Renting 101: How to Find an NYC Apartment

Vicki Salemi is a writer and former HR manager who landed a big-city job and moved from the New Jersey suburbs to New York City when she was 30. She dishes on how to successfully make the career and lifestyle leap in her new book "Big Career in the Big City: Land a Job and Get a Life in New York" (Jist Works). She gives RentedSpaces some tips on how to find and afford an apartment in one of the world's most exciting and challenging cities.

Financially speaking, what does it take to land a Manhattan apartment?

You do need a little cosmopolitan nest egg to land an apartment in Manhattan, because there are a lot of upfront costs.
If you pay $1,800 on your own for a studio you'll have to pay first and last month's rent, plus the deposit [so $5,400 up front]. Hopefully you didn't use a broker because that will add a hefty cost, sometimes as much as 15 percent of the annualized rent. And you'll never see that money again.

If you want a roommate or two it's less of a financial burden, because you can split some of the upfront costs. If you go in with roommates on a slightly bigger apartment for, let's say, $2,800, you can save a few hundred bucks each month (so among three roommates here, the upfront cost would be $2,800 each). Plus, if you go into a situation where roommates are already living there, you can probably scoot in without having to put too much money down.

How is living in NYC different than in other places?

Landlords can be ridiculous anywhere, but in NYC they're strict and they'll charge you. Let's say you don't give them 60 days notice in writing prior to moving out or not renewing your lease, they might try to keep your deposit. They also aren't very good about letting people go month-to-month.

But the main difference about living in NYC is that you will live in a shoebox. Then again, one of the best cities in the world is literally at your doorstep -- and how often are you really going to be home anyhow?

How much should renters set aside before they start apartment hunting in Manhattan?

This depends on what your goals are. Figure on an amount that equals the first and last month's rent, plus security deposit, plus $200 extra. If you want to live on your own in a doorman building, set aside at least $5,400.

But keep in mind that landlords are having a tougher time renewing leases and renting their spaces, so you can try to negotiate. Ask them what's the best they can do if you sign a two-year lease instead of a one-year lease.

How much do you need each month to live on?

Overall, you'll need a rough estimate of $1,000 [on top of your rent] and that's on the cheap. This includes a monthly MTA pass, $400 per month for food (this equates to $14 a day and assumes you'll eat oatmeal at home, take advantage of coffee/water coolers at the office, brown bag your lunch, etc.), $200 in entertainment (assume it can cost you $50/night at least when you go out if you eat out and socialize in low-budget/happy hour-special type places and go out once a week, which is on the low side). Then you have to consider cell phone bills, Con Ed bill, some type of Internet service and $100 miscellaneous.

What was your first NY apartment/roommate situation like?

I didn't have a roommate and I focused more on the neighborhood and safety. So I had a doorman building, but I had a studio the size of a dorm room. I never slept well there because it faced a very busy street. I would hear all the street noise, cell phones ringing below me, and buses going back and forth all night. Also, I didn't have a couch for the three years I lived there because it wouldn't fit. I sat on a little Ikea chair.

If you do need a roommate, what's the best situation?

Best situation is a friend of a friend. You can be friendly and hang out a little, but also have your own space and some formality. If you try to be best friends with your roommate and hang out 24/7 you'll get on each other's nerves at some point.

If you're new to New York and have never lived in a big city is a roommate a good idea?

Definitely. It's a way to acclimate and have someone to check on you. It will connect you to the city. Your roommate can introduce you to friends and networks they have. They'll drag you out when you don't want to go, which might be a good thing. You don't have to worry about feeling isolated. Also if you go out together you get to share a cab home instead of paying for one yourself.

What are the biggest first-apartment challenges that no one sees coming?

One is that you might not be friends with your neighbors, might not even know them, compared to a dorm where everyone knows everyone and keeps their doors open. You have to be courteous to your neighbors and put up with them. You can't blast your stereo at 2 a.m. and you might have to suck it up if your neighbor has a loud dog.

Also, you have to have a back-up plan. What happens when you have a mouse? What do you do when your shower breaks or the hot water goes out or if you need to leave your apartment in the middle of the night? All those things will happen at some point.

More on AOL Real Estate:
See apartments for rent in New York.
See roommate-wanted ads in our listings.

See apartments for rent in your area.
Looking for a new home? See "Should You Rent or Buy?"


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