Searching for an Apartment in NYC


Well, we did it. After an on-again, off-again 6-month search for a new rental, we finally found one!

As soon as we found out that we had to move, I knew I wanted to share as much as possible about the process, including sharing tours in real-time and the unfortunate heartbreak we felt every time we didn’t get a place we applied for.

The rental market here is infamous for its difficulty in securing a place, but to be honest, we had relatively easy experiences finding our last two apartments. Sadly, our good luck streak was over this time around and we only got our place after being rejected for 4 other apartments.

Since I’ve received countless messages asking for tips and tricks on finding a place in NYC, I thought a blog post was called for so you can refer back to it or easily share it with a friend! My hope is that these tips, especially my search tips, are not exclusively helpful in New York and may be helpful with your search in any city, rental or not.

Sites to Search

Streeteasy — this is the gold standard for searching in NYC’s five boroughs and surrounding areas in NJ. Most of the apartments we toured were found via Streeteasy and our new place was found on there! However, most people are using this site, so you need to be actively searching multiple times a day. I suggest saving a few searches and set your notifications to email you immediately when new listings match your search. That way, you can request a tour ASAP which will set you apart from others.

My number one tip with Streeteasy or any search engine that allows keyword searches is to use the Advanced Search function. That’s how we were able to find so many apartments housed within townhomes or with brownstone-like details within.

Listings Project — signing up Listings Project is a must and includes rentals not found anywhere else! It’s a once-weekly email list that sends rentals, sublets, lease takeovers, and even art studio rentals every Wednesday. It’s not just for New Yorkers, but includes listings all over the world! Though NYC-based listings are still the priority and in the majority to be found.

Nest Seekers International — Nest Seekers isn’t just for New Yorkers, they have rental and sale listings from all over. While we didn’t use this site much, I did notice that they typically have standards for listings and might be the best site to search if you are looking for a high-end rental. If you want to be in a modern high-rise, I would start your search here, but they do have beautiful pre-war units listed too.

Brokers — Using a broker usually comes with a hefty fee (think 10-15% of the yearly rent), but sometimes the building owner pays that fee, so it’s never a bad idea to let a broker know what you’re looking for. We went to see two different places, both gorgeous, that weren’t on the market yet. That’s because I told a broker what we were looking for, and they came back with listings coming on the market soon. There is a huge benefit to seeing places before they’re listed, especially in a competitive market.

For example, at one of the pre-market tours we went to, we got to meet the landlord. We got along great and they made it clear that the apartment was ours if we wanted it. Sadly, that place wasn’t the best fit for us, but had we gone through with it, we wouldn’t have had to deal with bidding wars or competiton from others.

Most of the apartments on Streeteasy and the like are listed by brokers, so to find one, you merely have to email one (or multiple) of the brokers to see what they may have coming to market soon.

Facebook Groups — Personally, I rarely use Facebook, but I know that there are many pages dedicated to apartment searches or to specific neighborhoods that often feature available apartments in the area. Use the search function to seek them out! A few examples can be found here, here, and here.

Word of Mouth — Another way to find a broker is to ask everyone you know if they’ve used one and/or can recommend one. Generally, word of mouth can help to find an apartment as well. As soon as you know you’re looking to move soon, let your friends and co-workers know, and share on social media if you use it. You never know what leads might turn up!

Our Search Criteria: recreating our search

On Streeteasy’s main rental hub, input your preferred neighborhoods and max price. You can also check the No-Fee box here though be warned, there will be far fewer options, at least at this moment in the market. Once the initial results have populated, tap the “more” button. In the mobile app, tap advanced search.

Once you are on the more filters page, use the keyword search try out different keywords using one at a time. Our keywords included, Townhouse, Brownstone, Townhome, Fireplace, Moldings, Duplex, Parlor, Original, and Historic.

Some of these will yield the same results, but you never know what will pop up! In my experience, “fireplace” pulled up the most options. Of course, that’s assuming you’re looking for pre-war details. If, say, you are more into modern spaces, you could search “central air,” “renovated,” “updated,” “modern,” etc…

Above: Sneak peeks of our new place!

Applying for a Rental

I will only speak to what’s typically required here in NYC since I know from experience that it’s not always so paperwork-heavy in other cities. In addition to filling out an application, the owner or broker will usually ask for some combination of these supporting documents,

  • photocopy of ID (front and back)

  • the first 2 pages of your most recent tax return (sometimes last two years)

  • recent bank statement(s)

  • two most recent paystubs

  • Employment Letter if receiving W2 income or CPA letter if self-employed. The Employment Letter is written by someone at your company (usually HR) that includes your job title, starting date, annual salary, and any bonuses you may receive. It should include your company’s letterhead. The CPA letter should include similar info and essentially confirms your stated income.

  • most recent W2 or 1099’s if self-employed

  • Landlord recommendation letter

  • Credit report

I like to add a few additional items to stand out, including a few photos of your current apartment to show the owner that you will take care of their building. Sending screenshots of any further proof of income or funds is always a good idea too!

If you want to stand out further, I highly recommend adding an introduction letter to let the landlord know who you are. Introduce yourself and include what you like to do with your time, why you love their neighborhood, what you do for work, how beautiful their building is, etc! You can add a pet resume as well or include their info in your Intro Letter. We did this for the first time with the place we ended up getting, so I believe it helps!

Best of luck with your search! xx


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