Whether you're new to New York or just haven't looked for a no fee apartment in awhile, one of the rudest shocks is how many New York City apartment rentals require you to pay a broker's fee, typically 12 to 15% of a year's rent.
Handing over several thousand dollars or more to a broker can make sense if it's your first time at the rodeo and you need help navigating the rental market (read this first ), you don't have time to DIY, can't find what you want on your own , and/or you're planning to stay put for a couple of years or longer.
But if you've got the time and perseverance to do the legwork yourself, there are plenty of options. To get started, here's Brick Underground's annual update (originally posted on 5/27/15) of the best free places to kick off your no-fee apartment search online. The websites listed below get their no-fee listings directly from landlords, management companies,brokers whose fee is being paid by the landlord, and sometimes even renters themselves. Some list both fee- and no-fee rentals but let you filter your search to display no-fee listings only.
You'll likely need to wade through some duplicates, but to truly get the most bang for your buck, searching on several different sites is an essential part of the process. Here are the ones you should hit:
A third of the listings on NYC-centric Naked Apartments are for no-fee rentals
. To search, click on the "Filter" button at the top of the screen and select "No Fee". (There's also a "low fee" filter that pulls up rentals with broker's fees of 9 percent or less.) Would-be renters interested in Brooklyn and Queens, take note: Of the many rental sites out there, Naked Apartments offers a wider variety of outer borough options and is a great jumping off point for the young and cash-strapped.
To help ensure listings are legit, Naked Apartments (a BrickUnderground sponsor that has hooked up thousands of BrickUndergrounders with apartments) verifies brokers' licensing information, checks utility bills and public records for management companies and landlords, and bans agents who post inaccurate or bait-and-switch listings.
Other helpful features: To keep you from having to trawl through a dozen different listings of the same apartment, Naked Apartments groups duplicate listings all in one place, allowing you to choose which broker to contact (i.e. when the landlord is paying the broker's fee) based on reviews from former clients (brokers can't delete these from the site), and compare apartment descriptions (seeing how different agents describe the same apartment is a great hack for separating hyperbole from starker reality) as well as broker response time and fees if any. See a place you like? Click the "contact now" or "schedule a viewing" button to set up an in-person visit ASAP. There's also an iPhone and iPad app
so you can take your search on the road.
A classic—but no frills—option, NYBits is unusual in that it deals primarily in no-fee listings; around 80 percent of the rentals on their site are no-fee. (And their no-fee rental search tool
is front and center on the site to help you find them.)
While the site's search tool lets you choose among Manhattan's neighborhoods, to search in the outer boroughs, your best bet is to head to the site's "neighborhoods" feature, which lets you select neighborhoods within the borough, then see an overview featuring a map of the area, its selected no-fee rental buildings (and their property managers' contact information), and the listings currently available. (Pro tip: even if there isn't an apartment immediately available, it's smart to contact property managers of the buildings you like, so you can be first in line when something opens up.)
To improve accuracy, NYBits publishes addresses for every listing (this helps cut down on duplicates), and sometimes forces expiration dates for listings to ensure they're not being used as a bait and switch.
Has the site earned its reputation as a haven for creeps as well as bait-and-switch listings? Most certainly. But there's no denying that Craigslist is still one of the most widely-used sources for budget-friendly—and often, no-fee—listings. (True story: this is where one Brick editor's friend found the ultimate unicorn: a rent-stabilized, dog-friendly Williamsburg walk-up half a block from the train.)
Just as the site is the first stop for many budget-minded renters, it's also popular with small landlords, particularly in the outerboroughs, and can be an invaluable resource if you use it wisely. In the site's "apts/housing" section there are options to limit your search to "all no-fee apartments" or "by-owner apartments" only, and from there, you can plug in search terms like "short-term" or "roommate" to narrow down your options depending on your preferences. (The site also has filters to help you search by price point, pet-friendliness, and housing type.)
While there is
the option to display search results in map form (this helps to narrow things down by neighborhood), many people prefer to use the site in tandem with Padmapper
, which pulls listings from Craigslist and displays them in an even handier map form. More importantly, it lets you set up alerts for listings that fit your requirements, so you don't have to spend your entire day trawling Craigslist for new arrivals. Padmapper also makes it easy to contact listings, letting you send a "mini-profile" with info like your credit score if you see a place you like. (It's also got iPhone and Android apps to facilitate on-the-go searching.)
Still, because Craigslist can be such a free-for-all, be extra careful to avoid anything that seems like a scam, like a request for wired money (more tips on signs of a scam here.
) It also never hurts to do a deeper dive on the building and the 'hood--including estimated elevator wait times, building violations, and neighborhood crime rate--by checking out the data over at AddressReport
Initially the pet project of artist Stephanie Diamond, this carefully curated weekly email newsletter has become the gold-standard for creative types looking for apartments with like-minded landlords or roommates. (It can be an especially useful tool for women looking to sidestep skeevy brokers or Craigslist "roommate/friend with benefits" listings.)
The next best thing to finding an apartment through friends, the Listings Project keeps an open dialogue with each lister and doesn't allow listings from brokers—or anything with a broker's fee—so if you find it through them, it's guaranteed to be no-fee. They send out around 200 to 250 listings every week with a mix of apartments for rent, sublets, and shares, in all five boroughs. (Something to keep in mind in your search: subletting—or entering an apartment as a new roomie who's not on the lease—are both tried and true methods for avoiding broker's fees, and you'll often have the option to renew the lease directly with the landlord, sans broker fee.)
This site's secret sauce is its "HopScore," developed to identify and encourage accurate listings and ethical behavior among real estate professionals. A high HopScore means an apartment has good value, up-to-date information, and a landlord or agent with speedy response times and a track record of apartments that rented quickly (and by inference, therefore, were appealing to renters).
RentHop (a BrickUnderground sponsor) lets you select search filters for "no fee"
and "reduced fee," and while the majority of their no-fee listings are in Manhattan, you'll find some options in Brooklyn and Queens, as well. There's map-based search (complete with neighborhood guides), along with a building directory, though the latter is a bit of a slog to search through.
The map-based search comes with one notable perk: the option to display nearby brokers that have checked into their system as being available, so you can contact them in case you're interested in seeing an apartment immediately.
As with dating, your best options on the apartment prowl can often be found through the friend-of-a friend route. So don't be shy! Post a message letting your friends know you're looking. (We'd also recommend putting out an email blast to contacts who live in the New York area, in case your Facebook query gets lost in their busy newsfeeds—some of our best and most beloved apartments have been found this way. Ditto your college's alumni network.)
You never know: someone may be nearing the end of their lease, have a spot for an extra roommate, or know about an opening in their building (or a friend's). The squeaky wheel, etc.
Zumper is an option for renters looking in Manhattan (where a majority of their listings are), and anyone with low patience for sifting through duplicate listings or blurry photos. (The site's bright, user-friendly layout is a definite plus.)
About a third of Zumper's listings are no-fee, pulled from a wide variety of New York landlords and property managers. Search via Zumper's no-fee page for NYC
, or by checking the "hide listings with leasing fees" box when you tick off other search requirements like in-unit laundry, a doorman, or outdoor space.
To make things as painless as possible, the site allows you to create alerts, and like many competitors, also includes neighborhood guides, maps, and a mobile app. If you see a place you like, Zumper offers a "one-click" application—sort of like the college "common app" but for the apartment hunt—and lets you create a $10 Experian Credit Report that can be used an unlimited number of times (fingers crossed, it won't take too many applications to land an apartment).
StreetEasy is one of the behemoths of New York's search world, covering both sales and rentals. Its no-fee listings, while plentiful, tend not to be the cheapest. The majority of no-fee options are located in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
There's a prominent "no-fee" search filter on the site, as well as the option to save your preferred searches and receive notifications if something new hits that market that fits your criteria. On both the mobile app and the website, you can connect with an apartment's agent or landlord at the touch of a button.
If you want to keep digging, check out RentHackr , a site that lets renters post when their own apartments are coming up for lease renewal, giving you the jump on potential listings before they even hit the market. This way, you can approach the building's management directly, and very likely, skip the broker fee altogether. Then there's Apartable , a site for primarily Manhattan-based listings that includes user reviews of buildings as well as the listing's full address, and details like permits, violations, etc. all in the name of knowing what you're getting into before you rent.
And the ace in your back pocket...
If you've exhausted the DIY method--or just feel exhausted--sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by BrickUnderground partner TripleMint.com . An upstart, tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of young Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues,TripleMint agents typically charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent. Bonus: They're a delight to deal with.
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