You’ve been dreaming of living in a cute brownstone in the West Village or maybe a nice three bedroom near Central Park. You’re ready to find the perfect NY pad for your family… get ready for reality.
New York is expensive. You are likely to end up paying almost double the rent for half the space you’d get at home. And whilst a beautiful brownstone has loads of charm, that charm can wear off as you lug your stroller and four bags of groceries up the four flights of stairs. Real estate is one of the downsides to living in this great city and you need to be ready to compromise on everything from price, to location, to convenience, to building staff. But, it is all part and parcel of living in this fabulous city!
Here are some things you should consider when looking for your new home:
How convenient is the apartment to subways, buses, grocery stores and coffee shops: Remember, you will be walking almost everywhere – those days of jumping in your car to head to the local coffee shop for a quick latte are over. So as you walk to inspect an apartment take note of what facilities are around.
Subway less than seven minutes’ walk? Tick. (Note: The West Side of Manhattan has more subway stops with elevators than the east side.)
Coffee shop around the corner? Tick.
Grocery store within four blocks? Tick. (if you can’t find one, Fresh Direct is a great option for home delivered groceries…but it can’t help with a last-minute meal for the kids.
How kid-friendly is the building and area: Does the local subway stop have an elevator? Is there a play park nearby? Is there a kiddy play room in the building? Does the building have an elevator? If so, will it fit your stroller or will you have to carry it up four flights of stairs?
What are the local schools: Schools! This is such a big topic whole books have been written on it. Choosing where you live determines which public schools your children are eligible for. refer to my blog on schools in NYC.
Is there a parking garage nearby: If you have a car, you are going to need to park it close-by. Given the cost of parking in the city that cost could influence where in the city you want to live. And of course, no one wants to walk 30 minutes to pick up your car so scout the options in advance.
Will you qualify for the apartment: As a general rule of thumb, landlords will require your family to earn at least 40 times the monthly rent (so if you are paying $5,000 per month you will need to earn $200,000 p.a.+). You will also need to come up with a month’s deposit on top of the first month’s rent – so keep this in mind when setting your budget
Fee or No Fee, that is question: You are going to see these words a whole lot while searching for your apartment. In most cases if you use a real estate broker to find you an apartment, you will pay broker fees. Brokers frequently charge 15% (or more) of the yearly rent as their fee (so the same $5,000 per month apartment you are looking at an up-front broker fee of $9,000 on top of the deposit and first month’s rent), but the fee can be negotiable – so make sure you ask the question. On the flip side there are buildings that pay the broker fee on your behalf (so no out of pocket for you.) These tend to be more of the up-scale apartment buildings and, of course, rent here is usually slightly higher than elsewhere to cover the cost.
The decision to use a real estate broker or not isn’t easy. The advantage of using one is that they have access to most up to date availability and they may have places that are not advertised online. A good one also knows the area well and can answer all your questions about the neighborhood. There are brokers that will show you ‘no fee’ apartments, basically the building will compensate the broker instead of you paying the broker.
Where will you wash your clothes? A lot of the buildings in NYC do not have a washer/dryer in the apartment. In that case, you can usually find a laundry room in the building with several coin-operated washing machines. If you have young kids you know just how much washing you do – so whilst that third floor walkup in The Village has loads of charm, the charm may wear off as you schlep up and down the stairs with your washing. A good alternative is to take your clothes to a launderette service offering wash and fold. That usually costs about $10 a bag (though please note they charge by the pound, not the bag.) If your building has doormen you can usually leave the washing bag with them and have it picked up by the launderette so its pretty convenient. Luckily, there is a lot of construction going on and lots of lovely new apartments being built. Most of these new buildings will have a washer/dryer in the apartment, but you will pay a premium for it.
Here are some useful sites for apartment searching: