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When you're renting an apartment in New York City, there are some pretty big financial hurdles to overcome: In addition to the first month's rent, you typically need to put down a security deposit. Then there's the dreaded broker fee, which usually ranges from 12 to 15 percent of your annual rent, although sometimes it can be as little as one month. (There was some drama recently about a broker fee ban, but you still have to pay it, for now anyway.)
Broker fees are paid to agents who help you find an apartment. In some cases, having an expert do the heavy lifting for you is worth the hefty price tag, if you don’t have a lot of time, can’t find what you want on your own, or your employer is paying for your broker fee as part of your relocation expenses.
If you exhaust the DIY method—or just feel exhausted—sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by Brick Underground partner Triplemint. A tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment searches of classmates and colleagues, Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent versus the usual 12 to 15 percent if the apartment is an "open" listing (versus an "exclusive" listing where the fee is split with the broker holding the listing.) Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
However, if you have the time and grit to conduct your own search, and want to save some money upfront, consider looking for a no-fee apartment. These come in two varieties: Apartments you can rent directly from a landlord or management company and apartments where the landlord pays the broker’s fee to entice you to sign a lease. No-fee apartments are prevalent when the market is slow (like, say during a pandemic), or in a new building with units to fill, or in an apartment that's hard to rent for some reason.
[Editor's note: This article was originally published in May 2020. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer Best of Brick week.]
Ready to begin your search for a new apartment? Keep reading for Brick Underground’s newly updated list of the best websites for finding no-fee apartment rentals, listed in alphabetical order. While you’ll likely wade through some duplicate listings across the sites, playing the field will maximize your options.
Good for: Finding an apartment from smaller mom-and-pop-type landlords, especially in the outer boroughs
If you’ve ever hunted for an apartment, bicycle or futon, you’re probably familiar with Craigslist. Its enduring popularity proves that you don’t need a fancy (or even modern) interface with bells and whistles to make an effective real estate tool for both renters and landlords—as long as you use it with discretion.
Under the site’s housing tab, you can choose "by-owner apartments," as well as further refine your search by selecting “no broker fee” apartments on the left hand side of the screen, then narrow your search according to your housing preferences. You can further tweak those preferences, for example, by searching for units with a washer/dryer and places where pets are allowed. The map function is especially useful if you’re looking in a specific neighborhood, and also helps give you a sense of an apartment’s actual location, versus where its poster claims it is. (This is a very common switcheroo in NYC real estate, unfortunately.)
Craigslist is literally a free-for-all, so take care to avoid scams, and only search apartments with photos, which is another filter option. Another recommendation: Investigate the building and the neighborhood more closely, including information like bedbug history and neighborhood crime rate (more tips on that here), as well as plugging the address into the city's Building Information System to check on things like outstanding violations. Also look up the name of the management company and broker to see if any red flags appear. For further neighborhood and landlord intel, look up the building on Localize.city (see below for more) and Rentlogic.
Did you know that winning an apartment through the NYC Housing Connect can lead to savings of more than $80,000 in rent payments over a 5-year period? Check out the financial benefits tab at hunterspointsouthaffordablehousing.com detailing potential savings for middle income lottery winners at 5241 Center Boulevard in Long Island City, Queens. Apply now, before the lottery closes on November 23, 2020.
Facebook/word of mouth/social media/Nextdoor
Good for: Getting an apartment through a personal recommendation
High-tech search options abound, but hearing from a friend of a friend or someone in an online community about an apartment is still a powerful tool in the world of New York City real estate. The best deals and nicest places are often found via well-connected friends, family members, and coworkers, so don’t be bashful—reach out to your network.
Post on Facebook, hit up your college's alumni network, send a mass email to everyone you’ve ever met in the city, and use any of your other social feeds of choice (go ahead and try Twitter or Instagram or even Snapchat to get the word out through those networks are more geared toward sharing photos, videos, and opinions than looking for services). By reaching out, you're letting your network know that you're on the hunt. You’ll be surprised by how serendipitously the timing can work out to be.
Nextdoor is a hyperlocal site organized by neighborhood where members are verified. You need to join in order to access the site. So if you wanted to ask, for example, if there are available apartments in a particular building or area in order to move near a friend or family member—you could ask them to post on your behalf.
There are also Facebook groups you can join, like Janelle’s List, which dubs itself “Craigslist without the creeps” and includes frequent posts about opportunities to rent no-fee apartments.
Good for: No-fee sublets and apartments rented directly from landlords
Flip features listings from tenants who need to get out of their lease—either by subletting their apartment or transferring the lease to a new tenant—and from landlords, which means that all the apartments listed are no-fee. The site does allow listings from brokers on a limited basis: the apartments must have no additional fees beyond the rent price, and brokers can only post one unit at a time.
Each listing undergoes a vetting process to rule out spammers and bait-and-switch schemes, and anyone listing a unit is asked to provide proof of the apartment’s veracity with a utility bill or other form of documentation. The site also guarantees that if a prospective tenant does fall victim to a scam through one of its listings, they’re refunded and given help finding another apartment.
Listings include details about each unit, including why the tenant is moving out, and what they like and don’t like about the apartment, along with basics like price, duration of lease and building amenities.
Good for: Searching for apartments with very specific features
Good for: Short-term rentals
Taking over someone's apartment is a surefire way to get around having to pay a broker fee and get a deal if you don't need a long-term lease. Renters who need to get out of their lease list their apartments on Leasebreak, so listings here are for less than a year, which can be helpful if you're in between jobs, cities or just looking to try a place out for less time. And if you like the apartment, there's usually a chance you can renew the lease—meaning you'll score a new lease with no broker's fee.
The site has both fee and no-fee listings, and it's simple to search all five boroughs using the “no fee” filter. According to Leasebreak, about 70 percent of its listings with leases for 12 months or less are no-fee, and evenly dispersed throughout Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. There are about 3,000 listings up at any given time, for sublets, rooms in apartments and entire apartments, and many of the listings are also for furnished spaces. Listings are searchable by how long you want a place as well as move-in and move-out dates.
Good for: Vetted listings for artists and creative types
Listings Project is a weekly email list that's carefully curated by Stephanie Diamond and her team, catering to artists and other creative types searching for everything from studio space to sublets to long-term rentals. There are 300 to 400 listings posted on the site each week, all of which are no-fee and personally vetted by staff through direct correspondence with posters. The site only accepts listings posted by NYC tenants and owners, who are charged about $30 for each week their listing is up.
The site started small, but has expanded to much of the U.S., plus 70 countries around the world, however the majority of listings are in Brooklyn and Manhattan. The weekly email has also evolved over the years, and become increasingly easy to use. The benefit for prospective renters is huge: They can trust that each listing has been vetted by the team. Brokers, apartment managers, and third-party services are not permitted to submit apartments.
Diamond says the service is vital to supporting the arts community. "It draws on the belief that we are our best selves when we feel both grounded as individuals and deeply connected to a vibrant, energizing public," she says
Gross Rent Calculator
Some New York City landlords offer a free month (or more) at the beginning or end of a lease. The advertised rent is the net effective rent. The net effective rent is less than the amount you will actually have to pay --- known as your gross rent --- during your non-free months.
Brick Underground's Gross Rent Calculator enables you to easily calculate your gross rent, make quick apples-to-apples comparisons between apartments and avoid expensive surprises. All you'll need to figure out your gross rent is 1) the net effective rent, 2) the length of your lease, and 3) how many free months your landlord is offering. [Hint: Bookmark this page for easy reference!]
To learn more about net effective versus gross rents, read What does 'net effective rent' mean?.
If the landlord is offering partial months free, enter it with a decimal point. For example, 6 weeks free rent should be entered as 1.5 months.
Good for: A snapshot of what it’s like to live at an address
Localize.city uses artificial intelligence-assisted technology to sift through the data available on buildings and neighborhoods and set highly specific search parameters, such as listings near top schools, parks, quiet streets, low crime, and dog parks. About 35 percent of the site’s listings are no fee, which you can filter by clicking a button right next to the search bar. The site draws its listings from brokers via their firms’ feeds, and then analyzes each listing based on a number of factors, creating recommendations for the most promising units in their feed. Localize says its use of fraud detection and manual checks keeps scams and bait-and-switch schemes off the site.
Of the 3,000 to 4,000 no-fee listings on the site, typically about 25 percent are in Manhattan, 20 percent in Brooklyn, and 15 percent in Queens. Some of the listing information is very negative and available to help you make an informed decision, like whether new construction will soon block a building’s views, or its elevators are prone to breaking down; the noisiness of the streets and whether you can hear or feel the subway passing near the building; how much sunlight the apartment gets, and whether the building has any violations.
It also includes an interactive map that pinpoints exactly where each listing you’re looking at is located.
Good for: No fee and "low-fee" apartments
About 60 percent of Naked Apartments' listings are for no-fee rentals, which you can find by clicking the "filter" button at the top of the screen and selecting "no fee." (There's also a "low fee" filter that pulls up rentals with broker's fees of 9 percent or less.) The site has a variety of options for no-fee listings across all five boroughs. The majority are concentrated in Manhattan and Brooklyn. [Editor's Note: Zillow, the parent company of Naked Apartments, announced that as of the end of October 2020, the site would go dark and users would be redirected to StreetEasy.]
Naked Apartments was acquired by StreetEasy a few years ago (both are now part of the Zillow Group), though each has their own sets of features. Naked Apartments includes “open” listings (versus exclusive listings), which are advertised by more than one broker, while StreetEasy sticks to verified exclusives.
What this means for you: There are more listings on Naked Apartments, but many of them are duplicates, posted by different agents. That's why the site gives renters the ability to group duplicate listings, allowing you to choose which broker to contact (i.e., in a no-fee scenario, a situation where 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 reality, and sussing out which agent might be the most professional to work with. You can also compare broker response time and fees.
The site is also very thorough in vetting its posters. By verifying brokers’ licensing information, checking utility bills and public records for management and for-rent-by-owner listings, they attempt to weed out those who post inaccurate listings.
Other features include the "viewings on demand" tool, which lets renters schedule an apartment viewing by clicking on one button, and the app, which lets you keep track of apartments you've seen with notes, photos, and a checklist to help keep you organized.
Good for: No frills, with quality control
NYBits is one of the oldest rental listings sites in New York, and its straightforward interface makes finding no-fee listings easy. The site focuses on transparency. Each listing includes the address for the apartment, which is unique, as well as the role of the poster (owner, manager, or broker), and specifies if it is no-fee. The team also researches each post before putting them up. This helps cut down on duplicates as well as bait-and-switch scams, and allows you to research a building on your own more easily. Postings are also limited in how long they can be active.
About 70 percent of the site's listings do not have broker’s fees, according to NYBits, with roughly 66 percent in Manhattan, 16 percent in Brooklyn, and 6 percent in Queens. You can navigate the site by building type (condo, co-op, rental), neighborhood, and companies (brokerage, property managers, individual brokers) and see apartments available in specific buildings.
Other features include a map at the bottom of every search results page, which makes it easier to see exactly where all the apartments are located. NYBits also has rental alerts, which notify users when a listing from a preferred building or search criteria appears on the site, because rentals usually move quickly.
Slava Denisov of NYBits says they’re keeping an eye on new legislative developments. “It may very well be that the era of tenants paying brokers directly is coming to an end,” she says. “We’re working to stay relevant and helpful for renters, managers, and agents even if the fee/no-fee listing distinction gets blurred or disappears altogether.”
Good for: Some handy filters, and scoring listings to punish shady behavior
RentHop currently has tens of thousands of listings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens; 64 percent of its listings in Manhattan are no fee, while in Brooklyn the percentage is 70 percent and in Queens, 46 percent. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the site has seen a surge in the number of sublet and roommate listings posted by tenants.
Apartments are listed by owners or by current renters looking to hand over their lease to a new tenant. Users can also filter for listings with no fee and no deposit, with the option for a map-based search. The site does allow open listings by brokers, but has a verification process in place to avoid scams or bait-and-switch schemes.
Recently, RentHop added a number of new features, including advanced verification for all its posters, and language filters that allow for posting and browsing listings in several different languages. The site also analyzes apartment photos and determines whether they’re relevant to renters—are they of the space itself, or common areas like the gym, or the building’s exterior? The relevance of the photos is included in what's called the "HopScore," which was developed to identify and encourage accurate listings and ethical behavior among real estate professionals. RentHop says the HopScore allows it to take open listings, because the company's quality control algorithm ranks apartment listings based on "manager responsiveness, listing quality, and freshness."
Other search filters include: No flexes (only true apartment sizes versus convertible units), floor plan inclusion, and, particularly relevant now, live video tours. RentHop has also implemented catch-all keyword searches: type in "thick walls" and all listings will be parsed.
Scammers are also actively shut down: RentHop employees personally verify email addresses and usually have an actual phone conversation with new listers to make sure they're legit. And if you're on the hunt for someone to share that apartment with, they've got a roommate finder tool, in which renters are matched up with roommates based on the answers given on a questionnaire.
Good for: Getting the 411 on buildings
StreetEasy is one of the best-known sites in New York City for both sales and rentals. It's now part of the Zillow Group, which is, yes, named after the kingpin of search sites in just about every city in the U.S. (The Zillow Group also includes Naked Apartments, Trulia, and Hot Pads.)
StreetEasy features a prominently placed "no-fee only" 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.
StreetEasy only accepts exclusive listings—so that means there are no duplicate listings from multiple agents for you to wade through—and they are verified with the listing provider. Listings can be provided by agents, brokerages, owners, management companies, or developers and are provided directly or via a syndication vendor.
On both the mobile app and the website, you can connect with an apartment's agent or landlord instantly. (And the app has a useful "map view" feature that lets you see what listings are nearby—ideal for when you're out and about scoping neighborhoods.) The site is also good for research thanks to their building pages, which let you find more info about the specific building an apartment is listed in—things like amenities and zoned public schools—as well as price history so you can see rent trends on comparable apartments.
Good for: Finding listings from the city’s no-fee management companies in one place
Transparentcity aggregates the listings of NYC’s no-fee apartment management sites into one place and vets them for accuracy. Users can browse listings by neighborhood, filtering by number of bedrooms, price range, and amenities including elevator, laundry, live-in super, gym, pool, and more; there is also the option to search for stabilized apartments and those offering free months of rent as a concession.
Search results reveal listing addresses and the name and url of the management company so you can confirm it is an actual listing and not a scam; they also include an interactive map to help you look for apartments in specific areas. Roughly 75 percent of the 3,000 to 4,000 listings on the site at any given time are in Manhattan, with 20 percent in Brooklyn, and 5 percent in Queens.
In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the site is including 3D and video tours of listed apartments; recently, it has also begun to feature co-living apartments.
Good for: Customizing a search for no-fee rentals
Zumper operates as a real estate brokerage, collecting fees on rentals of its Zumper Select apartments. That said, the site also offers many no-fee apartments, and includes a specific no-fee page for NYC. According to Zumper, 40 percent of its listings are no-fee, most of which are in Brooklyn, and the rest are either full fee or limited fee.
The no-fee listings are easy to filter and identify, thanks to badges that indicate the listing type. Zumper vets all landlord and broker listings for accuracy, and says that the majority of listings come directly from landlords and management companies. Brokers are charged a fee to post listings, which helps avoid duplication.
The site allows users to create alerts and offers neighborhood guides, maps, and a mobile app. Zumper also offers a feature that allows users to compare a listing's rent to rent trends in a neighborhood. Particularly helpful amid the coronavirus crisis, Zumper now offers online tour features to smooth the way for virtual apartment-hunting, as well as recently launched an app for paying rent.
—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Georgia Kral