First things first, the person you’re with is trying desperately to sell you the apartment. So they’re going to sound really lovely about everything. It also means though that you can ask anything you want. The competition is fierce, but don’t get caught out in a place you don’t actually like.

Ok so you’ve picked the location you’d like to live in and you’ve decided whether or not to hire a broker. Now it’s time to see some apartments and ask some smart questions.

Definitions of terms you might hear

  • Doorman building” = Fancier (normally elevator) building with a doorman who lets people in (as opposed to an “attended lobby” for accepting packages or “full service” for both
  • Walk-up” = A building with no elevator, so there are stairs that you… walk-up
  • Pre-war” = A building built pre WWII which means normally thicker walls, and higher rents
  • Townhouse” = A rare miracle that might include something that resembles a whole house with a yard
  • Brownstone” = A (normally lovely) old building made of pre-20th century brown sandstone
  • Railroad” = An apartment that goes entry -> living -> bedroom -> bedroom (so you have to walk through one bed to get to the other – some will have a separate entrance to the second bedroom)
  • Condo” = Abuilding owned by an individual (so you’re renting one apartment, owned by one person)
  • Studio” = A one room (not a separate bedroom, as that would be “1 bedroom” + bathroom area for one maybe two people (generally more popular therefore more expensive)
  • Loft” = A big open industrial-esque space
  • Fire escape” = The metal contraptions attached to the front/back of a building (because they’re old and have no way internally out in-case of fire)
  • Super” = The person that comes in and fixes things that break in the apartment for you
  • Landlord” = The person you pay and who may own the apartment
  • Renovated” = An apartment that actually has semi-new materials in the kitchen and/or bathroom
  • Flex” or “Converted” apartments or bedrooms = One or more of these bedrooms aren’t “real”. They’ll be tiny half-rooms without windows and you probably won’t enjoy actually living in them. Ever. Basically you take the living room and divide it into two. You don’t want these unless you really don’t have a budget for a proper area.

For a funnier version of these, check out this Thrillist article I got a good laugh out of:


I almost forgot:

  • Cozy” = Small
  • Unique” = Gross
  • Rustique” = Broken

Things to ask

  • “What is included in the rent?” – You should normally hear back “Heat and hot water are included. Gas, electric and cable are up to you”. This means that heating of the apartment and the hot water is included in rent (heat is a legal requirement in NYC). You will then have to pay for your own gas (oven/stove), electricity, and cable (TV and internet).
  • “What’s the nearest train/transport line?” – This one you should do your own research on (StreetEasy provides a great list of the closest train stations to any address if you search for an address)
  • “What happens with maintenance?” – Is there a live-in super? What’s the normal turnaround?
  • “How long were the previous tenants in for and why did they leave?” – This one will probably be answered by “I don’t know” but again, StreetEasy comes to the rescue. If you look for your apartment, you should find the previous listings. If you’re seeing a lot of 3/6 month listings.. You will want to ask what is going on and probably steer clear
  • “What are the terms?” – How long can you rent it for? How much does rent change? What are the application fees? All-in, what are you looking at?
  • “What are the requirements?” – Is it the normal 40x rent (check out my next article) or are there particular things they’re looking for/not looking for
  • “Have there been any instances of bed bugs or other pests?” – This is important. You want to hear that it’s been dealt with properly before moving in.
  • “Have there been any applications already? What’s the process” – Find out what you’d need to do to get the ball rolling.

Most of all though, this person is integral to the process for you being accepted so be kind and curteous at every stage.

You also MUST follow-up and quickly. Apartments in New York City move quickly and if you aren’t at the top of the list you will simply miss out. Send a nice email thanking them for showing you and ask about next processes.