Photo Credit / Julien Lagarde
So you're about to move to one of the greatest cities in the world, where you will soon have said world at your fingertips. Everything you'd want in terms of culture, dining, shopping, education, cosmetic procedures and bespoke cocktails is right here. Plus, you'll never have to own a car again.
But with all of the perks of living in New York City come some downsides--such as the high cost of living and our insanely expensive, competitive real estate market.
The first thing you should know is that you'll likely pay double the rent for half the space you'd get in other cities (similarly, a one-bedroom here sells for the cost of a McMansion in other parts of the country). But we still think it's worth it (and the suburbs aren't cheap anyway).
Whether you're looking to rent or buy, here's how to think like a New Yorker and hit the ground running:
1. There's a lot more to a neighborhood than meets the eye
Every one of the boroughs (there are five, by the way) has more and less desirable neighborhoods.
Oftentimes being on the fringe of some of the city's most popular neighborhoods translates into better deals for both buyers and renters. Some of our favorite examples are in the East 70s, 80s and 90s on York Avenue and First Avenue (on the fringe of the Upper East Side), and the Upper 20s, west of Eighth Avenue, just on the edge of Chelsea.
Keep in mind that brokers sometimes will fudge a neighborhood to make an apartment seem more desirable. Find out the exact location of the apartment and Google it (or consult this Wikipedia entry). You'll find out whether it's really in the neighborhood the broker claims.
To learn more about a prospective neighborhood online, visit real estate listings site StreetEasy.com for neighborhood-by-neighborhood overviews including a brief description, schools, median sales and rental prices and listings of apartments for rent and sale. Simply type the name of the neighborhood into the upper righthand search box on the main page and then click on the neighborhood link on the next page. (For example, here are the pages for the Upper West Side, Upper East Side, and the Flatiron District).
Neighborhood blogs are also a great way to get a sense of what's new and what's happening in a particular neighborhood. Google around, and check out our Confessions of a Neighborhood Blogger series. Also peruse our Transitions columns, which are first-person accounts of real New Yorkers' experiences moving from one neighborhood to another.
Some questions to ask yourself (and any broker you're working with) include:
- How convenient is the area when it comes to subways? If you're more than a 5- or 10-minute walk from the train, is there a bus nearby? Also, how easy is it to get taxis? Keep in mind that even neighborhoods with great access to transportation can see major delays and detours on weekends, so if you work on weekends or plan to go out a lot, you may want to check mta.info for details on planned construction.
- What are your food options? If you can't boil water, or are just dying to take advantage of the city's culinary scene, you'll want to move into a place with a lot of great restaurants (check blogs like Eater to get a sense of hot foodie neighborhoods). But if you love to cook or want to save some cash on food, make sure there's a supermarket somewhere nearby. Bodegas and small, specialty supermarkets abound in New York City but they can get pretty pricey. On the bright side, our FreshDirect food delivery service reaches much of the city (and will even deliver to a 5th floor walk-up apartment).
- What are the schools like? If you are moving here with kids that you plan on sending to public school, your real estate search will take on an additional layer of complexity. Read our Parent's Guide to Buying and Renting in NYC and sort out your school options before zeroing in on an apartment. (You can actually hire a consultant for assistance parsing your public and/or private school educational options.) Real estate search-site StreetEasy includes public school zoning information with all their listings; for more school info, go to the Department of Education's web page. From there you can find out statistics about your zoned school and more. You might also want to check for non-zoned charter schools and private schools.
- What's the nightlife like? If you're moving to the city to party, you'll want to be in a bar-on-every-corner type of neighborhood. In Manhattan, that includes the East Village, Murray Hill and the Lower East Side. If you're not looking for nightlife, these neighborhoods can be loud and crowded on the weekends. Ask around and look around to see if you see a few too many bars in the area for your liking, and return in the 10pm-2am timeframe on a Friday or Saturday night to get a sense of the vibe.
- What evacuation zone are you in? New York has had two hurricane scares in two years and both forced evacuations of people living in Zone A. It's something to consider--both from a temporary disruption perspective if your building isn't damaged, and a far bigger upheaval if it is.
- How safe is a neighborhood? You can always check the official NYC website for crime statistics, but the best way to get a sense of how comfortable single women/kids/others feel in the neighborhood is to ask someone who lives there.
- How easy is it to find a parking spot? The answer is New York City is probably not very. But you can ask residents, brokers and even doormen in a particular building. That is if you plan to have a car (which, again, you probably don't need). Get familiar with alternate-side-of-the-street parking regulations; in Brooklyn, you'll wind up having to move your car less frequently than in Manhattan. If you decide to park your car in a garage, be sure to factor monthly fees into your monthly nut; in Manhattan, $400-500/month is not unusual. Some garages in prime spots charge as much as $800-900/month.
2. Money can't buy you everything
Renters: Just because you can afford an apartment doesn't mean you'll qualify to rent it.
Most NYC landlords require that a tenant earn 40-50 times the monthly rent. If you don't, they'll require you to have a guarantor who makes 80-100 times the monthly rent and who promises to pay the balance of your lease if you default.
If that's not possible, or if you or your guarantor are from overseas, you may be able to use a guarantor service like Insurent instead; their income and employment requirements are significantly less strict, though you'll still need to have a clean credit record.
Buyers: Even if your finances are in tip-top shape, if you're planning on buying a co-op, you'll have to get past a co-op board first--and board requirements go way beyond finances.
For an overview on everything you need to know as a first time buyer, consult BrickUnderground's How to Buy a NYC Apartment. Board-interview-wise, read here for insider-tips, and check out our Big Fat Board Interview series for real-life stories.
3. Brokers charge fees in New York
Renters: Believe it or not, here in New York City, renters pay broker fees (I know, my friends from other parts of the country couldn't believe it either when they moved here).
While there are rentals that come without broker fees (and websites dedicated to helping you find them), they tend to either be in less-than-great shape or higher-end "luxury" apartments where the landlord either employs their own leasing agents or pays the fees of outside brokers.
Brokers frequently charge 15 percent of the yearly rent as their fee, but that can sometimes be negotiated down to around 12 percent or even one month, especially if you're willing to move fast on an apartment.
Another option: Pay the lowest possible fees (in most cases, around 10% of one-year's rent versus 15%) by tapping into the network of smart, competent rental agents curated by our friends at Suitey.com.
Suitey co-founders Philip Lang and David Walker (a pair of young Yale grads so sincere and self-effacing you'll want to adopt them, marry them or marry them off) have agreed to pair BrickUndergrounders with their handpicked network of agents who have been quietly procuring apartments for Ivy League grads and new hires of tech companies--Suitey's sweet spots since launching two years ago. You'll save enough money to buy a sofa (or two or three) and avoid common NYC rental agent shenanigans like these.
Buyers: Sellers pay a broker's fee that is typically 6 percent, divided 50-50 between the buyer’s broker and the seller's broker. The good news is that it means buyers don't pay a fee. The bad news: those fees are probably reflected in the seller's asking price on the apartment.
4. Buyers: Don't forget about carrying costs
Buying a co-op is not like buying a house. Technically you're not buying the unit but a certain number of shares of the cooperation and you have to pay for the maintenance of the building each month. So in addition to your monthly mortgage payments, you'll have a maintenance too. Keep that in mind when budgeting, and know that maintenances typically increase a few percentage points each year.
The "maintenance" fees for condos are referred to as common charges. Many newer developments received property tax abatements which keep property taxes abnormally low for a number of years--make sure you know what you're getting, and have a realistic estimate of what taxes could be when a property tax abatement ends. For more information, read up on tax abatements in our How to Buy a NYC Apartment guide.
5. Not all rentals are in rental buildings
Renting an apartment in a rental building is not the same thing as renting an apartment in a co-op or condo building. The latter will probably be a bit nicer in terms of appliances, finishes and potentially the building itself, but there is a lot more red tape involved (especially co-ops, where you'll have to be approved by the co-op board too), higher application fees, and, frequently, restrictions on how long you may rent.
For more information, see Tips for Renting a Non-Rental.
6. Cash is king
Renters: When you rent an apartment, prepare to have a lot of cash handy (usually in the form of a bank-certified check). You'll need to pay the broker fee as well as usually one month's security deposit and first month's rent within a few days of signing your lease.
If you’re looking for a rental toward the high end of your budget (and you don’t quite make the 40-times-the- monthly-rent minimum), some landlords will still offer you the apartment if you pay a few months up front in cash. Check to make sure it’s not a scam before you cough up any large amount of cash (here are some tips to protect yourself).
Buyers: Due to strict financing requirements that have created a constant cloud of uncertainty over whether or not a mortgage will issued, the ability to offer all cash will put you at the front of the line when it comes to buying an apartment here. Bonus: You don't have to deal with the headaches of getting a mortgage.
7. Your housing options will be more limited if you have a dog--especially a big one
Many co-op, condo and rental buildings in New York either prohibit pets outright or have limits on the weight and breed of dogs permitted, so check before you sign anything. (If you have a big dog, consult this post.).
Also note that since you won't have outdoor space, nearby parks and dog runs can be invaluable and just like buildings, some neighborhoods are more pet-friendly than others.
Keep in mind your animal's personality when looking for an apartment. Does your Yorkie freak out at the sound of footsteps? Better forget the first-floor apartment then. Is he getting on in years and having trouble holding it in? In that case, the first-floor might be better than the 38th.
If you're looking to buy a co-op, your pet will have to pass muster with the board. Sometimes that'll include an "interview" with the pet, but usually it's a pretty straightforward process.
8. Descriptions can be deceiving
Sure, we'd like to believe brokers' listings are entirely truthful, but we're a bit more realistic than that. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- "Luxury" doesn't always mean that. Some "luxury" buildings can seem like tired old 1960s sets, with a few doormen and a parking garage.
- "Cozy" usually means so small you can't fit yourself and your clothes inside.
- "Charming" can actually translate more into "dilapidated," which means that old world charm will likely need a new world makeover.
- "Unique" means a seriously strange layout, or worse.
- "Quiet" can mean it overlooks an airshaft/brick wall.
- Some additional "bedrooms" are not legally zoned that way... meaning, they don't actually have windows (can you say glorified closet?).
- If they don't mention a doorman or laundry facilities there probably isn't one. Same is true about elevators.