Now that I’m back in San Francisco and have a free week before I start breaking things at Dropbox, the ol’ hunt is on my mind once again. This post has been requested several times, but I never found a moment to get it all down during the non-stop NYC workdays. So, here we go: my experience using a broker to find an apartment in NYC last March.
I’m going to skip straight to what I’m asked the most: yes, broker fees are hard to avoid in NYC and very expensive. My NYC apartment is a spacious, light-filled number in the East Village at $2,250/month, and the broker fee totaled $4,050—a standard 15% of the annual price tag.
So, was it worth it?
Nooooo! I was robbed, I tell ya, robbed! But frankly, I didn’t have much of a choice:
- Every listing I saw on Craigslist had a broker fee anyway. Even if I found the listing and set up the appointment on my own, I’d still have to pay their fee.
- At a very aggressive, early-stage startup, there were no idle moments for me to browse Craigslist. Being able to see places nearby and on my schedule was necessary to minimize time out of the office during the day.
- I knew I wanted to live in Manhattan, which is more expensive than Brooklyn. I also restricted my search to the East Village—minus Alphabet City, which has some sketchy parts—where the median rent is $2,400/month. The East Village was right by our NoHo office, and I’d spent quite a bit of time Airbnbing there. It reminded me of San Francisco; very walkable, great cafés, cute shops.
Ah, the East Village! Shot this on a rainy night before I moved into the neighborhood.
How does it work?
One of my co-workers had successfully found an apartment through a broker, so he introduced me by email. In our initial exchanges, I told him what I wanted:
I’m most interested in living in the East Village; up to 1st Ave, but not in Alphabet City. The closer to my workplace (Broadway and Bond), the better. Seeking a studio or 1 bedroom up to $1900. Preferences include minimal kitchen space, newer bathroom, good lighting, and big windows.
And he told me about the fees:
The fee is either one or one and a half months. That depends if its a co-broke or not.
On the first day, my broker showed me some pretty bad apartments. I’ll never forget the first one—a tiny, top-floor walkup with a shower in the kitchen and a toilet in the closet. (Bizarrely enough, one of the Codecademy co-founders used the same broker and took this place a couple weeks later.) All the apartments I saw were in my budget, but the quality was poor because my budget was too low for the area.
On the second day, I raised my budget to $2375 and saw some awesome apartments. It was hard to choose—spacious, bottom-floor digs just off St. Mark’s or a wall of windows at 1 Astor Place? In the end, I applied for the beautiful and under budget apartment pictured at the top of this post.
My broker showing me an apartment at 1 Astor Place.
Sealing the Deal
The application required a $100 cash application processing fee (steep!) and a $2,250 certified check for the first month’s rent that would take if off the market.
The final step was to go through a simple interview with the property manager and do the final paperwork. The property manager asked me questions about my application, like “Why did you move to New York?” and “What kind of employment did you have before Codecademy?” and “What kind of work do you do?” I seemed to pass the test, so it was down to signing a bunch of stuff and paying up the deposit and broker fee.
Here’s where things got a little tricky. As mentioned above, my broker said the fee would cost one month of rent if it was his listing, and 1.5 months of rent if it was a co-broke. (A co-broke is when brokers share exclusive listings with each other. Most of the places I saw were co-brokes.) Instead, the fee was actually 15% of the annual total, $4050, which was then split in half between the two brokers.
When I asked my broker about it, he insisted his cut for a co-broke would normally be 1.5 times the monthly rent ($3375) and he was taking a hit. During our many intense question-and-answer sessions, it was never clear there would be more to pay beyond the 1.5x, so I felt a little misled. There’s gotta be a joke about brokers making you go broke, right?
Hooray! Moving in!
I ended up ponying up, and—despite the confusing fees—I was really happy to have a place to call home. The apartment is right in the heart of the East Village, overlooking tree-lined First Avenue. It’s spacious, spanning the length of a secure pre-war building, and feels cheerful and cozy.
Without a mattress, this is how I spent the first night in my apartment.
Overall, the experience was good. The friendly broker found several suitable options within days and was easy to reach by email or phone. He even gave me a couple extra days to pay his fee when I was getting low on funds. That’s the only painful part—parting with your hard-earned dough so quickly. Just the cost of becoming a Manhattanite, I suppose.