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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.
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.
I certainly had some “are you serious” moments (all were ~$1,500/mo 1brs):
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.
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.
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.
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 your best apartment-hunting & moving stories or tips below!