What To Avoid When Looking For An Apartment In A Major City

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Cramped studio apartment

It may not be big, but at least it’s expensive!

If you read my last post, you may have realized I left a crucial component out: what exactly was I moving to New York City for. The answer: to work in the advertising industry!

Yes, sometimes when nobody is looking, I practice my Don Draper smolder in the mirror. Unfortunately, horribly imitating the famed, fictional Mad Men creative director hasn’t resulted in a salary equivalent to his yet—which I could have really used when looking for a place to live.

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Finding a decent apartment in most major cities is tough, but New York seems twice as bad. You can easily liken the real-estate market in NYC to a rabid pit bull that has a special taste for the cash in your wallet. Don’t worry about going poor trying to survive there: you’ll likely be broke upon arrival.

Well, I will be at least.

But you don’t have to be—if you heed the warnings I’ve listed below. Fellow New Yorkers and big-city dwellers, feel free to chime in with your own.

Brokers Are Evil

Oh, so you thought you only had to front first, last, and security to move in? Surprise! Your apartment may come with another magical little surcharge called a broker fee. And by “little,” I mean 12%–15% of your annual rent.

The fee usually goes to the broker responsible for listing the apartment (or the one who showed the apartment to you). Even if, as I did, you stumble into an open house put on by a broker, you may still have to pick up the fee.

So, what can you do to avoid that nasty little surcharge? Two things:

1. DO NOT use a broker to help you search.  Sure, the market may churn after only a day, but in the digital age, plenty of free tools can help you find the place of your dreams. My two favorites for NYC are the ever-useful Craigslist and StreetEasy, which I found my own place with. If you’re diligent, you can score a real deal with no broker involved. Now, to avoid having to pay for a broker you didn’t use …

2. Look for “no-fee” apartments. A no-fee apartment usually means one of two things. Either the landlord listed the place on their own (blessed soul) or they agreed to pay the fee for the broker listing the place (seems fitting, right?). These apartments do exist, but they go even faster than regular ones. Check Craigslist as much as you check Facebook, and you might be able to score one.

Fear Your Rent, Not Your Commute

New York is the most expensive city in the country, so a large part of your salary is going to end up going toward your rent. Since the city is so neighborhood divided, the places that most people want to live (Downtown and Midtown Manhattan) sport ridiculous price tags. It’s not worth having a tiny apartment in a prime location if you have to eat Easy Mac every day to get by!

Luckily, though, most major cities are very accessible. Subways, trains, and buses serve even the more distant outskirts of a city, so you can usually get anywhere in under an hour. Plus, the further out you get, the lower your rent will likely be. My advice? Forget the expensive, popular areas; go where it’s less crowded and less expensive. Your commute might increase, but even that can be relative.

It takes me 15 minutes to get from my apartment in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn to Downtown Manhattan. Don’t be afraid to cut costs by picking up commute time—your wallet will definitely be grateful.

Any other money-saving tips for moving to New York? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: Wikimedia

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  1. Angela Brady November 20, 2014 / 11:31 am

    As a real estate broker, I’m not going to chime in on this author’s “Brokers Are Evil, Do Not Use a Broker” advice.

    As a parent, I will chime in and offer my opinion to use Craigslist and other free tools with caution.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    Be safe when you go to look at potential rentals.

    • Ryan Lane November 21, 2014 / 8:11 am

      Great advice! Thanks for sharing, Angela!

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