How I Got My First New York City Apartment …and What I Learned

Lets get something very clear: there is little point in searching the Internet to find your dream apartment, because even if you find it online, there is a large chance it is not available for lease and perhaps never was. Or so implied the broker I began speaking to, in the hope of getting my own fabulous New York apartment. After emailing this broker about an apartment I had found during an afternoon date with Google, I found myself in a midtown office building that was nothing what I had expected. It was unglamorous, unorganized and in my opinion, incredibly unprofessional. Rather than run a mile though, I decided to bear with the broker and his associate who had agreed to try to work with me.

BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR BUDGET AND ANY UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES

You see, my situation was a little different: I had no US background, but I was ready to pay rent upfront.  (No, I’m not an heiress, I had saved for 18 months to be able to do this!)  Not all management companies will work with someone in my situation – but this broker knew a couple with some apartments who were open to negotiation.

SET ASIDE A DAY FOR SEARCH

I spent the majority of the day with this broker. After discussing my options in his office, we set out downtown on the red train and visited three apartments. With the first I wondered whether I could “work with it” (run down, lacking space and very little natural light); the second was an easy studio shell that I knew I could put my own touches on to make perfect; and the third – spacious, stunning, fantastic location with a price tag to match. I had to pull myself back in and not let emotions get in the way of sticking to my budget.

MISSING OUT AFTER SIGNING ON THE DOTTED LINE

I decided to apply for the second apartment I saw – a studio in Greenwich Village. The broker and I spent the remainder of the afternoon in his office completing paperwork, leaving deposits and reading through the fine print. Had I just got my first New York apartment after just one day on the hunt? Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be (in hindsight, I’m rapt!). There had been another applicant who had all the right credentials and was viewed as a preferred tenant by the management company. I didn’t get disheartened though. I set out to view another apartment – this time in the West Village.

TRYING AGAIN

Alexandra_photo_2I loved the idea of the second floor walk up. I also loved that the window was very “Carrie” from Sex and the City and looked out onto busy street. Noise wasn’t something I was concerned about – I love the sound of the city – it soothes me yet makes me feel safe and alive! It was late on a Friday afternoon… I applied for this apartment (perhaps a little hastily) and spent the weekend unsure of whether to get excited or prepare myself for Monday’s disappointment. It turned out I had nothing to worry about. Yes, there were negotiations that went on between myself, the management company and the broker, but I feel as though I stood my ground and came out on top.

FINALLY GETTING THE KEYS!

The following Friday, after the timely process of transfering Australian funds into a US bank account, I collected the keys to my own studio apartment in the Village. I could hardly believe I had done it in a little over a week.

HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED:

  • Be on your A-game! These brokers work closely with the management companies and will tell you anything! Don’t be bullied into not putting in your desired offer or not asking for special conditions (i.e I offered $95 less per month rent and also stipulated the date I wanted the lease to commence. I got my way eventually by standing my ground and the broker actually reduced my fee due to my lease commencing earlier than I had wished).
  • Be aware of the fees. I signed a 6 month lease (due to my hesitation to commit to NYC for 12 months) but your broker’s fee is still 12-14% of the rent over a 12 month period, so using a broker for a short lease is expensive. If you’re a student, offer up your ID – it gets you a discount!
  • Everything happens very quickly! Go in ready, with the necessary documents, and know what your budget is and exactly what your plans are.
  • Be prepared to do the work for your broker. I had to go to them, I had to call them, I had to follow up… Compared to the process I am used to in Australia, I found it unbelievably unprofessional (particularly considering in Australia we do not pay broker fees, yet we get 1000% better service!)

At the end of the day, I have an apartment on a street I once walked down and said to myself, “imagine living here – it’s so beautiful!”. It’s now the place I call home. My first New York City apartment!

Author My First Apartment
Alexandra

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Alexandra is a self-confessed homemaker with light OCD tendencies - always likes to have her home ready for that next unexpected guest. From fresh blooming flowers to perfectly positioned throw cushions, Alexandra finds joy in creating a divine space for endless entertaining and memories. But what Alexandra has found in her quest for stunning apartments and perfect, respectful housemates to go with them is that we each have very differing opinions of clean and beautiful. That's all part of the process though, she says - from dealing with precious yet pushy brokers, to bills, housemate's boyfriend who never seems to leave, and whose turn it is to buy toilet roll!

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Comments (2)

  1. Leslie

    First thing, I don’t know about other big US cities, but I had never heard of using a broker to find an apartment until I moved to NYC – this is not a typical thing.

    Secondly, you certainly do not need a broker to find an apartment in the city at all! It might take a little longer but is certainly do-able. There are many decent no-fee apartments on CL and the other various apartment sites.

    Reply
    • Alex Alex

      Hi Leslie,

      This is true — our readers should know that NYC is one of the few US cities that has a robust pay-for-play broker system. In most US cities, finding a high-quality place can be done easily without any broker fees.

      And you’re right: it certainly is possible to find an apt in NYC without a broker — particularly if you’re looking for a share. That said if you’re not looking for a share, the quality of wholly vacant no-fee apartments is generally far lower than those available through brokers. This has been my experience, as well as the experience of several of my NYC friends, as well as colleagues at MFA.

      Reply