The Search

Speed shopping: How to find an apartment in a single weekend

By Virginia K. Smith | April 12, 2016 - 8:59AM 

Hunting for a New York City apartment is never a process anyone would likely describe as leisurely. But for a certain subset of renters and buyers, the process is even more frenetic than usual.

Whether you're looking to relocate and swooping into town for a few days to find your new home, or simply find yourself having to leave your rental at the last minute, sometimes the search can get set to warp speed, and take pace over the course of a single, harried weekend. 

Not that it can't be done. "Finding an apartment can be like planning a wedding," says Douglas Elliman broker Tracie Hammersley. "If you have three months to plan, it'll take three months. If you have three yars, it'll take three years." Just as the process can be stretched out to fill the time frame at hand, it can also be condensed.

Below, some best practices for anyone hitting the market in a hurry:

Do your research in advance

Unsurprisingly, everyone we spoke with agreed that if it's at all possible, the key to pulling off a whirlwind weekend-long apartment search is getting yourself as prepped as possible ahead of time.

Whether or not you're planning to search with the help of a broker, whittle down your criteria to essentials such as the size of apartment you're looking for, neighborhood, price range, potential dealbreakers (Walk-up okay? No dishwasher or laundry?). Renters should assess whether or not they're willing to shell out a broker's fee, and should gravitate toward apartments that are in "move-in condition," advises Mirador Real Estate agent Anastasiia Grusha. "Sometimes apartments aren’t ready, aren’t painted," she explains. If you're told an apartment still needs some finishing touches before you can move in, you can try to negotiate moving in as-is, but preferably, get a set move-in date in writing, and if necessary, set up accommodations for the few days in between while you need a place to stay.

In that same vein, she recommends that renters devise a backup plan in case they don't find a place to move into by the end of the weekend, whether that's finding an Airbnb, or temporarily crashing on a friend's couch. "I do all the prep online [with relocation clients]," says Victoria Rong Kennedy of Citi Habitats. "I give them some background about searching in the city, determine a price point, and introduce them to StreetEasy so they can get a sense of what's out there. We start the learning process before they show up."

Arrive with your paperwork already in hand

Another key component to hitting the ground running: Having your paperwork (and your cash) ready to go so that when you see a place you like, you can move quickly. This is particularly true for rentals, where you'll ideally want to turn in your application the same day you see the apartment. "Preparation is paramount," says Citi Habitats agent Andrew Sacks. "Apartments go fast and to the person who has all their ducks in a row."

For renters, this means having liquid cash—enough for the standard first month, last month, and security deposit in your chosen price point—ready to go. "If you're transferring funds from another country, sometimes there are delays, so I always prep those clients to confirm the timeline with whatever institution they're going to be transferring from," notes Eric Sidman of Compass.

You'll also want to have the standard battery of paperwork (bank statements, tax return, photo ID, proof of employment, etc.) scanned and on hand, ideally in PDF form so you can print or email it as necessary. "For one recent client moving from San Francisco, I also had her prepare a guarantor just in case, since that process can take a while and some landlords require them no matter what," says Mirador Real Estate's Melissa Trosterman. "We got the info from her and her guarantor in advance, and she brought in hard copies of the paperwork when she came to town."

For buyers, this means having your financing lined up if you plan to buy with a mortgage, cash for closing costs easily accessible, and documentation like tax returns and financial statements handy so you can put in an offer ASAP.

Cluster your search by neighborhood

You'll also want to be strategic when it comes to the logistics of the actual in-person search—bopping back and forth from the Lower East Side to the Upper West Side to Williamsburg and back again will waste your time, and run up steep cab bills. Instead, try to schedule back-to-back showings that are in the same neighborhood, and move throughout the day in a way that will minimize your travel time.

"Recently, I had a client that saw 23 apartments in one day," says Sacks. "We started in Nolita, migrated to the Lower East Side, and worked up to the East Village. The big thing is doing your best to make sure all the appointments are within a certain time within a certain neighborhood, and understanding the listing broker's availability when you're scheduling things."

In other words, whether it's through a broker or you're booking all the appointments yourself, you'll want to confirm with whomever's showing the apartment exactly what time frame they'll be there, the better to avoid missed connections (or waiting around).

And if your appointments aren't all within a walkable radius, you might want to plan out your transportation ahead of time. "I never rely on yellow cabs," says Citi Habitats agent Andrea Pedicini, who often works with foreign investors in town to search for the weekend. "I hire a driver, or I use Uber, so that I know as soon as we're out of one appointment, we're ready to go to the next one."

One extra factor to bear in mind here: "I always advise the person to wear comfy shoes," says Grusha.

For buyers, have a game plan for the closing

Unlike the rental hunt, where you can submit your application and have it accepted (or not) within a day or two, the closing process takes more time.

For this reason, dicuss with your broker whether or not you think you'll be able to come back in to town for the final closing, and if not, make arrangements to give your closing lawyer power of attorney so they can handle the closing in your stead. "Ninety-nine percent of out-of-town buyers I work with aren't here in person for the closing, they have their attorneys attend and sign the papers," says Pedicini.

Rong says after you put in your initial offer, "the contract signing can be done via PDF [and] everything can be handled remotely until the closing."

If you're buying in a co-op, notes Hammersley, you can submit your board package long distance, but will very likely have to come back in person for the board interview. "Buying long-distances can be easier for condos, but people make it work for co-ops, too," she notes.


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