When you move to New York one thing that shocks you quickly is the size (or lack thereof), quality (or lack thereof), and value (or lack thereof) of apartments. It's important to be discerning when you're looking, so here are the top 10 questions to ask when you're standing in the doorway of a new apartment.
I also want to note here that when you're looking for a sub-let (so, a “bedroom” in someone else's apartment) some of these questions might not apply and you're probably going to be standing in someone's doorway trying to remember these. BUT, knowing what to look for in those 5-10 minutes that you stamp around someone's apartment while they pick up their underpants off the floor, hoping you didn't notice, can make all the difference and save you the hell of living in a bad apartment.
10. Can I see a floor plan of this apartment?
This, I will admit, is a difficult one because so many places don't have floor plans. But it can save you so much time if you're looking for whole apartments and you're looking at a lot of them.
If it doesn't have a floor plan, well, it's like you didn't ask and you'll just have to see for yourself. There are some cool apps now available which allow you to rapidly generate a floorplan while you walk around an apartment as well so you've got it for reference later!
If it DOES have a floor plan, you can make sure that the two bedrooms being advertised and pictured is actually the one you're going to see and not some stupid and annoying railroad apartment which definitely won't work for two people who don't want to wander into each other's space constantly.
Question to ask: “Is there a floor plan available for this place?”
9. Is it a real bedroom?
“Real” bedroom!? What? New York landlords have a habit of trying to optimize space in their apartments by building walls into the apartment to add extra “bedrooms”. Thing is, this in many cases means bedrooms that don't have windows, ventilation, or adequate space to actually put a bed (let alone the rest of your life).
So ask the question, and know what you're getting. Some people are all too happy to take an additional built-in room, but make sure you're not paying for something that's not really there.
Question to ask: “Is the room a real bedroom on the plan, or has it been added after?”
8. How long has this been advertised?
Trust in the community of New Yorkers before you rent.
If a room/apartment has been vacant for more than a few weeks (max a couple months if you got weirdly lucky) then this should throw a very big red flag that you might be missing.
New York apartments (even in times of global pandemics) generally turn over quickly if they're any good. Sure, this isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a rule of thumb at least to help gauge the situation.
Question to ask: “How long has this place been advertised and how long have you been showing this room/place?”
7. How long have the current tenants been there?
Whether it's a bedroom or a whole apartment, it's important to take into account the previous people who have been in your place. If the previous tenant (of a whole apartment) was in and out within a year, that's a big red flag. If the previous person in a bedroom was in and out within 2 months, that's also a red flag (looking for apartments is a pain, nobody wants to do it more often than they have to).
StreetEasy and similar rental websites can sometimes provide information about leases and how many times they've been renewed so you can get real facts to match.
From personal experience, having noisy neighbors can be a nightmare. Whether it's overhead stomping or late-night parties, it feels like it will never end if you're locked in for another two years of a lease.
So be sure to ask around if you can, get a feeling for the place and listen to street noise, try and work out how thin the walls are, and put together a list of what you're willing to put up with. Important to note that in New York you're likely going to have to give up a few things you'd love, but make sure you've worked out what you're willing to give up and what's absolutely essential to you.
Question to ask: “How long was the person before me in the apartment/room?”
6. How many others have been shown the place?
Know your market. Competition is high and if you have stumbled on something good you are going to want to act FAST. You need to have money ready, you need to have letters from employers ready, and you need to have all your dates in your head.
Knowing how many people have seen the place before you will give you a judgment of just how aggressive you need to be to show your interest (subject to all these other questions, of course). It's also worth knowing if they're already received any offers because in some cases the place can be gone before you even saw it!
Question to ask: “How many other people have seen the place? Have you got anyone seriously interested?”
5. How far away is the subway/[other mode-of-transport]?
This one is a question in two parts: You ask them this question, and they might be honest and say that when it rains, it's really double the time as when compared to a sunny afternoon. They might also just give you a rough estimate because they have no idea.
The second part of the question is more of a task for yourself: Do the walk, see the terrain, become familiar with your new neighborhood! Can you see any issues appearing with seasonal changes? Is it easy and with no major roads? Try and place yourself in a frustrated and late-for-work kind of mind and then find your way!
Question to ask: “How long does it take you to get to the train in the morning? How about in the afternoon? WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU WALK LIKE A PENGUIN SO YOU DON'T FALL IN THE SNOW!?”
4. How safe and secure are the neighborhood and the building?
Just like the above question, this takes some research for yourself, and it's always worth asking the question so you can start to get to know the processes of the building. Knowing that there are two doors in the entryway one after another is reassuring if you're worried about coming home late at night. It's also worth knowing how the broker/renter categorizes the neighborhood so that you have a jumping-off point.
Wander around the area (be safe) and get to know it a little better if you can. Go to a bar, have a drink, see who's around, are these your people? are they your new neighbors?
New York is a wonderful place, but if you're in an area that you don't feel comfortable, don't take the apartment.
Question to ask: “What's the neighborhood like, what's it known for, and how's it at night?”
3. Look at the details of the building and the terms
This one is a big one because there's lots to take in, but:
- Is there an elevator (if you're in a higher level)
- What's the washer/dryer situation (they're not common in your apartment, you know, so where's the local cleaner)
- Is the apartment/building pet friendly (whether you love pets, or hate them, you're going to want to know this)
- Windows in the kitchen and bathrooms, how many and are they actually going somewhere for ventilation
- Air conditioning! YOU NEED IT!!
- Windows and natural light, where do they look out to? Who can see in?
All of these little elements will wear on you.
2. If something happens who can you call?
Is there a super? How long does it take them to fix issues? If the heat goes out, what is the normal process?
Having a good relationship with your super or owner makes for a WONDERFUL living arrangement. The better that relationship, the fewer issues you'll have, and the easier your life becomes. Knowing that the owner lives out of the country and there's no super means that you're potentially (inevitably) going to run into issues, so it's worth knowing what you're getting into!
Question to ask: “Is there a super? Is the owner contactable?”
1. What exactly is included in the lease
READ. YOUR. LEASE.
New York has some great tenants rights, which protect you with compulsory heat and hot water, but you want to know every single customizable term from your lease. Most landlords use a stock-standard lease agreement which you can trust, but if they hand you an extra page of terms (which is very common) you should know EVERY SINGLE ITEM ON IT. Question everything, ask questions. If anything, it will show that you're serious.
How is electricity paid for? How is the internet access?
Sure, you might miss out on an apartment because you seem to be asking too many questions but you could absolutely dodge a bullet, too!
Question to ask: “Can I have the terms sent through so I can read them?”