How to Find an Affordable Apartment in NYC – 2021

When compared to 2020, NYC rents have jumped almost 20 percent with one-bedroom apartments now averaging around $2,810. Thanks to restrictions loosening and increased vaccination rates, people are moving back to NYC at higher rates than in 2019. This surge in population has also led to a surge in rent prices. In fact, as of August 2021, New York City became the most expensive rental market in the nation, surpassing San Francisco. Finding an affordable apartment in NYC isn’t easy, but if you’re okay with making a few concessions, you can definitely find something that won’t break the bank.

Know What You Can Afford

Most likely, rent will be your biggest expense. While most financial experts suggest that you should not pay more than percent of your monthly gross income on housing (rent and utilities). So if you’re making $4,000 a month gross, then you should technically only be spending $1,200 on housing. Of course, if you’re like most young professionals, you will likely spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, thus making you “rent-burdened” according to the De Blasio administration.

So how much can you expect to spend? Well, most landlords require you to earn around 40 to 50 times the rent in order to be eligible. So if you have a salary of $40,000 the most rent you could afford would be $1,000 a month. There are still apartments available at that price point, but they tend to be far away from Manhattan. If you’re okay with a long commute and living in a mostly residential neighborhood, you can definitely find something that fits the bill.

Of course, there are more options the more money you spend. If you want to live in a more lively neighborhood, you’ll really need to figure out your monthly budget and stick to it. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a mountain of debt!

Consider Roommates

You’ve probably heard horror stories from friends or colleagues about living with roommates. While there are always risks associated with living with another person, most adults tend to be respectful or, at the very least, want to avoid unnecessary drama. Before you decide to find a roommate, you should figure out your boundaries and needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you someone who prefers their apartment to be clean or are you okay with a little mess?
  • Do you have pets? Are you allergic to any animals?
  • How do you feel about splitting housing costs like food, toiletries, etc. or do you prefer people to pay and use their own items?
  • What are your work hours? Do you go to bed early or are you a night owl?
  • How do you feel about overnight guests?
  • How do you expect to split up chores?
  • Are you okay with smokers?

Once you have a good idea of your expectations, you can then try to look for roommate listings that match. This can be a grueling process, but it’s important to find a good match. When you chat with your potential roommates don’t be afraid to ask questions to figure out what kind of person they are. You’re interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you. Once you do find a nice place and roommate, always make sure to talk about responsibilities like chores, splitting utilities, etc.

Living with roommates might not be ideal, but if you really want to live in a particular neighborhood, it might be the only way to do it. So if you really want to live in Williamsburg, then be prepared to share a space with one or even two other people. So long as everyone agrees with the ground rules, things should be fine.

Avoid Moving During Peak Season

New York City is home to more than half a million university students. While many live in the dorms, there are plenty of renters mixed in. Since school runs from August/September until May, it makes sense that there’s a lot of activity from May-September. Since there’s a higher demand for apartments during the spring to early fall, many owners and management companies also work hard to ensure leases end during this time. However, if you can you should try to move in the winter for the following reasons:

  • Rent prices are significantly lower in the winter months than summer months. If you can get a rent-stabilized apartment, you’ll end up saving big in the long run.
  • You might not have to pay a broker’s fee as there are fewer people on the market in the winter months and owners are more willing to pay the broker’s fee to fill the vacancies.
  • There’s more flexibility when your lease officially starts as there’s less competition. So even if you close a deal on December 15th, you might be able to move on January 1st. That way you’ll avoid paying for an apartment you’re not living in yet.
  • Some owners might offer some incentives to entice renters during the colder months. That might mean something like a flat-screen TV or maybe even one month of free rent.
  • You have more negotiation power during the colder months. While there might be less inventory, there are also fewer people looking so you might be able to reduce the rent by a hundred dollars or more.

Tell Everyone You’re Looking

Some of the best deals on the market are not listed on any website. So make a post on whatever social media you use and see if you get any leads. You never know who might have some connections. You should also tap your professional network as well to see if they might have any leads. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your boss, stick with your co-workers. They might have some friends who are looking for roommates or maybe even people looking to break lease for whatever reason and you might be able to get a good deal. You can even reach out to former brokers you worked with to see if they have any listings that haven’t hit the market yet. Of course, that’s if you have a good relationship with them!

If all else fails, there are plenty of websites you can go to find apartments and roommates. Streeteasy and Zillow are excellent options if you are looking for your own place. For those who need a roommate, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist are great options though you should always be on alert for potential scams. To avoid scams, make sure to do the following:

  • Trust your gut – if something feels too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t jump into a deal if it doesn’t feel right.
  • Wire transfers are a red flag – if a roommate or prospective candidate starts talking about wiring money via Western Union or a similar service, walk away. These scams will often wire more money than the actual amount and then ask you – the victim – to send the overage to a third party. You might send the money along but then later find out the transfer is bogus and you’re out of cash.
  • Meet in person – beware the roomie that wants to rent but can’t meet up. It probably means the room doesn’t exist.
  • Pay attention to their online profiles and communication – make sure their email domains seem legit and check out their social media to see if they’re actually real people

Conclusion

New York City has never been a cheap place to live, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to make it work. It might take a bit more time and patience, but you’ll be able to find a place that meets your budget. And once you do, make sure to reach out to reputable moving companies (like us) to make your actual move fast and stress-free.

FAQ

How do I know if an apartment is rent-stabilized?

You will have to contact NYS Homes and Community renewal to see if your apartment is rent-stabilized. You can also check out the Rent Guidelines Board to see if the apartment building is listed.

Do I need to pay a broker’s fee?

It depends. If you’re working with a broker directly, chances are you will have to pay up 15% of a year’s worth of rent. Some management companies will pay the broker directly but might tack on the cost to your rent. If you’re renting directly from a small landlord, you probably won’t have to deal with a broker’s fee.

Are there affordable housing options in NYC?

There are, but you are only eligible if you do not exceed a certain threshold. Many of these affordable housing programs are also lottery-based so you aren’t guaranteed a spot even if you apply.