Finding an apartment/sublet in Manhattan on craigslist

The process of finding an apartment in Manhattan has been fodder for countless TV shows and movies for a reason. It can be painful, and far less amusing than they made it look on Seinfeld.

Likewise, Craigslist has a reputation for being a bit dodgy, and I’m sure it can be a haven for people like this:

However, I managed to find a room on Craigslist with relatively few dramas, so I thought I’d impart some of the knowledge I picked up along the way. This isn’t a comprehensive list, just a few tips intended to aid your search.

You might also like to check out this page for tips on finding a place using means other than Craigslist, as well as this article from the New York Times which provides some useful advice on managing your expectations.

Note: The advice I give here is for someone who is looking to have a room to themselves. There’s plenty of value out there if you don’t mind sharing, I’m sure, but it’s not for me.

How much should you be paying

Location, as always, is crucial. A distance of ten blocks could amount to a difference of $200 a month if it’s the distance between a good neighbourhood and a rough one, or harbour views and dumpster views.

After a few weeks of researching, it became clear to me that the rough price ranges (per month, without utilities) for each neighbourhood were:

Inwood/Washington Heights: $500-700
Harlem: $700-1100

(Obviously, many ads try to pass their West Harlem or East Harlem location off as Upper West Side or Upper East Side respectively, which may explain why some UES locations are advertised at apparently bargain prices.)

UES: $900+
UWS: $800+
Midtown: $1200+
Lower East Side: $900+
East Village: $1000+
Greenwich Village: $800+
Downtown: $1200+
Chelsea: $1000+
Chinatown: $850+

Getting a sense of how much a room should cost in each neighbourhood will also help you avoid scams or undesirable “catches”. $500 for a furnished room in Tribeca really is too good to be true, and there’s going to be a serious catch, such as:

-you’re sharing the room with five backpackers;
-the owner of the apartment wants you to clean their house and walk their dog every day;
-“Did I say Tribeca? Sorry, I meant West Orange.”

Responding to an ad

First off, read the ad in full. Some people have a tendency to ‘bury the lead’ and put an important detail at the very end, such as “females only”.

When it comes to emailing the advertiser (be it the tenant or landlord), you should have a basic template that you revise slightly for each ad. You’ll be sending out a lot of these, so it’ll take up way too much of your time to try and come up with something original for every ad.

Also, send out as many as you like; it’s like looking for a job, you have to cast a wide net.

Once you’ve made an appointment to view the apartment, confirm it the night before you visit. More than once, I had arranged a viewing with someone who completely forgot about our email conversation from a few days earlier.  Remember, even people living in Manhattan can be flaky.

Viewing the room: what you should check

It’s easy to remember to check things like where the closest subway is or whether there’s a washer/dryer in the building, but there are a few things you might not think to ask, such as:

-Check the parking conditions on the street, even if you don’t have a car. If you have visitors, they’ll want to know where they can park and how long for.

-Make sure the tenant explicitly outlines what utilities you’ll have to pay for and how much they usually cost per month. If you’re not a big TV watcher, for example, it’s probably not worth your while forking out $50 a month for an elaborate cable package.

-If you visit the apartment in warm weather, ask the tenant what it’s like in winter. If you visit the apartment in winter, ask how cool it keeps in the summer. There’s no use in opting for a nice, breezy room if you’re going to be freezing in three months’ time. Also, your utility costs will fluctuate in tandem with the seasons.

-If there isn’t an elevator, how many floors do you have to walk up? Think seriously about whether hiking up five floors is something you can handle doing several times a day.

-Don’t be embarrassed to ask a lot of questions of your host, particularly about what their daily routine involves. You’re going to spend more time with this person than your friends or your family, you need to know if you’re a good fit.

Avoiding scams/weirdos

Craigslist has a notice about avoiding scams which everyone who frequents the site should read.

However, in light of the fact that those Nigerian 419 scams still seem to do so well, I feel it’s important I stress this point: DON’T HAND OUT YOUR FINANCIAL DETAILS OR TRANSFER MONEY TO SOMEONE YOU DON’T KNOW.

Sorry for raising my voice, but it’s important.

I myself have yet to have any negative experiences using craigslist, but it can still be daunting experience visiting the home of a perfect stranger. If you’re a bit wary of checking out an apartment on your own, you should probably take a friend.

Also, if someone seems a bit off, don’t be embarrassed about backing out. You don’t owe them anything.

Okay, that’s all for now. Happy hunting.


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