How to Find An Apartment in New York City


It's your typical young 20-something-year old pseudo-starving artist story. Young, ready to make the big break from mom and dad, and instilled with the magical hope that you'll snag a hot deal somewhere right off of Central Park.

Yeah, right.

Even trying to get in on Brooklyn's gentrification beat is becoming a bloodbath. I remember when Bushwick used to be considered the "ghetto" and nowadays, it's a prime hipster haven. But that's expected when you start running out of room (and money) in Manhattan. Unfortunately, for all of New York City's charms, it still remains one of the most expensive cities in America — which brings nothing but headaches and despair for essentially broke graduate students like myself.

And yet:

Oh, let me count the ways.

Brokers? Broker fees? Guarantors? What do you mean this property's no longer on the market? The listing only went up hours ago.

So how does a broke millennial find an apartment in the city and live to tell the tale? The first step to take is to figure out your finances — a no brainer, I know. But there's more to finances than just the rent. Be realistic about how much you can realistically afford on rent (don't forget initial move-in fees, like down payments and security deposits).

Then budget in food costs (ramen, instant coffee, Oreos), transportation costs (an unlimited monthly Metrocard is about $112, haha), miscellaneous costs (pizza, takeout, bar crawls) and emergency costs (expect the unexpected).

Once you've got that more or less figured out, find roommates. I can't stress enough how much having a roomie or five helps to divide up some of those costs. In your scramble it's also important to make sure you and your future roommates are on the same page — that they're reliable, clean, and won't slit your throat in your sleep. Follow their social media accounts, text them, talk to them, Skype them, and meet them in person. Once you are assured that your roommate isn't a psychopath of NBC Hannibal proportions (great show on a side note) hone in on a specific borough. Make sure to check for things such as neighborhood safety, how far is the nearest subway, and are there any Laundromats/grocery stories/delis nearby.

Manhattan is a reach — unless you're looking in the Washington Heights/Inwood, which I'm told is still pretty darn sketchy despite broke college students that tend to flock there. If you're apartment hunting alone, you might be so lucky as to strike it big by renting out a room or shared room in someone's sweet pad. But you've got to be quick on the uptake because NYC real estate moves faster than the speed of light.

Your next best bet is Brooklyn — Crown Heights in particular was a popular recommendation. Not only is it affordable (the low $1,000s kind of affordable) but also there are plenty of restaurants and bars around to make it enjoyable for the occasional night out. Clinton Hill is another worthwhile mention. Flatbush and Bed-Stuy are also cheap areas, but once again, sketchy. Bushwick is the dream, and great if you manage to snag a spot there. Other neighborhoods like Williamsburg and Park Slope are lovely, but are pricier and tend to more prone to families and working professionals — in addition to the hipster scene. The Bronx can be a long commute to Manhattan, but darn if my hometown isn't cheap! Fordham, Concourse and Pelham Bay/Parkway have their gold mines.

In Queens, Astoria is apparently the place to be. Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Murray Hill and Jackson Heights all get honorable mentions.

I, more than likely, will be ending up in Flushing with my roommate, renting out a very spacious room with a 30-minute-ish commute on the 7 train to school.

Why? That's just the way dice rolled. Plus, brokers can't be trusted (one emphasized to me that a commute from lower Manhattan to Midtown would be "extremely difficult" and "not worth it" as he then tried to advertise the even pricier Morningside Heights area) and broker fees are ridiculous. Even narrowing your search to no-fee apartments, one must keep in mind that good credit and pay stubs often count (if not yours, then count on your parents and keep those documents handy at all times). The guarantors/cosigner road can be tricky, however.  Landlords/management companies often require that the guarantor make anywhere from 40 to 80 times the rent.

Which leaves the final two questions — where to look and when to start looking.

The broker I mentioned earlier was right about one thing: starting the apartment hunt in June for a place in August was too early. In NYC, it's the norm to seal an apartment deal from anywhere around two weeks to days just before moving in. And if you're anything like me, the anxiety that last-minute booking brings is paramount. But that's how it is.

Out of the entire apartment searching websites offered up to me, the ones I found most effect was Naked Apartments and — you know it — Craigslist. Naked Apartments is pretty straightforward and offers up a great deal of listing within range of your specifications.

Craigslist, on the other hand, is a nightmare.

From live-in-girlfriend requests to scams, you need to be on your guard. If it sounds too good to be true — it's an instant tip-off. Twice the same person posting up $750 apartment ads in Astoria and Brooklyn tricked me. I only found out after the second inquiry email I sent out replied to me the same generated message of a person "owning" the apartment but being  "away in Western Africa working for a few years." Luckily, no money was lost — only my crushed hope. But for all of its bad, Craigslist is also a goldmine — if you sit at your computer and refresh obsessively, email frequently, and text/call madly. Something always comes up.

And that's what you should tell yourself if you're looking for a home in NYC — something always comes up. It may not be your dream home, but you can always dream a few years down the line.

Comment below or continue the conversation with me @akandez about your apartment search stories—I'd love to hear them!