Apartment Wars: NYC Edition

Renter beware. There will be many casualties in your search for an apartment in NYC, not the least of which will be your dignity.

Finding an apartment in New York can feel a lot like choosing between constipation and diarrhea. In fact, I’m pretty sure the 6th circle of Dante’s Inferno was a real-estate broker’s office in Manhattan. And it’s not just the price tags that will make you want to light yourself on fire. Living in the first borough will cost you some basic first-world conveniences, forcing you into a veritable Sophie’s Choice between things like a dishwasher and direct sunlight.

So before you ditch your fly-over state for the Big Apple (and I sincerely hope you don’t, because it will only drive rent up for the rest of us), here’s what you should know about apartment hunting in the City That Never Sleeps (comfortably).

Beware of brokers

Residential real-estate brokers, or as I like to the call them, Satan’s missionaries, are somewhat of a necessary evil in New York City. Their listings are typically the most legitimate and higher quality. Typically. During my last apartment search, one of the brokers I was working with baited me into visiting an allegedly gut-renovated Chinatown apartment, and I arrived to discover that while yes, the unit had been renovated, the elevator was a pre-war deathtrap, and many of the older apartments didn’t have bathrooms in them. Instead, the facilities were located in the hallway. And while I’m all for checking one’s privilege, I draw the line at semi-public dump-taking.

Seeing is believing

Most Manhattanites apartment hunt online, in what can quickly devolve into a Tinder-esque rabbit hole of misleading photos and dishonest descriptions. But unlike an online date, when you decide to see an apartment IRL, you can almost be sure that you’ll be getting fucked one way or another. It’s not unusual for the photos online to be of other “similarly renovated” units in the building, which is realtor speak for, “Yes the fixtures are the same, but the one window in the apartment faces a brick wall. Who needs vitamin D, anyway?,” or “Surprise! The shower is actually in the kitchen. Isn’t that cool?!”

Most Manhattanites apartment hunt online, in what can quickly devolve into a Tinder-esque rabbit hole of misleading photos and dishonest descriptions

Then there’s the brokers who put up photos of gorgeous units that are no longer on the market, in order to goad you into seeing their other listings. Imagine matching with super sexy Bumble belle or beau, only to have them tell you that they’re married, but they have 6 less attractive single cousins you might like. That’s basically what looking for an apartment in New York is like. And forget seeing, smelling is also believing. Unless you find the smell of stale cigarettes and onions comforting, be sure to literally sniff things out before you sign.

Pony up, buttercup

Rent aside, the upfront costs of moving into an apartment in Manhattan could buy you a couple of vital organs off the black market. There’s the broker fee (a lung), the security deposit (spleen), and of course the first and/or last month’s rent (gall bladder). Oh, and I almost forgot the credit check fee and possible condo or co-op fee. For a standard one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, these fees can easily exceed the ten thousand dollar mark, and all of it’s due before you so much as step foot into your apartment.

For a standard one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, these fees can easily exceed the ten thousand dollar mark

For new renters, there’s a couple of tips and tricks to minimizing the damage to your checking account. First of all, know that the terms of your lease are usually negotiable. If you have decent credit, you can talk yourself into one month’s security instead of two, for example. Also, every broker will tell you that there fee is 15% (of the total annual rent), but only recent transplants and idiots will actually pay that much. You can usually get their fee down to 10-12% without much of a negotiation.

If all of this has scared you out of moving to Manhattan, good. We don’t need anymore people on the 6 train, anyway. If not, just know that you’re probably fucking your financial future and that of your unborn children into oblivion to live in what is surely the greatest city in the world. It’s worth it… I think.

Photo courtesy of mementosis (Flickr Creative Commons)

Julia Reiss is a Los Angeles-born writer and humorist alive and mostly well in New York City.
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