Rent or Buy and the NYC Baseline

As I’m sure you can imagine, one of the biggest and most daunting to-dos in an out-of-state move is the process to find a new place to live. The first thing you have to decide is are you going to rent or buy? When Jason and I first started talking about the potential for a move, my mind instantly went to, “Yes! I am finally going to have my own house! I’ll have a backyard and a garden and ooo! Maybe even a fire pit!” It was easy to get sucked into the thought of buying a house initially, especially because the house prices are so much more reasonable in the Raleigh area. But the more I thought about the situation, the more I realized, “I don’t even know this area. What if we buy a house, don’t like the area or don’t fit into the community, and now we’re stuck?” Once overly-excited-me turned into rational-me, I realized that renting an apartment for 6 months to a year would probably be the best move for us. This is not to say that this is the best option for everybody – a family might want to buy to have stability for their kids, or a person moving may have significantly more resources than we do to scout the area – but Jason and I talked and decided this was the right decision for us.

After we decided that renting an apartment was the route we wanted to go, I got the pleasure of introducing Jason to a world of apartment hunting that was completely foreign to him as a New Yorker.

The world of NYC apartment hunting, like so many things in the city, is fast-paced, dirty, and not for the faint of heart. Finding an apartment on your own is pretty much non-existent – you will need a broker, who will charge you a broker’s fee after you sign on for the apartment. (This is usually one month’s rent, but if you are lucky enough to be naive schmucks like Jason and I were, the broker will end up squeezing more money out of you.) And don’t even think of calling a broker more than a month before you are looking to move in because they will have no apartments to show you. Once you are out on the hunt and viewing apartments, you will need to be able to pull the trigger on an apartment you like at a moment’s notice. See, for brokers in NYC, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel – if you don’t want this broom closet for $2000 a month (a total steal!), there’s 10 people behind you that will fight to the death for it. When Jason and I were in the midst of our apartment hunt three years ago, a broker showed us a place that had literally nothing in the kitchen – no appliances, no cabinets, no counters. Just walls and stove/plumbing hook ups protruding from them. The owner was putting in an entirely new kitchen and we were curious if a dishwasher would be involved in that process. This was a Sunday afternoon and the broker told us she would check and let us know. I called the very next morning at 10:00am and the broker rudely informed me that the apartment was already gone. No guarantee that there even would be a kitchen at move-in and someone had scooped the place up.

And this is just the process to find a suitable apartment. Once you decide that this apartment is the place for you, then the circus really begins with the application process. You’d think you were being vetted to join the FBI. Besides for having to somehow demonstrate that you are not a psychopath, many places require that you make forty – yes, FORTY – four, zero – 40 – times the monthly rent in order to be considered eligible to rent the apartment. This basically involves turning over every financial document in your life. I have so many more stories about how ridiculous our apartment hunt was, but I think you can gather by this point that the process to rent in NYC is daunting and draining. 

Faced with this past experience as his baseline, Jason was dreading apartment hunting while I was much more optimistic that the search in Raleigh would be a breeze comparatively. Before I moved to New York for law school, I lived in Tampa, FL and had to go through apartment hunting a few times. That process involved checking out whatever website was popular at the time – apartments.com, rent.com, etc. – finding a few palatable places, and going to their leasing offices for tours. No brokers necessary. Then, when you got to the beautiful, multi-building complexes, every place not only had available units, but they also usually had community pools, BBQs, party rooms, and fitness centers. Frequently, you could apply, know you were approved, and close the book on finding a new apartment in one or two days. Overall,the process of trying to find a place to live is never fun or easy, but it was certainly easier than in the South than in NYC. Jason was soon going experience this whole new way of apartment hunting first-hand. 

2 Replies to “Rent or Buy and the NYC Baseline”

  1. Joey, awesome blog!!! I never understood how the apartment hunting in NYC can be so daunting. When Alan told me that one place he looked at required 70 or 80 (I believe that’s what it was) times the rent, I said “WHAT????”. Thankfully we had a good broker who helped us to find the apartment (not the one that required 100 times the rent).

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