Inside Stories

Brick Underground’s best advice from New Yorkers who lived through real estate drama

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By Emily Myers  |
August 1, 2019 - 2:00PM

Here's the advice you need to navigate the choppy waters of the NYC real estate market.


No two apartments are the same in NYC, which makes navigating a sale or moving to a rental its own unique experience. Even so, there’s no need to make the mistakes of those who’ve gone before you.

We’ve culled the best of Brick Underground's first-person column, Inside Stories, for tips from buyers, renters, and recent transplants to New York City about some of the hazards of the real estate landscape and how you can spot them yourself. We're talking bait-and-switch listings, neglectful landlords, horrible floods, and much more. 

If you have a story to share, drop us an email. We respect all requests for anonymity. Read on for how to avoid some major pitfalls.

[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in February. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]

Moving from out of state

Long distance moves have plenty of stress factors. Be wary of signing a lease on an apartment that needs a gut renovation before you can move in. The model unit in the same line might look nothing like the one you signed for. Worried about how the kids will adjust? We spoke to tweens who’ve made the move and have these words of advice.

Once you get here, turns out, living in a building with a doorman requires some adjustments, like getting over how much they know about, and see of, you and your neighbors. If you're moving within the city, review your building's rules before the big day. 

Rental tips

Be very wary of basement apartments, they can be prone to flooding, and no one wants their toilet to turn into a geyser. And if you’re couch surfing with kids while you find the right place, an apartment with a cat can be a good distraction.

Nothing motivates a landlord like losing money. If you have building-wide issues or say, it rains in your kitchen, document the problems and fill out a form for a rent abatement.

If you’re looking for affordable housing—remember you won’t have a stake in the lottery if you don’t apply. That's the advice of one military veteran who won her apartment.

Buying in NYC

When you put in an offer on an apartment, you should already have talked to an attorney—waiting until the last minute to find a lawyer is like looking for an ob-gyn as you’re about to give birth.

Check out these tips from one buyer who looked at 150 apartments before buying in NYC.  If you’re taking the co-op plunge, make sure the board has a capital plan. Board meeting minutes may not be enough to tell whether the building is being mismanaged. And make sure you take a look at the building's basement—and if you notice rat droppings, run. Also, talk to everyone, including the doorman, the super, and the residents to get a feel for a building if you find an apartment you like. 

Buying a sponsor unit allows you to avoid the interview process, but if you do have to go through it, don't stress—not all interviews are bad

If you’re buying a property and are told it comes with a parking space, make sure it has a deed attached. If the sale falls through, remember there will be another property.

Avoiding renovation headaches

When you are embarking on a remodeling project, especially in a co-op, double the time you’re told it will take. Board approval for renovation plans is time-consuming. If you’re eyeing up your neighbor’s apartment to expand into, an invitation for coffee and a chat (and some patience) might pay off.

But don’t waste your time waiting to go ahead with a project, especially if you have a shed at the end of the garden—get on and renovate it—and don’t skimp on new flooring. Turns out salvage stores can turn up some surprises, including beloved woodwork from an old apartment.

Check out these tips when combining apartments and consider buying some hallway to open up the layout. 

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.

Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.