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Everything you need to know about renting an apartment and moving in New York City

If you follow me on Instagram – @laura_peruchi – you see that I moved to another apartment a few days ago. I ended up showing a little about moving on my stories. I talked a lot about the subject before I moved too and as I know that a lot of people who follow me live in New York, I decided to write this post to share various insights, tips, and advice. That was our third move in New York. The first was when we arrived and stayed in a temporary apartment and moved to ours. The second happened four years ago. And the third was now. Before that, in Brazil, I had already moved seven times. Let’s say I understand a little bit of moving and moving in New York can be a very stressful experience. In the end, this move itself was more smooth than I imagined, so I decided to write this guide.

Why we have decided to move? 

We had been living in our old apartment in the Upper East Side for four years. It was the neighborhood we’ve always lived in since we came to New York. It was a pre-war building, old, with the fire escape stairs, that charming New York vibe. We had two bedrooms in a space of 900 sq feet. A generous space when it comes to New York. The building had no elevator or laundry – things we had in the previous one and we gave up to have more space. These missing things were not a problem at first, but over the years it started to bother us. In addition, the second room, where I was supposed to work from home, had no natural light, which ended up being a huge problem over time. Last year, we even rehearsed moving, but after weighing everything, we decided to stay in the apartment for another year. This time, we hit the hammer: we would move.

Searching for an apartment and moving to another neighborhood

We moved to Harlem, a developing neighborhood. Our initial idea was not to “go up” in Manhattan but to stay in the Upper East Side. But it was in Harlem that we found wonderful apartments, in new buildings, with everything we were looking for – and at much better prices. In fact, here’s my first tip: making a list of things you don’t give up is essential. In our case, what we were looking for was: space (two bedrooms), light, laundry (in the building or apartment), elevator, and being close to the subway. If you have a list like this, it is easier not to fall in love with an apartment with wonderful views – but only one bedroom. Returning to Harlem, we talked to two friends who live/lived in the neighborhood to find out what they thought and their thoughts made us consider the area. Could we spend more and stay in the Upper East Side? We could, for sure. But, we are thinking a lot about the possibility of buying something in two or three years, and we prefer to save the money for it – and not with higher rent now.

Moving to another neighborhood in New York is almost like changing cities. Each region has its vibe, its characteristics and you have to get used to everything again: grocery store, pharmacy, gym, new subway line. Our exercise was to focus on what we were going to gain and not what we were going to lose. When we rent, unless we have an infinite budget, we end up giving up some things to have others.

How to find an apartment in New York City?

There are many things to take into account, but basically it is your credit score and your income that will determine what you can rent. We already knew how things worked here: first, there is no point looking long before, as contracts are always for the 1st or 15th. That is, if you want to move on the 1st, the idea is to start looking after the 10th. You will hardly find landlords willing to wait more than two weeks for your move. The demand is high, and time is money.

Well, when you search for a property here, you need to dedicate a lot of time and also always be aware. The website I used the most was StreetEasy, it’s the most famous in the city. You can filter by the number of rooms, maximum price, if it accepts pets, and other details like laundry, elevator, etc. Another website that I really liked was ApartmentList – you put the basic requirements and it not only lists the options available but also features other flexible lists, such as: keep your budget and live in another area, pay more and stay in the same area with all requirements, etc. It creates several categorized lists and updates this list with new options as new apartments become available on the market.

In my opinion, it is not worth looking on many websites at the same time. The chance of you having a mental burnout is huge. Looking for an apartment here can be very overwhelming. I focused only on those two websites. With StreetEasy, I used their alert system: I’ve saved buildings I was interested in and also customized searches. So, every time there was an update, they sent me an email and I checked what was new. In addition, you need to know a good deal when it appears and be quick. That’s how we found the apartment we moved to: I received an alert from StreetEasy Tuesday night. I opened the ad, liked the description and the price. The apartment would be shown in an open house at noon the next day. I contacted the broker to clear up some doubts and she sent me a video of the place, which already gave me the certainty that it was exactly what we were looking for. I asked her if there was a chance to see the apartment at another time, before the open house, in the morning. I wanted to be the first to see it because I would have the chance to be the first one to apply and have no other “competitors” with the open house. We saw the apartment early in the morning and decided to apply. Before noon, she already had all of our documentation in hand. Here is another tip: have everything scanned and saved on a Google drive folder: documents, tax reports, payment receipts, etc. Thus, when something appears, it is easier and faster to submit the application.

Another thing that is interesting to note is that in New York there are some types of buildings: co-op, condo, and rental buildings. One of the apartments we love the most and which we would probably move into was a co-op. The application process was time-consuming and stressful. That’s because, in addition to analyzing the documents, you have to go through an interview with the board of this co-op. Besides the delay in analyzing the documents, they also took a lot of time time to schedule the interview – and it is an essential step in defining whether you are going to get the apartment or not. We had less than two weeks to move and we had no confirmation. That’s when we started to consider other options and we found our current apartment and decided to give up the other process. And being rational and having our list of priorities was essential for this dropout. We were attached to the co-op apartment (which was wonderful) but we thought a lot and realized that the new apartment met all of our requirements. Yes, the other (co-op) had wonderful features, like terrace, gym, and doorman, however, remembering that none of this had been our priority was essential for us to give up.

Basic guide to rent an apartment in New York City

1. Research, research, research – renting an apartment in New York requires time and patience. It all starts with a lot of online research and I have some recommendations, according to what you need:

  • Besides StreetEasy and ApartmentList, you can also search on Naked Apartments, RentHop and Craigslist (be cautious with this one, lol).
  • Listing Projects is another great resource – it is a free weekly newsletter compilation of vetted real estate listings.
  • Freele offers not only long term apartments but also short term (less than 12 months) and take over lease.
  • If you can’t afford an apartment of your own, you can always have roommates and Roomi is an app to post and find rooms.
  • If you are coming to the city to spend a short period of time or if you need a place until you find your apartment, you can consider a room at common, a co-living concept. In New York, they have apartments in 17 buildings – all 3-4 bedroom layouts in different areas of the city. Everything is included: electricity, internet, even weekly cleaning. I found everything very convenient! They make contracts from three months and the contract process is also simpler as they accept international documents as proof of income.
  • Last but not least you can also search on Facebook groups – yeah, Facebook still exists and the groups are probably the only good thing about it. Gypsy housing is most likely the famous one.

2. Broker fee – the broker fee is nothing more than the broker’s commission for showing you the apartments. The amount of commission may vary: there are brokers who work with a month-rent fee and others work with a fee up to 15% of the annual amount of rent. There are apartments that are “no fee”- you can filter this when you are doing your search. When we just moved to NYC, I remember that the no-fee options were very limited, but this year I’ve seen more and more no-fee apartments.

3. Quick decisions – in New York, the real state market is very fast. The winter months are usually slower, but from March, the market starts to change. Remember that there are thousands of people looking to find their home sweet home. So it’s good to be aware and sure of what you want and how much you want to spend. This way, when you find the perfect apartment, you don’t waste time and fill out the application right away. In New York, there is not much time to think: take it or leave it.

4. Location – New York is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live, keep this in mind. Remember that the location leads to the price of the rent. In Manhattan, for example, the cheapest units are in Upper Manhattan (Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood). You go downtown and apartments are expensive and small. Some areas of Brooklyn and Queens are also already super valued, like Williamsburg, Astoria and Long Island City. Another option is to look nearby cities in New Jersey, like Jersey City, Union City, and Hoboken.

5. Credit score – in the United States, a good payer status is defined by a credit score – a number that represents how much you are trustful. The credit score is influenced by many factors and there are several ways to make it grow. One of them – and perhaps the easiest – is to have a credit card. That’s how we built our credit score. Landlords typically prefer renters with credit scores of 700 or above.

6. Requirements – most of the time, your annual income must be 40 times the amount of rent. Let us assume that the rent is $2,000. Your annual income must be at least $80,000. The credit score is also a deal-breaker. If your credit score is great and if your annual income is good to go, requirements usually are: a security deposit in the amount of rent (and you get your money back when you leave the apartment) and a month in advance. In cases of outstanding credit score, you can negotiate a half value for the security deposit. If you do not meet the requirements (no credit good score, for example), the requirements may vary. When we arrived here, we visited apartments that asked for one year rent in advance.

7. Documentation – when you find the dream apartment, you need to fill an application, with your basic information. Every application has a fee, ranging from $50 to $150 – and you don’t get this money back. So it’s good to be sure that you really want the apartment. In addition to this application, you also need to present documents such as a letter from the employer stating the position and salary, pay stub, bank statements, and tax returns.

8. Guarantor – if you are a student with no income, you will need a guarantor. The guarantor usually needs to have an annual income of 80 to 100 times the amount of rent and submit all documents required in the previous topic. The guarantor must reside in the United States – sometimes, the landlord requires a guarantor from the area (New York or New Jersey). The guarantor can also be accepted in cases of people having a bad credit score or do not have the necessary annual income – but not all apartments accept guarantors!

9. Other details – always ask what is included in the rent when you are visiting an apartment: hot water, heating, gas. It is important to know this because it can increase your monthly expenses.

How to find out if my deal is good?

There are many traps in terms of buildings and apartments in New York. There are things that cannot be predicted – like a noisy neighbor – but there are others that you can easily figure out. When I found a potential apartment, I would always Google the address to see if there were any reviews (on Yelp too). In addition, Address Report is very useful for checking locations: it features complaints reports, security statistics, and more. Another interesting thing is to know how to filter reviews: see what people complain about and if that would be a problem for you. And remember that when it comes to apartments, it is not usual that people will spend time to write a positive review.

Organizing the moving

I confess: moving to another apartment causes a lot of anxiety in me. Making a previous organization was essential to making this process as “smooth” as possible:

  • Checklist: I created a spreadsheet and put several pending issues like websites and bills I had to update my address, the companies I had to hire, and also what I needed to buy for the new apartment.
  • MailUSPS  has a great service where you can put your old and new address and then forward all the mail and packages!
  • Cleaning: do you know that general cleaning to throw away that lot of things that you no longer use? From paper to pots, from clothes to books? We did this in January, two months before the move, already thinking about making the process of packing things easier and not doing this cleaning in the middle of moving boxes.
  • Food: we started to pack everything about a week before the move. We packed almost everything from the kitchen, we leave only the essentials. So it was important to have some meals in the freezer. It sounds silly, but it helped a lot!
  • Boxes: we use plastic boxes, from Gorilla Bins. Our motivation for doing this was to avoid the waste generated by cardboard. However, in addition, these boxes made it easier to pack everything, because we didn’t waste time assembling boxes and taping.
  • Moving company: we hired Elate Moving. They are fast and efficient, they disassembled all the furniture and assembled everything again. Nothing was damaged. One thing I also did was provide some snacks for them in the new apartment. It was 6 hours of work and nobody deserves to work hungry. And I think kindness breeds kindness. But if you don’t have a lot of money to spend on this, you can rent a truck on UHaul and also hire some people to help you on Task Rabbit.

I hope my tips have helped you who are thinking about finding an apartment in New York City!

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