Everything About Apartments in NYC is Hell

By: Brian Pennington
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Since leaving my parents home at 18, I have moved at least once a year (sometimes twice or more). Because of this, I became really good at moving. Packing, purging, moving-out, moving-in – all of it is a skill that I picked up easily enough. I never saw moving as a daunting task but more as an unavoidable necessity.

Then I moved to New York.

Finding An Apartment in NYC Is Hell

Last year I wrote a how-to guide for apartment hunting in the city. While it is accurate, things hardly go the way they’re supposed to.

Apartment hunting here is extremely competitive. Looking for an apartment is expected to be your full-time job. There were times I made an appointment to look at a place after work then would receive a call an hour later that the apartment has already been rented. If you can take time during the day to look at places, it really is to your advantage.

I spent two weeks straight doing a hard-core apartment search. With a base rent of $1,500/mo for a 1br in mind, I already knew what neighborhoods I could afford and which ones I was willing to live in. Knowing this ahead of time really helps a lot, too.

Every day after work, I would look at several apartments. This was exhausting. It didn’t help that I was looking at apartments in Brooklyn while living 45 mins away on the Upper West Side (UWS). It was a long day and usually full of disappointment.

Apartment Highlights
I certainly had some “are you serious” moments (all were ~$1,500/mo 1brs):

  • Instead of a full-size refrigerator, there were two mini-fridges stacked on top of each other
  • Had a “kitchenette” which meant a refrigerator, sink, and hot plate (legal requirements for a kitchen)
  • Several apartments were being “renovated” and didn’t have power, which was supposedly no excuse for me to not take the apartment right then
  • Saw bugs scatter across the floor when turning lights on


Why Was I Moving in the First Place?

I spent 8 months on the UWS (108th st & Broadway) and that was 8 months too long. First, it is no one’s fault that Manhattan is not the place for me. I love this city but the outer boroughs are a much better fit for me living-wise. While roommates never bothered me before, apartments are so small that things get uncomfortable quickly. Having zero sun-light in the apartment also bothered me much more than I thought it would.

Plus, the apartment was disgusting. Even though it was a fifth-floor walk-up, there was a serious mouse problem. We would often smell something rotting, which was a dead mouse behind the stove. The mice became immune-ish to the poison so they would die slowly. On my second morning in the apartment, my roommate woke me up to help her pick up a dead mouse in the kitchen. It was really fucking gross.

Now, you will see rats & cockroaches in the city but usually outside on the sidewalk or in the subway tunnels. I don’t want to scare anyone from living here, most apartments aren’t nearly that gross. I’ve been living in this Brooklyn apartment for over a year and haven’t seen any bugs at all.

It was just really unfortunate that my first nyc living experience was all-around horrible. With that said, when I got to the point I couldn’t stand living there anymore, I was in quite the hurry to gtfo and find my own place.

Choose Your Difficulty Level

Easymode: Brokers/Fee-apartments
The advantages of using a broker to help you find an apartment are certainly worthwhile. They (are supposed to) have better access to listings, (sometimes) show nicer apartments, takes a lot of the legwork out of the hunting process.

The main disadvantage is how expensive broker services are. Most are 10-15% of the annual rent (depending on season). This means a lot of upfront cash on top of your first/last months rent + security deposit. Another problem with brokers is they will regularly upsell you, show you places you have zero interest in, and generally waste your time.

Hardmode: On your own/No-fee apartments
The advantage to looking for no-fee apartments is quite simple, you’ll save money.

The disadvantages really depend on how much time & effort you can put into looking for an apartment. The listings you find on your own (through Craigslist + other sources) might be more limited and you need to filter through scams. Also, many will advertise as no-fee but then require first + last months rent and other ways to get you to spend more money than you want.

When it comes right down to it…

Like most apartment success stories you’ll hear, I found my apartment by luck.

After seeing an apartment I had no interest in, the no-fee broker (he was hired by the apartment building) suggested I take a look at some apartments that were available in another building a few blocks south, that hadn’t been listed yet.

And here I am today! After looking at it twice and walking around the neighborhood some, I took the rent-stabilized 1br apartment for $1,300/mo. No broker’s fee, only first months rent + security as up-front costs. I just renewed the lease this year.

For the first time in history, I renewed a lease.

Moving In NYC Is Hell

As awful as finding an apartment is, it only gets worse from there. The actual moving-day process is a combined ball of stress from costs, timing, general logistics.

First, you probably don’t own a car so your methods of moving involve renting a truck and doing it yourself or hiring movers.

For my move from New Jersey to the UWS, I rented a u-haul and enlisted some very very very nice friends. Amazing friends who volunteered to help move me into a fifth-floor walk-up. Even with the lot of us, this was a horrible mistake. It was exhausting, took forever, and was an awful experience.

When I moved out only 8-months later, I couldn’t bear to ask my friends to help again so I hired movers. There’s all types of moving services around here. You can find traditional movers along with “man with a van” movers, which is exactly what it sounds like. All of these services fill up pretty quickly so make your reservation as soon as possible.

I went with quasi-traditional movers. This is the first time in my life I’ve used movers and have no idea if I was over-charged (probably) or if they did a great/so-so/bad job. Overall, the experience was fine for me and way easier than a DIY move. It was expensive! Including tip I paid almost $500 in cash. I was also in a hurry to gtfo of the UWS apartment.

It took the movers 2 hours to get everything out of the UWS fifth-floor walk-up apartment. It then took barely 20 minutes to move everything into my fifth-floor-with-elevator apartment in Brooklyn. What a difference!

After all that, I have no desire to experience the hell that is nyc apartment hunting + moving anytime soon.

Share…

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8 Comments

  1. Jess says:

    I’ve personally found that even paying a broker’s fee doesn’t really take any of the hassle of out the experience. Most of the time, you’re probably not going to be working with the same broker–they still just post on CL and you have to call and arrange to meet. I know that sometimes people will work with one broker who shows them several apartments but it’s never been my experience, usually looking at the lower end in a given neighborhood. I’ve paid a brokers fee twice. The first time, it definitely wasn’t worth it (building was sold and we got kicked out after just a year, wasn’t told the building was on the market until after we signed the lease even though the broker knew and knew we were looking for a place we could stay for at least two years). The second time, it was only about half a month’s rent. We’ll see if it was worth it! I think it will be if I stay here for at least two years or so.

    • leslie beslie says:

      Thanks for mentioning your broker experience! I’ve never worked with one myself. I have a few friends who told a broker what they were looking for and then only looked at those places, so it was less initial headache for them. Hope this new place works out for you!

  2. eemusings says:

    Argh, I certainly cannot imagine moving in a city like NYC.

    Although like you, I moved out at 18 (actually 17) and move on average every 18 months, so am well used to it.

    The experience here is a bit different as we don’t really have brokers. You have the choice between renting from a private LL, or through a property management company (and be charged an agent’s fee of one week’s rent plus tax). Obviously the former is a better deal but sometimes it’s better to have a professional property manager handling things. It’s also very rare these days to find a private rental – everyone has PMs dealing with their rentals, and those that don’t are generally slumlords.

    • leslie beslie says:

      Interesting that there aren’t private rentals around there. It’s not very common here but also depends on which neighborhood you’re looking at.

  3. Hanah says:

    Leslie, do you mind telling me what neighborhood you live in in BK? I’ll be moving there in the summer to start a new job and would love any suggestions on “affordable” neighborhoods. My budget will probably be about the same as yours, although I’m willing to live in a studio (I think!).
    Thanks!

    • leslie beslie says:

      Hi Hanah, The lucky 1br apartment I found is in Kensington/Ditmas Park area. Prices drop drastically once you get below Prospect Park; or the farther away from Manhattan really. All of the neighborhoods south are nice and safe but very residential so there isn’t much to do in the immediate area. I don’t mind it so much, just depends what you’re looking for!

      I wrote a little bit about the different neighborhoods in this apartment hunting guide too.

    • Jess says:

      Just want to plug for Bay Ridge. :) Depending on where you’ll be working, the commute isn’t *terrible* and it’s a great, super safe neighborhood with plenty to do that’s very affordable. You can get studios for under $1k/month fairly easily.

  4. Very cool blog! Just posted how I’m planning a trip to new york in early may/late april, and asked for tips. Eemusings recommended you! love reading about your nyc posts from a “new yorker’s” point of view . any tips on where we should eat? my husband and I both LOVE food and want to make sure we don’t miss out on anything spectacular.

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