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, particularly in the under-$3,500 a month price range. 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.
It isn't impossible to find a no-fee apartment—particularly in the higher end of the market, in luxury rental buildings. 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 landlord, 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,read up on neighborhood blogs for a clearer picture of what an area is really like, and run the address through Localize.city to surface information about building violations, neighborhood nuisances, school quality, bike-friendliness and more. You can also look up crime stats on the NYPD's official website.
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.
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. Many 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.
Need expert help finding the perfect apartment in the perfect neighborhood? Looking for a landlord who is flexible about guarantors, pets, "flexing" your space with temporary walls--or who won't automatically reject you if you lack work, credit or rental history? Put your search into the capable hands of Triplemint, a tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues. Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent on open listings instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent if you sign up here. Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
5. You may 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 (fyi, a Brick Underground sponsor) 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.