How To Find Your Ideal Apartment On A Budget

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Three windows facing New York City skyscraper and buildings

Wanted: room with a view, no broker fee.

Moving is always a pain. Doesn’t matter where you are. The fees, the packing, the sacrifices—they can scar a person. In NYC, though, moving is pretty much even worse. The rents keep going up, there’s a shortage of good places, and no space to put your stuff.

During my original move to the city, I fell into an apartment that a friend of a friend recommended. Now, going into my second year, I’ve taken a more hands-on approach. I am on a mission to find the perfect place—on a budget of course. If you’re starting your apartment search, here are a few tips I’ve learned to help you get your ideal spot.


“Find What You Love In An Apartment And Let It Kill You”

OK, maybe I butchered that Bukowski quote, but you get the gist.

What do you want in an apartment (other than good looks, a nice sense of humor, and brains)? Is it windows? A dishwasher? A nice location? Close to nightlife? Find the one thing that you can’t live without and make sure you get it. Don’t get distracted by other amenities that you could live without in the long run. Be strong and firm with what you want, and let the real estate agent and your future roomies know.

My priority looking for apartments is that every room has a window. I can sacrifice location, and even that dishwasher, as long as I get some air flowing.

Befriend Your Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents have their own priority: They need to make the sale. The more I talk to them, the more I realize that the client they’re most likely to help is the one who will sign a lease fast.

However, after chatting with about 15 real estate agents in the past few weeks, I’ve started to stick to a few—mostly the ones who were polite and didn’t blow me off when I told them my budget. The more I talk to them, the more they get to know me; the more they get to know me, the more they get a sense of me.

After showing me a few apartments that I didn’t like, the agents are now presenting me with more ideal options. They are starting to see what I want, and they know how I could get it. This won’t happen if you don’t stick it out, work with your real estate agent, and see the process through.

Watch Out For Extra Fees

Moving requires a lot of money up front. It usually goes first month, last month, and security. But some apartments have a broker fee, too. I had no idea these existed until I found a great apartment—then found out I’d have to pay 12% of a year’s rent up front to land it. I didn’t want it THAT much.

I’ve found a couple ways to avoid such fees (other than telling your real estate agent that you are not going to look at apartments that have a broker’s fee). First, look at apartments by owners. Second, move mid-month or in a non-peak month. For example, one agent told me that if I moved mid-August, I wouldn’t have to pay the fee. However, if I waited until September, the fee was going to be there and rent was going up. Yikes.


In the end, I’m going with the place that as soon as I walk in, I feel like I could make it my home. And in this crazy city, a place to go back to and center yourself can go a long way.

Got any moving experiences to share? Any tips on how to lower your rent?

(Photo: Wikimedia)

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