How to Find an Apartment in New York City (and go crazy in the process)

Finding an apartment in New York City is:
  • Frustrating
  • Expensive
  • Time-consuming


If you value your time and sanity more than your money, you can stop reading now. One-bedroom apartments in luxury building is around $4,000/mo. If not, keep on reading for thoughts on how to find an apartment on a budget.


After six weeks (at least) and dozens of hours of searching, visiting and applying, here is what we found:


First, a few things to consider besides price:
  • Size of apartment (Studio, 1 BR, 2 BR, 3 BR)
  • Location (neighborhood and distance to work)
  • Hip factor





Studio, as you may know, is a euphemism for “single room with a private bathroom”. If you’re lucky the kitchen is separated from the living area by a partition or false wall and you won’t have to imagine the creepy crawlies from your messy sink making their way five feet across the room to your pillow.

Studios are good for single people that don’t mind spending more money for less space in order to have a private crash / smash pad.


(3 Pictures of an studio located in Long Island City, Queens. Another story in Manhattan :/)



One-bedroom apartments tend include a separate living room and bedroom. In popular neighborhoods such as the East Village, what passes for one-bedroom may simply be a studio with an interior wall. True one-bedrooms include a separate kitchen area while a joined kitchen and living room is called a junior one-bedroom.

Unless you’re a student you’ll probably not want to share an apartment of this size with someone you’re not intimately involved with unless you’re trying to live somewhere expensive and want to save money. It is the perfect size for young couples like us.

 (1st Pic: Bedroom, 2nd Pic: Living Room, 3rd Pic: Kitchen, that was it in Murray Hill, Manhattan)


(5 Pics of One-Bedroom Apartment in Astoria, Queens)




Being a transit professional, I tend to think of distances in terms of ease of access and travel time, not in straight distance. That is to say, to save money, in general, you may move to a peripheral neighborhood where it takes longer to get to work and home in the evening.


You will be trading a slight discount in your rent for the joys of waiting for subway trains and shelling out close to $120 each month to the MTA. This may be worth it if you:
  • Use the subway a lot for other things, like going out after work;
  • Your commute time is not particularly troubling to you;
  • Don’t go home late at night when it can take twice as long to arrive thanks to night schedules and weekend track work.


I used a thirty-minute commute as my maximum and check addresses of potential apartments using Google Maps. Given that I work near Penn Station and Paola is at the Fashion Institute of Technology, that made most of Brooklyn too far and we instead concentrated on Manhattan and Queens. An added plus is to have more than one subway line that will take you to your destination. This helps deal with some of the MTA issues mentioned above.


Living walking distance from your job is a luxury in that it will cost you, though there are a few affordable options if you’re willing to dedicate to the search.

HIP FACTOR (choose your neighborhood, punk)


It turns out my favorite neighborhood in grad school, the East Village, which is full of cheap junk food, trendy restaurants, and half-price beers, is also paradoxically home to some of the most expensive and least attractive apartments in the city. Guess I wasn’t the only one that liked the place.

You can find this complete article here
We used $2,000/month as a baseline. As noted at the beginning of this piece, if you’re willing to spend much more, this process will be much simpler. Here’s a confusing and marginally helpful list of New York neighborhoods to follow along: Neighborhood dimensions and names tend to morph as a neighborhood becomes more popular among real estate agents.



For $2000/mo you can find what is kindly referred to as a junior one-bedroom, with worn-away linoleum, a bare bulb, and a view of garbage and the neighbor’s brick wall to greet you outside the window. Most of the advertisements at reachable price points in this neighborhood are not what they appear once you see them in person. Expect to go up to $2200-2300 to find a habitable 1BR, unless you get lucky.

(All pics: Apartment in East Village, Manhattan)



At our max budget of a one-bedroom apartment for $2150 (all included) we were scraping the bottom of the barrel in every downtown neighborhood and indeed everywhere south of Harlem and Washington Heights except the Upper East Side (too far) and a select few places in Murray Hill, Kips Bay, and Hells Kitchen / Clinton. Murray Hill and Kips Bay are on the side of midtown and Hells Kitchen / Clinton are on the West. Both of these neighborhoods had a very select number of larger yet more affordable apartments.

We were lucky enough to find our apartment in Kips Bay at the upper limit of our budget, though finding it without paying the myriad fees and costs was a job in itself.


(All Pictures: Apartment in Murray Hill, Manhattan)

PAY UP (I didn’t say this was cheap)


As I may have alluded to above, finding an apartment is expensive. This is due, in large part, to the peculiar broker-based system of apartment searching. Most management companies – these are the ones that maintain the apartments and receive your rent on the first of the month – don’t dedicate resources to finding tenants. Instead, they often have deals with intermediaries that list and show apartments for them. These intermediaries ask generally anywhere from one month’s rent (in Queens) to a high of 12-15% of a year’s rent (in Manhattan).


Brokers take the time to list apartments on sites such as Craigslist, Padmapper, StreetEasy, NakedApartments, and Zillow (see “apps and sites” below). When you contact a listing online, the broker responds and meets you to view the apartment. Part of this viewing is signing a contact that obliges you to pay 15% (may be negotiable) to the broker for his or her services.


All apartments found in this manner carry a fee. If the apartment is either very expensive or undesirable for some reason, you may be able to arrange either one month of free rent or a no-fee listing. We found these opportunities to be few and far between.



Some management companies will deal directly with potential clients, thus bypassing the fee, and still others will waive the fee for the reasons listed above. If demand is low, you may be able to snag one of these deals. If demand is high – which is especially common during the summer months, peaking in August-September – you’ll  have to be more creative to find your place. Here are three suggestions:


Reach out to your friend network – if you’re lucky enough to find a friend who is moving out at the same time you’re moving in, you’ll likely be able to slide in under the radar. Go visit your friend’s apartment and put in an application with the management company if you like it.


Find a sublet and run out the lease – Another tried-and-true way of avoiding a broker’s fee, find a sublet apartment on Craigslist that is looking for someone to take over the lease. Once the sublet is over, voila, you’re first in line to put in an application for the following year since you’re already living in the place.


Use a Facebook group like Gypsy Housing or Listings Project – We tried a few of these sites and they’re so mobbed with responses to low-rent apartments that they aren’t so useful. Plus, most postings are sublets on the fringes, also known as “up-and-coming” neighborhoods.


Find a lease break – People move often in New York and often have to leave mid-lease. I set up a Boolean search on Craigslist through the cPro app searching for “lease” and either “break” or “sublet”, together with the neighborhoods for which we were searching. This is ultimately how we found our apartment without paying a broker.


  • The “|” symbol (above the Enter key) works as an “or” command when searching, and adding quotes searches for the full term, e.g. lease break|sublet would find the search mentioned above. “murray hill”|”kips bay”|village would returns listings in Murray Hill, Kips Bay, or that contain the word “village” (East, West, Greenwich, etc.).
Now that you know all our tricks, go out and seek your fortune! Good luck and a last word of advice:


Good things come to those who wait, but if you see a good deal, jump on it! If you don’t, someone else will immediately (if they haven’t done so already)


REFERENCE – apps and sites: – Has decent listings and an indispensable guide for renting in New York City: – This proved to be the phone app (iPhone and Android) with the highest percentage of legit and quality listings. – You know the deal. Be wary of listings in the East Village and other trendy areas that don’t list a broker with name and organization. These will not be scams but will likely be not worth your time.


  • * Craigslist app cPro was invaluable for saving listings, repeating searches, and it will even save email templates for responding to posts. – Similar to Zillow in that it has a sleek app. Listings were not of same quality. – This urban planning site lists the walkability and amenities of different neighborhoods on a 0-100 scale. You can search for an address and you can also use this tool to show the areas that are a specific commute distance from your work. It also plugs in with apartment listings based on your set criteria. Better as a way of – Consult the NYC Subway map here if you’re smart. An apartment within walking distance of more than one subway line will be appreciated on nights and weekends.


Google Maps – Always useful for determining commute distances while you’re out browsing apartments. You can plug in a default home and work address for this purpose.


Padmapper – This site aggregates listings, mostly from Craiglist, and displays them on a map with some search criteria. Now that the Craigslist website has a built-in map it’s not really necessary. – This could be a good site if people visited it – at the moment there are not many listings. The concept is analogous to the lease break search described above, only as a dedicated website.


Kyle M Bell
Asset Management Specialist at URS Engineering


New York, New York

Esta vez le tocó publicar a Kyle (mi novio) pues me hizo el super super favor de escribir para el blog una entrada sobre cómo encontrar departamento en NY y muchos tips para que no pasen la odisea que pasamos

Disfruten y si son como yo pueden usar google translator.
Con cariño,

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