ASTORIA APARTMENT SEARCH
Affordable housing is constantly at a premium in the New York City area, one of the country's most notorious housing markets and one of the world's most expensive cities. Fortunately, each neighborhood in each borough of the city offers options to suit differing tastes and means. Finding a suitable apartment can be time-consuming and emotionally draining; expect to spend many weeks on friends' couches and be prepared to adjust your expectations to the realities of the market. Don't start shopping for furniture before thoroughly digesting the following tips for The Great Astoria Apartment Caper.
PLANNING THE SEARCH
Timing may be everything, but good planning sure is helpful. New Yorkers are savvy and well prepared to navigate the city, so if you expect to compete successfully with them you'll have to do some considerable preparatory work. Focus on the following guidelines for an effective search:
- Get references. Since the ultimate transaction will entail the transfer of responsibility from one person to another, a letter detailing an applicant's reliability is always a plus. Preferably, this letter should come from a previous landlord, but a boss is also acceptable.
- Get a roommate. A one-bedroom or even a studio can often accommodate more than one tenant, even though a degree of privacy will necessarily be sacrificed in the interests of economizing. In addition, the moral support is invaluable while in college.
- Set your priorities. Which is more important; a spacious living area or doors between rooms? A nice kitchen or a large bathroom? As you look at more and more apartments, you'll have to decide what you're willing to sacrifice and who has to sleep in the common area.
- Settle on a price range. Keeping in mind that taxes will eat up roughly one-third of any annual salary, figure out how much of the remainder can reasonably be allocated to monthly rent, remembering to set aside enough for other monthly expenses like utilities and phone.
- Choose a neighborhood. Spend some time in different areas of the city and become familiar with their respective rhythms. If there is a school where noisy children arrive at 7am or a nightclub whose patrons don't leave until sunrise in the vicinity of a prospective apartment, take the noise factor into account. Also, locate the nearest Laundromats and grocery stores. (Refer to Part IV-Neighborhood Info for the specifics.)
DOING THE LEGWORK
Now that you're ready to start, there is a hard way and an easy way; as with everything else in New York, the hard way takes diligence and the easy way costs a lot of money. The hard way: check the listings in periodicals. The Village Voice boasts the most apartment listings; it comes out on Tuesday night at the Astor Place headquarters. Villagevoice.com posts new ads online Tuesdays at 1pm. People line up in advance to get a copy and then race to the pay phones in order to be the first to see a space. Also check in NY Press and the neighborhood newspapers. Even if you can't stomach the unflagging vigilance which this approach requires, looking at listings is a good way to familiarize yourself with the going rates for apartments to make sure that you're not being had. These listings are written in a strange yet decipherable code: a common hieroglyphic form is "bnstn," which, in listing lingo, means "brownstone". An alternative form is "walk-up," and in either case what this really means is that there is no elevator in the building; living on the fifth floor entails walking up five flights of stairs and carrying up any necessary furnishings.
Usually the listings will be divided into three sections: lease, sublet, and share. Apartments for lease will comprise the majority of the listings, but they are the most difficult to obtain as they carry the most responsibility. Once people get a lease on an apartment, particularly one in a rent-controlled building, the contract is hard to give up. When an apartment is available for leasing, the advertiser will ask people to apply and award the lease to the applicant who is the best credit risk. People who already hold leases but are looking for potential roommates, even those who are complete strangers, place notices for shares. Many New Yorker leaseholders escape the city for the summer, and this is the best season in which to seek a sublet. Persuaded by an applicant's good references and sparkling personality, a leaseholder may be willing to take a hit on monthly rent to ensure that his or her apartment is in good hands during the summer.
In addition to scanning the listings, another fruitful method is to contact landlords and superintendents of buildings in your chosen area and simply ask them if any units are available. Compile a list, using friends and co-workers as sources, of desirable buildings, and be prepared, you may come across New Yorkers in search of a monetary tip. Start paying attention to all of those fliers on bus shelters and in coffeeshops; many of them, especially around colleges, are posted by local residents looking to sublet or share. As in the job search, never underestimate the power of networking.
The easier way to find an apartment entails engaging one of several middleman organizations, most commonly a roommate service or a broker. Roommate services usually charge a fee up front and can produce satisfactory results, but it's equally likely that these same listings will be in the Voice and other publications. By the same token, be wary of the informal apartment guides occasionally sold at newsstands, which claim to have "exclusive" listings: the only exclusive listings in New York are for Upper East Side penthouses.
Brokers cost the most money. A broker, who normally charges a finder's fee of ten to fifteen percent of the first year's rent, will handle many of the places advertised in the listings. Some, however, charge no fee; among their classified listings newspapers will carry display advertisements for these no-fee brokers, some of which are specially geared toward students and people from out of the country. In the final analysis, remember that these brokers are in business for themselves and are not likely to provide clients with the best possible deals. However, most cost effective deals with lower monthly rents are funneled through brokers.
CLOSING THE APARTMENT DEAL
When a promising prospect appears, act fast. Call promptly and arrive armed with a list of questions. Remember to check the water pressure and inquire about roach and vermin problems. If the answers are satisfactory, and the apartment meets your approval, be ready with a cash deposit and fill out an application immediately. Cash is the quickest and most convincing way in which to express interest, as the next applicant may be equally eager to end his or her search on the same doorstep.
Now say good-bye to the grueling search and say hello to the legal tangles associated with a permanent situation. You will be asked for a security deposit of up to one month's rent along with your first rent payment; the landlord must place this money in and interest-bearing back account, and should credit you yearly with the current rate of interest on the account minus a one percent service charge. If you sign a renewal lease, it's possible for the landlord to increase the amount of the security deposit to equal the increase in monthly rent.
The following are a few precautions for those preparing to sign a lease: make sure that there are no blank spaces on the lease; cross any blank spaces out before signing so no one can make changes, and if you and your landlord make changes in the lease, make sure to initial each change. Never make oral agreements, and make sure it's made clear if your rent includes the cost of utilities. Watch out for bogus, clauses, such as those claiming children and overnight guests cannot stay in the apartment.
If you sublet, be aware that you may not enjoy all the rights of a tenant; landlords may request a sublease, and technically they must approve you before the subleases is official. When subletting a furnished apartment, the primary tenant is not allowed to charge more than ten percent above the legal rent; you can verify this by looking at the tenant's lease.
Find apartments for rent at the Astoria Real Estate Directory