By Kouichi Shirayangi
Many college students aim to work in New York City after graduation. The searching can be daunting — weighing neighbors, commute time, cost and safety.
You may have heard that New York is a very expensive city. That’s because it is. The current Governor of New York ran his campaign against a candidate named Jimmy McMillian who created his own “The rent is too damn high” party, and he used the Gubernatorial debates to give himself a national platform to rail against New York City rent. Although he didn’t win, his message had wide appeal across the city.
Moving to a new place is never easy, and in New York, choosing an apartment is perhaps the most important decision you will make coming to the city. Rent is certainly the highest living expense for most people, so pick carefully!
Here are some steps I wish I followed (but didn’t) when I moved to New York after graduation:
Stay with a friend or family for free when you first come to the city: It is important to give yourself ample time to look for and find an apartment that feels right for you. You can’t rent an apartment based on what you see in an online ad. You have to see it in-person. You don’t want to feel rushed into getting an apartment either. I stayed in a $45 per night AirBnb in Jersey City when I first came to New York, and there is nothing that rushes you into finding an apartment than having to pay nightly to sleep somewhere. It is better to have someone willing to put you up for a bit to give yourself time to find a place. Use your alumni/friends network. And don’t be afraid to ask…. People who live in NYC understand your dilemma.
Nothing is wrong with New Jersey: The PATH Train connects New Jersey to New York and Jersey City is only a few stops from Manhattan. New Jersey generally has lower rents than Manhattan and is comparable to Queens or Brooklyn. I ended up living in Brooklyn, because New York seemed to have a more generous Medicaid system, but would love to move to New Jersey one day. That said, parts of Brooklyn, like Park Slope, are sometimes pricier than parts of Manhattan.
Find a place without a rental agent: In New York, almost all the rentals are listed with brokers whether you find them on Craigslist, Street Easy or any other forum. I found an apartment with a “no-fee” broker but that just means the landlord paid the broker fees but he will get his money back in charging higher rent to make up the difference. Brokers in New York take up to a 15% commission of the first year’s rent- –up front!
That means that when you move in with a broker, a combination of you or your landlord pay a fee of up to 54 days of rent to the broker as a transaction cost, no matter how long you live in the apartment. All the broker does is drive around and show you the apartment. This can only be avoided if you find a landlord to rent from directly who does not exclusively list his property with an agent — and that is difficult to do in New York.
Know your credit: Because laws are very protective of tenants, landlords are very thorough in vetting you before they allow you to sign the lease. They will require an extensive financial background check, including credit rating, past tax returns, pay stubs, etc. For many recent college graduates, that means a parent might have to be a guarantor on a lease. That means your parents as well might have to go through the process of showing tax returns, and pay stubs as well. Have this conversation with them in advance. Also, give time before move-in to allow for this process, which could take a couple of weeks.
It can be daunting to find a permanent apartment in NYC. One other option to this is to find a sublease – which allows you to move in quicker, with possibly less vertifcation. The downside? It might only be a few months – but that time can help you figure out where you want to be, build credit in your own name, or find the perfect roommate.
Shirayangi is a recent master’s graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, living with his wife and son in Brooklyn.