can get in the door and take a little peek. Some say you’re wasting your time and the realtor’s time, but there’s only one way to see what else you can afford, and with the market being so intense, I don’t feel bad. It’s helped us to rule out so many locations and buildings that we might have thought were great down the road and left our current place for. I’m thankful I can better prepare myself by getting a look at what else we can afford before we pull the cord on our own place.

MORE: ‘Your Rent Costs What?!’ And Other Questions People Ask Me About Living in New York

But play the games as you will! Just make sure you don’t get caught in your own web (so many realtors know each other). And again, if you’re looking at a high-rise building, they typically can see further out for their openings and might be able to show you places that are actually available when you need them to be.

It is all such an exhausting journey, but there’s really nothing like moving into a neighborhood you love and feeling a little bit more at home in the end.

If you have any more questions about moving (or my little tricks), I’d love to help! What are your tips for searching for a new place? Comment below.

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