Truths behind apartment hunting in NYC


I have put off writing this post because I didn’t want to relive the experience again but I figured I really should explain how the process works here before I forget.

When we arrived in late December we knew it was way too early to find anything that would be available at the start of March.  But we started our look in January because we wanted to see what New York apartments were like and get an idea of what we could get within a certain budget, and Gambit hadn’t started work yet.

use oven for heat

I want to add that finding a place to live in New York is absolutely no problem if you have a lot of money.  And I mean a lot.  Like, so much that you have no idea what to do with the wads of cash but use a bunch of them as nightstands, coffee tables and paperweights.  I will explain later.

Got this much cash? You’ll be OK then.. sort of


We found apartments through various ways which included: adverts on buildings, using an agent, rental websites.

Advertising on buildings

Some apartment buildings have giant posters on them or sandwich boards on the street advertising that they offer rentals.  We walked into 2-3 buildings which advertised as so.  I remember the first one was a beautiful pre-war apartment and had so much character in the building detail but it had an ensuite which we classed as a deal breaker as we wanted a separate bathroom for when we had guests over.

pre war
Example of a pre-war building


Another walk-in apartment was again a pre-war building which used to be a hotel and converted into apartments, had a separate bathroom but was not located near the subway Gambit could take to work.

NYC broker fee

Using a real estate agent / broker

We were told before we moved over that real estate broker / agents in New York (so not necessarily all of the States do this) can charge a fee for finding you a place to live but you had the option to find your own place without one, and not pay the fee.  Another option is that the building pays the fee so while it is no fee to you; the agent still gets paid.

How much is the fee?  Great question!  The fee can range from a month’s rent to 12-15% of your ANNUAL rent.  I capitalised the word annual because it’s a lot of money.

So let’s do a little maths and say rent for a small one bedroom apartment is $2,500 per month.  So straight up you could either pay the real estate agent $2,500 or between $3,600 (12%) to $4,500 (15%). When you divide those figures over 12 months, you are basically paying $200-$375 extra per month.

You will have to pay that fee upfront PLUS a month’s rent upfront PLUS a security deposit of a month’s rent.

money money

We met with an agent from BOND real estate.  Gambit had called them in early January and told them we were looking at no-fee apartments and to see if they could help.  It was then we learnt that we could still get the no-fee apartments going through an agent because they were paid the fee from the building directly.  Or if the apartment offered the tenants a month’s free rent, that’s how they took their fee as well.

When we met with the ladies at Bond they were very helpful and Gambit made sure that we were not signing any exclusivity contracts where we would only be allowed to go through them.

The day we went into the office one of the ladies took us to go see about 5 apartments.

None of the apartments impressed both of us but because all of them were available immediately we couldn’t do anything anyway.


We found the best website to use was  We particularly liked how we could set our own area on a map of where we wanted to live because sometimes just putting in the area ‘Midtown West’ it would include loads of streets that we were not interested in.

I personally used all the other websites as research tools for any apartment I found on that I liked.  I would search the other sites to see if they had more information such as photos or a better description.

However, when searching you have to note whether the apartment you are interested is listed no-fee or not.  Because just because it is on the website doesn’t mean it is fee-free.

I found a Brownstone house split into different apartments on the Upper West Side that Gambit fell in love with but as it had a fee, it ended up being more than our budget.

Through the website we probably saw 10-15 apartments either by ourselves or met with an agent.  There are a range of listings and a lot of hit and misses. We arrived at a handful of apartments which were listed by the property owner where we had to access the key ourselves and let ourselves in to have a look.  It was solely based on trust as the key could be taken by anyone!

nyc apartment for rent

We saw a lot of dumpy places and many places well marketed by the agent on the website because it didn’t look anything like it did online! I remember this ‘one bedroom’ apartment with really pretty pictures that we went and saw.  The building was on a street with half the road ripped up, it was a walk up of about 6 flights of steps, the apartment was actually a studio with a room the size of a study with a bed sticking out of it and as you entered you walked into the kitchen.  And as we walked out and back down the stairs we saw that the tenant directly below was either evicted or left because they were deceased.  Nice.


I liked the apartment I found for many reasons although it isn’t Gambit’s first choice (he wanted the Brownstone) but he got sick of viewing properties so he agreed to just sign.

When we met with the real estate broker to go over the lease, we had to sign probably the same amount of papers as we did for buying our place in Sydney.  There were even extra papers which advised whether they found or didn’t find lead paint and bed bugs in the building.


Other things to note is that the cost of a 2 bed apartment is significantly higher than a 1 bedder.  It’s not like in Australia where a 1 bedder might be $500 per week and a 2 bedder might be $650.  It’s almost like you are renting two 1 bedders, and if you don’t have any credit history in the USA you will either need a private guarantor who will have to provide all their credit details to you and the agent or you will have to pay a year’s rent upfront (gag) or put down a bigger security deposit than just the one month.


Now, as I had previously stated, that if you had a lot of money you probably wouldn’t have an issue finding a place in New York.

Well I kind of lied.


I only ‘kind of’ lied because when we went viewing with the agent she took us up to the Penthouse of a building which was just OK and the views were OK but nothing to write home about and the actual apartment was huge (I think it was 3-4 bedrooms) but quite dated.  It was asking for $17,000 per month.  Being little naive Australians/Brits we looked at each other and thought without saying aloud as the agent was there that it was a bit of a crummy place for $17k a month as we expected much better.

I later went online and found some other places which were ranging from $10k-$30k a month and maybe I have lived in Australia too long but I don’t think you get that much for your buck.

What you could get for:

$70,000 per month

$30,000 per month

$20,000 per month

$15,000 per month

Now don’t forget the agent fee!!!

So you have to be crazy rich, not just rich rich to get something decent in NY.


Just out of interest, you could get in NSW (Australia) for:

$26,000 per month

$22,000 per month


So if you are looking for an apartment in New York I hope the above helps.  I would recommend: try and go no fee, don’t go for a 2 bedder unless you really need it and if you have no credit history in the US, start saving.


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