How to Find an Apartment for Rent in New York

Ruth Shin
Ruth Shin

RENT

Park Slope, Brooklyn NY

Finding an apartment in New York can be a daunting task, especially if you are relocating from a different city or a different part of the country. Anyone can go online to a number property listing sites and start looking right away. However, this approach can be entirely wrong if you are completely new to New York City or even if you having been living in the city for a few years. There are a few creative ways you can begin your search.

1. Start Your Search Early

Typically for a New York resident, you’ll need roughly 4-5 weeks to start searching for an apartment. It’s even possible to find an apartment one to two weeks prior to your move-in date if need be, although most people generally don’t like to wait until the last minute. However, if you plan on looking two to three months before your move date, you may find that agents and landlords won’t want to bother any time with you showing you apartments. This is because they’d rather fill the apartment with someone whose lease start date is going to coincide with their desired date. If you think about it, would you rather let the apartment sit empty for two months rather than renting it out to someone who needs to move in two weeks? 

You may just want to start browsing through listings two months in advance to just see what’s out there, and get a sense of the market prices. If you’re soon-to-be NYC transplant, it will do you well to start your research a few months ahead of relocation.

Know Your Seasons

Also, whether you rent during the peak season or low season can have an impact on the deals you find and the amount of inventory available. The low season, which is roughly October to March, generally tends to have lower inventory but also less competition from renters. If a unit has been sitting on the market for over a month, the owner may be also willing to negotiate on the price. The peak season, from June to September, will see an explosion of listings coming to market each month. However, definitely be prepared to put down a deposit on the apartment you like, otherwise, it may be swept from underneath you by a more eager applicant.

2. Check Your Credit and Finances

Before you get carried away with the idea of an apartment you've seen online,  make sure you can actually qualify for one and get taken by surprise during the application process. Plenty of people have been guilty of thinking that by just putting down a deposit, they will get it the unit they desire. Unfortunately, this is only one step in a multi-step process. The ball is definitely in the landlord's or management company's court when it comes to deciding who is the best applicant and best potential tenant. 

Prepare yourself by gathering all the income documentation which should include a copy of your photo ID, a letter of employment, the last few pay stubs, last two tax returns or tax documentation, and most recent bank statements. You should be able to prove that you make about 40 times the monthly rent in one year. The more prepared you are at the time application, the better you look and the faster the process.

A Landlord is a Creditor

The number one thing the landlord is going to do is pull up your credit report. The credit score and report is going to tell them a lot about who this person is as far as a financial investment goes. You are in essence, a borrower. In a signed lease, you're actually agreeing to pay the full year's worth of rent, but the landlord is agreeing to let you pay in monthly installments. For that, there will need to be financial trust. 

Your credit score and report is going to give the landlord a picture of what kind of bill payer you are. The higher your score, the better you are as a timely and conscientious payer. It shows you are good at managing your bills. The lower the score, the more untrustworthy you seem. However, the landlord will usually look beyond just the score and pull up a full report and what risks are involved in leasing the apartment to you.

Work to Improve on Bad or No Credit

Pull up your report and see that you are in good standing. It's a fine start if your score is 650 and higher. It's even better if you're over 700. Fix any errors you find on the report by contacting the credit bureau that has the listed error. If you've given yourself a good headstart and your score is less than stellar, start right away by making sure you pay on time or open up a credit card account if you don't have a credit rating.

3. Use Your Social Network

If you need to familiarize yourself with the city before actually traveling there, use your social contacts who live in New York (preferably friends or family who have lived there for a few years). Don’t rely too heavily on one person as you won’t get a varied perspective on boroughs and neighborhoods. For example, a Manhattanite might say to stay away from Queens, when it may be the ideal borough to call home.

If you don’t think you know anyone personally who resides in the city, you might want to check out sites and apps like Instagram and Pinterest where users are posting shots from their daily life, neighborhood activities, and restaurants they frequent. Follow and contact those people if just to ask a few questions. Using these sites allows you to find someone who seems to have similar interests or lifestyle needs. They might be able to give you better insight than others.

4. Contact Real Estate Agents

Believe it or not, but using an experienced real estate agent can make all the difference in finding the right apartment and neighborhood. A good agent will not only have access to a variety of great listings, but know how to get around the city, specialize in a few different neighborhoods, have a great network of contacts and resources, be able to guide you through the rental process, and help you understand what you should be looking for in an apartment.

We recommend that you work with one to three such agents; perhaps one for each borough you’d like to search in. Using a real estate agent could also be a great option for those already living in the city, especially if you plan on moving to an area you are more unfamiliar with.

Factor in the Brokers Fee

Be wary of the fact that in New York City, the norm is for the tenant to pay the broker’s fee for the apartment. In most cities around the country, the landlord usually pays the broker’s fee, so this news may come as a complete surprise to those who are new to the city. No-fee apartments are becoming more common as the market changes, but be prepared to still pay fees for apartments in the most desirable areas. The standard broker’s fee is 15% of the annual rent, which is due at lease signing. This equals to just shy of two months’ worth of rent. You may be able to negotiate this amount to just one month, but it depends on the brokerage and the circumstances. 

Save Early

Remember, that this may be money well worth spent if you work with an agent who is able to make great suggestions and ends up finding you an amazing place. We strongly recommend saving up to at least 6 months’ rent ahead of your lease signing and move-in date, to give yourself options and a safe financial cushion. The benefit of finding a great agent or broker is immeasurable as it will save you hours of research, worry, and stress.

You can find an agent by searching through ads on listings sites, reading Yelp reviews, or a recommendation from a friend. You can also contact a brokerage with a great reputation. They will be able to direct your query to an experienced agent who can help you out. 

5. Travel to the Area Beforehand 

As an out-of-towner, if you are able to, it is ideal if you can visit New York City before you actually move. Plan on staying with friends or better yet, stay at an Airbnb or hotel in the neighborhoods you are most interested so you can familiarize yourself with the area, stores, transportation, and the general vibe. With a resource like Airbnb, you can explore a few different neighborhoods during your stay. 

For New York residents, if possible, visit a friend who lives in the area you’d like to move to or plan an activity in that neighborhood so you can check it out. Once you start looking at apartments in the area, you may be too pressed for time with appointments or just be too exhausted to check out the local culture and ambiance. Ideally, you should visit your desired neighborhoods during the day and the evenings as they can vary dramatically.

Other Search Tactics

The first place anyone goes these days to look for rental apartments will inevitably be one of the many listing sites people are familiar with. Finding out which one is best for your needs may be tricky with so much overlapping information and ads. PropertyNest not only has one of the best and easy-to-use interfaces, but we offer the unique feature of searching by your own credentials--meaning you can immediately see the apartments that fit your criteria and also most likely qualify for.

Alternative Online Sources

Aside from the usual listing sites, you might want to try social media and networking sites. Besides real estate agents who may be on social media, available apartments not usually listed on real estate sites can be found on Facebook, shared by the landlord or a friend of the landlord. Most of them tend to be smaller property owners who don’t usually want to deal with listing sites and brokerages or those who prefer word-of-mouth referrals or to meet a potential tenant through a friend. That being said, if you are to find any listings, you’ll need a robust network in that particular area for those hits to come up. You might also check local google groups or neighborhood forums. 

Beware of Craigslist. While this is still a goto in most cities and you can find real apartments through the site, it is increasingly difficult to do so. There are many real estate scams and Craigslist is an ideal marketplace to phish for victims. Make sure the person posting is a licensed real estate professional. Better yet, use a more reputable site that specializes in real estate listings.

A Physical Search

Although time-consuming, you can also try going on foot or bicycle in a neighborhood you’ve chosen. Many landlords and brokerages still put up signs on the property or the window and you might be able to get a really good lead. Select a day when you can spend a few hours in the area of your choice. Take pictures of the signs and the actual building, taking note of the address. 

6. Assess Best Neighborhoods to Match Your Needs

Average Sq. Ft. of Rentals in New York City

Studio1 Bedroom2 Bedrooms3 Bedrooms
Manhattan370 SF565 SF820 SF1160 SF
Bronx460 SF640 SF840 SF1035 SF
Staten Island580 SF760 SF970 SF1280 SF
Brooklyn380 SF550 SF760 SF965 SF
Queens410 SF570 SF795 SF975 SF

Best for Families:Best for Millennials:Best for Nightlife:
Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, BrooklynWashington Heights, ManhattanWilliamsburg, Brooklyn
Park Slope, BrooklynChinatown, ManhattanDowntown Brooklyn
Bay Ridge, BrooklynAstoria, QueensBrighton Beach, Manhattan
Woodlawn, Riverdale and Norwood, BronxThe South BronxAstoria, Queens
Greenwood, BrooklynEast Village, ManhattanLong Island City, Queens
Upper West Side, ManhattanWilliamsburg, BrooklynEast Village, Manhattan
Battery Park City, ManhattanTurtle Bay, ManhattanMeatpacking District, Manhattan
Lower East Side, ManhattanSouth BronxBushwick, Brooklyn
Williamsburg, BrooklynGreenwich Village, ManhattanHell’s Kitchen, Manhattan
Ridgewood, QueensClinton Hill, BrooklynGreenwich Village, Manhattan


Average Monthly Rental Prices in New York City 2018

Studio1 Bedroom2 Bedrooms3 Bedrooms
Manhattan - All$2,550$3,500$5,150$7,890
Manhattan - Tribeca$3,700$4,850$8,480$14,800
Manhattan - Gramercy Park$2,590$3,700$5,140$8,120
Manhattan - Murray Hill$2,590$2,870$4,050$7,550
Manhattan - Kips Bay$2,450$3,260$4,450$5,540
Manhattan - E. Greenwich Village$2,350$3,120$3,690$4,960
Bronx - All$1,510$1,790$2,260$2,690
Bronx - Fieldston$1,580$1,830$2,290$5,660
Bronx - Riverdale$1,490$2,010$2,950$3,850
Bronx - Spuyten Duyvil$1,490$1,930$2,730$3,090
Staten Island$1,630$1,980$2,630$2,560
Brooklyn - All$2,300$2,620$3,100$3,480
Brooklyn - Dumbo$3,210$4,460$6,220$13,100
Brooklyn - Brooklyn Heights$2,300$3,000$4,680$7,930
Brooklyn - Fort Greene$2,400$3,040$3,980$5,350
Brooklyn - Williamsburg$2,640$3,190$4,090$4,870
Brooklyn - Park Slope$2,060$2,570$3,230$4,100
Queens - All$2,040$2,390$2,910$3,110
Queens - Long Island City$2,440$3,070$4,180$6,380
Queens - Sunnyside$1,680$1,980$2,440$3,280
Queens - Astoria$2,000$2,290$2,700$3,210
Queens - Forest Hills$1,550$2,030$2,710$3,370
Queens - Kew Gardens$1,550$1,910$2,370$2,940

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