This past April I returned home from a long business trip and was rudely greeted at the door by a letter from my landlord; my apartment building had been sold and I had 30 days to move out of my rental. Can you imagine?! This information was completely unexpected and the letter felt like a sick joke. Given my intense work schedule at the time, I really had no idea how I was going to be able to find a new apartment, pack my things and move out within 30 days! My first instinct was to panic, but being the true Virgo that I am, I took a deep breath, grabbed my computer and sat down to plan my exit strategy.
Whenever I plan a move, I like to put a timeline together in order to get a better understanding of how long I have to accomplish everything, and to set expectations and deadlines so I don’t feel completely overwhelmed throughout the process. Planning a move can be extremely exhausting, so the best thing to do is be as proactive as possible and get your game plan down on paper before diving in! Here are my steps to make your next move – into a NYC rental – a bit easier:
1) Determine your move in date
For me, determining this date was easy. I had no choice but to be out of my apartment by April 31st, so I was looking at a May 1st move in. NY apartments are typically advertised 30 days in advance, so I had to begin my search immediately, but if possible, I would recommend starting your apartment hunt at least a month in a half in advance. A short term sublet or crashing with a friend for a few weeks could have bought me a bit of extra time, but I was determined to not to prolong the inevitable.
2) Define your search area
If you have never lived in New York City before or are looking to switch neighborhoods, I encourage you to spend time in each of the neighborhoods you are considering to get a feel for them before committing. Your search will also be much more manageable if you narrow your desired locations down ahead of time. I did this when I was making my move from Manhattan 3 years ago and fell in love with Cobble Hill while walking around different areas of Brooklyn. Now, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else!
3) Determine your budget
This was challenging for me since the apartment that I was in was a total gem and was grossly underpriced for the Cobble Hill, Brooklyn neighborhood. I guess I should have seen this coming given a Rag & Bone opened up down the street from me, but alas, I was blindsided and bitter that I had to give up my charming one-bedroom apartment that I paid next to nothing for. To determine my budget, I first looked at the average price in Cobble Hill for a one-bedroom rental (I recommend sites like Zillow and Street Easy); I really wanted to stay in my neighborhood and didn’t want to downsize. Then I took a look at my monthly paycheck and assessed whether or not I could afford to stay in a one-bedroom without spending more than a third of my monthly income. I was pleased to discover that there were decent options for comparable apartments for only a modest increase in rent.
If you are looking to get your own place, keep in mind that NYC tenants typically need to prove they earn a yearly salary of at least 40 times the monthly rent (for a $2,000-a-month unit, you need to earn at least $80,000 a year). This is mathematically equivalent to you spending a maximum of 30% of your annual income on rent, a guideline commonly agreed upon by most experts. If this theoretical rent isn’t something you can afford, then look into getting a roommate, expanding your search radius into neighborhoods that are friendlier on the budget, or ask a family member to be a guarantor on your lease. It is also a good idea to know your Credit Score ahead of time so there are no surprises. If you don’t have good credit, or any at all, you will most likely be required to have a guarantor or pre-pay your rent/security.
You also want to factor in moving expenses in addition to the sometimes-unavoidable brokers fee. Even apartments found on craigslist can come along with a brokers fee of 12-15% of the annual rent- if you don’t have the means to pay this fee, your search may take longer and be more limited. As far as moving expenses go, you should think about whether or not you can afford to hire movers, or whether U-Haul and some loyal friends will do the trick. Don’t forget about packing supplies!
4) Map out your availability for viewings
Make a list of all of the dates and times you can be available for viewings. Flexibility is really key when trying to land your ideal apartment so if you can carve out time during the weekdays, you can beat the crowds and give yourself an advantage. Mapping out your availability will also give you a better perspective on how much time you actually have to find a place amidst any travel and work or personal commitments.
5) Gather all necessary paperwork ahead of time
It definitely depends on the rental property, but whenever viewing apartments you should have the following documents on hand. You don’t want to lose out on your dream apartment because you didn’t have your bank statements printed out ahead of time!
- Photo copy of your ID
- (2) Recent Bank Statements
- (2) Recent Pay Stubs
- (2) Recent Tax Return statements
- Letters of recommendation from past landlords
6) Know your must haves and your deal-breakers
Before seeing any apartments, look around your current place and identify what you love about it and what you would change. This will help you to understand what is most important to you and prioritize viewing apartments accordingly. Do you require laundry in the building? Do you have a pet? Do you have a limit on how many flights of stairs you will climb to get home? Here are the lists that helped to narrow my search options:
- Must Haves: 1BR, lots of sunlight, separate kitchen (of decent size), hardwood floors, close proximity to subway, top floor
- Deal Breakers: Basement level, tiny bathroom, modern high-rise (no character)
7) Scour the Internet + Schedule viewings
My apartment search entailed visiting local real estate agents in my neighborhood along with daily, and sometimes hourly, searches on the websites listed below. I ended up finding my current apartment on Street Easy, so grab your computer, enter your search parameters and dive in!
8) Take pictures and ask questions
When viewing each apartment be sure to take lots of pictures of each space you see and ask any questions you may have. Keep a list of your must-haves and deal-breakers as well as your questions and make sure to check for things like:
- Check for cracks, or water damage in the ceilings or walls.
- Check all windows for breezes; do all windows lock? Are there screens?
- Check the water: turn on all taps; check how hot, how long it takes to get hot, shower pressure; do sinks back up?
- Check all appliances.
- Test keys and locks.
- Check out the fire escape. Locate fire alarms, look for extinguishers in common area.
- Check for noise from above/below/next door.
- Where can bikes be securely stored? Do they have to be kept in the unit?
- Check for general care and upkeep: are old nails, loose screws, window hardware painted over a million times?
- Is the apartment building on a busy or quiet street?
- Check the bathroom for mold, leaking, etc.
- Is it central heat or just a wall unit?
- Is AC central or wall unit?
- Is there laundry on premises or nearby?
- What utilities you will be responsible for?
9) Trust your instincts…know when to pounce or walk away
In general, you do not have a lot of time to decide whether you want an apartment between seeing it and putting down the deposit, so if you really like an apartment and you think it’s “the one” don’t hesitate or you risk losing it to the next applicant. If you are not convinced that an apartment is right for you, trust your instincts and don’t feel pressured by the landlord or your broker.
10) Sign the Lease
Most landlords require first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit (typically one month’s rent) upon signing the lease. Brokers usually require their fee to be paid at this time as well, so you will need to bring certified/cashiers checks in the exact amounts owed to each party to the lease signing. This may seem obvious, but take the time to READ the lease thoroughly before signing. Its a legal contract, so make sure you know what you are getting into!
You should also review the notes from your visit to the apartment so you can bring up any questions, comments or concerns you may have with the landlord before you sign the lease. Are they going to re-paint the apartment? When will they repair the broken stove? It’s important that you get these questions answered so everything is in working order by the time you move in!
After signing my new lease I felt a huge sense of accomplishment as well as relief. Finding an apartment in New York City is no easy task, so I hope these tips will help ease some of the stress of your next move!