The rental market in NYC moves faster than one can imagine.  I remember renting my first apartment.    The agent showed me the apartment, along with 5 or so other prospective tenants.  We left and walked around the block to check out the neighborhood and, fortunately, arrived back at the real estate office first.  As we were filling out the paperwork the other people, who had also looked at the place, walked in behind us and realized that they had lost.  The whole process took maybe 40 minutes.

The lesson is that a good real estate agent can help you navigate the overwhelming apartment search process.  Find someone you trust with strong knowledge of the area where you would like to live.  Make sure they explain the fee structure of each apartment.  Keep in mind that when there is no fee to the tenant it means the landlord is paying the agent; the agent is not working for free.   The availability of NO FEE apartments is based on the laws of supply and demand and at certain times of the year, particularly during the summer, there are fewer NO FEE apartments on the market.

The first thing to keep in mind is that your “real” search cannot start until 30 days prior to your move.  Prior to your “real” search, It’s a good idea to do your homework regarding neighborhoods/prices and to familiarize yourself with NYC real estate lingo such as:

  • A junior one bedroom, is a studio with a sleeping area that doesn’t have a door. 
  • A convertible 2 is a one bedroom where the landlord will allow you to build a temporary wall or where the second room does not have a door. 
  • A convertible 3 or 4 probably means that one of the “bedrooms” doesn’t have a door or the landlord will allow you to build temporary walls.
  • A prewar building is a building built before WWII and some of them still have original detail that make the apartment more interesting.
Next, when you go to see apartments with your agent, be prepared to put in an application that day.   If you see an apartment in the morning it may be gone by the afternoon.  Again, this is where your real estate agent’s expertise is invaluable.  Landlords have different requirements for an application and getting the paperwork correctly submitted the first time can mean the difference between landing your first choice apartment or losing out.
While each landlord has different requirements, the basics are the same.  You’ll need to prove you make 40X a month’s rent or have a guarantor who makes 80X a month’s rent to co-sign.   For example, to qualify for a $2500 apartment, you need to earn $100K.  If you have roommates, you need to prove that you collectively earn $100K.  Most landlords require a 700 credit score so you if you haven’t reviewed your credit report in a while, you may want to take a look at it.  

If you need a guarantor, it’s a good idea to take them with you when you shop apartments so there is no delay in putting in your application.  For the application, you will need to provide proof of employment, pay stubs and be prepared for a credit/background check.  In some cases, you may also need to provide letters of recommendation as well as your recent bank statements and tax returns.   If the apartment requires a “hold” deposit it has to be paid with a money order (the equivalent of cash) which is easy to obtain in NYC at places like Duane Reade or CVS.

Finally, be open to different areas.  The more that you can expand your search area the more availability of apartments there will be.  

Good luck and welcome to New York.   It’s the greatest city in the world!

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