How to Look for an Apartment
It’s never too early to begin checking the ads and/or looking at available apartments just to see what’s out there. Most apartments have a 30-day turnaround time, so serious looking should begin six to eight weeks before your desired move-in date. It will help if you are flexible about your start date; be prepared to start your lease on the 1 instead of the 15, or the 15 instead of the 1 of a given month. If it is at all possible, avoid looking in August when students are arriving for the start of classes in schools throughout the city. Take a friend along when you visit apartments listed in a newspaper if there is no building superintendent or real estate agent to accompany you.
If you will be living with another person, you should look at apartments together. Though it would seem to be better use of your time to scout apartments separately, a good apartment could be lost in less than a day’s delay in getting each other back to an apartment. To use your time wisely, discuss in advance what you want in terms of price, location, amenities, etc.
Define your general needs/wants: put a value/price tag on each category. Do you want a full or part-time doorman or none? An elevator building or a walk-up? Washer and dryer in apartment or building, or can you go to a laundromat? Central air or window units or fans? Etc.
Define your location needs/wants: Supply and demand dictate that apartments in areas with schools and universities will be harder to come by and more expensive. For instance, Greenwich Village has New York University, The New School, Cooper Union, Cardozo; the Upper West Side has Julliard, Fordham, Columbia. In the east 80’s which has no large schools, those apartments located away from the Lexington Avenue subway will have cheaper rents because demand will be lower. Popular areas cost more; the area from 15 - 30 Street on the east side is less expensive than the Village with its popular clubs, restaurants, schools and shops. Be aware that neighborhoods change in status.
Visit the neighborhood, the block, and even the building on a day of the week and a time of day you will be at home; if you will be at home on weekend days, visit then to see what the neighborhood is like regarding noise, area traffic, shopping, etc. Use common sense. Are the hallways clean and mailboxes in good condition? If it’s not a doorman building, is the lobby door locked? Does the intercom work? These are good indicators of a well run building.
When you find an apartment you like, be prepared to put up to $200 down right away (Bankers Check, Travelers Checks, Money Order) as a deposit to take the apartment off the market and to put money down for rent + security. The standard amount is one month’s rent plus one month’s security (add 12-18% brokers fee, payable when the lease is signed, if you use a real estate broker). Always be sure you are dealing with a legitimate representative of the landlord. If you are subletting, be sure you are dealing with the prime tenant and that subletting is permitted.