Expat Life NEW YORK

Finding an Apartment in New York City

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At the beginning of last month I headed over the pond to help my boyfriend find an apartment in New York City. Seeing as I have found and rented two apartments in London I thought some of these expertise may be helpful to the New York hunt. How naive we would be.

Finding an apartment in New York City, especially when you’re a British student with no US guarantor has many challenges. A close friend of mine (a US citizen) moved to the city, sub-letted an East Village apartment on Craig’s List, broker fee-free, and was offered a job all within a matter of 5 days. By all accounts this was an incredibly lucky situation.


The search begins…

We started the search by narrowing down the neighbourhoods of our search to the West Village and Chelsea. Both beautiful areas with good links to the rest of Manhattan and walking distance to most of Lower Manhattan. Having stumbled upon a studio apartment on the website Street Easy we rang the broker and organised a viewing for the same afternoon. Armed with the tips to bring your cheque book with you and to put down a deposit as soon as you find the one you like, we headed West. The building the studio was located in had just been taken over by a new landlord and all the old tenants cleared out, so by complete luck we then had a choice of at least 8 different studio apartments in the same building to compare and decide between.

After leaving, breaking rule number one of always putting a deposit down as soon as you find ‘the one’, a few hours worth of pros/cons and everything in between occurred in a cafe round the corner. This eventually resulted in the conclusion he should go for it. Bubbling with excitement, despite the lethargy from consuming too many croissants during discussions, the call was placed, forms exchanged and payments discussed before the sun set. The evening was spent discussing plans for the space and writing lists of the homeware needing to be bought.

Securing the deal

The next morning we received a call from the broker saying someone had filled out and paid the deposit for the studio quicker than us. All manner of disappointment flooded in until the broker mentioned there were still 3 studios up for rent and did we want to come back. Hurriedly arranging an appointment, funds in tow we headed back West and chose one of the remaining apartments. He successfully secured it and then it was my turn to ensure everything was good for moving in, given that my boyfriend had never experienced moving in requirements I took it upon myself to ensure walls were painted, bathrooms cleaned, lightbulbs changed etc etc before the move in date 3 days later. Yes that’s right, it happens that quickly in New York, in London you usually secure a flat about 2-3 months prior to the move in date, but not here.

Furnishing your apartment

In New York, unlike London, most apartments are unfurnished. Meaning the next stage of moving in is to basically buy/ship from home/source every piece of furniture, bedding and homeware that you need. Again – expensive. Given that this is common practice in New York, there is pretty much a mattress store, in the form of a ‘Sleepy’s’ on every street corner.  Next up is the store that will become your saviour. Nope, not IKEA (that’s all the way in the depths of Brooklyn) but Bed, Bath and Beyond. You enter with a positive, excited, ‘oh my god look how many appliances there are’ attitude. By the time you have reached the crockery section your mindset is quite the opposite. I think it’s safe to say by the end of the experience we were verging on the brink of insanity. There are SO many options of absolutely everything you would ever need for a home, plus thousands of things you really don’t need but want anyway. I think we’d filled around 3 trolleys full by the end of the shop. Two lovely shop assistants were looking on concerned as we manoeuvred our way round the shelves and informed us there was a free Home Delivery option, to which we admitted defeat to, accepting it would not be possible to carry all the purchases home.

So everything was in place, the mattress had been ordered and the Bed Bath and Beyond delivery was scheduled for the move in day. Now all that was required was to lug our clothes and few possessions across the city. While we initially thought a large Uber might do the job, we decided at the last minute the more economical option was a U-Haul van. Rented and secured within half an hour of the idea, on move in day, we packed up our stuff went to pick up the van and then loaded it with all our possessions before heading to the apartment. It was mid way through carrying a huge cardboard box up the stairs we began questioning the choice of an apartment on a third floor walk up. As if nothing had been any trouble the deliveries had arrived, the mattress was on the floor and our possessions were all in the studio. That was that. The stress of the 3 days preceding the move ended as quickly as it’s onset.

Broker Fees

Just thought this was worth a quick mention – broker fees. If unlike my friend who sub-letted from a girl off Craig’s List, you have not been this lucky, you will most likely incur the expense of a broker fee. This is paid to the guy who showed us round the flats, despite us actually finding the apartments ourselves. It’s pretty pricey, being around 15% of a years rent, this is not something I’d experienced in London.

As I reached the end of the fortnight I had been in New York I was almost confused as to why I was getting on a plane back to London, I felt like I’d moved myself. If you’re moving to New York as a student or an expat from a different country, expect to be exhausted by the apartment hunting process. It’s definitely far more complicated than the civilised and relatively cheap searches I’ve experienced in London. At least now when I eventually move over the pond I won’t be nearly as stressed by the process and will be fully prepared for all that’s to come. Hopefully you now will be too!

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  • sittideat2006@hotmail.com'
    May 18, 2015 at 11:38 am

    I live in New york city 4 years.
    It place is really beautiful.

  • marie.kalthoff@googlemail.com'
    April 28, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    New York is such a hectic place for getting an apartement, I feel you! But I´m glad that y´all were able to find one in the end and your boyfriend is so lucky that he has you!:P
    I really love your writing Emma and am looking forward to future posts!
    All the best,
    Marie x

  • stephanie-rogers@live.co.uk'
    Stephanie Rogers
    April 26, 2015 at 5:59 am

    Those prices are insane! I will remember this article if I ever have the opportunity to move to New York!

    The Student Traveller

  • sanjisonline@gmail.com'
    April 25, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Am I the only one confused that there is another person blogging than Brooke? Didn’t know that other people post here too ;D But would love to get to know Emma and read more about her experience 🙂

  • www.v10@hotmail.co.uk'
    April 23, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    This is such a helpful post, thanks Emma! I’m looking to move to New York City soon so it’s nice to read about a first hand experience in finding an apartment 🙂

  • toya@thelimericklane.com'
    April 23, 2015 at 11:45 pm

    The apartment struggle is real! Not to mention the high rent and little space.

  • Zascha_friis@hotmail.com'
    April 23, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    is it weird that after reading this, all I want to do is move to New York? I can always dream, I guess 🙂

  • jenniferdstevens@gmail.com'
    Jennifer Stevens | Adventurous Appetite
    April 23, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Aww this reminded me of when I looked for my first apartment in the city. Such an overwhelming experience! But the good news is that it makes apartment hunting anywhere else feel like a cake-walk! 🙂


  • cockothenorth@gmail.com'
    Charles Maddison
    April 23, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Why live in New York, when I can live in Detroit as a King?

  • olg.rabo@gmail.com'
    April 23, 2015 at 3:57 am

    Right now I”m trying to find an apartment/room in Berlin, and it’s oh so difficult!
    Let me just say that I was never tried to be scammed as many times as now.


  • monika@violetroots.com'
    April 23, 2015 at 3:00 am

    Yes I hear horror stories all the time from my friends who live there. It is not an easy process at all but it’s so worth the momentary hassle.


  • tara@nycinspired.us'
    April 23, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Great post! Made me laugh at several points! You really explained things well for those that haven’t experienced the craziness of moving to NYC! Hope that 3rd floor walk up is getting easier!

  • jennifer@britmums.com'
    Jennifer Howze
    April 22, 2015 at 11:15 pm

    I remember renting my first apartment in New York – it is definitely a “first come, first served” situation. There are also situations where in addition to broker’s fee, they ask for a “key fee” or a big deposit. Still, somehow it all works.

  • sillymedleyNC@gmail.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    I’ve always heard getting an apartment in NYC is a nightmare! I loved reading this story. I live in North Carolina and the most difficult part is sorting through all the choices and finding something within your budget, basically a thousand times simpler!

    Silly Medley: Lifestyle and Travel

  • sascha@coffee-and-heels.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 8:14 pm

    Wow, sounds like it’s time I stop complaining about how hard it is to find an apartment here in London – NYC must be even tougher!

  • exploresmore@gmail.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 7:29 pm

    I’ve heard that the real estate waters are quite tricky to navigate in New York. Those broker fees sound so unfair, I think I’d only end up turning to that as a last ditch effort. Congrats on getting a place though!!


  • wanderbeforewhat@gmail.com'
    Sarah Lynn
    April 22, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Great post Emma!
    I’m sure many people are thinking about making a move to the NYC and this will definitely help them out!

  • zaahirah.bhamjee@gmail.com'
    Zaahirah Bhamjee
    April 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

    Apartment hunting is such a schlep really. Even here in South Africa 🙂 (Though, it’s probably not close to as bad as it is there!).

  • tiarashae.harpersblock@gmail.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 12:42 pm

    Well…this definitely sounds like a challenge! I am really hoping to stay a week in New York this July and would like to stay at an apartment instead of a hotel. Hopefully it will be a little easier since I am stay for such a short amount of time, I am just going to claim that everything will fall into place lol great read.

  • muzictomyears@gmail.com'
    Zoe Joy
    April 22, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Finding an apartment in New York City!? Believe me I know the struggle! I’m from New York, Thankfully I lived in Flushing.

  • to.west.texas@gmail.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 8:44 am

    holy hell that sounds complicated. a friend and i have been toying with the idea of moving to boston, which sounds like it’ll be just as complicated as ny.

    xo, allie

  • thepinthemapproject@gmail.com'
    Nikki Vargas
    April 22, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Oh man, the process of finding a place in NYC is one I have done before and it can be alot to deal with. Unless your bank account looks like Donald Trump’s usually NYers tend to c hoose between location or comfort in their apartment search. To find a place in, say, the East Village (where many of my friends have lived) is right near all the great bars but the apartments are expensive and very small. On the other hand, to live in Astoria, Queens (where I now live) or Brooklyn (not Williamsburg because that’s now as expensive if not more so than some places in Manhattan) means to be outside ‘the city’ but have a larger home. It depends on what you’re looking for, but finding a place in NYC can definitely be done! (Although copious amounts of wine will be needed!).


  • Hayliegrace@bigpond.com'
    April 22, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Wow, that sounds like a complicated and as you mentioned, exhausting process! I have just secured my british passport, so I am encouraged by the fact that you found it fairly simpler in comparison to find a rental in London. Thanks for the tips!

  • arnewell@gwu.edu'
    April 22, 2015 at 7:15 am

    It’s a mess, and you always have to be weary of scams. Such a shame that it’s so difficult to move to such a beautiful city. BTW, I loved your photography in this post and your writing style really complements WOW!