‘I’m moving from L.A. to New York’: Property experts explain how to find affordable rentals in the Big Apple

New York City rents have reached an all-time high, but that doesn’t mean deals and discounts can’t be found. Is it possible to find an affordable rental in the city? Yes, experts say, but it will require a lot of work.

“It’s usually not the best idea to try to time the market. Everybody has different needs, and if you find an apartment that fits your budget while fulfilling all your desires, that will be the best option,” said Kenny Lee, an economist at StreetEasy, a real-estate listing website that is focused on New York. 

But prospective renters who have the luxury of time should pay attention to supply and demand trends in New York City. For instance, renters often face stiff competition at the end of summer and in the fall, when students are returning to college, Lee told MarketWatch.

Some new arrivals in New York have taken to platforms like Reddit to find an apartment. Take this recent post: “I’m moving from Los Angeles to New York at the end of this month and am currently in town for a work trip,” the poster wrote. “I’ll be working in Midtown, and am hoping to find a place close to the subway for an easy commute. I’d like to navigate this process without a broker to save on costs.”

Adjina Dekidjiev, a real-estate broker with Coldwell Banker Warburg, told MarketWatch that compromise is key. That ranges from being flexible on location — not fixating on finding a place near the subway, for instance — to renewing an existing lease in spite of a rent hike if it means avoiding broker fees, which in New York City can be as much as 15% of the annual rent.

In August, there were 20,850 rental units on the market, up from 17,070 a year ago but down from 41,770 in August 2020 during the height of the pandemic, according to StreetEasy data.

Here are three tips from the experts for New York City apartment hunters:

1. Move in the fall or winter, if you can

Renters face the most competition in the summer, according to data from StreetEasy, so consider timing your move for the fall or winter months. 

The median rent was $3,775 in August, down around 1% compared with the month before, according to StreetEasy.

Lee said that at StreetEasy, there is generally an uptick in inquiries for listings in the summer, from May through August, but that drops as the weather gets colder. “Not surprisingly, some rentals on the market would reduce the asking rents slightly” from September through November, Lee said. Such reductions could be offered through discounts, such as two months’ free rent.

“You could say this is a better time to look for a deal, and that’s because a lot of landlords are trying to get rid of the vacancies in their building before the prime renting season ends, which usually falls around the summer,” he added.

The same logic applies to buildings without elevators: The higher the floor, the cheaper the rent, in many cases. If a renter is able to manage five flights of stairs on a daily basis, which may be easier for some than others, it could be worth it to do that in order to pay less.

2. Consider signing a longer lease

Some apartment buildings offer leases for terms ranging from six to 36 months. The most common lease duration is one year, experts say, but rents can be cheaper with a longer-term agreement.

Staying in one place for longer than a year has some other benefits: You avoid the costs associated with moving, and a landlord may be more accommodating toward a reliable, longer-term tenant.

Dekidjiev, the real-estate agent who specializes in Brooklyn and Manhattan, said she frequently fields calls from renters who wonder if they should stay in their current apartment or look for something else. “I usually advise them to stay,” she said, citing the expense of moving and broker fees.

In New York City, rent increases are negotiated between owners and tenants, but some apartments are rent-stabilized. “These apartments have caps on how much landlords can raise rents; for instance, landlords can only raise rents on rent-regulated unit renewals for a one-year lease by 3.25%,” according to the City of New York.

3. Don’t (always) take Manhattan

Renters have shown more interest recently in Long Island City and Queens, which are a relatively easy commute to Manhattan, Lee said. “Hybrid work is really reshaping the local rental markets in the city. For example, Queens has become really the most competitive rental market.”

The median rent in Queens was $2,900 in August, up 10% on the year, while it was $4,300 in Manhattan, an annual increase of 4%, according to StreetEasy data.

Though supply in New York City overall has grown by around 15% from last August, housing supply in Manhattan alone has jumped 22% over the last year, Lee said.

“That surprises a lot of people,” he said. A combination of new buildings, newly renovated units and an increase in homeowners listing their homes has contributed to the supply, he said. “Elevated asking rents really incentivize landlords to put more listings on the market,” he added. 

Competition is still tough, Lee said, “but the silver lining is the recent recovery in rental inventory will continue to ease competition among renters.”

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