The Bare Essentials to Call NYC Home
What's it Gonna Cost? No matter where your apartment hunt takes you, there are a few things we recommend you have handy. Of them, the most important has to be some cold, hard, cash. New York is many things to many people, but cheap isn't one of them. New Yorkers should expect to spend ¼ of their annual income on rent. Landlords like to see that your annual salary is at least 40 to 50 times the cost of your monthly rent.
Be Prepared: To get into just about any place, you’ll need at least first month’s rent and security deposit in the form of a cashier’s or bank check. (New Yorker's aren't very trusting when it comes to personal checks!) A letter from your current employer stating your salary and time of employment as well as a reference from your previous landlord don’t hurt, either. If you don’t make a certain amount of money, you may need to call in a guarantor. However, this varies building to building, so don’t freak out if Mom and Dad don’t feel like signing their life away for your New York dream! A credit check will also be required, but those obtained on your own will not be accepted. Be prepared to spend between $25-$100 getting one.
Getting Your Priorities Straight: Chances are that you, like most New Yorkers, probably won’t have everything you desire in your immediate vicinity. Are you most concerned with the size of your new space? Commute? Safety? Prioritize the things that are most important to you before you set about your hunt.
Too Broke for a Broker? Using a broker or an apartment locator is often recommended when renting in New York City (especially in summer and early fall – NYC’s most difficult times to rent) and while brokers can charge a fee ranging from one month’s rent to 15% of one’s annual rent, in certain circumstances it may save you both time and money in the long run. Many brokers have access to rentals that aren't listed elsewhere, so if you've hit a dead end in your apartment search, it’s probably worth a phone call. Just keep in mind that the shorter the lease, the more expensive they come. Most brokers deal in long leases, so make sure you really want to live in your selected spot before committing.
Leaving Expectations at the Door: Usually, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be conscious of bait and switch scams found on Craigslist and elsewhere. Trust your gut. This same rule applies to the cost/size ratio. Compared to just about everywhere else in the country, New York apartments are almost microscopic, with limited closet space, zero storage space, and, on top of that, you will be paying astronomical prices for it. But if you wanted space, you’d be moving to Kansas. So on that note, let’s move to the borough where you’ll get the least bang for your buck, the glamorous and bank-account-draining, Manhattan.
Money-Guzzling and Magnificent Manhattan
Many people move to the Big Apple with images of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha’s “Sex and the City” pads floating in their heads. But unless you have a job in finance or a really cushy trust fund, you might want to reconsider. For those who haven’t quite made your millions (yet!), don’t fret! Manhattan is still completely doable if you look in the northern regions of Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood. Not only are these neighborhoods more budget-friendly, but you’ll also get a splash of Spanish culture that makes it a true melting-pot experience. The only drawback to living ‘round these parts could be your commute downtown (assuming that’s where you’ll be winning your bread). Thirty-minute commutes to the subway train are standard fare, so you better bring some comfy walking shoes. Whoever said a little exercise was a bad thing anyway?
Another neighborhood to check out is the “new” Upper East Side, in the 80’s close to York Avenue. This is a very fashionable area for the young and single, with a plethora of dive bars to bring you back to those college days.
If you've already nailed that dream job and are raking in some serious dough, we have some good news: your New York options are truly endless! We suggest pointing yourself towards the East Village for an amazing nightlife, the West Village for cobblestone-street cuteness and adorable sidewalk eateries, Midtown for easy access to the best theater in the world, the Upper East Side for endless museums, or the Upper West Side for strolls through Central Park with your pooch.
The True Melting Pot of Queens
If you’re a foodie at heart, Queens may just be the borough for you. It has often been said, “I ate my way around the world and never left Queens!” This borough surely lives up to that mantra as the most diverse New York area, home to immigrants from all over the globe. Here, you can find the biggest Greek community outside of Athens in Astoria, the largest African-American community in Jamaica, and Eastern Europeans galore in Ridgewood. The main thing to keep in mind if you decide to go to one of the outer boroughs is commuting time. Obviously, the closer you are to Manhattan, the shorter your commute will be. And if you end up in the outer-reaches of a far-out borough, make sure you are close to public transportation. If you’re living in Jamaica, for example, expect a hefty commute complete with mile-long walks and long train-rides downtown. Unless you are an avid reader or napper on the train, we would suggest staying as close to Manhattan as you can justify.
Hip (and Hipster) Brooklyn
There have been many debates between Manhattanites and Brooklynites about whose borough is better. Brooklyn defends their spacey apartments, along with having a lifestyle that caters to the “artist”, the “dreamer”, the “2.5 kids and a dog”. Manhattanites just throw back their head in laughter and chalk it up to people who just can’t cut it (or afford it) in Manhattan. However, don’t be deceived. With Brooklyn’s recent popularity, prices have soared, especially in hip (or hipster) areas in West-Brooklyn, such as Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Brooklyn Heights. The farther east or south you go, the further your dollar stretches. Just keep that treacherous commute we warned you about locked in your mind.
The Boogie-Down Bronx
Ahh, the Boogie-Down Bronx! While it should be noted that the South Bronx rates as the poorest congressional district in America, with an unfortunate amount of people living in poverty, you shouldn't cross this borough off your list just yet. It you're willing to put on your brave face (you know, the one that got you to New York in the first place!), and cough up relatively little in rent, this could be the borough for you! The South Bronx is home to Yankee Stadium, so the area is undergoing a lot of positive development. Amazing deals and more family-friendly lifestyles can also be found in the Northeast Bronx in the neighborhoods of Pelham Parkway and Co-cop City. The apartments will be spacier, and you’ll ultimately get more bang for your buck...not only in rent, but also cheap bodegas, grocery stores and restaurants. When it comes to having and housing a car, The Bronx is the most user-friendly neighborhood around. It's not uncommon to find street parking, and the parking garages are a fraction of what you will pay in other boroughs.
Suburban Staten Island
Unless you are looking to stay with the suburb experience while still calling yourself a “New Yorker”, we wouldn’t recommend living in Staten Island. It can only be reached by a bridge from Brooklyn (i.e. a car is a must), or a 20-minute ferry ride that will take you to the bottom of Manhattan. And if you want a commute with that much hassle, you’re better off living in Jersey! Snarky comments aside, there are some lovely areas to this borough. The North Shore is home to the hoods St. George, Tompkinsville, Clifton and Stapleton, and is the most urban of the island.
Big City Living
Once you get to NYC, there are a few things you should know to help you make you look like less of a transplant.
Getting Around Town:
- Ditch the car. In NYC you can get just about anywhere using public transportation and your own two feet. Owning a car in NYC is more of a liability than a convenience: with limited parking (running as high as $400 a month), perpetual bumper to bumper traffic, insurance, gas, and all of the potential tickets from NYC’s extreme parking laws, you’re better off selling your car to help pay the rent.
- Learn the subway system. Know your line. Know your train car. Know your schedule. The subway runs 24/7, but riding at night can be dangerous. Ride in the conductor or operator’s car for added security.
- The left side of the subway escalator is for those rushing, stay on the right side if you’re feeling like a casual stroll.
- Invest in a good pair of shoes for walking. You’ll be doing a lot of it.
- Carry with you a quality collapsible umbrella. It rains a lot in NYC and, not to beat it into the ground, but you’ll be doing a lot of walking.
Now that your unlimited MetroCard has been put to good use, let’s reconvene! New York’s 5 boroughs are home to over 8 million people speaking over 800 languages. And no matter the borough you choose to call home, we’re sure you’ll bring something unique and amazing to the table. Get your apartment fondue skewers.