Written by Irina Faifman, Associate at Rakita Realty
Hello New Yorkers, and soon-to-be New Yorkers! One of the best things about New York is definitely the excitement that apartment hunting can bring you. You might see a beautiful pre-war building on the Upper East Side, or some chic loft in TriBeCa- who knows, maybe that studio in Meatpacking is perfect for you! When hunting for a place, here are a few things you may want to know!
1. There’s a lot more to a neighborhood than what meets the eye
Every borough (there are five, by the way) has some ‘not so good’ areas, so be sure to not go by the initial feeling of inspiration, and ask your real estate agent about what the surrounding area is like. Make sure you Google it: what restaurants are nearby, are there well-known landmarks, is it generally a safe area? Always read neighborhood descriptions online, also. Online blogs can also help distinguish a neighbourhood: maybe a certain Chelsea blogger has seen some beautiful areas, and has written about places to stay away from.
Make sure to ask:
- How convenient is the area when it comes to subways? If you’re more than a 5- or 10-minute walk from the train, is there a bus nearby?
- What are your food options? How far is a grocery store, which restaurants are nearby, how far is it from Hell’s Kitchen (come on, all the foodies know that that is where it is at).
- What are the schools like? If you have kids, this is super important. Make sure you find out options before getting the apartment: how close is the school to home, what are graduation rates, does the curriculum meet your child’s needs? Be sure to sort all of this out before moving into an area.
- What’s the nightlife like? If you’re moving to the city to party, you’ll want to be in a bar-on-every-corner type of neighborhood. In Manhattan, that includes the East Village, Murray Hill and the Lower East Side. Maybe you like peace and quiet: find out what sort of neighborhood it is, because maybe you just want to sit on your rooftop and enjoy a glass of wine, not hearing all of the excited club-goers on the street.
- What evacuation zone are you in? New York has had two hurricane scares and all people living in Zone A had to evacuate: does this bother you, and what areas are safe for you in case of an emergency? Definitely something to think about.
- How safe is a neighborhood? Most crime statistics are online, but you can also find out how safe residents of an area feel by asking your agent, and talking to residents of the area. Maybe the home sellers can also give you their honest opinion, but remember, they want to sell, so just talk to some New Yorkers who can guide you in the right direction.
- How easy is it to find a parking spot? If you have a car, look at how far away the parking garage is: some buildings have some built in, but also look at the monthly fee of it. Most garages charge $400-$500 a month, but some charge as much as $800-$900 a month. Living near the subway might pay off.
2. You may be able to afford it: but will you qualify to rent it?
Renters: Most NYC landlords require that a tenant earn 40-50 times the monthly rent. A bit high, we know, but if you don’t, they’ll require you to have a guarantor who makes 80-100 times the monthly rent who will have to pay the lease on your behalf if you are for some reason unable to. If you or your guarantor are international, you may be able to use a guarantor service likeInsurent instead; their income and employment requirements are significantly less strict, though you’ll still need to have a clean credit record.
Buyers: So you’re ready to buy a co-op: you’ll have to get past a co-op board first, and their requirements go beyond financial ability to pay: make sure your real estate agent can explain the details to you, and be sure that you understand every step. Having a real estate agent is very important, because they can help you through the seemingly confusing journey of buying a co-op. With Rakita Realty, it couldn’t be easier.
3. Brokers charge fees in New York
Renters: In New York, renters pay broker fees, but finding an apartment is worth it. Brokers usually charge 15 percent of the yearly rent as their fee, but that can sometimes be negotiated down to around 12 percent or even one month, especially if you’re willing to move fast on an apartment. Saving time is sometimes more important than saving a small amount of money.
Buyers: Sellers pay a broker’s fee that is typically 6 percent, divided 50-50 between the buyer’s broker and the seller’s broker. The good news is that it means buyers don’t pay a fee. The bad news: those fees are probably reflected in the seller’s asking price on the apartment.
4. Buyers: Don’t forget about carrying costs
Buying a co-op is not like buying a house: you’re buying a certain number of shares of the cooperation and you have to pay for the maintenance of the building each month. So in addition to your monthly mortgage payments, you’ll have a maintenance fee, and that is important to keep in mind when budgeting. Keep in mind that maintenances typically increase a few percentage points each year, but nothing too drastic.
The “maintenance” fees for condos are usually called common charges. Many newer developments received property tax abatements which keep property taxes low for a number of years: make sure you know what you’re getting and have a realistic estimate of what taxes will become when the property tax abatement ends.
5. Not all rentals are in rental buildings
Renting an apartment in a rental building is not the same thing as renting an apartment in a co-op or condo building. The latter will probably be a bit nicer in terms of appliances, finishes and potentially the building itself, but there is a lot more red tape involved (especially co-ops, where you’ll have to be approved by the co-op board too), higher application fees and, frequently, restrictions on how long you may rent.
6. Cash is king
Renters: When you rent an apartment, prepare to have a lot of cash handy (usually in the form of a bank-certified check). You’ll need to pay the broker fee as well as usually one month’s security deposit and first month’s rent within a few days of signing your lease.
If you’re looking for a rental toward the high end of your budget (and you don’t quite make the 40-times-the- monthly-rent minimum), some landlords will still offer you the apartment if you pay a few months up front in cash. Check to make sure it’s not a scam before you cough up any large amount of cash (here are some tips to protect yourself).
Buyers: Due to strict financing requirements that have created a constant cloud of uncertainty over whether or not a mortgage will issued, the ability to offer all cash will put you at the front of the line when it comes to buying an apartment here. Bonus: You don’t have to deal with the headaches of getting a mortgage.
7. Your housing options will be more limited if you have a dog–especially a big one
Many co-op, condo and rental buildings in New York either prohibit pets outright or have limits on the weight and breed of dogs permitted, so check before you sign anything.
Also note that since you won’t have outdoor space, nearby parks and dog runs can be invaluable and just like buildings, some neighborhoods are more pet-friendly than others.
Keep in mind your animal’s personality when looking for an apartment. Does your Yorkie freak out at the sound of footsteps? Better forget the first-floor apartment then. Is he getting on in years and having trouble holding it in? In that case, the first-floor might be better than the 38th.
If you’re looking to buy a co-op, your pet will have to pass muster with the board. Sometimes that’ll include an “interview” with the pet, but usually it’s a pretty straightforward process.
8. Descriptions can be deceiving
“Luxury” does not always mean that: you might end up in a building that may have been nice once, but just needs renovations. “Cozy” might mean too small; “charming” might mean has something unique that is hard to see; “quiet” means you’re stuck in between buildings and make sure that descriptions of laundry facilities and doormen meet the real thing: not all facilities are ‘on site’.
So, call us up and get ready to go apartment hunting. Take your dog, too. Eat at the restaurant near that gorgeous building you dream of, look around, and see if this is the place that feels like home.