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A Guide for the Budget Minded Renter in New York City

Apartment hunting in New York City is often more challenging and daunting than many other cities in America. New York is a thriving, bustling city where many different types of people work, live and play. Because of this unique nature, it attracts tourists and residents from all around the world.

In the book, Relocating to New York City and Surrounding Areas, author Ellen J. Shapiro points out that the most important aspects of living in New York City are the neighborhoods where residents live and work, as so much of their daily life will revolve around these locations. This guide was created to help residents get to the heart of apartment hunting in a realistic and budget-friendly way.

Get rid of the fantasy. The New York fantasy is to have a large fabulous apartment in a prime area for a fraction of the actual cost. Newcomers to the city are often surprised by the reality of the high costs for even the least desirable neighborhoods in New York City. Therefore, compromise is a must. As Shapiro points out: “In the real New York City, even multimillionaires have to make some compromises—and the rest..have to compromise a whole lot more.” [12]

Bargains are out there, but they are not easy to come by. When rentals that are rent-stabilized or cheaper than market rate become available, they are quickly snatched up often in hours. These elusive apartments are usually not listed on line or in magazines and are often found by word of mouth or from a very knowledgeable broker.

Focus on the budget. Consider the projected salary, taxes, monthly expenses and cost of transportation and all of those “extras” for a clearer picture of the rental budget. To save money, renters should consider moving away from Manhattan as well as to choose no fee apartments to decrease expenses. Renters with a small budget can consider sharing an apartment with roommates or even renting a small space like a studio or a room in a house to save money.
Be mindful that many landlords demand renters pass stringent background and credit checks and may demand renters to have an annual income of more than 40 times the monthly rent. For example, an apartment renting for $1,500 per month would require a minimum salary of $60,000 per year. Some rentals may require co-guarantors for those who do not have an extensive credit history.

Think about the commute to work. Focus on neighborhoods that are within easy access to transportation and if possible are on the same bus or train lines as work. Traveling crosstown for example can be more precarious than a commute from an outer-borough depending on the time of day and the mode of transit required.

Consider up-and-coming and family-friendly neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are up-and-coming or family-friendly, without the night life or exclusive amenities, can often be the cheapest areas to live in. These areas may not be exclusive but are affordable and served well by transportation and neighborhood amenities such as parks, hospitals, shopping and restaurants.

Up-and-coming areas on the other hand are a little more gritty but are usually within reach of the more exclusive areas of the city and offer more space for the money. Residents come from a broad range of various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds creating a vibrant culturally rich atmosphere.

Shapiro suggests that up-and-coming neighborhoods are more suitable for young singles and roommates who are looking for more space for their money and may not be as suitable for families. Renters should not mind the lack of services and be able to dodge sketchy characters. [21] At one time or another, areas such as the Upper West Side, Soho, Tribeca, Chelsea and the East Village were all considered “up-and-coming”, and these areas have since become some of the most desirable areas of the city.

Narrow the focus to specific neighborhoods. Shapiro suggests that renters consider several factors when deciding on a neighborhood including their personality, the personality of the neighborhood, cost of housing, availability of desirable housing, safety and proximity to work. [12] Add to this list, comfort and neighborhood amenities. If the neighborhood is not safe or feels uncomfortable, scratch it off the list.

Considering budget and commute to work should create a more focused area to look in. Visit these areas with a friend or real estate agent to get a feel for the area, its residents, streets, transportation and amenities. A neighborhood tour should narrow the focus further. With a more narrowed focus, renters can then visit apartments in the area, observing their location, shape of the building and street during varied times before making a decision.

Do not rush to make a final decision. Do not make a final decision without going back to the location after work hours during the week, a day on the weekend and at least one late night. During these times of day, consider the noise level, number of people on the streets and safety level.

Prepare to kiss a few frogs to find a prince or princess of an apartment. New York is notorious for its creative advertisements and apartments the size of shoe boxes. Advertisements will mention the great location but neglect to mention that the living room faces a brick wall, or worse that the apartment has a bathtub in the kitchen.

Apartment hunting in the city requires tremendous effort and patience. It helps to have the knowledge of a good real estate agent or friend who lives in the city. Apartment hunters who focus on the reality of New York living, a modest and livable budget and are willing to consider areas that are affordable but less trendy will be able to find a good place on a budget.