Finding an apartment in New York City

So I’ve living in New York City for a little over two months now. I started work on 15 February and we flew over, via Iceland, on 7 February. Our first week was a little stressful, since not only did we have to find our feet in a new city, we had to find somewhere to live (for the first week, we stayed here, which was surprisingly good value). This is far from being a trivial task in New York, where the market is controlled by brokers, who—we were warned before coming—are well known for pushiness, dishonesty and for charging large fees. We were also hampered by the fact that we’re new to the country, so have no credit history whatsoever here. Oh, and we’d just found out before leaving the UK that we’re expecting a baby, which added a certain extra stress and urgency to the hunt.

We had a few things in our favour, however. First, we were looking for somewhere in Washington Heights, which is a nice enough part of the city (long past its problems in the 80s), but still not gentrified. Rents are lower and there’s less competition for apartments. Timing is also good. Winter is the slow season, and it wasn’t long after the economic crash. We’d also been recommended a broker who wouldn’t mess us about too much. And my boss was happy to act as guarantor for us. If he hadn’t done that, then our lack of a credit history might have meant us having to pay several months’ rent up front. So we were lucky. I still find it almost unbelievable that we managed to find a relatively large one-bedroom apartment, right next to where I’m working, in a week. And there was no broker’s fee. I’m sure the catch is just waiting to reveal itself…

So if you’re moving to New York from overseas, I recommend the following:

  1. Don’t agree to take an apartment (and certainly don’t send any money) before arriving;
  2. Find somewhere cheap to stay while you’re looking. It may take a little while;
  3. Ask around for advice on brokers in the area who aren’t going to waste your time;
  4. Take a careful look at any apartment you want. Make crystal clear who pays for what, how much is paid upfront to whom, and what the actual rent is (be careful of “net rent”, which means you’ll pay more than the figure quoted).
  5. Ask other tenants about the building, if you can. Is the super reliable? Are all the apartments run by the same people? Are they honest? Does it get noisy?
  6. Open a US bank account as soon as you can. This is usually quick, but transferring the money from your home country may not be (it can take up to 5 working days), and landlords tend to require cheques to be drawn on a US account;
  7. Get a US mobile phone as soon as you can (we went with Net10);
  8. Prepare to pay at least three months’ rent on signing the lease: one month’s rent for the first month, another for the deposit, and another for the broker’s fee (both deposit and broker’s fee may even be higher than one month’s rent);
  9. If you don’t have credit, find a guarantor.


Filed under Advice, Travel

2 responses to “Finding an apartment in New York City

  1. Martin J. Ball

    We found getting a credit card really hard when we moved to the US. Even though we’d opened a bank account some months before (at the interview) this bank still wouldn’t give us a card.
    Luckily I had a UK card that was part of a US-led group, so by sundry letters and phone calls they allowed us a card (with a miniscule limit!).
    Nowadays (10 years later) of course we get all sorts of card offers which we don’t want…!

  2. Pingback: The Iorwerth Rowan Song | Garic Gymro

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