How Do You Move to New York?

It's been a little over a year since I moved to New York City permanently and with a lot of people asking me how I did it, I figured a little overview is in order. If you're considering moving to New York, it's a good idea to do a lot of research since, financially, it's not one of the more forgiving cities to live in.

*** I am not an expert ***

*** There is literally no way to fully prepare for a move to a new city ***

This is just a primer for those of you interested in Moving to New York. There are exceptions to every rule, and no one's experiences in this wild and crazy world of New York real estate will be the same... other than that they are generally terrible and stressful. But much like doing your taxes, there are ways to make it less terrible and stressful. Let's begin.

Why do you want to move to New York?
Ask yourself this seriously, because as I mentioned before, this is not one of the more forgiving cities to move to. Maybe it's for career opportunities. Maybe it's because it seems exciting. Maybe it's for the cultural opportunities. Ask yourself really seriously if this is what you want and if you're ready for the risks involved, including paying hundreds more in rent that could have gone to savings or paying off student loans, or just generally living in a more dangerous part of the country. There are so many wonderful cities in the US that are worth considering and that may have the things you like about New York available to you at less personal and financial risk. Be honest with yourself. Weigh risks to the best of your ability and don't make a decision you might not have made if you'd thought it through more seriously.

Rent is high. 
Location, space and amenities, or price. You cannot have it all, and for damn sure, nothing in New York is cheap. I have friends paying less monthly for single family homes in other parts of the country than I do with my roommate in rent for our two bedroom apartment-- and even this two bedroom in Brooklyn is a thousand dollars less monthly than my last place in Hells Kitchen which I shared with 3 other people.

Let's talk money. 
To qualify for an apartment, you and your roommate(s) (if any) need to make 40x the rent on a yearly basis. You also need to have decent credit. If you don't have those things, you can still get an apartment by using a guarantor. A guarantor signs on saying that they will pay rent if you are unable to for whatever reason, so it's a pretty serious deal. Guarantors apply just like every other applicant on your lease which includes meeting the above stated qualifications, presenting the management company with documents (I'll come back to that), and paying an application fee. Typically, you might expect someone's guarantor to be their parents.

So if rent is $3000 per month, you need to make 40 times that if you are living alone which comes out to a salary of a minimum of $80,000 per year. If you're living with a roommate, your total salaries need to be at least $80,000 per year between the two of you and it usually doesn't matter if one roommate makes the bulk of the income-- the management company just cares about getting paid on time and in full.

In addition to paying first, last, and 1 month as a deposit (fairly standard) you may also need to pay a broker's fee. Brokers are the ones you work with to help secure a deal with an apartment. Usually they save you a lot of time and effort since they know about enough listings that they can do a lot of the leg work for you. Many apartments require you go through a broker. A standard Broker's fee is 15% of annual rent, however some are less than that. You may be able to find one that charges 10% or even 8%.

If we go back to our $3,000 per month example from earlier, this means that at the time of signing, you will have to hand over first month's rent, last month's rent, deposit, and 15% broker's fee.

That's $3,000 + $3,000 + $3,000 + ($3,000 * 12 * .15)
3,000 * 12 = $36,000 in yearly rent
15% of $36,000 = $5,400
Which gives you a grand total of $14,400 due at signing.

This does not include moving costs, new furniture, or utilities. If you are a risky applicant (which might mean you have terrible credit, are unemployed, etc.) they may ask you to pay more money upfront, like another month's worth of rent as deposit to protect themselves if you can't pay.

All this to say, it's a good idea to have a roommate, and you're going to need to have some dough saved up ahead of time.

The biggest obstacle, I think, is the financial struggle of living in New York. This is the cold hard reality of what you're looking at just to get an apartment. It is super important to know what you are getting into. I would say, if you're early on in your career and not hoping to live anywhere terribly fancy, expect to pay between $800 and $1,500 with at least one roommate. Please work out your own budget according to your life situation.

So let's back up: Trying out the city. 
A lot of people come to New York before they actually move to New York. I'm not talking about on vacation-- I mean pounding the pavement, testing the city out, looking for work, roommates, and an apartment. Lots of people stay with friend or couch surf for a few weeks, some people book longer term AirBnBs, or grab short-term sublets off Craigslist. Moving to New York is a big task and you don't want to go in blind, so a lot of people have a transition period so they can "be in town" looking for housing and things of that nature. Bring a large luggage for now, bring the rest up later.

If you're an undergrad or even a recent grad, you may have the opportunity to intern in New York-- this is a great option because lots of summer housing is available for interns, and you have the opportunity to try out the city for 3 months and potentially give yourself some career opportunity to move here full-time. I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity.

Searching for roommates.
I cannot stress enough my recommendation that you go with someone you know, or a friend of a friend, or even an alum from your college. Going with a random person can be incredibly stressful, as any roommate situation can be, with the added layer of zero accountability to any mutual social circle. If you know anyone already living in New York, they may know of another person searching for a roommate either to join an existing lease, or to apartment hunt with. Otherwise you can search on facebook groups for New York like Secret NYC, or look for places on Craigslist that are looking for a roommate.

Apartment hunting: Neighborhoods.
It is impossible for a newcomer to learn all the neighborhoods in New York-- many of them have sub-neighborhoods inside them and trust me, it's very overwhelming. Instead, ask a local if possible Find a friend, or friend of a friend, who lives in New York and ask them their opinion of neighborhoods you are interested in.


  • The outer boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Long Island) are cheaper, but if you work on Manhattan, you will have a longer commute.
  • On Manhattan, Harlem (north of Central Park) is pretty inexpensive, but it's a long way out from more developed areas where you might be working.
  • Upper East Side is where old money lives, so it's pretty rare to see not-a-lot-of-money places in that area.
  • Upper West Side is a mix of cool moneyed people and students. Still on the more expensive side unless you want to live somewhere not that nice. 
  • Midtown is very touristy. Places are small, but you're really paying to be in the middle of everything. 
  • Lower East Side. This is a very mixed bag of really nice cool places and some not that great places, but if you are really looking to compromise on location, size, and price, this is where you can get a little of everything and not a lot of anything.
  • Lower West Side is more trendy, and you often pay a little premium for that. 
  • Financial District is the southern most part of town. You will live in a really nice building, with a slightly awkward lay out, since these buildings often weren't originally intended to be apartments. Everything is dead at night because people don't really live there... they mostly just work there.
When getting an apartment, consider the subway lines you are near. If you already have a job, you are going to want to live somewhere so that your commute is not torturous. 

Apartment hunting websites.
My recommendations are:
Applying for an apartment.
You've found an apartment. You have a roommate or two. Now you've gotta actually apply. Your broker or whatever representative of the management company will request a lot of documents from you in addition to your application fee. These must be provided by every applicant including guarantors. 
  • Signed application form
  • A copy of a photo ID
  • Tax return from the last year (the first 5 pages)
  • 2-4 of your most recent paystubs
  • 2-4 of your most recent bank statements (be sure to whiteout/blur bank account numbers!!)
They may ask you for additional documents, but that is the standard set. If for some reason you can't provide any of those things, types up a formal letter explaining why you are unable to provide those things and sign it. Your application might be weaker, but this is an acceptable substitute for just not having something.

Signing the lease.
Once you have been approved, you'll schedule a lease signing. This is when you've gotta pony up the cash or cashiers checks for the first, last, and deposit, and the broker's fee. Sign and read all the forms. Ask questions if you have any. Ask the broker about contacts for the landlord and super, as well as their recommended providers for utilities-- some buildings have only one hook up for each utility, but others might have multiple choices available for things like internet/cable. 

The logistics of physically moving all your stuff from one city to another can be complicated. My family agreed to bring all my stuff up for me, which was a huge money saver. You might have to fly out and rent a U-Haul. Moving takes money, but it is really worth it to pay for pros where you can. Also consider paring down to only those things that you actually need, since your space in NY will likely be smaller than what you are used to and to be frank... the less stuff to pack, move, and unpack, the happier you will be. Take a couple days to move, and unpack the things you need to get through the next few days. 

That's about it in terms of the actual process of hunting for an apartment and moving in. I think I'll cover more basics on moving to New York later, but for now, that covers it.


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