We’re always on the move. That’s what New Yorker’s do. We move around New York City, but we never move out of it. We move across the hall. We move to different apartments in the same building. We move blocks down the street. We even move to new neighborhoods. New York City is cluttered with overflowing U-Haul trucks, sidewalks covered in unwanted mattresses and couches, and brokers eager to prey on unsuspecting customers. Narrow staircases are overtaken by Ikea furniture. Elevators are constantly covered in protective pads. In New York City, it often seems like there’s always someone moving in or out.
Cities are made of buildings, and New York City seemed to have many. In a city of endless options, where do you begin? When it comes to finding an apartment, decide on your deal breakers—those things you will not budge on—and accept that the other issues are negotiable. A doorman is an icon of New York City living, but luxury comes at a price. Outdoor space is shared and Central Park is most New Yorker’s playground. Fake walls are in and washer and dryers are out. What follows are some tips to help guide you and save you time and money:
It’s All About Timing
When it comes to moving, timing is everything. In New York City, relationships progress because leases expire in the same month and couples move in together. Apartments become available when a job is lost on Wall Street. Timing your move may lead to that dream apartment. The summer is the most difficult time to move in Manhattan because that’s when students and recent graduates look for apartments. With competition at a high, demand increases and supply decreases. If possible, wait until late fall or winter to move. Once the busy summer months end, buildings are eager to dissolve of any remaining inventory and the same apartments are often offered at lower prices.
Check All The Sites
In New York City, the real estate market speaks its own language—L-shaped studios, junior 4’s, open lofts, convertible 3-bedrooms. Apartments come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Learn to speak the native tongue and familiarize yourself with the options before you proceed. Will you need a fake wall? The cost to put up a fake wall is roughly $1,000. Some buildings do not permit fake walls, but will allow the alternative—floor to ceiling bookshelves from Ikea. Ask questions and be aware of additional costs. Do your due diligence; the Internet offers a variety of free websites with information on buildings, management companies, and pricing:
Classifieds. Craigslist (www.craigslist.com) is an informal website in which independent people post information about available apartments all around the city. Use this site to find a non-doorman building, loft/artist spaces, or to rent from an owner directly. Posts are submitted by independents and listings are sometimes incomplete (missing pictures of the apartment, exact location) and/or incorrect.
No-Fee Sites. Nestseekers (www. Nestseekers.com), Streeteasy (www.streeteasy.com), Cityrealty (www.cityrealty.com), Aboveground Realty (www.abovegroundrealty.com) and No Fee Rentals (www.nofeerentals.com) provide lists of no-fee apartments (no brokerage fee) across Manhattan. Use these sites to find apartments in smaller buildings with fewer amenities. Aboveground Realty is a great site for loft-style apartments.
Management Companies. Specific management company websites—Rose Associates, The Related Company and Archstone Apartments—are helpful to determine specific buildings to target in specific neighborhoods. Most buildings listed on the sites are full-service, doorman buildings. Sometimes you can avoid a brokerage fee if you contact the management company directly as opposed to going through a broker.
Brokerage Companies. Corcoran, Citi-Habitats, and Prudential Elliman list all active apartments in the market on their respective sites. Most listings include pictures of the apartment and information is updated frequently and maintained well. Use of a broker generally requires you to pay a brokerage fee (usually equivalent to one month’s rent).
Move Your Plot Line
What are the three most important things about real estate? Location, Location, Location. If you want to live there, everyone else probably does too. In New York City, space is limited. Developers pay a premium to build in the heart of any neighborhood and you will pay a premium to live there. Decide where you want to live but do not limit yourself too much. Look at apartments a few blocks or avenues north, east, south and west of your ideal area. Buildings with similar amenities and characteristics are available for a much lower price if you’re willing to live a few blocks farther from the subway line.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
New York City is a walking city. We often meet friends for a “walk,” an activity itself. Women parade the city in business suits and sneakers. We’re always on the go. Put on your sneakers (or your most comfortable ballet flats) and start walking. You can cover a lot of ground on foot. Stop in every building you pass and talk to the doormen and residents. The tales of a New York City doorman are endless. They know all the gossip—who’s dating who, who’s looking for a job, and most importantly, who’s moving out and needs to rent their apartment. Leave your contact information with the doorman. Ask them to advise you if anything becomes available and take their card so you can follow up. Doormen are a great resource for information about apartments before they’re on the market.
Use All Your Assets
A variety of (free) resources are available and at your disposal. The Internet or a simple phone call is often all you need. Many apartment buildings require use of a broker in order to view an apartment. There’s always someone eager to capitalize on your need to move. If you find an apartment through the use of a broker, you will be charged for their services. Consider it a finders-fee. Can you see the apartment without going through a broker? Sometimes. Use Property Shark (www.propertyshark.com) or search online (Google is a great tool) to find out who owns the building. Contact the owner directly and ask to see the apartment without a broker. Sometimes the owner will allow you to view the apartment on your own, but sometimes contracts prohibit it.
Competition is Fierce – Be Prepared
Manhattan is a competitive and aggressive place. We steal cabs in the rain. We rush to close the elevator door. You feel as if you’ve won the Lotto if you find a seat on the subway. The apartment hunt is equally as competitive and every advantage helps.
Be prepared and gather the essentials ahead of time. Bring all of the necessary paperwork with you when you view apartments. Once you find an apartment, you will have the paperwork ready and can lock it up fast. Almost all landlords/owners will require the following: copy of photo ID, a letter of employment, two most recent pay stubs, most recent tax return, and a blank check for the deposit. In order to lock up an apartment, most buildings require that a tenant’s income is at least 40-45X the monthly rent of the apartment. Most landlords allow you to use a guarantor (usually a parent) to co-sign the lease if your income isn’t that high. Plan ahead and have a guarantor in mind if you think you will need to use one. The application process is fast and you need to be ready to submit an application on the spot. That way, when the time comes, you’ll be ready and able to make your move.