NYC Rent Hack

Hacking NYC Rent

NYC Rent HackI’ve been waiting to write this post for a while. I have been looking for a new apartment recently and I finally just signed the lease! Naturally, I am extremely excited, as I love to change my living space (I have never lived in the same place for more than two years since I was in high school and still lived with my parents, many years ago).

Here is the story of my apartment hunt and what my final rent will be. This is specific to New York, but readers elsewhere may find it helpful for other cities, too!

Saving Tactic #0.5 (The Tactic I Don’t Use): Location, Location, Location

If you are familiar with the New York City rental market, you know that location plays a huge role in prices. Some neighborhoods in Manhattan were just out of our price range. Finding an affordable spot in SoHo, or Chelsea – unlikely. You can also save a bunch of money by heading to other boroughs. However, if you are looking at this option, I would suggest looking up in Harlem for apartments. In Brooklyn and even Queens, saving money on rent means going further and further out into the borough every year. Of course, if you are moving to Brooklyn, not to save money, but because you just LOVE Brooklyn, that’s completely fine, just don’t expect to live in the center of Williamsburg and pay Bushwick prices.

For me, being in Manhattan is a priority. If I have to commute over an hour to get to work, I’m unhappy. If I am living out on the edges of NYC, I might as well save even more money and move to a different city. That’s just me.

Saving Tactic #1: Split Your Costs

Ok, so I am choosing to live in the more expensive Manhattan, and I’d prefer not to live in the far upper reaches (Inwood, Washington Heights, etc). So what choice am I making to save money? Roommates. Roommates are this magical thing that divide up all expenses. You can save on rent, utilities, food, if you end up cooking “family” meals. So heading into this move, my girlfriend and I decided to join forces with two of our friends for this hunt. I have lived with one of them before, so I know we are compatible.

I have also lived with at least one other person my ENTIRE life (growing up with my family, never had a single in college, had roommates throughout my time in NYC). I think I’d not only forfeit a lot of money by living

Saving Tactic #2: Don’t Pay the Piper

Let’s talk about broker fees for a moment. Since I’ve lived in NYC, and Manhattan, specifically, it has become more and more difficult to avoid broker fees. I used to come across broker fees that were 1 months rent, which hurt. During my most recent search, the standard broker fee was 15% of the YEARLY rent. That comes out to be slightly less than TWO months of rent. That’s insane! At that price, it’s amazing that people ever switch apartments in NYC!

I’ll be honest. There were definitely times when I thought we would have to pony up 15% during our search. I thought that I had potentially made a mistake by deciding to move to save money. Lucky for us New Yorkers, there is a great website that has listings directly from the building management: Just click “search rentals in the top left corner and find your new spot!

One broker we spoke to even tried to show us the apartment we eventually rented. As soon as he sent us the listing, I cancelled our appointment with him (he had worked to “schedule” our viewing during the standard open house) and just went to see the place on my own.

We landed the apartment without paying a dime in brokers fees (we did have to pay application fees of $100 each to process our credit checks).

Saving Tactic #3: Put Forth the Effort

Let’s say your goal is to flip a coin and have it land on heads 5 times in a row. If you only flipped the coin 5 times, it is EXTREMELY unlikely that you would get the outcome you desired. If you flipped it 5,000 times, it would be surprising if you DIDN’T get 5 in a row, at least a few times. Putting more work into the process gives you the desired result much more often.

Similarly, in apartment hunting, you need to contact as many apartment listings as you possibly can. I know far too many people that latch on to one broker and then just wait until that broker sends them a listing. You see fewer options that way and you are subject to the mind games that brokers play. It’s not an accident that people tend to spend above their budget when searching for NYC apartments. Broker’s convince them that they have to in order to land a halfway decent place. Make sure to diligently check listings at:

As well as any other sites that you come across.

My New Apartment

So after employing these tactics, I ended up with a shiny new apartment that I move into at the end of this month. Here are some of the highlights and numbers:

Rent: $875/month

My girlfriend and I are each paying $875 per month for our room. Non-New Yorkers may still scoff at this price, but locals will understand that for an apartment on 84th street and Amsterdam, that is an unbelievable price. For reference, if we had stayed in our current apartment, I would have been paying $1,250/month for the same neighborhood!

Gas: $15/month

When we signed the lease, we found out about a nice bonus. Because there isn’t a gas meter in each unit of our building, the management company charges us a flat fee for gas. This fee is a ripoff for many New Yorkers, but for someone like me who cooks the majority of his meals, it is an AMAZING deal. I’m definitely slow roasting some rosemary beer can chicken in the new apartment!


So while most of the country thinks of duplexes as buildings that have two units, in the New York rental scene, it actually means that an apartment has two floors. Ours is separated by a cute spiral staircase. My girlfriend and I will have the privacy of having our own space when we need it (we are the only bedroom on our floor and we have our own bathroom).

Outdoor Space

When we first started our apartment hunt, we dreamt of having outdoor space. After seeing our first few apartment viewings, we quickly gave that dream up. Through the power of persistence, though, the apartment we finally landed on has a great back yard*! I can’t wait to play some reggae tunes and pop open a craft beer back there!


Of course, the apartment is perfect. We will have to deal with a smaller living room than we’re used to and a little less storage, but that just means adopting minimalism a bit more, which I love. In the end, the downsides don’t bother me because we picked an apartment based on our priorities. We made the choices that worked for us!

I am thrilled to move into our new place at the end of the month and hopefully some of these tactics prove helpful to you as well!

*The back yard is great by Manhattan standards. It’s not like we are living on an acre of land, but there is room for patio furniture (a set was left there by the previous tenant) and room for grilling.

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15 thoughts on “Hacking NYC Rent

  1. The Jackal September 9, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    When is the housewarming?

    • Mr NYBudget September 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Stay tuned! Sometime in October, after I’ve moved in!

  2. Even Steven September 9, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Anytime you can save money on one of the Big 3 expenses you are winning, I’m not familiar with NYC, but the fact that you are excited about that means it must be a deal.
    Even Steven recently posted: 10% Rule and Real Life Car StoriesMy Profile

    • Mr NYBudget September 9, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      Thanks – it’s definitely a deal for NYC – again, people in other cities will likely chuckle at the pricing, but the price of living in Manhattan is one I am willing to pay and one that I am happy to say I have mitigated as much as possible.

  3. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply September 9, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Nice…you saved almost $400 a month! And outdoor space…amazing. Having roommates is a great way to save money…it seems that many refuse to do this after college. I’m not sure if any couples want to room with us…my 1 year old can throw a mean tantrum in the middle of the night sometimes…hehe. I was luckily able to avoid a broker’s fee but I mainly searched craigslist and many had fees. I do think moving out to the outerboroughs is an option. I’m not sure why Harlem is better than Queens or Brooklyn. It really depends on where you work. Where I am in Queens is about 25 minutes to Midtown on the express train. Also check out
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted: Are You a Sports Fanatic?My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget September 9, 2014 at 2:49 pm

      Yeah, you are right. I suppose it’s mainly Brooklyn that stays expensive close to Manhattan while Harlem tends to fall in prices. It’s amazing to me that 135th st in Manhattan can cost so much less than midtown, while Williamsburg is essentially the same price!

      Queens is a good option, though and you are right – it depends on where you are trying to get to!

  4. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life September 10, 2014 at 9:00 am

    $875 for 84th and Amterdam (my dream neighborhood)?! That’s amazing! Very impressed Dave. I’ve never used a broker in NYC, waaaay too expensive.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted: Why I’m Giving Up My Daily Latte. Trust Me, It’s Not Why You Think.My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget September 10, 2014 at 9:34 am

      Thanks! And yeah, those broker fees are BRUTAL. Good for you for avoiding them!

  5. Leslie Beslie September 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

    Not paying broker’s fees makes apartment hunting more difficult but definitely not impossible. And in a way it’s almost easier because it really narrows down your selections. Glad you found a sweet deal and hopefully you can stay there a while without huge rent increases!
    Leslie Beslie recently posted: Goal Tracking & Habit Creating – September 2014My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget September 10, 2014 at 10:42 am

      Agreed! In the past, I have made the mistake of going to the top of my budget in terms of rent (back when I was only somewhat financially savvy). The next year, they raise the rent and all of a sudden, you are past your budget. Those increases can be brutal.

      I have successfully negotiated them down in the past, but I have my fingers crossed about this place as well.

  6. Ina February 19, 2015 at 1:04 pm

    Zumper also has a great resource guide on renting no fee apartments in NYC!

    • Mr NYBudget February 19, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Ina – Zumper actually looks like a pretty amazing site! Thanks for sending this along!

  7. Mike m March 17, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I find your story about rent a little misleading. Having lived in NYC in the west village for ten years, I know $875 isn’t right.

    The reality is $875 times FOUR! most other people wouldn’t take on roommates with a girlfriend too and talk about their rent as 1/4 of the total

    So the reality is that your rent is $3500 to live in a two bedroom on the UWS. This post should really be about using roommates as a strategy to lower your personal cost.

    • Mr NYBudget March 17, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Hi Mike,

      Thanks for stopping by. Honestly, that is a big part of what this post IS supposed to be about. Most people wouldn’t take that on. I did and it is working out extremely well. I just want people to think about their options instead of making a choice to live alone just because it is the status quo. I don’t fault people who live alone – I just want to make sure they fully understand that choice and that other options do exist.

      So you are exactly right on what the point of the post should be. That, plus doing the legwork to find a place (as even x4, that is an incredible deal for the UWS) as well as avoiding brokers fees.

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