Tips for Apartment Hunting in New York City

Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
Alex Mellon / © Culture Trip
Photo of Ashley Jones
28 February 2019

So, you’ve finally decided to crack open that piggy bank labeled ‘NYC Fund’ that you’ve spent months, possibly years, filling to use to move to the Big Apple. Though moving to New York may seem like an endeavour similar to finding an apartment anywhere else in the U.S., there is a competitive nature not comparable to any other city. With hundreds, even thousands of hopefuls attempting to make their way to the city, many individuals, in their eagerness and excitement, fail to realize NYC’s astronomical cost of living, hefty broker fees, and are rather uneducated concerning safe and desirable neighborhoods. Let these 10 tips be your written spirit guide in assisting you with successfully finding the perfect apartment.

Begin your search early

Don’t plan your big move the week or the night before. Moving to NYC is a pretty significant affair, and preparation is of the utmost importance. While you may think any neighborhood in New York is good enough for you, think again. Though most areas have been redeveloped, there are still many parts that aren’t as desirable, aren’t affordable, or simply not accessible enough to your necessary destinations. Be sure to begin researching neighborhoods of interest, and apartments in those areas, at least a month in advance. Utilize sites such as Streeteasy, RentHop, Naked Apartments, and Zillow to begin searching for affordable apartments that suit your needs in the regions you desire.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Wait until after the hectic summer months

Apartment searching in New York during the summer is incredibly chaotic, so if you can avoid it, do so. In the summer, college grads hungry for jobs (and more debt, apparently) pour into the city while families with greater flexibility in their schedules begin looking for humble abodes. As a result of greater demand, prices typically sky rocket. If it is possible for you to postpone your NYC dreams until November, do so. Though there may not be as many options available as there were in the summer months, the competition will have declined, providing more room for negotiation. If you’re tolerable of passing up a few holidays with the family to conduct your search, your sanity and your wallet will be spared.

Know your budget

As previously mentioned, the cost of living in New York is drastically different from many other locations. A great first step to understand your budget is to utilize a COL calculator that allows you to estimate what your salary in your hometown would be if you were in New York or vice versa. For example, although you may have an offer in New York for $70,000, the equivalent of this salary in your hometown of Pittsburgh would only be $30,000. Prior to moving, ensure that your savings or your established NYC salary is enough to cover rent, groceries, and transportation. It’s important to determine a set range of affordable monthly rent as you conduct your search.

Consider finding a roommate

So you’re an independent go-getter set on taking on the city and ‘making it’ on your own, eh? Well it’s time to swallow your pride and blow out that candle of dignity because having a roommate is often the key to success in New York. In Manhattan, even studios are often difficult to find under the $1,500 mark, so finding someone willing to help take half the expense is ideal. When finding a roommate, whether it’s a lifelong friend or someone you found in an online forum, be sure to agree on specific terms concerning location, cost, and manner of living. You don’t want to live for an entire year with someone totally incompatible or untrustworthy.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Research neighborhoods of interest

It’s incredibly important that you feel comfortable, safe, and accessible in your new NYC neighborhood. While research is at your fingertips with technology, it is incredibly important and highly recommended that you physically investigate your areas of interest at different times of the day and speak with locals concerning the general opinion of the area. While a street may seem cozy at 3pm, does it still maintain that appealing and harmless atmosphere at 8pm after dark? Additionally, be sure that the area is within budget, easy to navigate, and your commute to grocery stores and work is as undemanding as possible.

Keep an eye out for ‘no broker fee’ specials

If it is within your budget, your best gamble for finding the perfect apartment would be to find a trusted broker. Even if you don’t seek a broker to assist you, odds are the apartments you find yourself and wish to view require a broker fee should you decide to sign the lease. Broker fees are the sharks in the shallow water of apartment searching in NYC, with most brokers requiring a fee between 8.5 percent and 17 percent of the annual rent. If your wallet isn’t quite fat enough, you can search for listings without broker fees. However, this will drastically limit your search.

Schedule viewings as soon as possible

If you come across apartments that produce the little twinkle in your eye, act quickly. Even if you’ve taken the previous advice and have postponed your search to the winter season, competition is simply less, not non-existent. Provide your contact information and schedule a viewing. Although it may seem like you can reserve this process for the weekend, remember that buildings only show available units during regular weekday hours. When you arrive to view the apartment, be sure to assess the unit’s water pressure, cell phone reception, storage, and always inquire about bed bugs!

Have your paperwork…And your money ready

If you have scheduled a viewing and the apartment is of incredible interest to you, have your paperwork and the down payment handy. The phrase ‘New York Minute’ is no joke when it comes to renting an apartment. Odds are if you’re incredibly interested in the place, at least ten others are too. If you view the apartment and everything checks out, you may sincerely wish to fill out the application for the apartment right then and there. If you plan on acting quickly, you’ll need to have your bank statements, a photocopy of your ID, a job offer letter, as well as a check for the first month’s rent and security deposit in tow.

Alex Mellon / | © Culture Trip

Keep an open mind

An astonishing amount of television shows and popular movies give the impression that all New York apartments are lavish lofts with tons of space and an artistic ambiance. Not to disillusion any dreamers, but the reality of the New York apartment differs a tad. Affordable apartments are typically quite small, often less than 750 square feet, and lack amenities such as washing machines and dishwashers. Additionally, the average rent in the city has climbed in recent years to roughly $3,000. If you are looking for units with more space, amenities, and a cost-effective component, Brooklyn may be the borough for you. Just remember to compare the good and the bad, and to always find the silver lining.


If you couldn’t tell, the overall tone of this list is one of urgency. For those of you earnest in making NYC your home, remain resolute in your search of an apartment. Do your research, get your ducks in a row, and most importantly, move as quickly, yet efficiently, as possible.

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