A few months ago, just off the boat, I told you about our search for the perfect apartment in The City. (By the way don’t get to excited, that doesn’t exist!)
We finally found a nice place but the fairy tale lasted only a few weeks, and suddenly turned into a nightmare when a loud, disrespectful and rude neighbor moved in just above. To sum up, he woke us up around 2am, 2 to 4 times a week, every week, for more than 6 months. Every. F*****g. Week.
I will probably write an article about “how to resolve or not issues with your neighbors” but I need some time before being able to retain myself from cursing. Anyway, we reached a point where we needed to find another place ASAP. You want to know how to find an apartment in New York City? Follow me, c’est par ici:
The broker, this expensive service
For those who wouldn’t know, a broker is a real estate agent you hire to help you find the perfect place. Of course, this has a cost and even If I’m not quite sure how they are billing, I know that it’s up to 3 months of rent, or 15% of the yearly rent. Which means a lot.
The first time, ours was paid by the Cher-et-Tendre’s company, but this time, it was all on us, so we tried to search only for “no fees” apartments, without any broker or agency fees.
Keep in mind though that a “no fee apartment” doesn’t always mean “no broker”. Often, there will be one involved, but the landlord will pay the guy for you when you sign the lease… if the apartment is eligible for that, of course! (Which is not always the case!) So be sure to know all the tricks before signing!
The broker, that dishonest person with a questionable transparency (and a lot of endurance!)
After a deep study of the real estate market, we found a few interesting apartments fitting perfectly our budget, but it was impossible to visit most of them without going with a broker. It’s at that precise moment the things got complicated:
- The first one, who was a really nice person btw, showed me an apartment I found all by myself on Internet and a few other that were never precisely what we were looking for. But his determination to contact me (even after telling him to allow me a few weeks off) was the biggest problem: The worst weeks, he was reaching with 3 emails + 3 phone calls + a ton of texts a day. I politely ask him to leave me alone at least a little bit, but it did not work.
- The second one used a really dishonest method: I contacted him to visit an apartment but he made us visit another one “since we surprisingly were in front of the building” (how surprising considering he setup the meeting there, 7 blocks lower than the place I wanted to see!) He made us sign a form “to get the authorization to enter the place”. A few weeks after, we went back to the same complex to see another place and maybe renting it by ourselves, without fees as advertised. But, surprise, the form we signed was not an authorization to enter, but a contract that blocked us with him for the entire complex for 3 months. We had 3 possibilities: paying him ourselves, move in within 10 days to have him paid by the landlord with a special offer or finding another place!…
Be really careful of what you sign (oh really?) even if he rushes you and… try to avoid giving him a phone number.
As told above, we had to move because we did not sleep an entire night during months. Therefore, we were looking for a quiet place with a good noise proofing. (Note if you are looking for the same thing in Manhattan: that doesn’t exist. Walls are made of cigarette paper and when you say “bless you” to your neighbor who just sneezed, he will thank you. True story.)
The normal way to go, would be to go visit an apartment, having a good feeling, and going back at least once to visit again, mornings and evenings, just to check. In the City That Never Sleeps, forget about it. In the same way, you don’t “sleep on” your decision of signing – or not – the lease. In that crazy city, sleeping on your dream apartment means seeing it disappear. You visit, you fall in love, you sign. You’ll have a 12 months lease ahead of you to think about whether or not it was the good decision!!
Applying for an apartment
(The following approach concerns a “management – tenant” kind of rental. Obviously, subletting an apartment will be way easier!)
For the application file, you will need:
- The passport of each tenant, plus visas / GC or whatever forms that allow you to stay in the country
- The social security number of each tenant
- A few certified checks* for the deposit, applications fee, and reservation fees.
- An employment letter for each tenant or the 2 most recent pay statements.
- The bank statements for each tenant for any account in the US (our Swiss bank accounts as well as our shared US bank account were denied!)
- A credit history with a good credit score. (In our case, since I was still building mine, we managed to pay a little bit more deposit and not to share my inexistent credit score!)
- An empty criminal record.
Keep in mind your application is a “request” to rent an apartment, and that your request could be denied. If it’s the case, they will keep the application fee (usually $50 to $150 per applicant.)
*A certified check is a check you need to withdraw at a bank you have an account at. It’s a secured check that takes the money directly from your (solvent!) account and offers a payment guarantee.
You will need a credit score, which is calculated based on a lot of factors (amount of credit cards, whether or not you pay your bills on time, …) That score is useful for a lot a things, such as renting an apartment, or getting more credits (!). To start building one, you’ll need to get a credit card and… wait! First score will appear after more or less 3 months.
You’ll need to pay between 1 and 6 months in advance, depending on the landlord, the management company, your income, or other factors completely arbitrary (but you don’t try to argue with management!)
It’s supposed to cover the replacement / potential work they’ll need to make in the apartment when you’ll leave it. In New York, the managements companies have the bad reputation of trying all they can to keep it. Stay tuned, we still did not get ours back (and it’s been 2 months!)
In New York, it’s usually a 12 or 24 months contract. Of course, the longer the lease, the lower the rent (don’t get to excited, it’s not gonna be crazily lower!) Some of the landlords allow you to break your lease without fees under conditions, some others (as mine) do not accept any arrangement. You need to leave? You’ll pay all the remaining months, even if somebody already moved into your place.
In most of the cases, the apartment will be repainted between two tenants, paid by the landlord. Your deposit should not be affected by that. Also, you won’t need to clean the place like crazy, they will hire a cleaning company after the painting job. (Of course, and the opposite would have been way too funny, I learned that fact precisely when I was done cleaning the place from floor to ceiling. AHA)
In Switzerland, we do what could be called an “inventory of fixtures” every time somebody moves in or out an apartment. The landlord meets the previous tenant to visit the apartment and observe anything that could be broken, dirty of not functioning well. They often carry a list of the issues the tenant noticed when he entered the apartment (“floor has a scratch there” or “window is difficult to close”) to compare with the current state of the place. It’s decided and communicated at that moment if the landlord will keep the security deposit or not, what amount, and all those things. No improvisation, no surprise.
…and moving in the new place (in Switzerland)
Same thing for moving out, somebody from the landlord’s office meets the new tenant. They visit the apartment and make a list of whatever is still stained, unrepaired or not functioning well. Also, you get the keys from the landlord directly and won’t need to get these from some stranger in a bar. True story.
Swiss made advice, do it even if they don’t want you to do so, and send the list to the landlord. If they can answer you that they got it, it’s even better. Something can be a little bit scratched, nothing important for you, but when moving out you’ll maybe have to pay for that was, even if it was already there.
And where to look for a place?
Because I talk, I talk, but some concrete info would be great!
- Streeteasy (you can find a price history as well as a lot of floorplans)
- Oliver (mobile app to look for no fees apartments)
- Using your networking
- Landlords and Management companies websites.
A few advices
- Be careful of the too shiny (search for info about the median price for the neighborhood, and look for whatever can tell you it’s a fake: unrealistic pictures, wrong placement on the map on the website, …)
- Speaking of which, there are a few things to know in regard to spot the fake ads:
- “Convertible 1 BD” means studio, in which somebody built a (made of cardboard) wall and for which you’ll pay twice the price (because it’s now a 1bd, even if the so-called bedroom it’s 8 square feet!)
- “Unique” means “with something too stupid special for us to be able to rent it” (which also explain the really low price on this one!)
- Also, be aware of the little sentence at the bottom of the page, written in a grey font size 7, which says that “the pictures are not from this particular unit”.
- Be careful of where the website places the apartment on the map. Often, it’s inaccurate and even if it’s a couple of blocks, it can be problematic. (Sometimes, it’s not even the right borough!)
- Know that a low price ALWAYS hide something (ongoing working planned to last until 2020, severe history of bedbugs, …) Check it out!
- In any ways, you’ll have to sacrifice some of the things that were important to you at the beginning (size, price, neighborhood, amenities…) Keep your mind open and put things into perspective.
- NEVER sign a lease before you visited the place.
- Anticipate and gather all the documents you’ll need to apply and take them with you when visiting.
- Be aware of the duration of your lease. Usually, it’s 12 to 24 months and of course, the longer the lease, the cheaper the rent. However, I would not sign for a 24 months lease before having lived in the apartment. You never know.
Finally, you can take advantage of the beautifulness of the US to take a deeper look into the place you have interest in:
- https://www.addressreport.com/ (a lot of info about the state of the building, the noise complaints, the bedbugs or rats presence, but also how many trees you can find on the block or the average waiting time to get a cab!)
- http://www1.nyc.gov/311/ (311 website, that gathers all the “small complaints”)
- http://www.bedbugregistry.com/ (gathers all the info about these charming little creatures!)
I hope this interminable post will be useful. Keep your eyes open, don’t give you trust to easily and… happy moving!
PS: Fun fact: we left our place because of a loud neighbor. The new one plays drums. In his apartment. What where the odds?