How to find a new apartment in New York City in a hurry

By Lauren Evans  | April 27, 2018 - 10:00AM

Don't spend too much time lamenting the fact that you have to move. You have work to do.


Few things in life are permanent, including New York City real estate. This can be a difficult lesson to learn, particularly when you’ve landed something you really love and want nothing more than to hang on to it forever. But such are the vagaries of renting, and sometimes, when you gotta move, you gotta move. And sometimes, you gotta do it fast.

Reasons for beating a hasty retreat are as diverse and varied as the inhabitants of the city itself, though perhaps the most painful partings are those that can’t be avoided.

I was once lucky enough to score a great an apartment that had both a washing machine and a dishwasher, for a price I dare not type lest the rental gods smite me for excessive pride. Recalling that apartment to friends and strangers, I get a dreamy, faraway look in my eye, like an old sea captain recalling a woman he once knew in Barbuda. I knew it was too good to last, so I was hardly surprised when I came home one day to find my roommate standing in the living room, awaiting my arrival.

“I have bad news,” he said, and my heart sank. Our landlord was selling our building. We had one month to move.

Moving quickly can be incredibly harrowing. The ideal way to shop for apartments in New York is slowly, biding your time until the perfect space comes along. Unfortunately, circumstances are often less than ideal. But don’t worry, we’ll get through this together.

Ready yourself

Not to get excessively Carrie Bradshaw here, but losing a good apartment is like losing a romantic partner. (Sometimes, you lose a good apartment because you’ve also lost a romantic partner. Frankly, it’s often the most traumatizing part of a breakup.)

It’s entirely possible you’ll find yourself tearfully traversing all five Kübler-Ross stages of grief, which you are entitled to allow yourself to do. By all accounts you’ve been dealt a crummy hand, and it’s totally reasonable to take the time to mourn your loss. Do not, however, dedicate so much time to moping that you don’t throw yourself promptly into the apartment search process. Give yourself one (1) day of tearful wailing before you pull it together. Any more than that and you’re only delaying the inevitable, and procrastination on a tight deadline is helpful to no one.

It may not feel like it immediately, but losing your apartment may even be a blessing in disguise. Sure, this place was close to the train, but the windows opened up to an airshaft. Sure, it was an incredible bargain, but remember when the upstairs neighbor had bedbugs? Use this as an opportunity to think about what you didn’t love about your former digs, and strive to rectify it the next time around.

Where to look

New websites dedicated to apartment hunting abound, but if you need to move quickly, there’s one tried and true resource employed by everyone from Patti Smith to George Washington himself, probably: Friends, and friends-of-friends, and friends-of-friends-of-friends, to the power of 10.

That great apartment that was sold out from under me? My boss’s girlfriend’s best friend was moving out. Sure, it eventually ended in heartbreak, but better to have in-apartment laundered and lost than not at all, right?

And don’t stop at posting to your social networks, either. Send an email blast to everyone in the city you’ve ever met. We’ve all been a recipient of these emails at some point or another, and the reason everyone sends them is that they work. Be specific about what you’re looking for to eliminate completely off-base suggestions, but also point out that you’re flexible. Because let’s face it, you are. You’re in a hurry.

Once you’ve done that, it’s time to be proactive. Scour the standard apartment-hunting sources—Craigslist, yes, but also sites like Naked Apartments, RentHop and StreetEasy, if you’re looking for your own place (see our previous coverage on this here), or those like Roomster and PadMapper if you’re looking to join an apartment with people already living there (click here for a more thorough list and here for tips on getting your paperwork in order so you can jump on a place fast).

Apartment-hunting in New York tends to operate on a pretty quick timeframe anyway, meaning new options for the upcoming month are always becoming available. If you want to increase your chances of snatching up a sought-after gem, consider your search your new full-time hobby. Your diligence will be rewarded.

Prioritize what you want

Everyone has a list of priorities they want in an apartment. The list will change depending on who you are and what you value most, but they can typically be broken down into four categories: Neighborhood, the apartment itself, price and the number of people you live with.

Generally speaking, the more money you’re prepared to spend on an apartment, the more likely you are to satisfy your every real estate desire. If you want to live alone in a West Village penthouse located within spitting distance of four subway lines and all your favorite haute pretzel shoppes, be prepared to pay accordingly. Most of us, however, will have to prioritize. If you’re moving quickly, strive to achieve three of those four priorities.

I, for instance, was fully committed to remaining in my neighborhood, would tolerate no more than one roommate, and was operating on a pretty tight budget. As a result, I wound up moving into a building so decrepit that I’m a little surprised every time I return home to it still standing. If you wind up in a similar situation, may I recommend renters insurance?

Nevertheless, I don’t regret my decision, because I made a conscious analysis of what I wanted most in my new space, and made my peace with what I was  sacrificing when I forked over the deposit. And hey, when the thing inevitably crumbles to the ground (preferably without anyone in it), maybe I’ll take the opportunity next time to find a sturdier building.

Remember, nothing is forever

Maybe you’ve done your best, but the apartment you wind up with isn’t ideal. I’m sorry. Did you check Craigslist? Well, what’s done is done.

Give yourself a month or two to adjust to your new place. Don’t compare it to your old place—it’s not productive. Sometimes, especially when I’m dragging a load of laundry through a February blizzard four blocks to the laundromat, I reminisce about the days when I could practically toss my clothes into the washer from my room, no shoes or jackets or pants required.

But that’s over now, that time relegated forever to a brief, joyous memory.

That said, if you sense you’re embarking on a living situation you won’t ultimately be happy with, don’t get yourself entangled in a lease you can’t get out of. New York is replete with month-to-month options, so there’s little reason to sign your life away for a bunk deal. If you really need to buy more time, consider a short-term living option like Airbnb, though be aware of the city’s complex rules regarding its use.

And hey, on the bright side: You’ll probably have to move again soon, anyway!



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