The hunt for the perfect New York City apartment is nothing short of miserable. I thank Friends and Sex and the City for wildly distorting my views of what a Manhattan apartment actually looks like but alas, I have leveled with the reality of the renting situation: I will overpay to live in a shoebox by any other standards. There are three ways to go about finding apartments in the city:
- Pay a broker anywhere from 7 to 15 percent of annualized rent. The whole broker game is infuriating. Not only are you willing to throw money away by renting instead of paying a mortgage and therefore building equity, but you have to pay someone to find you an apartment to commence hemorrhaging said money.
- Search no-fee listings on Craigslist, NYBits or any other site you can find. This option is tedious, time-consuming and will make you go crazy.
- Serve as a butler for 30 years until a rich family wills you two apartments in the Dakota (John Lennon’s old digs). This might be your best option.
Option 1 is pretty straightforward and becoming popular as summer is a high demand renting season due to recent graduates moving into the city. Working with a broker typically allows some sanity to the process so that they can pre-screen certain buildings and tailor the search to your desired amenities. Brokers also have access to certain buildings that normal people don’t, which will become apparent in your search. Though this sounds wonderful, it comes at a nasty fee of one month’s rent or more. That’s probably at least $1,000 if you’re looking in Manhattan.
The second option sounds great because of its no-fee nature but it will turn you into a neurotic Tim Burton character. Sifting through the no-fee apartments listed on Craigslist is like trying to hail a cab on New Year’s Eve. You will go shamelessly chasing after them, only to realize the entire jig is being driven by a gypsy who won’t get you where you want to go. Too metaphoric? Basically, the Craigslist apartment search is cruel. Brokers will cancel times they were supposed to meet with you 15 minutes after you showed up. You will be promised an apartment is a no-fee listing only to discover it comes with a nice finder’s fee attached. The pictures you saw online will suddenly morph into the ugly older step-sister and resemble nothing to the ad described online. The price and start date will sometimes change from the listing. A very blissful experience, really. Since NYC doesn’t sell many cars, brokers have evolved as the city’s used car salesmen. They will lie, cheat and steal, but are typically dressed in better attire than a plaid polyester suit (look to hipsters for that fashion statement).
Though the online search game has no rules, we will still use it, shambling after the dream of a good deal. If you decide to take this route I recommend adding some methodology to the madness. My roommates and I made a master excel spreadsheet to track all appointments, addresses and brokers we were going to see. Make sure all appointments are meeting at the apartment specified in the listing, not at an office (they will try to get you to sign paperwork with their realtors and possibly tie you to a fee). This is also beneficial because sometimes multiple brokers show the same apartment, so you can easily see if you have been to that listing already if the address is the same. Be sure you ask five times if it is a true no-fee listing because sometimes the answer changes. Take the following conversation for example: Is this a no-fee listing? “You bet; no fee!” Really? That’s great! “I only show no-fee apartments these days!” Are you sure? “Well, there is the standard $100 credit check.” Ok, anything else? “Well, my company also charges $500 for an application per applicant.” Now you’re up to $600 per person and you’re supposed to be looking at a no-fee apartment!
Just because you don’t have a broker doesn’t mean you can’t do research on your own about the building’s history. You can look up building code violations at the New York Department of Housing Preservation & Development website to see a full history of violations ranging from mice infestations to plumbing issues. Google the management company and see what reviews say. These are incredibly simple steps that can help save you from a NYC’d sob story involving rats, flooding or something equally horrific!
As for living in the Dakota— check back with me in 30 years.