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The True Cost of Renting a NYC Apartment

by | Sep 16, 2015

Congrats! After countless apartments that were too small, expensive, far from the subway, or perhaps all of the above, you’ve finally found your next rental!

Amidst celebrating the end of what was probably a stressful – and possibly grueling – search, you realize wait, I have to put down how much money right now? From broker fees to multiple months’ rent, the process of finding an apartment can drain your wallet like an avid pumpkin spice latte drinker drains an iPhone battery as they post pictures of their food on Instagram.

Broker Fee

If you could choose between a $2 donut or a free donut, who wouldn’t want the free donut? If there is a possibility of avoiding fees, most people will attempt the lower-cost route. Unfortunately, most NYC rentals go through brokers. Approximately 75% of properties have a 15% broker fee, or almost two months’ rent. It typically ranges from 1 month’s rent to 15% of the annual rent. If your monthly rent is $3,000, a 15% broker fee would mean you’d need to put down another $5,400 up front. The majority of people hunting for apartments will attempt to avoid the broker fee altogether, but eventually concede that it is probably necessary.

If there is an apartment that does not have a broker fee, it simply means that the owner of the building has paid it themselves, but that raises the question of why they were so desperate to find a buyer that they paid more out of pocket.

Application Fee

Just like college admissions, you have to pay an application fee. Either you get the apartment and feel a little ripped off, or you don’t get the apartment and feel like you paid them to reject you. These can range from $50 – $200 per person, but could go up to 10x that amount for a condo or a co-op. Sometimes there will even be an additional credit check fee. To even be considered, your annual income must be at least 40x one month’s rent. A $3,000/month apartment will require a minimum income of $120,000/year.

If you want to cut down on competition, you can pay an extra “holding” deposit to get the owner to take the rental off of the market while reviewing your application. This you could get back if the landlord decides to pass on your application.

Initial fees

When you first close on a rental, buildings often require you to put down a security deposit that will go towards any damages to the rental after you leave. Landlords often ask for the first month’s rent or potentially first two. If there are no damages, you get your money back. But recently, owners have been opting for a non-refundable “move-in” fee. And no, unfortunately it does not go towards your first month’s rent. It’s an additional charge.

Know what you’re getting into!

Make sure to ask about additional costs such as utility bills or extra fees for having pets. Will you have to hound your roommates about taking shorter showers or fight to keep the thermostat higher in the summer to save on AC bills? And perhaps most importantly, will there be wi-fi included?

In today’s cutthroat market, you should also expect your rent to increase by 3% to 5% when you renew your lease.

How much money do I need?

Here are the potential costs for a 1 bedroom apartment with a monthly rent of $3,000.

Broker Fee: $5,400

Application Fee:  $120/person

Security Deposit: $3,000

Total up front: $11,520. 

I frequented Chipotle in Manchester, NH, where a chicken burrito bowl was a modest $6.80 (with 9% tax), compared to NYC’s $8.27 bowl. I could either rent this apartment and pay that total up front, or I could eat at Manchester’s Chipotle 1,554 times.

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