How to find an apartment in NYC

It’s spring! The temperature is rising, the days are getting beautifully long, and pretty soon, people will be moving apartments.

Obviously people move year-round, but spring and summer seem to be especially popular times to hunt for a new apartment, probably since so many people move to New York each summer after they graduate from college. I found my current apartment around this time last year and while I plan to stay because I love my place, I thought I’d share some of the apartment-hunting advice I’ve come up with since moving here. Some of it is probably applicable for other cities, but from what I’ve heard about other cities, New York is an especially complicated place to find a place to live.

Most listings go up about a month before the apartment is available. June listings, for instance, won’t go up until May 1. You can start looking earlier than that, but you probably won’t find anything, unless you’re willing to pay for a month’s overlap — not always a bad thing if you want extra time to move! Craigslist and Padmapper are my favorite sites to use, since they both have a map feature. The map is useful because realtors will often say something is in one neighborhood in the listing title, but the actual address makes it clear that it’s in a different neighborhood.

Know your neighborhoods. If you have specific neighborhoods that you’re interested in, make sure you know what the borders are. When I first moved to New York, we were looking to live in Clinton Hill while my roommate went to Pratt for her MA, and we quickly learned that Classon Ave is the eastern border of Clinton Hill, despite many listings to the contrary. If something looks too good to be true (way under-priced for the neighborhood or for how nice it looks in pictures), it probably is too good to be true. But if something is a little under-priced and quirky, check it out — that’s how I found my apartment!

Use your resources: the internet + friends. Looking up information about neighborhoods online is helpful, but friends and coworkers are also a great a resource when you’re apartment hunting. Not only do they know the neighborhood’s boundaries, they usually have an idea of what the going rate is in their neighborhood, and they may even be able to put you in touch with their landlords, who might have openings nearby, or with brokers who know the neighborhood. 

If you love a place, hold on tight. When you find an apartment you like, you have to move fast. Often you’ll need to put down a deposit the day you see a place. Make sure to bring someone with you, preferably someone who will be even tougher on the place than you and will notice things like mouse poop or roach traps, will remember to check the water pressure and outlets, ask about how utilities are handled, check the locks, etc. Google the address and if possible the landlord before signing the lease, in case other people have already taken to the internet to talk about how terrible the building or owner is. There’s a site called, where you can sometimes see if there are 311 complaints about a building or a landlord – definitely worth a look.

Get your documents ready in advance. Ready to commit? Then be prepared to put down a deposit, in cash or cashier check — but never let a broker rush you if you’re feeling nervous. Brokers and landlords will often ask for a packet of application documents, like a scan of your photo ID, proof of employment and salary, your last couple bank statements, and a credit check. Having all these in order, saved in your email and ready to send along, can make applying for an apartment a much speedier process. If you’re a student or not yet employed, make sure you have guarantor lined up and be prepared to provide their financial information. The process for renting in a co-op is even more complicated, and I believe usually involves an interview, so make sure to ask what’s required of you when you fill out an application.

Be prepared to put a lot of money down as a deposit. At the application stage, you’ll be asked for a good faith deposit (often around $500). When you put down a deposit, the owner or broker has to the place off the market. If your application isn’t accepted for some reason, you should usually get the deposit back – but make sure to clarify that (and get in writing!) when you do put down your deposit. If you change your mind after placing a deposit, you usually cannot get your money back. 

Once you’ve committed to an apartment, you’ll hand over the rest of the deposit. By-owner rentals usually only require first month’s rent and a security deposit. If you have to use a broker, you’ll find that most of them charge a fee on top of that. One month’s rent is pretty standard, but some brokers (usually the more established ones, like Corcoran) charge anywhere from 10 to 15% of the year’s rent. Unless you really love an apartment and are committed to staying for a couple years, these expensive brokers often aren’t worth it. 

Read your lease carefully before signing it. Once your application is accepted, you’ll get a copy of your lease. Read it carefully, and ask questions about or Google any clauses you don’t understand. 

After the lease is signed, congratulations! You’ve managed to rent an apartment in NYC. Now you have about two or three weeks to pack up all your things and move. Moving between places in Brooklyn? I’ve used Greenbaum Expert Moving a couple times and found them to be reasonably priced, friendly, and very fast each time. All movers are very busy right around the first of the month, especially on the weekends, so if you can move in a little early or late, or midweek, you might get a better rate. 

For those who have done the NYC apartment hunt before, any suggestions to add? For those looking to move here, leave your questions in the comments!


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