You already know that New York City is like no other place in the country, if not the world. You may not know--but will quickly discover--that this is also true of the rental market here. If you're planning to move to glorious Gotham, don't do it blindly. Here are the top five reasons the apartment hunt is different in the Naked City.
1. The season matters a lot: With the annual influx of college grads starting new jobs in the city, New York is arguably a more seasonal rental market than elsewhere. That means that in the peak spring and summer months, you'll face steeper rents and more competition for apartments. If you can't push off your move to fall or winter, at least try to schedule moving day for the middle of the month, when moving companies have less business and may offer you a discount.
2. We have these little things called broker's fees: Unlike almost anywhere else, here in New York City, we often pay for the privilege of finding an apartment. If you find a rental advertised on a listings website like Craigslist or StreetEasy, and it doesn't specifically say "no fee," chances are you'll pay anywhere from an extra month of rent up to 15 percent of a year's rent to the broker marketing the apartment.
To lower your costs, try to negotiate the fee, or sign up for the corporate relocation rate--usually around 10% of a year's rent--offered to BrickUndergrounders by our partner, TripleMint, a tech-friendly brokerage founded by two young Yale grads determined to improve the typically hair-raising NYC apartment hunting experience.
Another money-saving option: Search for "low fee" apartments only on rental search site Naked Apartments, a BrickUnderground sponsor.
Finally, it isn't impossible to find a no-fee apartment. Slap on some elbow grease and study up here on how other renters have done it. Tried-and-true techniques include calling a building's management company directly, shopping in new developments, subletting an apartment until the lease runs out and then renewing directly with the landord, and searching through websites that have a lot of no-fee listings (we've rounded up the best of them here).
3. Listings are full of white lies: Roosevelt Island becomes the Upper East Side; a convertible two-bedroom is really a one-bedroom with a tiny office; "cozy," obviously, means small. We're guessing that even listings in Duluth, Minn., bend the truth, but the extent of the subterfuge in a pricey market like New York is on a different scale.
To get around the broker hyperbole, put more stock in readily available, objective information. Look at floor plans to get a sense of the layout and size of an apartment, Google the address to find out exactly where it is, and read up on neighborhood blogs for a clearer picture of what an area is really like. (You may want to check out our Confessions of a Neighborhood Blogger series, or our Transitions column, where New Yorkers dish on moving from one neighborhood to another.) You can also look up crime stats on the NYPD's official website.
4. Don't assume you can build a wall: Lots of young (and not so young) New Yorkers are able to pay this city's outrageous rents because they split up bedrooms and living rooms with temporary walls, cramming more people in to less space. But beware: buildings have begun cracking down on them.
Be sure to ask your broker or management company if they're allowed before you plan to move into a place and start putting up a wall. Most buildings will still allow bookshelf walls (yes, that is a real thing). But it's worth checking on those too before you sign a lease.
5. You'll probably need a guarantor: Most landlords here require that tenants earn an annual salary of 40 to 50 times the monthly rent. If you don't, they'll ask for a guarantor who lives in the tri-state area and makes 80 to 100 times the rent to promise to pay the balance of your lease if you stop sending the rent checks.
Instead of a guarantor, some landlords will accept a higher security deposit (say, two to six months of rent) or prepayment of part of the first year's rent. Note that rent-stabilized buildings, which include many newer rental buildings, are not allowed to take a higher security deposit.
In either situation, you may be able to use a service like Insurent, which acts as a professional guarantor for tenants with clean credit histories. You'll pay about 80 percent of a month's rent if you have U.S. credit and 110 percent of a month's rent if you are foreign with no U.S. credit record.