Moving to NYC

Renting an Apartment in New York City on a Budget

How to Rent a New York Apartment Cheap

The Big Apple’s real estate market is both competitive and fast-moving. Renters must be prepared to quickly find and apply for that perfect apartment.

The Census Bureau estimates that approximately 8.4 million people resided in New York City in 2020. With so many people owning or renting in the area, it is no surprise that it can be cutthroat to rent New York City apartments. Before visiting apartments, renters should prepare financially, gather the appropriate documents, and clearly define their search criteria. By doing so, renters will be equipped to immediately apply for the desired apartment.

Prepare for the Move Financially

It goes without saying that renters must consider how much they can afford in monthly rent payments and plan accordingly. If renters will be making less than forty-five times the monthly rent, they should search in advance for a guarantor or guarantors whose combined annual salary is at least seventy-five times the monthly rent. This guarantor must agree to be responsible for rent should the renter fail to pay it.

Renters will need to pay large sums upfront when renting an apartment. At the time of applying, the owner may demand an application and credit check fee (between fifty and two hundred dollars). Renters may also need to provide a deposit to take the apartment off the market (up to a month’s rent). That deposit is refundable if, and only if, the application is denied.

At the time of signing the lease, renters will then have to pay the first month’s rent and a security deposit, which in most cases is the equivalent of another month’s rent. These payments must be made by certified check or money order. Additionally, if the renter found the apartment using a broker, the renter will need to pay the broker’s fee. This fee is typically between ten and fifteen percent of the annual rent.

Gather the Appropriate Documents and Information

Renters may be asked to provide a number of documents that prove their identity and financial stability. It is advisable to have these materials, and copies, compiled in advance for immediate accessibility. Renters should have:

  • A letter from the renter’s employer stating position, salary, and length of employment.
  • Pay stubs from the past three months
  • The first two pages of last year’s tax returns, along with the corresponding W-2s
  • The summary page of bank statements from the past three months
  • A letter of recommendation from a current landlord
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of previous landlords
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of two personal or professional references
  • Photo identification
  • Social Security Number

In cases when a renter is applying with a guarantor, both parties will need to collect these aforementioned documents. Renters should ensure that their guarantors are willing to surrender this private information on the renters’ behalves. Renters should also give plenty of advance notice for the guarantor to collect these documents to avoid inflicting undue stress upon them.

Renting an Apartment in New York City on a Budget

Apartment hunting in New York City is often more challenging and daunting than in many other cities in America. New York is a thriving, bustling city where many different types of people work, live, and play. Because of this unique nature, it attracts tourists and residents from all around the world.

In the book, Relocating to New York City and Surrounding Areas, author Ellen J. Shapiro points out that the most important aspects of living in New York City are the neighborhoods where residents live and work, as so much of their daily life will revolve around these locations. This guide was created to help residents get to the heart of apartment hunting in a realistic and budget-friendly way.

Getting Rid of the New York Fantasy and Getting Real About the Apartment Budget

Get rid of the fantasy. The New York fantasy is to have a large fabulous apartment in a prime area for a fraction of the actual cost. Newcomers to the city are often surprised by the reality of the high costs for even the least desirable neighborhoods in New York City. Therefore, compromise is a must. As Shapiro points out: “In the real New York City, even multimillionaires have to make some compromises—and the rest..have to compromise a whole lot more.”

Bargains are out there, but they are not easy to come by. When rentals that are rent-stabilized or cheaper than market rate become available, they are quickly snatched up often in hours. These elusive apartments are usually not listed online or in magazines and are often found by word of mouth or from a very knowledgeable broker.

Focus on the budget. Consider the projected salary, taxes, monthly expenses and cost of transportation, and all of those “extras” for a clearer picture of the rental budget. To save money, renters have many options including sharing a space with roommates, selecting an apartment outside of Manhattan, or choosing no-fee apartments.

Be mindful that many landlords demand renters pass stringent background and credit checks and may demand renters to have an annual income of more than 40 times the monthly rent. For example, an apartment renting for $1,500 per month would require a minimum salary of $60,000 per year. Some rentals may require co-guarantors for those who do not have an extensive credit history.

Consider Neighborhoods Based on Location, Amenities and Commute to Work

Think about the commute to work. Focus on neighborhoods that are within easy access to transportation and if possible are on the same bus or train lines as work. Traveling crosstown for example can be more precarious than a commute from an outer-borough depending on the time of day and the mode of transit required.

Consider up-and-coming and family-friendly neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are up-and-coming or family-friendly, without the nightlife or exclusive amenities, can often be the cheapest areas to live in. These areas may not be exclusive but are affordable and served well by transportation and neighborhood amenities such as parks, hospitals, shopping, and restaurants.

Narrow the focus to three or four neighborhoods. Shapiro suggests that renters consider several factors when deciding on a neighborhood including their personality, the personality of the neighborhood, the cost of housing, availability of desirable housing, safety, and proximity to work. Add to this list, comfort, and neighborhood amenities. If the neighborhood is not safe or feels uncomfortable, scratch it off the list. When factoring in budget and commute to work, renters will have a more focused neighborhood list.

Conduct a neighborhood tour. Walk around with a family member, friend, or real estate agent to get a feel for the area, its residents, streets, transportation, and amenities. The tour should help renters decide if the neighborhood is right for them before even considering apartments there.

Touring Apartments and Making the Final Decision

Do not rush to make a final decision. When looking at apartments, renters should observe their location, shape of the building and street during varied times before making a decision. Do not make a final decision without going back to the location after work hours during the week, a day on the weekend and at least one late night. During these times of day, consider the noise level, number of people on the streets and safety level.

Prepare to kiss a few frogs to find a prince or princess of an apartment. New York is notorious for its creative advertisements and apartments the size of shoe boxes. Advertisements will mention the great location but neglect to mention that the living room faces a brick wall, or worse than the apartment has a bathtub in the kitchen.

Apartment hunting in the city requires tremendous effort and patience. It helps to have the knowledge of a good real estate agent or friend who lives in the city. Apartment hunters who focus on the reality of New York living, a modest and livable budget, and are willing to consider areas that are affordable but less trendy will be able to find a good place on a budget.

Clearly Define the Search Criteria

The first criterion is the location. New York City is divided into five different boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Each borough is divided into different neighborhoods that have unique characteristics and histories. The Department of City Planning has a website that boasts an interactive map providing valuable statistics about each neighborhood. Hopstop is another website that provides useful information for those trying to calculate their commute by public transportation from different locations.

After finding a safe, affordable, well-located neighborhood, renters must then decide what traits they are looking for in an apartment. Renters should decide beforehand upon what apartment traits are non-negotiable, what traits are ideal but not necessary, and what traits are unimportant. This will make the decision making easier when the clock is ticking. New York University’s Langone Medical Center maintains a helpful website with a list of questions to consider when apartment hunting.

After determining their criteria, the renters can research apartments for rent in New York City. Most leases only require a tenant to inform the owner thirty days before moving out. Consequently, renters can typically find an apartment about a month before their desired move-in date. Many apartments are listed online. Alternatively, renters may use a local real estate agency. Those hesitant to pay a broker’s fee should still explore this option since in many cases brokers show both the fee and no-fee apartments.

Preparation is Key to a Successful Apartment Search

Those looking for New York City rentals have much to do in preparation for their search. They must ensure that their finances are in place, gather the appropriate documents and information, and decide what qualities they are looking for in an apartment. In a heavily populated city with a fast-paced real estate market, renters will be grateful to be so prepared when they finally find that perfect spot to call home.

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