Graduation day is approaching quickly and I still don't have a job or a place to live. I figure both need to happen-- and happen quickly. So as I'm tying up the loose ends on my classes and internship, I'm also combing through Craigslist.org.
Craigslist is great if you live in a major metropolitan area like New York City, which is where I will be living. You can view postings of jobs, real estate, events, etc. You can also search for apartments by owner and by "no-broker" fee [Ed. note: In New York City, it is common to pay a broker to find you an apartment]. These two forms of listings are useful because you end up not having to pay a big chunk of cash to a broker or other fees.
I came across one listing under "by owner" on the Lower East Side. The rent was $950 and it was 1,000 square feet. I e-mailed immediately and received an e-mail from the owner, explaining that he had taken a job in London and had to leave on short notice. Since he and his wife owned the apartment, they were renting very low but needed a $3,000 deposit so they can return to the U.S. to sign the lease and hand over the keys. His e-mail was very convincing and it wasn't until my friend searched the apartment's address on Google that the same listing popped up on Apartments.com for $3,300 a month.
I e-mailed two editors and a professor who have gone through the NYC real estate scene and asked them what they thought about the situation. Unanimous vote: SCAM. One editor told me that her friend had fallen for a similar scam and lost $3,000. I couldn't believe it-and felt really embarrassed. I know that sketchy postings can pop up on Craigslist, but I didn't think I'd potentially fall for one! I'm really thankful that my friend and I were smart enough to take a step back and look closer at the details.
So I'm back at square one, still rather lost among the fine prints and endless listings. Also, some questions can never be satisfied: Which borough is best? Which neighborhood is the most diverse? What if I end up hating my apartment? What if I make a decision too quickly and end up regretting it? It's no wonder I can't sleep at night.
But I'm fortunate enough to have built up a network of people who live in NYC and can offer some advice. Here are some tips I've received for finding neighborhoods and staying safe when searching on your own, no matter where you'll be living.
Don't go by the stereotypes of a neighborhood. Reading message boards can give you more of an idea, but I realized that the opinion of someone moving from a small, rural town will be a lot different than a local or an urbanite.
When looking at neighborhoods, get some local opinions about the area. Ask passersby, ask police officers, store owners, etc.
Check the proximity of public transportation. I came across this gem in South Brooklyn, but it was a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway station and a 45-minute ride to midtown Manhattan. I prefer the subway to the bus, so this was not conducive to how I wanted to get around.
Get your money's worth. In my situation, for example, it's no secret that rent is out of this world in Manhattan and nicer parts of North Jersey, Brooklyn and Queens. You may end up paying similar amounts in Morningside Heights (Manhattan) and Bedford-Stuyvesant (Brooklyn), but you'll probably get more room (and maybe your own grass patch) if you choose Brooklyn.
Consider "up and coming" neighborhoods. Sometimes these areas are good because they're in the process of being cleaned up, but the rents are staying the same for the most part.
Use Google and HopStop. These sites will give you ideas of what goes on in the area and will give you specifics for public transportation.
Always be skeptical. Like my story above, it's easy to be fooled. Craigslist can give you valid information of what scams look like and how to avoid them.
When checking out the apartment, take photos. You may notice things later that you didn't the first time around. Check the water pressure; no one likes a weak shower stream. Look at the windows and how they are insulated: Are they drafty? Look for cracks, holes, loose tiles, etc., anywhere bugs or rodents can fit through. Your landlord should fix all these beforehand, so don't be afraid to ask. Finally, check if your cell phone gets good reception if you plan to go without a landline. Time Out is one of my favorite magazines and I'm always appreciative of their apartment coverage.
I'm sure that there are more things to consider in apartment hunting, so always Google some terms for information that may aid in your search and ask friends or family that have gone through the apartment hunting process for advice.