4 Tips for Apartment Hunting for Anyone Who Loved (and Temporarily Left) New York
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My decision to put a temporary pause on my New York City life mid-pandemic—to the point that I let go of my Brooklyn lease—was not one I came to lightly. But, practically speaking, it was the best move I could have made. For one thing, it meant I had a childcare solve. (My mother had graciously volunteered to step in and help as my spouse and I exhaustedly—and fortunately—juggled two very busy full-time jobs.) But it also promised the potential to save some cash, not just on the cost of rent, but on that much more financially advantageous lease we were guaranteed to lock in upon our return the following summer, er, right now.

Spoiler alert: Post-pandemic, New York isn’t dead.

In fact, based on the limited apartment inventory and the lines rounding the block for every two- and three-bedroom (what we were in the market for) that popped up on StreetEasy, the demand to live in—and, in my case, return—to New York has never been higher. (FYI, I’m basing this on Brooklyn real estate, but from what I hear, residential real estate in Manhattan is also experiencing quite the surge in demand.)

So, how do you compete with the masses? We checked in with Jonathan Schulz, a realtor at Corcoran, to get his take.

1. Have the Paperwork Ready to Go

This may seem like a no-brainer, but since applying for an apartment in New York City can feel like a college application, don’t wait until you find the apartment of your dreams to gather all the forms. Per Schulz, you’ll need PDFs of recent tax returns (sometimes for the past two years), PDFs of your bank statements, your paycheck stubs, photo copies of your IDs and enough money in the bank to cover both first month’s rent and your security deposit. But that’s not all: In my experience, we needed letters confirming employment from our company HR departments as well as a letter of recommendation from our most recent landlord. Bottom line: Prep all this in advance of your search so it’s not a scramble at the last minute (and one that could cost you the listing).

2. Set a Calendar Reminder to Regularly Peek at New Listings

Rentals in New York City typically get posted right before the weekend (cue the rush to all those open houses) and usually are removed early the following week, says Schulz. (A lot of it is a timing game since a lot of websites charge agents for hosting their listing, he explains.) The best way to stay on top of new listings is to save what you’re searching for on various real estate websites and set up email alerts that notify you the minute new listings are added. (A lot of apps will send you a pop-up alert.) And if something piques your interest, don’t wait. (In my case, if an agent phone number was listed, I texted immediately. There’s no time for email when the competition is this fierce.)

3. Always (Always) Ask About a Virtual Tour

You can thank the pandemic for this one, but virtual video tours are still (for the most part) an option. If it’s not already posted to the website, make this a part of your initial ask. “Agents like to engage so sometimes, they’ll have videos, but will only share them upon request,” Schulz explains. This is especially useful for anyone who is currently out of town and is conducting their apartment search remotely. “It’s better than nothing, but in person is still best,” Schulz says.

4. StreetEasy is a Great Starting Point…but Don’t Limit Your Search

Sure, StreetEasy seems to have the bulk of the listings, but per Schulz, it’s not the only place to look. “The app now charges for rental listings, so not all agents post there,” he explains. In fact, it’s better to go to the websites of individual brokerages (think: Corcoran.com or Compass.com) and see what pops up. “A lot of times, they will have their listings and other company’s listings, too,” Schulz says. “Be ready and if something looks interesting, go see it in person.” After all, rental photos can be deceiving, for better or for worse. 

As for my own apartment search, I found one—a three-bedroom in Brooklyn that has both natural light and a tiny yard. But the search was hard. That’s why this final piece of advice from Schulz rings true: “Be prepared to see a lot of listings and give yourself time.” The more you see, the better you’ll be able to understand value and market as it stands.

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