Moving to New York can be a thrilling, life-changing experience. The city is unlike anywhere else on Earth, and the rules are different here.
In few other areas is this as true as with housing. There’s limited space in the city, and a constantly growing demand for apartments (and yes, it’s apartments, not houses). New York may also be one of the few places where renting is the norm, and you may also find it's better for you to rent instead of buy — at least when you first move here.
However, for those who do their research and follow a few simple rules, finding a home doesn’t need to be overwhelming.
The information below will provide you with everything you need to know in order to become an New York City housing pro.
What to Expect
It’s important to start out with a realistic idea of what you can get in New York City. Take your time to research different areas of the city, as well as local schools, amenities, and subways. Average rent across all floor plans is $1,086, but this hides either end of the curve. In practice, combined with other costs of New York-living, you have to be financially secure enough to afford three or more months’ rent straight away. New Yorkers on the hunt tend to use the following criteria:
• Space and size
• Location (travel to work, etc)
• School Zoning
You may be forced to play these off against each other. Will you commute from farther away in return for a larger apartment? Will you accept a lesser-known neighbourhood if it keeps the price down? Will you pay more than you had intended for that perfect apartment five minutes from work? It can be hard. And it can go fast. If you find an apartment that fits the bill, don’t hesitate.
You may come across the term "rent stabilization" in your searching. Rent stablization applies to any rental building with multiple apartments built between February 1947 and January 1974, and the landlord is bound to a specific percentage by which they can increase rent on renewal. Rent stabilized apartments are a good deal — grab them if you can.
Again, don’t hesitate. It can’t be said enough! If you linger, you’ll lose, and someone else will be living in your dream home by the end of the week. Yes, really.
What You'll Need
Speaking of what to expect, you’ll also need to be ready with your paperwork if you do find that perfect apartment. Before you even start looking, sort out the following:
• A local bank account. This is vital. You’re going to need bank-certified checks for the deposit, and even a check from an out-of-state bank may not be accepted. Personal checks are also out of the question for the first few months’ rent.
• A certified check. From the local bank mentioned above is best, although if you really don’t have time, you can cash traveller’s checks at the bank in exchange for a certified check. This will normally be for the first month’s rent, the deposit, and any other fees related to your apartment.
• A credit report. This is standard across the industry, and there will be a minimal fee for running the credit check. Landlords want to know if you have good credit on a secured credit card before they’ll rent to you.
If you go out to see an apartment, also remember to have the following with you:
• Photo ID. Green cards, passports and U.S. drivers licences are all perfectly fine.
• A letter of employment, that notes your salary and start date. Although not always needed, it’s best to have it on hand, especially as an international with little employment history in the U.S.
• Bank accounts and credit card numbers.
• Business and personal letters of recommendation. Contact details should also be here. Again, these aren’t always necessary, depending on the type of apartment you’re after.
• Previous landlords’ information. As an international this can be trickier, but it shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t have any in the U.S.
• Pay stubs. Three or four is becoming the norm to prove you have money coming in routinely.
• Anything else you have that shows your income.
Most apartments will also have a required minimum income, worked out through a variety of systems depending on the complex. Some will require you to earn a certain annual amount, others simply that your monthly rent be no more than a certain percentage of your annual income (to ensure you will be able to live as well as pay your rent on time).
If this causes a problem, then you’ll need a co-signer or guarantor. It’s a huge favor to ask of someone, so the best bet is to keep it in the family, preferably someone from the Tri-state area.
Leases in the U.S. are normally signed very quickly and with a very short resting time before the apartment is yours to move into and start paying for. Two weeks or so is pretty standard, so be ready once the papers are signed. Lease agreements run for one or two years on average, and rent is renegotiable every time the lease is up. Therefore, you may end up paying more in following years than in your first year, in line with market prices.