Thursday, March 26, 2009

Finding a place in the city

While I was walking to work today, for some strange reason I remembered memories I had repressed our first few months in the metropolitan area. Specifically, I remembered apartment hunting.

It was a hellish experience.

Let me explain why I was so shocked.

I've moved plenty in my life- grew up military and spent the first five and a half years after college in the Air Force. When you are in the military, you get 7 days of special, doesn't count against your normal vacation days leave to find housing. If you're buying, of course, you take a few extra days in the months before and look at places.

My parents have taken apartments sight unseen. My mom and dad bought a house after having just my dad go look at it-mom only ever saw it on the internet. I rented a place that I'd only seen a mirror image of, and I have rented a place that I had never seen (I was in Colorado and moving to Alabama and could not afford to did not want to have to board my two cats while I apartment hunted, so I found a place online, asked my sponsor about the neighborhood to make sure it was safe, and arranged to sign the lease and pick up the keys the day I arrived).

Now, when we moved to New York, I expected it to be harder, because of the size and all. What I didn't realize is how the "system" tries to milk you out of thousands of dollars.

We looked first in Brooklyn. We saw some places on line and printed out the fliers, and then we also arranged to meet with a Realtor. They're called brokers. I'm assuming because their goal is to make you broke. The brokers come with fees. The fees are usually a percentage of the annual amount you would pay on a given apartment. I don't remember the exact percent, but some how it always managed to equal just about a month's rent. You would pay that at the same time you paid your security deposit. Most places available could not be viewed with out a Broker's involvement. Trust me, we looked on Craig's list and any other site we could find. The few places that did not involve a broker looked, even on the internet, like shoe boxes in crappy areas. (I think this had to do with the fact that we weren't looking at complexes, instead we were looking at brownstone type apartments or even a highrise with apartments owned by individuals rather than a company, as you'll see in a moment we had better luck with other types of rentals).

We saw some nice places in Brooklyn, but the frustration involved with getting from Brooklyn to other places which we knew we would regularly need to go (ie my in laws) was too much. And frankly, the idea of having to pay a month's rent to a broker was hard to swallow.

Fortunately for us, not every place is connected to a legal con-artist broker. E found a place on Roosevelt Island that didn't involve broker fees. There, the complex did its own thing. Sure, that guy tried to trick get us to take an apartment overlooking a garbage dump then acted all angry when we wouldn't take that apartment. We didn't have to pay extra broker fees (and we even got all our security deposit back- how about that!). Later, when we moved to the Upper West Side, we also managed to bypass the whole broker fee thing. This was a much smoother transition. Perhaps we were more experienced, more cynical- or perhaps this complex is classier, or perhaps both.

All I know is, if you're moving to New York City, don't fall for the Broker thing. There are plenty of other ways to find a place if you're willing/able to take your time.


  1. Thanks for posting this...we are moving to the city too, and I'm freaking out about finding a place!!! Funny we are looking at brooklyn too...

  2. Good luck on finding a place Amie!


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