The Market

Exhausted or frustrated by your NYC apartment search? Here's how you can cope

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By Emily Myers  |
October 20, 2021 - 9:30AM

Bidding wars are not just taking place in the sales market—landlords are also taking best and final bids on competitive rentals, to the frustration of renters.


New York City renters describe the frantic process of finding an apartment right now as leaving them defeated, exhausted, and frustrated. For buyers, rising prices and bidding wars in New York are leaving many disappointed and empty handed.

It's enough to make anyone on the hunt for an apartment head for a therapist's office—or at least search for some ways to cope, particularly after the unique and isolating experiences of the past 18 months.

"This is not a fun market for many," says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel. The New York City sales market has mirrored the hyper competitive suburban markets over the past year or more and Miller says that means "there are a lot of people who are despondent or disappointed." Bidding wars are not just taking place in the sales market—landlords are also taking best and final bids on competitive rentals, to the frustration of renters.

"You hear many people, including patients, say that this is something that they are contending with," says Justin Arocho, a clinical psychologist in cognitive behavioral therapy. 

Here's how to take care of yourself if New York's real estate market is causing you pain. 

Acknowledge emotions

When you're apartment hunting, regardless of whether to buy or rent, you begin by envisioning yourself living in a place. When you are outbid or your application is denied, you have to accept that something you wanted isn't going to happen. Although Arocho hasn't had clients seeking therapy because of emotions coming up specifically in regard to renting or finding a place to live, he says, being priced out of a place can lead to disappointment.

"The first thing with any emotion is to acknowledge that it makes sense to feel disappointment when something you are really looking forward to didn't work out or something you were counting on didn’t come through," he says.

Emotions tell us something about our situation—if you feel fear, your emotions are telling you there are risks involved. 

"Emotions don't happen at random, emotions are related to experiences," Arocho says. He points out there are two basic options to prevent disappointment: "to stop caring or to accept that failure is something that could happen if you are pursing something that matters to you." 

No one enjoys feeling disappointed but Arocho says half the battle is "accepting the emotion is here and having the confidence that it won't persist—a hard perspective to hold onto when we are in the middle of feeling it."

Of course, disappointment might not be the only emotion you feel if you are outbid on a place—you might feel anxiety, even envy. Acknowledging and naming the emotion really works, Arocho says. Your friend has a four-bedroom loft? It's not wrong of you to want it but if you're looking for a one bedroom, it makes sense that you can’t attain it. 

Setting expectations 

Some real estate homework is going to be part of your self-care armor when it comes to finding a place to live in New York. "If someone is continually disappointed, then it may be worth checking your expectations," Arocho says.

Ari Harkov, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens, says doing some real estate research on the "current dynamics, timeline, and process is critical—the more you know, the less that will surprise you."

Your broker can give you guidance on properties in your price range but it's worth remembering finding a place in New York is an exercise in compromise even at the top of the market. Seeing as many places as possible—and yes, missing out on some—is going to help you have more realistic expectations of what you can afford. 

When you do see an apartment within your budget, there are also some practical solutions for success—namely, having all your paperwork ready to go so you can move fast in a competitive market. 

Adding some perspective

Remember, you live in a city that's notoriously expensive. 

As part of his work as an appraiser, Miller has spent some time looking at the real estate conditions in New York over the past century, searching for classified ads, quotes and phrases about the real estate market, as well as dollar amounts. He says that a hundred years ago, New Yorkers were concerned about the the same issues that dominate the market today—affordability and prices being pushed up by Wall Street wages and international demand.

"If you didn't know it was 1922, it was the same story," he says.  As for the mood, he says, it was one of "indignation."

So while the conditions of the past year have certainly been unique, they are not unprecedented.

What's adding to current challenges, Miller says, is low interest rates. Rates had fallen for the year and a half before the pandemic hit and then went even lower. When borrowing is cheap, typically prices go up.  

Outlining goals

There's nothing wrong with having ambitious housing goals but you'll need a plan to attain it. Mike Walker,  residential sales manager at R New York, recommends his clients write things down. For example, write down the range of terms you'd be happy with if you want to sucessfully negotiate buying NYC real estate. Writing down what you want, even why you want it, and how you might go about it can help you be more strategic in your housing goals.

If you want to apply for the housing lottery, make sure you are in the eligible income bracket. If you want to buy a co-op, make sure you can meet their financing requirements. If not, consider what else you might need to do.

When New Yorker Luis Vargas had his co-op offer rejected by the board, he turned his discouragement into a learning experience and instead focused on buying a sponsor apartment where board approval isn't required. 

Steel yourself and seek encouragement

Try to steel yourself for your apartment search. Harkov says the most emotionally even-keeled buyers and renters are those who avoid getting too attached until the ink is dry on a contract of sale or lease. 

"Those who are psychologically unprepared or fall in love with every property they see and bid on can end up feeling incredibly defeated emotionally," he says.

Brokers will tell you when it is meant to be, it will work out. Harkov says that might seem like a Hallmark card but he's found it to be true. "Oftentimes properties that don’t work out end up leading you to an even better property for you."

In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Seek realistic encouragement and advice from friends and real estate professionals and accept that staying optimistic takes some effort.  

Arocho says when it comes to real estate, keeping the faith isn't always easy. "And you need a dose of that more in New York than you do in other places," he says.

Headshot of Emily Myers

Emily Myers

Senior Writer/Podcast Producer

Emily Myers is a senior writer, podcast host, and producer at Brick Underground. She writes about issues ranging from market analysis and tenants' rights to the intricacies of buying and selling condos and co-ops. As host of the Brick Underground podcast, she has earned four silver awards from the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

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