Everything You Need to Know About Renting in New York City
They say renting an apartment in New York City is hard, but I had never quite realized how hard until now. As I am writing this, I have successfully secured a one-year lease on a lovely East Village studio apartment (and got a great price—by Manhattan standards). That did not happen, however, without exchanging precisely 114 emails with my real estate broker. By now, he probably knows the intricate details of my life better than my own mother.
To shed some light on the process of renting an apartment in New York City, we caught up with real estate broker and founder of Botensten Properties International, Charles Botensten. Keep reading as he demystifies every question we had on renting in New York City.
MYDOMAINE: How much should you budget?
CHARLES BOTENSTEN: As a minimum, you should budget a $100 fee per applicant, one month’s rent, one month for the security deposit, and 15% of the yearly rent for the agent commission (or success fee, as I call it). If you’re renting a condo or co-op, board applications will start at $1000. My management company required a minimum two-month security. Each building is different.
MD: Broker’s fees are more common in NYC than most cities; why is that?
CB: Gary Vaynerchuck said Uber’s success is that it buys back your time—instead of waiting outside for a cab, you are guaranteed one. Additionally, I heard a speaker recently say that a consumer’s relationship with a company will supersede their price by the year 2020.
In short, everything is cheap and convenient. Hence, a good broker provides the relationship, translating into impartial advice on choosing the right place. And they definitely save you time, which New Yorkers don’t have.
MD: What is a no-fee apartment?
CB: Just as it says: You pay the application fees but not the broker’s fee.
MD: What does it mean when a building requires board approval?
CB: Board applications can be brutal. It can be 200 pages of documents, even for a rental. A co-op can deny your rental application, which cost you 30 (or more) days to prepare, $1000 (or more) in fees, and lots of dead trees. Condos just need to say yes, but it will take the same time, money, and paper.
MD: What are the top reasons to be denied by a building's board of approval?
CB: Legally, they don’t need to disclose any reason. For sales, it could be a slew of reasons. For renting, it’s likely that your financial position isn’t strong enough. I’ve heard of denials purely based on someone’s opinion of another person. So be nice to your board and management company.
MD: What if you have no credit or employment history in the U.S.?
CB: This is tricky. Management firms cannot sue internationally, so it’s a risk they need to weigh. With no credit or employment history, ultimately the management company is trusting the applicant. They are likely to demand extra security deposit and/or rent upfront.
MD: Is the listing price negotiable?
CB: Everything is negotiable, especially in condos and co-ops when dealing with an individual owner, not a management company. You can negotiate the price if you give them something in return, like an earlier move-in date. Also, if the home has been on the market for more than three weeks, get that price down!
MD: Which neighborhoods typically command higher rents, and where should you look instead?
CB: The West Side is comparably more expensive than the East Side. Below 14th Street on the West Side—West Village, TriBeCa, and SoHo—are the priciest. I always ask the question, “Would you rather sacrifice the area for the home or the home for the area?” As a single guy, I’ve always chosen a better area over a doorman building, say on the Upper East Side. Most men choose convenience (to the subway and hip areas), while women want a nicer home.
MD: What is the best time of year to look for an apartment?
CB: This is a catch-22: Mid-October to February will have the lowest pricing but the least amount of options to choose from. Outside of those months, you’ll compete with A LOT more renters—summer interns, recent graduates, short-term workers—and prices will be higher, but you’ll typically have more to choose from.
MD: What are the best places to look for an apartment online?
CB: If you’re not using a broker, StreetEasy. It’s the only reliable resource for the public—90% of all sales and 65% of all rental listings are available. The rest are off-market.
MD: When should you start looking?
CB: Start your search 30 days out from when you want to move; otherwise you’re wasting time. That’s when all vacancies are available and able to be shown.
MD: How should you choose a broker?
CB: Interview three agents, and work with only one. This will eliminate double viewings and wasted time. One agent will get your needs and narrow down the inventory to your precise home. Get agent referrals by asking online—post your criteria to Facebook, and watch the replies pour in with which agents to use and which to avoid.
MD: How do you choose a neighborhood?
CB: Your lifestyle and life stage is 100% the determining factor. If nightlife and raucous weekends aren’t your thing, move uptown. If you want to be in the thick of it, like myself, live below 14th Street. If you like boutiques, good coffee spots, and brunch places, go west.
From there, move onto budget—the West Side is comparably more expensive than the East Side. Convenience to the subway line you use for work and play should be a consideration as well. This is a process of elimination, not selection. Once you choose an area, stick with it. Start with a wide search then narrow it down based on needs: convenience to the subway, area, price, etc.
MD: What should you pay attention to in the building and in the unit when visiting an apartment?
CB: Rent based solely on your emotions, and justify it with logic. If you do the opposite, you’ll never be truly happy. Go with your initial gut reaction. Per the question above: Do you want a nice home or a good neighborhood? Work out your budget; then go shopping. Just like dating, there will be a trade-off. I like to say if you get 80% of what you’re looking for, rent it. Even if you had $100K a month to rent, there would be something you don’t like.
MD: What should you look for in a building (i.e. doorman, elevator, laundry, A/C)?
CB: This is purely subjective. For myself, I send my laundry out and couldn’t care less about having a washer/dryer in my home or building. Since Amazon delivery has exploded in the city, the convenience of a doorman is becoming more and more desirable.
With regards to the building itself: A well-maintained hallway and roof (if it has one) is the most telling sign that the building’s management cares about its property, because those two are the easiest items to neglect in a building. You should also chose your home and your area over the building, because you spend 70% of your time in your home, and the rest in your neighborhood.
MD: What if I have a pet?
CB: Having a dog is the new trend. They are everywhere. Clearly look for dog-friendly buildings and convenience to the dog park. Personally, I wouldn’t get a dog in NYC.
MD: Anything else we need to know?
CB: If something is too good to be true, it probably is. Management firms are too intelligent to underprice their properties—the opposite is true: They overprice the property, then lower it until it rents.
If you see something that you like, take it! The market moves too quick to mull over it “for the weekend.” Plus, you’re only renting, not buying. You can always move the following year or sublet if you’re truly unhappy.
Have your rented an apartment in New York City? What did you learn through the process? Share your experience with us in the comments below.