How to Rent Smart in New York City?

July 17th, 2009 Posted by Featured, Real Estate No Comment yet

What Trains are Available?

Trains, the bloodline of New York (and you)! I don’t care if you are very near to the subway station IF your only train is the infamous G train. That’s no good.  Why?  Because it doesn’t go anywhere and it is seldom in service.

I live in downtown now and I love it here simply because of the trains! I love the neighborhoods in upper west and upper east, but it’s really a pain to go cross town, especially from upper west/east to downtown east/west. You ended up just staying on your ‘side’ of Manhattan. I have friends who live in the east village who will rarely venture west, vise versa.

I can take ANY train, the green, 4,5,6, red 1,2,3, yellow R, W, blue A,C,E, even brown, J, M,Z back home, except the orange line which goes to Brooklyn from the lower east side, skipping downtown. I can be zipping by the farmers’ market in union square, drop my groceries at home and sipping cappuccino in west village later and still go upper east side for dinner, all by subway.

With most of the train lines at my doorstep, Manhattan’s my oyster! No big deal, someone living in midtown west might say.  Well, for the time that you wait for that transfer in the subway station, I will be home in my hot tub!

Doorman, Concierge, Valet?

Yes, I’m spoiled. Once you have them, how can you live without them?

I used to picking up my packages from the post office when I lived in a walkup apartment, but with the precious weekend passing you by, you don’t want to be running errands in New York, you want to enjoy your weekends!  And you don’t want to be wasting precious vacation days waiting for the cable guy or important deliveries when you can spend your vacations on better things. The concierge/ valet can do all that for you.

Of course, it might not be worth it to pay for these luxuries sometimes, but DON’T be close minded, check out some apartments that come with these, you might be surprised that you don’t have to pay much more for the these services (live-saver services at times)!

How safe do you want to feel? Another huge point. New York is a big city and the last thing you want to do is to look over your shoulder every time you go home. Granted that a lot of buildings have buzzers that only let in permitted visitors. But how many times have you buzzed the wrong apartment at your friend’s building and was let in? I did and anyone could.

Having a doorman or concierge, surveillance cameras at your building definitely bumped up the safety measures!


We are after all creature of comfort but I’m not willing to pay an arm and a leg for it, (no one does either!).

How Old is the Place?

The 2-bedroom apartment I rented in Queens was very very old.  I still remember there was a ½ inch gap between my floor and the side-walls. So, I’m always cold in the winter! The floor always creeks when I walked and I can hear any body walking with 20 feet of me.  The kitchen is old with a strong untraceable smell, the bathroom was antique – with pink tiles and always cold.

You have to weigh how much you are willing to endure for cheaper rent. And don’t forget that, the older the place, the worst the insulation and the higher your heating and cooling bills.

Is $xxx more in rental worth it for the soaking tub? How about brand new toilet, solid wood floor, clean and actually useable kitchen? You decided.

Other Amenities?

I love the comfort of having my own gym in the building. 45 mins, zap in and out. I’m done.

I hated dragging my laundry on the streets to the laundry mat, I have a laundry room in my building, and will pay more if I can have a washer and dryer in my apartment.

I travel frequently, and do not like lugging my luggage up a 4-floor walk up, thank you very much. I want to save my back. And I’m always in a rush!

Free Yoga, Pilates, kick boxing class? If you are already paying for these, you might want to check out a building that provides all these for free.

Superinterdent/in-house handyman available? This might not be a plus point for everyone, but it’s another if-you-need-it, you-will-be-glad-to-have-it thing.

Again, one point to think about.  The new apartment smell is just as addictive as a new car smell!


We all want to find the best apartment for the lowest rent. Don’t just focus on the rent number. I do believe in having a budget, but hey, don’t forget other expenses that might just blow your monthly living budget.

Are you going to sign up with a gym? Some luxury buildings have great gyms that are comparable or better than many gyms in the city. That’s $80 to $120 a month.  Not to mention the commitment you have to sign for the commercial gym.

Like I mentioned before, is your location so far off from the subway station that you will be tempted to take cabs? Yes, you WILL take the cab when it’s -5 F (-20 C) and wind blowing through your spine in the winter.

Do you have many train lines available? If you live far from a subway station, counter this into the rent. Maybe, it will cost you an extra $200 a month conservatively?

Is there a broker representing the landlord? That’s another hefty 15% on top of the rent. That’s almost 2 months in rent that you are paying in broker fees. Account this into your effective rent. (Note that in unusual times like this, the landlord might pay the broker fees or reduced it, so make sure you negotiate.)

Application fees? Some buildings or co-op ask for application fees. This could add up to a few hundred dollars.

Any free rent? If there is, your rent is lower than what is shown on the contract.

Is electricity, water, gas included? Gas and water is mostly included in rental buildings. When I was living in Astoria, Queens, I have to fork out almost $200 every month for electricity, water and gas.  In comparison, I only pay on average $30 every month for electrical bills staying in a luxury building. I have downgraded from a newer to an older apartment to save on rents before, only to find that I can easily blow the difference on my electrical bills!

Do you have washer dryer in your apartment? If not, add another $30 to $60 to wash and dry your laundry if you have a laundry room in the building or Laundromat.  With $80 you can pay for laundry services.

Is the kitchen ‘useable’ and ‘user-friendly’? Some of the cookers I have seen in NYC apartments are so old that they should be in a cooking museum!  Food will be your next biggest or the biggest expenditure in NYC.

Many years back, I got a great rental deal in an old apartment, $600 for my room, but blow $1500 every month on food.  Mainly because the kitchen is old and tiny and it takes so much inertia to just cook a meal! Not to mention the extra 10 pounds added my waist from eating junk food or local takeouts!

Maybe I should have just nabbed that $1,800 beautiful one bedroom in the luxury building (that was 10 years ago) with an actually usable kitchen that makes me want to cook often! Conclusion: Old apartment with old/tiny kitchen? Add another $500 to $1000 a month. But you want to try the restaurants too, yes, I understand.  Trust me, it doesn’t take much to blow an additional $500 a month on food in nyc.

Is the apartment furnished? This is one of the big ones. One of my friends has rented an empty apartment rather than forking out more for fully or slightly furnished. It might be a good idea but not all the time. She forgot that she doesn’t have a car and delivery cost a bomb here (especially if you live in a walk up, another point to note).

She ended up buying from Ikea and running around buying some second hands stuff. Brought curtains and rods and realized that she didn’t have the tools, waited for another week to buy the tools…so on and on. It took her a good few months to settle down and at least $5 grand later.  She bought really cheap stuff – it all adds up. And she still had to deal with the hassle of taking time off from work to wait for the delivery guys, cable guys, etc. Not to mention the hassle of disposing the furniture before she leaves. furniture before she leaves.

If all you are going for is a one-year stay in NYC? Not worth it. You are way better off renting a furnished place. She literally spent most of her short first year stay in NYC running around for her apartment. Not smart. Of course some of the furnished apartments ask for the sky in rent, I’m not asking you to get service apartments, but there ARE great deals on furnished apartment rentals. Just be open to it.


This is an item that most foreigners or out of state people will not foresee until it hits them. Do you have credit in NYC? All foreigners will have this challenge and might have to prepay a few months of rent. I have a neighbor from Indonesia who paid one year of rent in advance! I have another girlfriend from California, whom I thought will not have any problem renting, was asked to prepay rents for a few months too.

Month-to-month contracts: There might be some value to these rental contracts if you are planning to stay for a while or just want to take your time to find a apartment to call home or who knows, maybe you are planning to buy.

In lieu of prepayment, some landlord requires higher amount of deposits or requesting for rental guarantors.  Just know that there are no hard and fast rules and it’s another point to consider in renting.

One likely advantage of renting ‘fully furnished’ is that, most of the utilities like cable, internet, electrical are already set up in the landlord’s name. This will save a lot of trouble for those without credit in the States, as most utility companies require a few hundred bucks in deposits. Not to mentioned the hassle of trying to get these deposits back when you are leaving the States. Check out a typical Case Study on the next page.

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