How to Conduct a Successful New York City Apartment Hunt

There has always been a part of me that wanted to move away from my hometown in Northern California to the great city of New York. I didn’t travel far for college, and I never studied abroad. In the late summer of 2014, my college best friend and I decided to make the big move. There was a lot of planning involved, a lot of money saving, but the most challenging part of making the move was actually finding the apartment.

(Ed.note: Even though Ben’s experience is related to NYC, it also applies to apartment hunting in other big city rental markets.)


There is a lot to be said about moving to this city, and I had to learn pretty quickly that the more preparation that you do before you move, the better. Before I actually made the move, my dad and I made a week-long trip to New York to make sure that I really wanted to do it, and we decided that it was a great idea. The conclusion of the trip was that I was going to try to find a two bedroom apartment in Queens.

Brooklyn BenI spent the next three months looking up apartments and prices. I wanted to educate myself as much as possible before I headed this way. While I was on my first trip to New York, my dad and I spent a few days looking at apartments in Brooklyn and Queens. During this time, we called a few landlords and brokers, and we also went to a few open houses.

One of the brokers from an open house actually told us that it was a bad idea to try to find an apartment from across the country, and in advance. He told us that what we needed to do was reserve an AirBnB or a hotel room, and just spend every waking moment searching for an apartment. This is what we ended up doing.

A week before I left for New York, I started to do some serious research. My main concern was that I wanted to make sure I had all of the appropriate paperwork to show the landlord when I do find a place.I emailed a few brokers and asked them what information I would need, and I composed a list.

It turns out that this is what I needed from everyone (tenants and guarantors):

  1. Copies of photo IDs
  2. Last 3 Bank statements (savings and checking)
  3. Last 3 Paychecks
  4. Tax Forms for the previous year

I spent the evening before I left making six identical packets with all of the documents in order.

I boarded my flight from San Francisco on the morning of January 6th with two big suitcases, a small one and a backpack. Leaving my parents was one of the most heartbreaking experiences I have had, but I did it.

When we landed, we took a car service to the hotel. Once we got there, we were exhausted from a full day of travel, and we went to get a bite to eat.

Because our original plan was to find an apartment in Queens, we stayed at a hotel in Astoria, Queens.


The next day we got started. We went on Craigslist first. We found a bunch of apartments in our budget, and we just started calling the numbers on the ads. We were able to set up three appointments for Tuesday, and three more for Wednesday.

Everyone says “don’t take the first thing you see,” but we actually fell in love with the first apartment we looked at. It had a nice living area, it had everything we were looking for, and we decided to tell the broker that we wanted it. Unfortunately, when the broker called the landlord and told her that we were recent grads who were not working, she told us that we would have to put up six months of rent before she would consider us. This was something that we couldn’t do, because as previously mentioned, we were recent grads who were not working.

That apartment did not work out, but that’s okay. We spent the next few days really looking, but we weren’t finding anything as nice or spacious as the first place. We kept looking at places we didn’t like, and when we did like a place, we were rejected on the spot. We did hear a lot of “no’s.” There were plenty of times when the fact that we weren’t working got in our way.

We searched in Queens for about three days and we were becoming discouraged. One of the things that I liked about Queens was that it did really feel very safe and family friendly. But we realized that we were running into trouble because not that many people would rent to two 22 year olds who weren’t working.

My roommate hadn’t been to Brooklyn, so on the fifth day of our search we decided to to give it a try. We knew that Williamsburg was a really popular place,  and we started there. We found that just stopping by a realtor’s office was a really good way to find places quickly.

When we arrived in Brooklyn, I actually didn’t hate it as much as I thought I did. There were tall brick buildings, shops that were open and well populated, and people everywhere! The thing we noticed about Brooklyn was that it “felt” like New York. Whereas in Queens, we didn’t have the same feelings. When we visited a realtor’s office, the lady at the desk told that she would be able to help us find something, but that Williamsburg was a little bit out of our budget. She recommended that we look one or two neighborhoods over, in a place called Bushwick. I had heard of Bushwick, but had never been there.

We decided to get on a train and just look at it, and then call the broker if we decided we liked it. When we got off of the train at the Myrtle Wyckoff station, we felt like it was a great place. There were a bunch of shops, a post office, and a few fast food restaurants. The neighborhood was just full of life. We decided to walk through to check it out and we liked what we saw.

The next day, our broker had put together a list of four apartments that she was going to show us. When we walked into the first one, we really liked it. We had seen about ten apartments at this point, and this was clearly the best. It was newly renovated, it had brand new appliances, and two bathrooms! We had not seen one that had two bathrooms.

That day we saw three other apartments, but we really did like the first one the best. The thing about New York that everyone tells you is that you need to make decisions quickly. Unfortunately, we were still not sure about everything. One of the things that we didn’t like was that we had to pay a broker’s fee. In California, a renter would never have to pay, so we were kind of upset about it. After a lot of thinking and going over various details, we decided to pull the trigger.


We finally set up a meeting to sign our lease with the landlord on January 14th, eight days after our arrival.

Because we used a broker, the lease signing took place in the broker’s office (which was only two or three blocks away from our apartment)! It actually took a long time! They have a form for everything. I would say that we signed about twenty forms, and each form took about 2-3 minutes.

Once we signed the forms, we got our key, and went to the apartment. It really felt good to be there. We had searched for so long, and it was such a relief to finally have our own place!

Overall, I found that the apartment hunting process was very stressful. One of the things that I found to be particularly challenging was the compromise that was involved. Because I was searching for an apartment for two people, I had to quickly learn that it wasn’t all about my priorities, and my needs. We were lucky to find something in the end that satisfied both of our needs (and had two bathrooms), but it wasn’t easy for me along the way.

Apartment hunting is one of the most challenging things I have done, and I hope I don’t have to do it again for a long, long time.

If you have any other advice or stories to tell, please let me know in the comments!


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Benjamin Hawes is a recent college graduate from San Francisco that just made his life long dream of moving to New York come true in the beginning of 2015. While in college, Ben served as a resident assistant for three years, and has a lot to say about how to get along with roommates! He recently found an apartment in Bushwick, Brookyn. He is having fun making his way through New York as he starts to decorate his apartment and pay his bills!

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