Serial Renter

Introducing Serial Renter Caren Maio: Start your hunt with a bucket list

By Caren Maio  | June 20, 2011 - 7:07AM

Next year marks my 10th year living in NYC, an anniversary that has me thinking a lot about my track record of city living--and city renting in particular.

I’ve moved a lot...more times than years I’ve lived in this city. I’ve done the full-service luxury building, the pre-war co-op sublet, the walk-up tenement, the industrial-inspired loft, and more. I’ve come to know the nuances of each situation and the tactical strategies involved in NYC apartment hunting so well that I have become the go-to ‘apartment renting expert' among my friends.

It's a title I couldn’t be happier sporting nowadays as the co-founder of a newly-minted real estate tech startup. I’m honored and thrilled to start this every-other-week column, and share some of the insights I’ve discovered as a serial renter.

So here we are – post #1 of Serial Renter. The summer is upon us, and apartment hunting season is in full swing--the tightest rental market in five years, if you believe what you read.

If you’re about to embark on the big hunt, I have a few basic tips to share. First, breathe! Do not worry…you will get through this. Your new apartment is out there, and I promise we will find it!

Second, check out to start collecting your listings all in one place. (A little self-promotion never hurt anyone!)

Third, and before you even begin your search, ask yourself this vital, often overlooked, question: What’s important to me?

I suggest answering this question by making a kind of bucket list divided into non-negotiables, nice-to-haves, and pure perks. (If you’re looking with a roommate, talk this through together. There’s nothing worse than not being on the same page).

Invariably, this list spans 5 major categories:

1. Pricing & Fees

Iron out your financial comfort zone for rent, a broker’s fee (expect to pay anywhere from a month’s rent to 15% of a year’s rent to a broker if you're using one), and appropriate utilities. Your budget will more often than not dictate how many of the nice-to-have features and pure perks you’ll be able to secure.

Case in point: On my first search, I fell head over heels for this ridiculous apartment in Tribeca--it had high ceilings, gorgeous wood floors, stainless steel appliances, the works! After a bit of digging, I found out that the rent was $300 more a month than I was prepared to spend, required a 15% non-negotiable broker’s fee, and included a $500 move-in fee because it was a co-op!

Be honest with yourself about how much you’re willing to shell out, and stick to it. It’s much easier to square this away before you start looking – and stay firm on it. That way, you won’t end up falling in love with something out of your price range.

2. Location (+Location, Location)

These three words hold a lot of weight in NYC. Location often tops the list for many people – whether it’s a proximity preference for Whole Foods, a dog-run or the 6 train. Think hard on where you want to hang your hat, and if possible, give yourself a healthy neighborhood radius (5+ blocks).  I always had the best results when I opened up my search to either 2 or more neighborhoods or upped the ante of my block range within a specific area.

3. Layout & Style

At bare minimum, what size apartment are you looking for? Space in NYC varies greatly--from cookie-cutter construction to pre-war units chock full of character--so spend some time mulling over your preferences. Maybe you and a roommate are willing to utilize temporary walls in a 1-bedroom of a brand-new construction (make sure to check whether it's allowed) rather than a 2-bedroom in a slightly older building. Think it over.

4. Policies

Pets, and guarantors, and shares, oh my. If you find yourself with a furry pal or lacking a guarantor, put this at the top of your list of non-negotiables. On one of my first rental exploits as an NYU student, my roommate and I didn’t meet income requirements of some landlords, and we each wanted to put our respective parents as guarantors; getting some landlords to agree to TWO guarantors was tricky. For this reason, we walked away from one or two apartments we initially loved, but the moment we led conversations with this unalterable fact, our search got a whole lot easier.(FYI--if your problem is that you lack a guarantor, a useful service called Insurent may step in for a fee.)

5. Amenities

Let’s be real…everyone wants outdoor space. That being said, think about what you want, and how important these things are to you – from a doorman, gym, and walk-in closets to an elevator and new appliances. For instance, on my last move, I traded down on the size of my kitchen to upgrade my closet space and score a washer/dryer (IN the apt!).

Not all apartment hunters are created equal, and everyone has a different definition of the perfect home. Once you work out your own needs and priorities, it’ll be much easier to determine all of the rest and figure out the best scenario for you. Now that you know what you want, you’re well on your way to getting what you want.

Happy Hunting! 

Caren Maio is theCEO & Co-Founder of, a website that makes it easy for renters to collect and organize rental listings from any site. She currently lives downtown in a boutique elevator building that has ten coffee shops in a three-block radius (a feature she claims sealed the deal--but the washer-dryer didn't hurt either).

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