How to Find an Apartment in NYC

Summer approaches, and with it, the real estate frenzy. The streets of New York will be awash with fresh college graduates, eager to start their careers in the suck. They seek housing, and perhaps so do you.

Selfish Crab has completed three apartment quests, and is often sought for his advice and wisdom in this matter. Truth be told, apartment hunting in NY is a bit like stalking kodiak bears in the wilderness, except that kodiak bears do not try to fuck you with 15% broker’s fees.

After the jump, some Selfish tips. (Note: This guide assumes knowledge of the basics like the “40X salary” rule, guarentors, application fees, and the like.)

Primary objective: find an affordable apartment in Manhattan
Secondary goal: do not pay a broker’s fee

Before you start, answer these 3 questions:

  1. When are you looking to move? Start searching 2-3 months prior to that date. Good landlords start advertising months before their tenant’s leases are up.
  2. What’s your budget?
  3. What neighborhood do you want to live in? You may be flexible, but it helps to narrow your search early.

Avoid a broker at all costs. Repeat after me: in the age of the Internet, information asymmetry is no longer a business model. If you are able-bodied and the opportunity cost of your time is less than $100/hour, brokers are worthless. The idea of paying a fee worth 15% of annual rent is fucking offensive. Anyway, most brokers, in my Selfish experience, are complete sleazeballs, and you will feel dirty and unwashed if exposed to them for too long.

What you want to is to deal directly with the management company or landlord. Here’s how to find their contact information:

  1. NY Bits List of Apartment Buildings. Many of these are luxury buildings that have their own website (and noxious flash intro). If you are a corporate slut employee or need a doorman and built-in fitness center and wine tastings on Friday, you’re all set. This also means you will be living in buildings called such things as “The Valor” or “Excelsior!” or “New Gotham Ivy River Garden Towers”.
  2. NY Bits List of Management Companies. Sometimes you can search a management company’s website for availabilities across all their properties, including smaller, more humble buildings.
  3. Craigslist. Search only “by owner”. Forget the “no-fee apartments” listings. Most of the time, the no-fee listings are just ploys to get you into a broker’s office where they can show you fee apartments. Sometimes they are bogus “no-fee directories” for sale that will contain months-old listings copied from Craigslist itself. Anyway, real no-fee apartments move too quickly. You’ll never see one.
  4. The Walk-About – the time-honored tradition of “walking a neighborhood”. By New York City law or tradition, many apartment buildings post their landlord contact information on a plaque in the building lobby. Walk around the area in which you want to live, and peek inside to collect landlord contact information. When you call them, be sure to mention the specific building you saw; if they don’t have availabilities there, ask about their other buildings. The downside to this approach is that you are calling blind. You do not know if the apartment you are looking at is a co-op or rent-stabilized dump.However, thanks to the age of the Internet, we can perform the walk-about virtually. Enter (and sites like it). There, you can find buildings in a neighborhood, see their zoning (e.g. “residential”, “residential co-op”, “commercial”), and get the building owner’s contact information. Property Shark is used by real estate professionals, and is mostly free. I have paid for a month’s access to contact information; it’s worth it.

Comments, questions are welcome.


  • Zach Says:

    I’m rent-stabilized and cheap now. The secret was RSS-subscribing to Craigslist ads fitting various excellent categories, a month-and-a-half before moving.

  • bubs Says:

    i know you’ve shared this info before, but again, thanks. =]

  • Selfish Crab Says:

    Zach, aren’t you in a non-manhattan borough, as well?

  • face Says:

    i don’t think the no-broker rule needs to be so strict. yes, absolutely, you will feel dirty and unwashed if exposed to them for too long. but there are brokers that charge the owner as opposed to the tenant, and in that case, all the better for you. perks of a broker’s database without the fee! perusing saturday nyposts and sunday times real estate sections are helpful as well.

  • Selfish Crab Says:

    Yeah, but those apartments move way too fast. Manhattan is way too competitive a market for apartments where the landlord pays the fee, or for newspaper ads.

  • face Says:

    just because you’re crabby and move slowly doesn’t mean everyone else taking your advice shouldn’t move quickly. those are killer apartments, and when you work with these guys, you have to have your credit report printed and check in hand ready to jump.

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