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How to Find an Apartment in New York City, NY 2021

By: Susan Finch
May 20, 2021

A move New York City provides around-the-clock nightlife, a booming job market, and some of the best dining and entertainment on the planet. With tons of competition, trying to find a place of your own in New York City can be tough. The apartment vacancy rate is notoriously low, making it challenging to find a place on your own.

Working with real estate brokers is the norm, which adds an extra fee to your apartment hunting process. You can figure out how to find an apartment in NYC on your own or use our guide to find the best place possible within your budget.

Here's what to do to find the best neighborhood and apartment amenities in New York City.

1. How to Find the Best New York City Neighborhood

Living in the Big Apple, also known as the “city that never sleeps,” is a thrilling adventure. You can live in the heart of it all or in the quieter, outer boroughs to fit the lifestyle you're looking for. Residents can live close to green space and bike paths or walk out their doors to pubs, dining, and farmers markets.

New York City gets some serious street cred for its robust public transportation. You don't need a car when you have your choice of subways, buses, bikes, rideshares, or taxis.

Choose from luxury high-rises near downtown or quiet brownstones in Brooklyn and Queens. Here's a rundown of different New York City neighborhoods.

Upper West Side

The Upper West Side is celebrated for its classic brownstones, luxury apartments, and proximity to Central Park. Pubs, museums, and entertainment venues sit just outside your apartment door.

East Village

The East Village is a trendy neighborhood featuring small music venues, restaurants, and coffee shops. The community still boasts an independent, funky vibe, stemming from its iconic rock and roll roots, but has increasingly become more affluent. It is now home to many young professionals, as well as students, millennials, and artistic types.

Manhattanville

Manhattanville, also known as West Harlem or West Central Harlem, is a diverse, residential neighborhood that is rapidly growing. In fact, Columbia University purchased real estate in Manhattanville for their expansion. You'll find old-school poultry and butcher shops alongside trendy bars and dining.

Washington Heights

Head to the uppermost part of Manhattan to Washington Heights, named after the fortification of Fort Washington. Locals also refer to this area as "Little Dominican Republic." Take your pick of older residential apartment buildings and new luxury options. You won't find many pubs and restaurants in Washington Heights. However, you are close to stunning attractions like the Met Cloisters, which houses medieval art.

Brooklyn

There are scores of fabulous Brooklyn apartments available from Brooklyn Heights to Williamsburg. Locals love this borough’s independent spirit, proximity to Manhattan, and laid-back vibe. Here are 18 neighborhoods in Brooklyn to choose from to find your next apartment.

Queens

Queens is just a short train ride into Manhattan. Many of this borough's most desirable neighborhoods feature dazzling views of the skyline and water. Take your pick of popular neighborhoods in Queens, including Astoria, Flushing, Long Island City, Rego Park, and Ridgewood.

Staten Island

Staten Island is among the quietest boroughs in New York City. It's more residential in nature, though you still have access to beaches, a minor league baseball team, parks, and attractions. Residents live in a mix of apartments, townhouses, and single-family homes. The 25-minute Staten Island ferry is also free and takes passengers to downtown Manhattan.

The Bronx

There are still plenty of apartment deals in The Bronx. The borough is known for the birth of hip-hop, the New York Yankees, the world-famous Bronx Zoo, and the New York Botanical Garden.

2. How Much are Apartments in New York City?

Considering a move to New York City? Before you start apartment hunting, learn about the local rental market in the Big Apple.

Average Rent in New York City

New York rents have increased by 2.66% compared to last month and are down by 15.32% compared to the same time since last year. Here's more information to help you determine your budget:

  • 0% of apartments in New York cost less than $1,000 per month.
  • 11% of apartments in New York cost between $1,000-$1,999 per month.
  • 29% of apartments in New York cost between $2,000-$2,999 per month.
  • 60% of apartments in New York cost over $3,000 per month.

3. How to Find Cheap Apartments in New York City

New York City isn't exactly known for its rock bottom rents. However, you can still find deals and bargains around the city if you're flexible. Move-in specials are one way to lower your rent. Some New York City apartments will run deals in December or January when landlords need to fill space quickly.

Locals will also tell you that finding a good deal is about who you know. Asking around can yield information on apartment or roommate openings. Even if you find a deal, you'll still need to make sure you've got your budgeting checklist for all of the apartment essentials like moving expenses and utilities.

The farther away you get from Manhattan and other trendy neighborhoods in the outer boroughs, the more reasonable your rent becomes. Come prepared with these tips for finding an apartment you can afford.

4. What's the Best Time to Find an Apartment in New York City?

Seasonality plays a big part in scoring an apartment deal in New York City. In a typical year, nationwide, rents increase during the summer and decline in the winter. Prices are at their highest from July through September and at their lowest from December through February.

  • In recent years, rents in NYC have risen an average of $91 each summer, a 5% price increase, which is an additional $1,092 in rent annually.
  • In recent years, rents in NYC have dropped an average of $50 each winter, a 3% price drop, which is $600 less in rent annually.

What drives this seasonality?1

More people move during the summer because:

  • Weather doesn’t get in the way
  • School is not in session, making it a convenient time for college grads and families with children to move

Fewer people move during the winter because:

  • Inclement weather can get in the way
  • Moving can be expensive and winter holidays already consume a lot of discretionary spending

Late spring and summer are usually the most desirable times of year to move. However, you'll pay the highest prices and face the most competition to score the best apartments during these seasons.

5. How to Find an Apartment in New York City

Now that you know what to look for in an apartment with a good idea of neighborhoods, it's time to find your New York City apartment. Here's how to start the process.

6. Determine Your Budget: Can You Afford to Live in New York City?

New York City rents climb quickly and require a strategy to stay on budget. Whenever possible, we recommend you follow the 30% rule.

The rule states that no more than 30% of your pre-taxed monthly take-home pay should go towards your rent. The pre-taxed take-home pay is also called your gross income. If you want to figure it out annually, just divide your gross annual salary by 40 to come up with the same number.

Are you looking for a studio apartment in one of New York City's boroughs with a rent of $2,000? Your gross income should hit right around $6,665 a month or about $79,980 a year. You can bring down your rent by looking into a bigger apartment with roommates or continuing to scour for a deal.

If you find an apartment in New York City that seems to be within your budget, make sure to factor in the extra costs involved. There are several costs of renting an apartment that people often forget.

  • Security Deposit: The standard security deposit is one month's rent, but it can vary from property to property. If you take care of your apartment, you should get your deposit back.
  • Pet Fees: Looking for a pet-friendly apartment? Prepare to pay additional costs. Most apartment buildings require some form of a pet deposit, pet fees, or pet rent.
  • Parking: Does your monthly rent include a reserved parking spot? If not, that will likely tack on extra fees to your monthly rent.
  • Amenities: If your apartment complex offers a gym, can you get rid of your gym membership? An apartment with great amenities can cut down some of your usual living expenses.

7. Set Your Apartment Priorities

Unless you have an unlimited budget, you'll likely need to set some priorities for your apartment. A smaller apartment might yield cheaper rent in your dream neighborhood. You can also choose to live further out in the boroughs to find more space at a more affordable price point. You're likely going to sacrifice space or location when it comes to living in New York City. Older apartment complexes without updated kitchens and amenities will also prove less expensive.

Once you've determined whether space, location, or amenities are the most important, set your priorities around what you need for your perfect apartment. Bedroom furniture and furniture for your living area are a must. Look into multi-functional furniture to save space and money, including storage ottomans and coffee tables that double as dining tables with the help of a tray.

8. Consider Your Commute Time

New York City is renowned for its public transportation. However, your commute time can add up to over an hour quickly. Living in a neighborhood close to where you work will save time and money, and increase your quality of life. However, a good book on the subway can pass the time if you score a better deal outside Manhattan.

There's more to your commute than the MTA subway and bus. New York City is very walkable, with a walk score of 88. Some neighborhoods, like Little Italy and the Flatiron District, have a perfect walk score of 100. Bike scores range in the 90s, and transit scores are almost always 100.

9. Prepare for New York City Apartment Tours

Now that you know what to look for in your New York City apartment search, it's time to tour and apply. Make sure to visit the apartment you’re interested in before signing a lease. It's essential to see the unit in person and meet your potential landlord or property manager. You'll know the apartment is exactly what was listed and have an easier time making a decision.

Come armed with a few essential questions to ask before renting an apartment. Look over the list and prepare thoroughly before your tour.

Bring your materials with you on your apartment tours! If you fall in love with a unit the second you step in, you're going to want to secure it ASAP. New York City apartments go fast.

Keep your cash, credit cards, or checkbook to pay for the application on hand. Have your ID, proof of income, and a few references ready. Landlord references are also preferred. You can also use personal references if you don't have a rental history.

If you're new to renting, learn about the apartment application process.

10. Applying for Your NYC Apartment

New York City apartments come and go quickly. They barely stay on the market during peak renting season in the summer, or if they’re underpriced. Come prepared to fill out an application. You'll also pay a non-refundable application fee. When possible, call the broker or landlord in advance and ask what documentation they need for the application. Some require specific documents and want everything in hand to accept your application.

11. Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Rental scams are an unfortunately common occurrence. According to a report by Apartment List, 37.2% of New York City renters have encountered fraudulent apartment listings. And 7.1% of those have lost money due to rental scams.

Follow these tips for avoiding rental scams.

Using Apartment List to Find Your New York City Apartment

Ready to move to the Big Apple? Apartment List is here to help you find your dream home.

Here’s how it works: First, we get to know you. You’ll answer a few simple questions and we’ll find the best matches – just for you. Then, we mix and match your personalized results, making it easy to discover places with the perfect combination of price, location and amenities.


  1. These estimates rely on data from January 2017 to February 2021. Starting March 2021, price changes break dramatically from seasonal norms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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AUTHOR
Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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