The experience of Heather Graham, a pseudonym, is emblematic of apartment hunters in New York City today: She lost places to other renters willing to pay more than asking and sign longer leases—and in the case of one apartment—without seeing the space in person. Graham finally signed a lease for $7,250 a month, way more than she’d originally budgeted for. Here's her advice for others looking for rentals in NYC now.
My partner and I first moved in October 2020 and we got a really good deal at the time because the market was insane in a good way for renters. We moved into a two bedroom, two bath with a balcony in Boerum Hill. It was an 18-month lease for $3,900 a month—which was a little less than we had been paying for our previous apartment, which was one bedroom, one bath.
When the 18-month lease was coming to an end, our landlady said that unless we agreed to pay $4,500 for a 36-month lease, she was not going to renew. The rent increase wasn’t crazy but we had just had a baby and there were lots of reasons why a 36-month lease wasn’t an option for us. We didn't want to sign a lease that we would have to break so we started looking for a new place. We have a 10-week old baby so his first outings were to see apartments.
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We didn’t have a broker. I’ve lived in New York for 15 years and moved quite a few times and never found a broker to be particularly helpful.
I began our search by looking on StreetEasy. I’m used to apartments being on the market just a couple of days—but this was crazy. There were several places that were listed for a day or two and then taken.
Then we found a place and put in our first offer, and the agent told us that other renters were putting in offers over asking. I had never heard of this for a rental. We put in an offer $200 over the asking rent and offered a 24-month lease. They decided to rent to someone else who I think offered the same rent but a longer lease term, so 36 months at $200 above asking.
I found another apartment—a three bedroom, two bath in Boerum Hill—and I called the broker to ask if I could see it and she said the current renters needed 48 hours advance notice before showings. I had a plan to see it 48 hours later and then the broker emailed me to say someone had rented it sight unseen.
We put in an offer above asking with a 12-month lease for a third apartment and we did not get it. I’m not sure why, but it’s really crazy out there!
The apartment we ultimately got was in a large building in Downtown Brooklyn with a big management company, Plank Road, and there was no bidding war. We didn’t have to offer above asking, but we went higher than we initially budgeted for. The rent is $7,250 for a three bedroom, two full bath in a luxury building with a 16-month lease. It is way more than we had wanted to spend but given our circumstances, with a baby, we felt we needed the place. We didn’t pay a broker fee at least.
My advice would be not to move but I know that’s not feasible for everyone—it certainly wasn’t feasible for us—but if you have the option not to move right now, I’d try to wait it out. Also, have everything ready to apply. If you see an apartment you like, you will have to apply immediately. We didn’t take paperwork to the viewing—most buildings want you to apply online—so we had everything organized and ready in a folder so we could just upload it.
I have friends in other cities who are buying and it’s a similar situation in the sales market too with people buying all cash. Buying in New York wasn’t a consideration for us. It didn’t make sense for us right now and it’s so expensive, I’m not sure we would have been able to get anything.
Still, we are excited about the apartment. What happens in 16 months will depend on what it’s like having a baby there and what the work from home situation is. My partner and I are both hybrid, so we also needed a work space and the building has a common work space as an amenity. If the past two years have taught us anything, what happens next is very hard to predict.
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