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Student Blog: The Saga of Renting My First NYC Apartment

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A hopefully helpful list of some things I wish I knew before I began my journey to get an apartment in NYC

Student Blog: The Saga of Renting My First NYC Apartment
Me at an apartment showing, taken by my roommate

I just finished the long and difficult process of finding an apartment in NYC, and I want to share a few things that would have helped me out a lot, if I'd known them beforehand. For context, I have two roommates, and I did not have a very high budget.

1. NYC real estate moves FAST.

This one is a little more obvious, but it's so true. I spent my summer looking at listings online, and there were lots of apartments that were listed for several weeks. However, almost every apartment that I had saved on my various online apartment search website accounts were gone within a matter of days, if not hours. You have to act extremely fast if you like something, or you'll lose it. Several of the realtors told my friends and me that apartments have been going even faster than usual because of the lowered application fees and the ease of the applications. People are applying to lots of apartments at once because they can. If you like the apartment, apply ASAP.

2. Apartments almost always look different in person.

A lot of the time, when realtors post apartment listings online, the rooms look bigger because they will often use a wide camera lens. In reality, most of the rooms I saw in my apartment hunt were tiny, and always smaller than how they looked online. Some rooms in some apartments didn't even have closets, but you wouldn't really see that online. Not everyone can get to NYC to find an apartment before they need to move, and that's okay! A trick that I figured out was to look at what furniture was in each room, especially if there's no floor plan on the listing. If the pictures only showed a bed in the room with no dresser or desk, chances are the room can't fit a bed with a dresser and a desk, or you'd need to get a smaller bed in order to fit something else. Also video walkthroughs can be helpful because you get a taste of how much space there is to walk around in each room. On the flip side, apartments that don't look amazing online may look amazing in person!

3. You don't need a realtor!

My friends and I did this whole process essentially by ourselves with the help of the internet. We did reach out to a few realtors, but almost no one responded. There are so many websites where realtors list apartments, and it's really just a matter of reaching out and being persistent. What my friends and I did was send the message request on the online listing and text/call the listed agent. Some of our favorite websites to find apartments were: Streeteasy, Apartments.com, Renthop, and Zillow. A lot of people never responded, but we reached out to so many that we were booked and busy with apartment showings all weekend!

4. It might be better to look with your roommates.

Meeting new people can be scary! Especially when the new people in question are all random grown-up realtors from the internet! My roommates have not been in the city for the majority of the summer, so I spent a lot of time looking on my own. I met with a few realtors and went to a few open houses, but it was always nerve-wracking to go alone. I also did not feel comfortable meeting up with male realtors from the internet alone. Then one of my roommates came to town for a weekend to help with the search, and everything became easier. Finding apartments was still a task, but between the two of us we scheduled so many appointments and talked to so many realtors! It's also just helpful to have another person with you because different people think differently, so my roommate would remember questions I forgot to ask and vice versa!

5. NYC is expensive...

This is no secret, but it's something to keep in mind for this process. Everything costs money. When you apply for an apartment, you have to pay a fee. Every application has a fee, so if you have three people in your group that's three separate applications and three separate fees. Also some apartments make you pay something called a "good faith" deposit when you apply, which we learned could be anywhere from $500-1000. Not to mention, so many apartments require guarantors, which is also something to be aware of, and the guarantor has to make a certain amount of money more than the rent. This is apparently just so the landlord knows that the tenants can afford rent, but it makes the apartment renting process pretty (unfairly) inaccessible to a lot of people. When you find a place you like, and your application has been approved, then it's time to pay the bigger expenses. This usually means at least first month's rent and last month's rent (AKA the security deposit), and it can also include a broker's fee for the listing agent.

6. You probably won't find everything in one apartment.

It's important to make a list of the things you MUST have in an apartment, which is different from things you want and things you'd really prefer to have. For example, my friends and I needed three bedrooms, really preferred to have laundry in the building, and wanted a dishwasher (among many other things). I don't think a single apartment we saw ticked all of the boxes on our lists, but we ended up in a really great apartment that ticked almost all of them! Flexibility is important in the NYC apartment renting process, especially when you're in a hurry to find something.

7. Don't give up hope!!

There were so many times in this process that I felt like I was so screwed and that we were never going to find something. We were ghosted by so many realtors. We were disappointed by so many apartments we loved online. However, in the end, we found a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood we love for under budget! I won't lie- the process was extremely stressful and very grueling. But it was also kind of exciting! My first official NYC apartment! There may be times when you want to give up hope, but the market moves so fast in NYC, and you'll find something eventually!


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