Apartment hunting is hard, annoying, and crazy to say the least. I’m a sophomore at NYU and I have just moved off campus for the first time. No longer am I covered by the safety net of my first-year residence hall; I am now a real New Yorker, sorta. My leap from college student to New Yorker started with finding a real New York City apartment. The NYC real estate market moves QUICKLY. Each day, hundreds of listings circulate through the market, giving you small windows of time to decide on one. I’ll explain a bit more of this later. For now, let’s get started at square one: finding a roommate.
The first step to finding an apartment is finding your roommate(s). Roommates are one of the biggest stressors in almost every college student’s life. You are stuck with your roommates for one full-year lease—and there is certainly no bed-for-bed swap option. We all want a Monica and Rachel from Friends roommate situation, but, realistically, living with a best friend is not always a good idea. If we recall from season one of Friends, Monica and Rachel were close friends—NOT best friends. Once they became roommates, they grew into best friends. When finding a roommate, I chose someone who, at the time, was my good friend who I trusted and had similar lifestyle habits as me.
Over time, we grew to have a bond like best friends, but it ultimately evolved into a sibling-like camaraderie. When we officially decided on being roommates, we had a sit-down conversation to make sure we were on the same page. We created a list of our apartment wants, our needs, and most importantly, our deal breakers.
Needs vs Wants vs Deal Breakers
Differentiating your wants from your needs is super important. My roommate and I wanted a two-bedroom apartment that was walking distance to campus. The apartment had to have an open living space and equal size bedrooms with tons of windows and natural light. It needed to be a newly renovated unit with a washer and dryer. We wanted, we wanted, we wanted. A perfect apartment is all we wanted, but all these wants were not realistic.
We had to break down our list of wants and condense it into a list of needs and deal breakers. Deal breakers are things that you don’t necessarily need but would make you walk away from an apartment. My roommate and I decided we needed a two bedroom apartment in a good neighborhood. Our deal breakers included: a small living room, a dirty building, small bedrooms, no windows, and a bad location. We saw almost 40 apartments all over Manhattan and Brooklyn until we figured out we should probably narrow down our location for our apartment search.
Location! Location! Location!
Some popular places students live are: the East Village, Lower East Side, Brooklyn, Upper East Side, Gramercy, and Kips Bay. Living far away meant we would have to commute via NYC transit. Commuting? Who is she? As a first-year who had lived in a residence hall, the thought of commuting was crazy to me. I often found myself fed up with the NYC transit system, so finding an apartment that was in walking distance was imperative. This wiped out 95 percent of the apartments in my budget, but I knew that it would save me tons of headaches in the long run. My roommate and I decided to only look in SoHo, East Village, Flat Iron, Ukrainian Village, and Lower East Side. These areas had tons of inventory, but the biggest issue was the size. Most of these apartments were small with no living room in an old, gross building.
After weeks of searching, we finally found a good, not perfect, but good apartment. The apartment was above one of our favorite restaurants in the Ukrainian Village. It was in a well-kept building with a live-in super and virtual doorman. It was a little above our price range, but it was just renovated. Honestly, my roommate and I were just tired of looking. We settled on an apartment that turned out to be the perfect apartment. It didn’t become perfect until we moved in and decorated and made it feel like home. Before we could get it perfect, we needed to move in.
Moving is tough, no matter where you live. It gets even tougher when you live in a walk up. My biggest tip is to slowly bring over your stuff. On the first day of my lease, I spent the entire day cleaning my apartment from the ceiling to the floor. Then I slowly started to move bags over the course of a week and a half. I was lucky enough to be a program assistant over the summer, so I had an overlap between the beginning of my lease and the end of my NYU housing.
In that week and a half period, I slowly started buying furniture as well. Starting with the essentials: a bed and a couch. Then, as my roommate and I fully moved in our personal belongings, we accumulated additional furniture, tchotchkes, wall art, cooking supplies, etc. Within a month our apartment was fully decorated and started to feel like home.
Overall, living off campus has been a great experience. Finding my apartment was super difficult because it was hard for me to envision myself in someone else’s space. Finding the perfect apartment is impossible. I realized that I had to find a place that I could make feel like home. The transition is scary, but I’ve never felt as autonomous and independent as I do now.
I recommend starting your search no more than two months before. When I was looking, I used several different apps and found StreetEasy to be the best. StreetEasy lets you filter apartments based on your preferences and makes it super convenient to communicate with brokers.
Sometimes the images that realtors put up are of “similar units” but realistically they’re completely different. Never trust the images or descriptions on apartment hunting websites. Brokers will do anything and everything to get people to come view their apartments. It doesn’t just stop there, brokers will also make you to pay a “broker’s fee.” This fee could be anywhere from one month’s rent to 15 percent of your annual rent. While you’re searching, try to look at “no fee” apartments to avoid this extra fee.
When looking at apartments you’re interested in, try to get private showings rather than going to open houses. At an open house, they shove 50 people into a tiny apartment and everyone is in each other’s way.
When finally finding the apartment you want, I recommend asking the realtor about a “good faith deposit.” This deposit secures the apartment long enough for you to get all of your paper work together.
Most buildings in the East Village are prewar buildings that aren’t up to date. The tea is building owners rarely redo buildings because they know people will rent them regardless of what they look like.