Send Us Your Apartment Hunting/Negotiating Tips

It’s that time of year: With the budding trees comes a feeling of optimism coupled with intense cabin fever. The result? Apartment hunting.

We’re looking for all sorts of apartment hunting tips, and in particular, tips for dealing with rental brokers. What are some negotiating tips? Is it worthwhile to try to avoid brokers? Are there any free apartment locating services that don’t suck? How do you negotiate with a broker? A landlord?

Like always, we’re most interested to hear from those who have worked as rental brokers, particularly in New York City where the rental market is the most intimidating. Tell us everything you know about getting the best deal on an apartment! Email your tips to: tips [at] consumerist [dot] com —MEGHANN MARCO
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  1. mikesfree says:

    I used to be a landlord.

    1-I think its best if you have a credit issue to be upfront about it. If you show that you paid your bills outside of a single incident, I am usually ok with you. For a landlord, you should pretty much never have an unpaid light bill, water bill, or gas bill on your report. That says you dont take care of the basics, which will probably include rent. I dont care so much about how you didnt pay for your Saks Fifth Avenue card on time. I think its great when people bring in their credit report, but I am still going to run one.

    2- I watched out for the sweet deals. People in a rush to move in and are so desperate that they will sign a two year lease. These people rarely return an application that says there will be a credit report ran.

    3- What your current landlord says about you doesnt mean much. To me, they could just be trying to get you the hell out so they can have a paying tenant move in.

    4- I always drive by where you currently live if its at all reasonable.

    5- The renter has few things to loose. The landlord has a lot at stake. I dont know that renters typically understand that. If you look like a risk, its tough to feel good about you.

    6- The best rental deals arent unsually advertised, because they dont need to be, and they sure dont need a rental agency.

    7- Landlords have meetings/support groups. You might attend one and meet some really great landlords who care. You may also talk to them to find the best deals.

  2. rachmanut says:

    i’ve never found an apartment from anything other than craigslist. Granted, this is only 2 apts. in boston and 1 in los angeles, so maybe I’m just lucky but I haven’t had problems.

  3. bambino says:

    Thank God I live in Austin, TX, the land of the free apartment locators. I can’t imagine having to pay someone to find me a place that I then of course have to pay more for just to move in. Finder’s fee my ass.

  4. nan says:

    Craigslist rss feeds! Watch them like a hawk. Then pounce like a tiger! GGRRR.

    I don’t know what I’m saying. I haven’t slept in two days. But I look forward to seeing what others have to share. I’m going to be in the market for a new place pretty soon.

  5. not_seth_brundle says:

    @mikesfree: Support groups? Really?

  6. Jillsy says:

    From my own and my friends’ experience, I’ve learned 2 things about rental brokers in New York: (1) they’re all liars and bottom-feeders, and (2) avoiding them is usually more trouble than it’s worth, since the “No broker/no fee” ads are almost always scams.

    Unless you have a personal relationship with a landlord, the only reliable, non-scam way to do without a rental broker is to go directly to the management office of one of the big rental highrises. If you’re looking for something cheaper/less sterile than a large managed building, you’ll probably need to go through a broker. Even on Craigslist.

    So here are my bits of advice:

    1. Know that they are mostly liars, because they have no incentive to be truthful. She said it was at 74th & Lex, but after meeting her at that corner she took you on a nice long walk over to York Ave? Par for the course – you wouldn’t have agreed to met her if she’d told you the truth, right?

    2. Know that even if your broker isn’t trying to be an asshole, he’s gonna seem like one anyway. So you asked to see 2-bedrooms and he just showed you three 1-bedrooms in a row? It’s possible that the listing was submitted with false info from the landlord – and the broker doesn’t have time to check it out before bringing you there, for fear that another broker will get it for a different client first.

    3. Often the sketchy corner real estate office or the obscure free weekly has the best listings. I found my last East Village walkup advertised in Loot. My husband once found a great apartment near the UN (with outdoor space!) from a sketchy realtor with no office at all whom he’d met through his prior landlord.

    4. Your friend’s moving out of his apartment, and you want it. Great, no broker fee! Think again – landlords often contract with a particular broker to handle all their rentals, and they’re not letting you get away without paying a fee. Even if the broker does no work, you still might have to pay him.

    5. Be so, so wary of those “no-fee” listings – you pay $250 for the right to see an outdated list of crappy outer-borough apartments. New York State law says you can get your money back if it doesn’t help you find your apartment, but it’s so much hassle I found it wasn’t worth the $250.

    6. Rental real estate is the only industry where I have been the victim of true bait & switch tactics.

    7. Searching for a new rental apartment is a full-time job. If you can, tell your boss you’re apartment hunting and need a flexible 90-minute lunch for a few weeks so you can look at an apartment at 10am, or 2pm, or whenever the building’s super will let the broker in. Being inflexible will only prolong this miserable process.

  7. citking says:

    I found honesty to be my best policy. Granted, I live in Madison WI, not a bustling metropolis of any sort, but when I was hunting I told them what I wanted. I wanted a 1 BR with laundry included, something they didn’t have available at the moment. When I made my decision to look elsewhere the manager said “How about if I give you a 2 BR for a 1 BR rate?” I agreed, signed the lease, and I now have a great apartment with more room than I needed. It worked out well for me.

    Since then I’ve saved up enough for a house. I asked if I could enter into a 6 month lease after my 2nd year was up and she said “No problem.” I guess I got lucky.

  8. MercuryPDX says:

    Someone actually put up a site here:

  9. urban_ninjya says:

    My advice is for like the first 6 months, avoid buying heavy furniture, and use a PO box as an address for a while. This will allow you to hop between apartments easier.

    This is mainly because most people are desperate for shelter at first, and can’t really afford to wait to say like the end of a school year for better prices. And who really has the time to search for an apartment like a full time job? You’re bound to see a better offer later.

  10. Exek says:

    If its a big property management company with multiple properties ask to see if they offer discounts for employees of the company you work for. I asked on a whim when looking for apartments and it turned out they did offer a little incentive for working at my company. They offered no application fees, only $500 deposit and discount off the first month rent. So always ask! it doesn’t hurt asking.

  11. Chongo says:

    I’ll probably get some flak from the Chicago crowd but I’ve had 3 successfull rentals with The Apartment People. Its a free service that actually drives you around to the different properties to look at. They run 1 credit check that applies to all your applications.

    One of the downsides to this service is that out of towners do not know the areas that well. Obviously a broker isn’t going to say “Ahh, this area is a crap hole” or “Yep, lots of crack in the house next door”. I know a few people who are very jaded with these services because they came from out of state.

    For myself though, I know the city pretty well and basically go into it looking for an exact area or street.

  12. Lula Mae Broadway says:

    @mikesfree: Yeah – where can I find a landlord support group?

    Also, on the “I don’t care what your current landlord says” – what if the person’s moving for a good reason, like changing cities or old building has been sold… ie: landlord has no reason to want to get rid of you?

    Finally – water, gas & electric bills are on your credit report? Really – I always pay those LAST b/c I thought they didn’t count?

  13. Friends, friends, friends. If they’re good tenants, they can get you in good with the landlord. And they can tell you which complexes have drunk maintenance people and which are good places to live.

  14. nycapts says: is a great site. I have lived in Manhattan for four years, used three brokers and no one could explain any of it as well as he did on that site. I would highly recommend to anyone who currently lives in the city or is thinking of moving to check it out. All of the mgmt companies are legit, make sure you call the numbered places (not websites) bc they have some of the best stuff. I submitted a question and they emailed me back within an hour. If you arent sure even about using a broker and why to use one they finally explain it.

  15. poptart says:

    1. Take pictures of each apartment you visit. Not only will is be a great visual reminder, it will also help you plan possible furniture placement.

    2. The first commenter was right about the best deals being unadvertised. Before I moved to New York, I made sure to bring up the subject in conversation with various co-workers and friends. Quite often someone would mention that there is an opening in their building and the landlord/super won’t post an ad on CraigsList to save themselves from endless e-mails.

    3. Go apartment hunting with a friend, group of friends, or even your parents if possible. I noticed that when I brought friends along, brokers were friendlier. Oh, the power of bitchy women in groups.

  16. Seth_Went_to_the_Bank says:

    As someone else mentioned, all brokers are liars.

    Repeat: All brokers are liars.

    No matter how nice one might seem, you will eventually find they lied to you.

    One of their favorite scams is “oh, I have to charge you $30 for that credit check. I don’t make any money on that.”

    They make a ton of money on that! The credit checks cost them $5. Sometimes less.

  17. kim says:

    Know what the neighboring apartments cost:

  18. metalhaze says:

    Hacked Google Maps/Craigslist Mash up for finding Apartments:

    For Boston area people:

    And the official (yet beta version) of Google’s apartment finder:

    Hope this helps you all on your hunt!

  19. Jerry101 says:

    Here in Chicago, I always recommend using the Chicago Reader’s ads. Their online database is very good for sorting through ads, and you can narrow things down very quickly.

    Unlike the prior commenter, I would recommend staying away from the brokers (The Apartment People). They are liars, and you pretty much guarantee you’ll be overcharged on rent. TAP gets the first month’s rent as their fee, and since they depend on clueless kids moving in from Michigan, the landlords will jack up their rent to recover that fee. In addition, TAP pretty much tries to wedge you into Lincoln Park and Lakeview, which are the most expensive neighborhoods around, with the worst parking situations.

    The other suggestion I have is find a neighborhood you like and wander about. Plenty of landlords don’t advertise beyond a sign in the window. I have friends who have found apartments that way.

    The Chicago Reader is the best resource though, IMO. Yes, better than craigslist even.

  20. helen says:

    moving to new cities, i’ve had great success starting out with a 3- or 6-month sublet (craigslist, natch, or friends if you’re lucky).

    in those sublet months you can start to figure out what specifically you’re looking for given your new zip code: whether you hate commuting, desperately crave space, or cannot live without a built-in washing machine. it also gives you time to look for a leased apartment at a more leisurely pace: most subletters will be flexible with letting you out early, especially if you can find your own replacement.

    for actually finding the apartment, i’ve had ridiculously good luck wandering around neighborhoods that i know i want to live in, and jotting down the phone numbers of management companies that are displayed on buildings that look like they’re in good shape. call the companies, ask if they’ve got anything available. even if the specific building you walked past has nothing, the company might have nearby buildings (or buildings in similar neighborhoods) that have open apartments.


    I used their magazine and web site.

    Other than that I my only advice is the obvious: start early. If you are moving to a college town you don’t want to wait until after the transfer students find out they aren’t getting into the dorms. I’m not moving until August but I got a new place back in March (seriously lucked out because they were having a special and they’re near practically everything).

    In general you’ll need time because some places will exaggerate or outright lie in their advertising (one place I went to claimed it was on the bus line, it wasn’t even close).

  22. dislodge112 says:

    craigslist works pretty well, but i found that if you feed multiple craigslist feeds into yahoo pipes, then you can maximize your ability to find what you are looking for. you can get all the posts you might find interesting in one convenient feed. it also ensures that you won’t miss any posts just because you forgot to check that particular page on clist.

    if anyone makes a sweet pipe for apartment searches, feel free to share :).

  23. ericstoltz says:

    I’ve been in my apartment in LA for 10 years now, but back in the day, here’s what I would do (and how I got this one):

    1. Drive through the areas you like. Don’t only note the buildings that have signs, but notice the ones you like that don’t have signs. Ignore the ones with management companies — they’re all jerks and thieves.

    2. For the ones without vacancy signs, go to the directory and get the manager’s number. Call and tell them what a fabulous building they have, and how you would just LOVE to be so privileged as to live there. Ask how long they’ve been managing the building. Inquire about the health and happiness of their children, pets. etc. Find a personal connection: “Oh, you used to live in Omaha? My sister once worked there!!!”

    3. Ask to be put on the waiting list. If they don’t have one, say “I can’t believe you don’t have people lined up around the block to rent in this building. Will you call me as soon as an apartment is available?”

    4. Repeat as necessary.

    Within two months, you ill get a call from at least one of these managers. Then, and only then, will you negotiate the terms and details such as your Great Dane as their sole prospective tenant. They’ll be only to ohappy to give a little for someone so polite and inerested in their building rather than going through the hassle of fieliding numerous calls and showing the apartment to a parade of losers.