Apartment searching in New York City is an art.
Or, maybe its the apartments themselves that are an art. After all, most of us have zero idea as to what we’re looking at or why it’s so expensive but there’s always someone there assuring us of its value in undefinable terms.
Either way, it’s stressful.
When searching, you have to be aggressive enough to snatch up the latest listing yet patient enough to sift through a few lemons while waiting for the right space. Most importantly, you have to not be an idiot – which is, admittedly, something I am not innocent of.
I found my first apartment simply by walking around, door-to-door, with my then soon-to-be roommate. For us, this meant no broker fee and no security deposit – two bonuses almost unheard of in the Manhattan apartment hunt. However, while we obviously eventually lucked out, we initially encountered a few mishaps.
Here are a few of the NYC DO’s and DON’T’s of apartment hunting for the 20-something from both my experience and others':
1) DON’T Use A Broker.
Flailing about frantically, my original roommate and I first went out with a few brokers. They either showed us apartments completely out of our price range or ones in awful areas (see: Herald Square). Brokers also charge a fee that ranges anywhere from 10-15% of the yearly rent. If you’re older and more established, this cost might be worth it for the convenience. But if you’re a recent college grad, you can avoid these costs by putting in a bit of effort.
2) DON’T Be Afraid Of Craigslist.
If you’re weary of Craigslist: don’t be. I’m serious. Craigslist can be especially great for singles looking to move into a room in an already-established apartment (again, this usually indicates no fees). Just get your filter on and for the love of God, do NOT send anyone money through western union. I mean, come on.
3) DON’T Be Silly.
I had little knowledge regarding what the most reasonable Manhattan areas for a post-college kid to live in were. So when I misread “$30,000” a month for “$3,000” a month for a 3-bedroom on CENTRAL PARK SOUTH, I thought nothing of it. Actually, I thought “Wow what a great deal! Let’s go check this out ASAP. See? Idiot.
(And, duh, we obviously pretended we could afford it and took the private apartment tour in sneakers and tee shirts.)
1) DO Know Your Neighborhoods.
NYC is literally the most diverse place in the world. What most people don’t realize, though, is that the various neighborhoods can be just as unique as the people walking them. I always hear people claim “I could never live in New York – it’s too hectic, too packed,” and it makes me wonder if they’ve ever ventured outside of Midtown. Yes, it’s a city, not a suburb; but, that doesn’t mean you can’t find your own comfortable niche.
Take this Quiz to figure out the best 'hood for you, based character: http://www.timeout.com/newyork/things-to-do/new-york-neighborhood-quiz
Or Listen To Me!
- Pros Charming streets, more bars and coffee shops that you can count, the L train, NYU
- Cons Lack of Subway lines the farther east you go, few parks
- Pros Easy access to nightlife, EV, Chinatown and grunge art pop-ups
- Cons Lack of subway lines, higher tendency for pests and rodents, can be sketchy
- Pros High population of post grads, easily accessible, Bryant Park nearby
- Cons Loud, fratty, devoid of much character
- Pros Recently gayborized into a charming location, wine bars sprawl the area, restaurant row & the theatre district are a step away, solid subways (more coming)
- Cons SO close to Time Square… just so close. Also, farther west you go, less subways
- Pros Straddled by Central Park and Riverside Park, outlined in history, restaurants a’plenty, great transportation
- Cons Swarming with strollers, lacking in nightlife,
- Pros Parks, more bang-for-your-buck, teeming with diversity and culture, close to Columbia
- Cons Notably far from downtown, certain areas slightly sketchy
Upper East Side
- Pros growing population of 20-somethings, more bang-for-your-buck, decent amount of bars, easy to get downtown to EV and relatively easy to get to LES.
- Cons Less greenery than the West side, more compact and busy streets + the FDR blows
While I can’t speak too personally about living in/near the following, some other areas that 20-somethings gravitate toward happen to be: Williamsburg, Bushwick, Astoria, Greenpoint, Dumbo
2) DO Go Door-to-Door
Once you have a neighborhood (or 2 or 3) in mind, go venture around. Take the subway to gage the location’s accessibility and keep an eye out for areas that make you feel at home -whether it’s a coffee shop, a club, or a running trail is up to you to figure out. While strolling around the neighborhoods of your choosing, you’ll likely find brokerage signs at walk-ups with availability. Take the number down and call them! Additionally, most high-rises have a full-time leasing office and are friendly to walk-ins.
3) DO Know Your Priorities
Do you need a washer/dryer and a doorman? Or, would you rather skip the amenities and put your money toward a bit more of a charming neighborhood? If you work in the Financial District, do you really want to live there, too? Alternatively, if you live on the Upper East, will you be okay with the 30+ minute subway commute every morning downtown? There is no right or wrong answer; just be honest with yourself. Consider your financial constraints and personal preferences and try to envision your Monday-Friday as well as your Sat-Sun. NYC is a loud place, too, so be cognizant of nearby tunnels, bridges and hospitals that may make for a very noisy night’s sleep.
Of course, the most important thing, really, is to be open-minded and ready for an adventure. All New Yorkers share the common struggles involved with living atop one another and sometimes feeling entirely overwhelmed by an inundation of unwelcomed noises, smells and sights – it is what makes New York, New York. You have to take the good with the bad; and, sometimes, you have to take the bad before you can figure out the good.
If you stick with it long enough, though, you may just find yourself feeling at home in the greatest city on earth. I'd say that's worth a shot!