You decided to take the BIG leap, you packed up everything you could, and bought that dreaded one-way ticket to the world’s most exciting (and honestly overwhelming) city in the world…minus the apartment hunting part!
You soon realize that finding a decent apartment in NYC — a place that is not a dungeon, that doesn’t cost you over $1k/month, and isn’t far removed from civilization — is your next biggest challenge.
In this in-depth New York City apartment hunting guide, I will share with you how I found an apartment my first month moving to the city for less than $1k, what to expect when you are ready to actually sign a long-term lease, and scams to avoid to preserve your sanity because…
I almost lost mine.
There are a couple of options when it comes to finding apartments in the City, in order of preference below:
If you really want to save some $$ and see where life will take you in NYC (especially if you move without a job lined up or want to try out the city), my best advice is to sublease a place first.
Subleasing allows you to rent out a room in an apartment from a person who owns the lease (they’re legally obligated to the lease, not you). You would pay your rent to the person you are subletting from. Usually, this is a month-to-month contract or bi-weekly if you negotiate.
The rooms usually come fully furnished, a perk saving you tons of money and the hassle of moving furniture on the subways or Ubers!
How to Find Apartments to Sublease?
Sites like Roomi.com and Spareroom.com, help connect you with people you can sublease a room from. They have various filters that allow you to search listings within your budget and location preference. I scored my first sublet from Spareroom.com for $750/ month, including utilities!
Mind you, this room was smaller than my dorm room in college but I loved it and got along pretty well with the girl I was subleasing from.
But the best deals are actually found on Facebook groups!!
You can use the search tool to find more groups like this. They are usually closed groups so request to join a bunch of them as it may take a while to get in a few.
My experience with finding a place to rent before I actually moved to NYC was horrifying (read below). I do not recommend going that route unless you know for sure you will be staying in NYC for a year or more and have saved up 3x the first month’s rent.
If you must rent before you arrive in NYC or let’s suppose you moved and you are ready to sign a year lease, then I recommend you make some friends first or find people to room with before you go apartment hunting. Why? Because all the rooms in a shared NYC apartment need to be rented out before you can sign on a long-term lease.
If you have roommates, you can look for apartments through websites like:
Keep in mind that you will have to go through a real estate broker to secure an apartment. You will not be able to independently find an apartment in NYC.
I had the worst luck finding an apartment because I didn’t come prepared with roomies. It took me losing four apartments I put deposits on and two months of constant searches. I think I saw about 30 (crappy) apartments in the dead of winter.
Please don’t be like me. Signing a long-term lease can get tricky…
Brokers prefer groups because they don’t have to put in the work themselves to find your roommates and they must have the apartments fully occupied before you sign on the lease.
- They WILL give up your spot even with a deposit down if they don’t find your roommates.
- They will keep you on a leash for as long as possible and will have you do the heavy lifting to actually find your roommates (good luck getting people to commit in NYC)
- If you couldn’t find roommates, they will not let you move in unless you pay them the full rent and sign the entirety of the lease to YOUR name–that’s one option if you can afford it!
If everything goes well and you find the place of your dreams, keep in mind the following:
NYC Rental Requirements and Costs:
- You will have to pay a deposit RIGHT AWAY. The deposit is a FULL first month’s rent + application fee ($60-$150 for your application and your guarantors, if you use one)
- You need to have your first month’s rent ready at the lease signing. (Some even require your last month’s rent!)
- Have your documents ready and scanned in so you can act fast. These include:
- National ID/Passport
- The last three bank statements
- Recent pay stubs or proof of income- must be 40x the rent in yearly income (you can use a job offer letter, too)
- Savings Account Statements if it’s substantial
- If you do not make 40x the monthly rent. You can use a guarantor. This can be a family member or a good friend that is willing to SIGN the lease with you. They will have to prove that they make 40x the rent in yearly income!! (Outrageous, I know!)
- Your credit (your guarantors’) is usually the defining factor in whether or not you get approved. Credit must be good or excellent.
- Money for furniture (I spent around $600 to furnish mine.)
I stayed in my subleased room for a month until I was offered a full-time job. I then found my current roommate on one of the Facebook groups I mentioned above.
Funny story: I thought I secured an apartment because I put a deposit down and was promised by the broker that I can move in by January 1st…
”For sure you will be able to move in!” she said.
This is the biggest lie they will tell you. Based on that promise, I did not extend my sublease and had to move out because someone else was going to take over my room. Fortunately, the girl I was staying with was kind enough to let me crash for a week on her couch until I found an apartment.
After several long nights of searching for apartments online and seeing over a dozen of them, one night I saw a post on one of the Facebook groups by a girl who is now my current roommate.
It went something like this:
Her: “I need a place for $1k-$1.3k ASAP. Ready to move in next week!!!”
We teamed up, started searching for a two-bedroom apartment within our budget for three days straight. We searched on apartments.com and Streeteasy.com and even went to the extent of creating a Google doc with all the places we were interested in, (locations, the price, and the brokers’ contact info). After two days of non-stop back-to-back viewings, we found the one!
It was the most perfect place. I knew as soon as I walked in that this would be home (after seeing 30 crappy apartments, you just know)!
It was exactly within our budget, in a great neighborhood, 30 mins from the city, and had a washer & dryer (a rarity in NYC)!
You can watch my apartment tour video to see what we scored for $1250 each/month in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn:
What to watch out for when renting apartments in NYC?
- Don’t put a deposit down on a long-term lease, if the broker can’t secure your roommates or you don’t have people ready to sign with you.
- Avoid sending deposits through Venmo. Okay, I actually did this. It is pretty common here for brokers to ask for a Venmo deposit and generally speaking it is safe. But if you can avoid it and have a more official form of money exchange, you will have more peace of mind and proof that the money you sent was indeed a rental deposit.
- If your rental application gets rejected, ask for your deposit back.
- They can keep the application fee which is used to run your credit (check that they actually ran your credit!) but you are entitled to get back your deposit.
- Watch out for big-name apartment rental companies that invite you over to their office to meet first. They usually require that you pay them a broker fee. That fee is usually over a few hundred dollars! There are TOO many no fees listings so don’t waste your hard-earned cash.
- When subleasing through sites such as Facebook groups or Craigslist, avoid sending anyone money until you see the place and meet the person yourself at the rental apartment. I have friends that were turned away after arriving at the rental apartment, thinking the place is theirs because they paid.
Remember: Nothing is yours until you have a key in hand, even if you paid for it.
This can be a more cost-effective option with the least amount of hassle for newbies to the City.
I know of friends that moved to NYC and started out by temporarily renting out a room on Airbnb for less than 1k! Similar to subleasing, there are fewer fees and less hassle involved in going this route.
Save $40 on your first home booking and get $15 to use toward a local experience worth $50 or more here.
I just wanted to add this one here because it is a viable option and I know of people who found their apartments on there but everyone knows about Craigslist. However, I personally never trust the ads on there and always feel like there is a catch or a scam. Proceed at your own risk!
Final Words of Wisdom
Sublease first. Think of apartment hunting in the city like job hunting; apply for as many as you can and as soon as you see a place you like, PUT YOUR MONEY DOWN or someone else will snatch it up. After all, this is NYC, the city of hustlers!
If you still have questions on finding apartments in NYC, feel free to contact me or suggest a related topic for a future post. Happy hunting and good luck on your new adventure!