If you’re looking to take advantage of low interest rates and buy an apartment or house in New York City and you haven’t been in the market recently, you will find that searching online is much easier than before, thanks to a technological race among competing search sites.
Now you have an increasingly wide array of tools and filters you can use to customize your search and dig up more information than ever about an apartment, building, or neighborhood.
One of the biggest recent changes is the embrace of virtual, or 3D video tours. What was once an afterthought or considered a sales gimmick became a necessity when New York City shut down in the early months of the pandemic and brokers were not allowed to show listings in person. Suddenly, the ability to show listings depended in large part on this technology.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of the article ran in May 2021. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer Best of Brick week.]
"People don't change behavior until they absolutely have to, and the pandemic has been an inflection point for the adoption of new behaviors and technologies. Prior to the pandemic, when in-person viewings were possible and convenient, this tech was a nice-to-have,” says Constantine Valhouli, founder of NeighborhoodX, a real estate research and analytics firm. “Now, it's a need-to-have, an absolute necessity for buyers, sellers, and brokers. And this is driving 3D viewing and walkthrough technology to iterate faster and deliver better features more rapidly."
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Read on for Brick Underground's recommendations for the best NYC listings websites. If this is your first time buying in New York, be sure to also check out Brick Underground's "How to buy a co-op or condo apartment in New York City: A comprehensive guide."
Most New Yorkers rightfully keep at least one eye trained on StreetEasy when searching for a place to buy. The site, built by and for New Yorkers (and now owned by Zillow Group), continues to offer unmatched detail when it comes to pricing history: You can see prices for previous sales of the place you’re interested in as well as for other apartments in the building, including the closed sales price and the asking price, which is very helpful when you're ready to make an offer.
You can refine your apartment search by a number of factors, from the basics—co-op vs. condo vs. townhouse, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, and neighborhood—or an advanced search, with price per square foot and monthly charges, as well as amenities like fireplaces, dishwashers, swimming pools, FiOS wiring, and more. Search results are very user friendly and easy to scroll through (although it would be nice if the map remained visible once you click into a listing).
Individual listings include price history (including what previous owners have paid for a property and what it’s been listed on the market for), proximity to schools, transit, days on market, and monthly charges. If you want to dig deep, you can find out a lot of intel about the building you are considering, for example what other apartment layouts in the building look like, to see what else may come on the market that may suit your needs better.
One thing to keep in mind if you’re looking for the freshest apartments to hit the market: It may take 24 to 48 hours for brokerage listings to reach an aggregator site like StreetEasy or Zillow. And there are a handful of listings that aren’t shared with the aggregators at all.
Note: Up to three agents per listing may be featured as building “experts” next to a listing. None of these are the listing agent. They're real estate agents who’ve closed a certain number of deals in the building in the last several years and have relevant experience within a specific building—for example, insights on how to manage the board approval process and the likelihood of being able to add a washer/dryer or central air conditioning to a prospective apartment. And you should be aware that agents pay for these connections, but only when they successfully close a deal with a lead from StreetEasy.
If no building experts are listed, and you fill out the contact form offering you to introduce you to a buyer's agent, you won't be introduced to the listing agent; you'll be introduced to an agent who may or may not have experience in the building and is paying StreetEasy a fee if you buy an apartment through them.
So if you are hoping to gain a competitive or financial advantage by dealing directly with the seller’s agent, keep digging: Go to the website of the brokerage that’s listing the apartment (at this writing, StreetEasy puts this information discreetly above the contact box) and type in the apartment address to find the listing agent and deal with them directly.
A map-your-commute tool (exclusively on the app) enables you to input your work address and see how long your commute to the office (by public transportation, car, or foot) would be from every listing you look at. There's an updated data dashboard, a tool that displays data and trends in a neighborhood—for example, median recorded sales price and how it’s changed over time, and price cuts sellers are offering in the area—and compares these stats to other nearby neighborhoods. StreetEasy has an app for iPhone and Android; you can save searches and get email updates that reflect new listings that fit your search parameters.
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Localize.city launched in New York City in 2018 as a real estate information site that uses artificial intelligence to provide a snapshot of any address in the city—letting you know, for example, whether there’s construction coming to the immediate neighborhood, or how much shade you can expect in an apartment you’re considering.
The site added apartment listings the following year, with an innovative twist well-suited to newcomers or New Yorkers who are looking for a new neighborhood: Instead of (or in addition to) searching by geographic location, you can search by quality-of-life and other factors such as top schools, parks, quiet streets, low crime, and dog parks, unearthing prospective homes that meet these highly specific criteria—more than 100 attributes in total.
Take, for example natural light—a feature that’s highly important to buyers; 71 percent of searches on Localize tap into its insight on natural light. Apartment features can be positive (such as that natural light, proximity to Trader Joe’s, or high ceilings) and negative (building violations, complaints, or pests). Access to this information "gives homebuyers all the information they might want to know so they can make an educated decision based on their nice-to-haves, must-haves, and deal breakers,” says Omer Granot, president and COO of Localize.
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Listings come directly from all of New York City’s biggest brokerages, and the majority of the smaller firms throughout the five boroughs, as well as from the Real Estate Board of New York, the city's real estate trade association, which has about 500 residential brokerage members.
You can input your wish list and get curated listings that fit your paramaters, thanks to the site's new AI-powered service, Hunter (more intel below) or, if you scroll down, you can search listings on the site by neighborhood or see what's trending—such as listings with the biggest price drops.
The level of detail you can use to sort listings is quite granular. You can look for apartments based on things like proximity to parks and bike friendly areas, as well as amenities like private outdoor space, bike friendliness, and location on a quiet street.
The highly interactive map alongside the listings is fun to use—it zooms in on your selections as you click on them. And once you've chosen a listing, you get a insights about the address. The amount of negative information presented about an address, like blocked views, noise, or even vermin problems is pretty refreshing (and gutsy) for a listing site. These details help prime you to ask probing questions about an apartment.
Neighborhood Guides can help you explore areas you might be considering in NYC. Localize’s commute calculator, which times your route via car, bike, car or walking, is handy, as is school zoning information (but you should always confirm school information directly with the school you want your child to attend). You’ll also find an overview of nearby businesses within walking distance, highlighting coffee shops, gyms, daycares and pharmacies. Localize can tell you whether the place you’re looking at will have constant noise from planes flying from Newark, LaGuardia and JFK or whether you’re in the flight path of a helicopter. You can see whether construction may block your views. And you can learn costs such as flood insurance that may be required for homes in a flood zone.
Buyers can sign up to text with Hunter, which is fusion of human and artificial intelligence, and receive listing recommendations daily. You reply with what you like or don’t like, and Hunter will send more curated listings based on those preferences. When you’re ready to see apartments in person, Localize will connect you with an agent. (If you don’t want to provide your phone number, you can get listings via email). So far, more than 12,000 buyers have chatted with Hunter and more than 30 are in the process of buying a place.
Outside of New York City, Realtor.com is the dominant, go-to website for real estate buyers, and until recently, hasn’t been thought of as a place New Yorkers would use to look for apartments. But that’s changed. The site sharpened its focus on New York City and added a landing page geared for NYC that gives buyers the ability to search by neighborhood. It has also added individualized building pages that list building facts, status of all units, amenities, nearby transportation, and schools. Monthly maintenance fees have been incorporated into the mortgage calculator.
Like Localize.city, Realtor.com receives listings from REBNY. Listings also come from brokers and other vendors that New York City brokers use to submit their listings and syndicate them.
To search, you can browse by price, size, and property type. (Listings tagged “new three hours ago” definitely get your attention.) Other filters include number of days listed, open houses, square footage, new construction, existing homes, price reduced, and listings with open houses. It’s handy to be able to search by both price and square footage parameters. (Why waste time mooning over places that fit your budget but not your stuff). And it’s helpful to have the neighborhood median sales info, plus median sales info for nearby neighborhoods, presented directly on the listing page for a fast comparison. You can also see open house times and get driving directions.
Visually, the site is on the plain side, and the information is spaced out, requiring a lot of scrolling to see everything on a page. One regrettable difference from StreetEasy (and to some extent Localize) is sparse information on past sales history and details on other apartments in the building. So you can’t see what the apartment previously sold for, or what other apartments in the building went for.
Listings are updated every 15 minutes, according to a spokesperson, and Realtor.com’s smartphone app sends alerts on new listings and price reductions. If you are out and about in a neighborhood where you’re looking to buy and spot a Realtor.com for sale sign, you can take a picture of the sign and the app's "Sign Snap" will give you details about the listing.
Realtor.com improved its 3D home tours so buyers now have multiple ways to tour a listing without stepping inside. A new noise rating enables consumers to understand the noise level outside of a property. Noise sources are also displayed on the map view. Each listing now displays the home's FEMA flood zone as well as a Flood Factor rating so you can better understand a house’s chance of flooding. Flood plains are also displayed on the map view. Instead of just one estimate, Realtor.com now provides three estimates from independent third-party sources.
Beyond the portals: brokerage sites
When expanding your search to individual brokerage websites, keep in mind that user experience varies widely, depending on the amount of money and tech talent deployed by a particular brokerage. Also be aware that a brokerage may give more emphasis to its own listings versus competitors' listings obtained through REBNY and other feeds.
Pro tip: To gain a competitive edge over buyers who rely only on the listings platforms listed above, visit a variety of brokerage websites and sign up to receive alerts. Why? Because brokerages that belong to REBNY (which includes most in Manhattan as well as many in Brooklyn and Queens) have up to 48 hours to share their listings with other REBNY brokerages. During that 48-hour period, brokerages can market listings exclusively to their own buyers in hopes of capturing both sides of the commission—so if you sign up to get alerts, you may get a jump on an exclusive listing during that window.
We've listed some reputable brokerages alphabetically below. For a more extensive list of REBNY-member brokerages, click here.
Bohemia Realty Group (Upper Manhattan)
Brown Harris Stevens (NYC, Hamptons, Hudson Valley, New Jersey, Connecticut)
Compass (NYC, Long Island, Hamptons, Westchester, Hudson Valley
Corcoran (NYC, Hamptons, Hudson Valley, Westchester)
CORE (Luxury NYC)
Douglas Elliman (NYC, Long Island, Westchester, and Hudson Valley)
Modern Spaces (Brooklyn, Queens, Hudson Valley, New Jersey)
Prevu (NYC and Connecticut)
Triplemint (NYC and Hudson County, NJ)
Warburg (Manhattan and Brooklyn)
—An earlier version of this article contained reporting and writing by Alanna Schubach.