Updated: Apr 01, 2024

10 Tips for Moving to New York on a Budget

Moving to New York can be daunting, and not just emotionally but financially too! Here are some simple tips to keep the big city from breaking your wallet.
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So you're one of those crazies that wants to give New York living a try, congratulations! Preparing to move to a new city is scary, preparing to move to New York city is downright terrifying. Here are some tips to keep in mind before your big move:

10. Rent, Location, Size: Get Ready to Sacrifice Two

Here's the deal, unless you are one of the lucky few who has copious amounts of money to spend upon your move to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S., you will have to throw your idea of the perfect place out the window.

My personal apartment search took me three months. Moving from a huge two bedroom apartment overlooking a lake for a total of $518 a month ($295 a person), I was shocked when I found out the cheapest, livable two bedroom apartment will run between $2,300 to $4,000 based on averages pulled from Craigslist.

Median Rents in New York City

Type Manhattan Brooklyn Queens
Median Rent $3,350 $2,750 $2,800
Studio $2,500 $2,296
One Bedrooms $3,350 $2,600
Two Bedrooms $4,500 $3,000
Luxury $7,983 $5,411

I learned that of the three main selling points to an apartment; rent, location, size — most places only had one feature. I ranked these three things by personal value and was able to find a place in my budget, my Brooklyn 2BR apartment is less than the average low of 2BR's in NYC.

The apartment gods smiled on me when I found my place because not only was my rent within my budget, but I loved the location; the size however, is comparable to my parent's walk-in closet. The best piece of advice I got when looking at apartments, was "use your imagination".

9. Utilize Craigslist, But Don't Trust It

Love it or hate it, Craigslist is pretty convenient. Many people, not knowing where to begin, often turn to the classifieds site in order to get a bigger scope of available places.

One thing to watch out for are posters who lie about location. People posting apartments often take the liberty of extending the boundaries of safe, trendy neighborhoods several subways stops and miles from their actual limits.

For example, East Williamsburg is a label to watch out for. The neighborhood is real, insofar as it exists on subway maps and is different from actual Williamsburg, that crushingly hip neighborhood packed with people you've read about in New York Times trend pieces, but it's not as big as real estate agents like to pretend.

Nearby Bushwick and Bed-Stuy, to real estate agents, fall well within the boundaries of East Williamsburg, though they don't provide the safety or amenities that East Williamsburg does.

Still more confusing is that many people who live in East Williamsburg call it Bushwick because they want to sound cool, or are under the impression that East Williamsburg is a misnomer.

Either way, you should consult with a friend or Wikipedia if you're curious about actual neighborhood boundaries (for quick reference, these stops are actually in, or on the border of, East Williamsburg. L train: Grand Ave, Montrose Ave, Morgan Ave. J Train: Lorimer Ave, Flushing Ave). Don't expect real estate agents to be forthcoming with this sort of information, especially in rapidly gentrifying North Brooklyn.

8. No-Fee vs. Broker Fees

There is actually no such thing as “No fee” in real estate. Someone is always paying in a situation where a broker or agent is involved. When you see agents advertising “No Fee”, it actually means that the landlord is paying the broker’s fee. Outside of New York City, this is a standard so it may be shocking when you are apartment hunting and you discover that there is a fee associated with the listing.

In the past, the standard in New York was that the client pays the fee, as it was a landlords’ market. Now with the influx of inventory entering the market, the tables are slowly turning to favor the prospective tenants. More and more, we see landlords who are motivated and footing the bill, especially when viewing their competition.

The standard percentage for a broker’s fee is 15% of the annual rent, which can pose a lofty price just to get an apartment. However, according to New York state law, all fees are negotiable no matter what any agent tells you. Most agents will try to work with you and may reduce it to just one month. Sometimes you run into a “low fee” situation where the landlord is paying half and the client pays the other half.

Accepting a broker’s fee is not all bad. It often gives you more choices of apartments. Just be sure to agree on a set fee before you close on any deal with an agent.

A way to avoid the broker’s fee is to look for exclusive listings. Most of the listing (although not all), will be no-fee. A great resource to find no-fee listings is Streeteasy or PropertyNest, which boasts all exclusive-only listings. Zillow is also following suit and will also become an exclusive-only site.

Furthermore, you can find an agency that works with a primarily exclusive/no-fee inventory, as opposed to an agency that works only with what are called “open listings”. Another idea would be to find listings that are directly advertised by landlords and management companies, although that is not always possible.

7. Prepare to Pay

One of the worst shocks of moving to New York is how quickly you have to pay upfront and how much when you sign the lease.

“If you love a place, be prepared to put down a one-month deposit right away… as in, that very moment you are standing in the apartment, especially during peak season which is May to September, when an apartment can be snatched up from under you within seconds. Sometimes there is no time to weigh whether you like it enough or not, because guess what? Someone else already knows and is putting a deposit down as you think,” advises Ruth Shin, a licensed agent in Brooklyn.

The time between deposit to lease signing can take a New York minute, so have the funds ready to pounce on the perfect unit.

These are some standard pay models for an apartment:

  • First Month Rent + Deposit + Application fee
  • First Month Rent + Last Month Rent + Deposit + Application fee
  • First Month Rent + Broker’s fee + Deposit + Application fee
  • First Month Rent + Last Month Rent + Broker’s fee + Deposit + Application fee

Some important things to remember are that if you have no credit (foreigners included) or extremely bad credit, you may be asked to pay six months to one full year upfront at lease signing. Sometimes, a landlord will just ask for an additional deposit.

Know Your Credit Score!

Which leads us to an extremely important piece of advice--KNOW YOUR CREDIT SCORE. It’s actually not good enough to have checked your credit score a month ago. Errors and outstanding bills can bring your score down immediately. You may be faced with an unpleasant surprise when they process your application and you are rejected.

Luckily, many credit card accounts will give you your FICO score right on your account site. You can also check an approximate score through Credit Karma, although it’s not an accurate way of gauging your score.

Forms of payment for deposits that are accepted by most landlords and agencies (check with agency/landlord first):

  • ACH / Wire transfer
  • Chase Quickpay
  • Clear Xchange
  • Paypal
  • Credit card
  • Cashiers / certified bank checks / money order

At lease signing, you will usually need to bring cashiers /certified bank checks in individual increments for the remaining balances.

6. Consider a Month-to-Month Rental

A month-to-month rental may be an excellent option for someone who is looking for the right place and wants to give themselves more time. By not committing yourself to a year lease you can figure out your how your spending will change and adjust your budget. However, this option is always available. Many landlords will be comfortable with giving you this option once your lease is up, but you must ask first.

5. Get Rid of 75% of Your Belongings

New York City is not a city that offers a wealthy supply of space. So when you are moving, try your best to get rid of everything that you can live without. My roommate didn't follow this rule and brought a couch he was attached to, now we have a couch in our kitchen.

If you are one of those people that has trouble parting with material things, then maybe New York is not the city for you. A great way to make some money to pay off the steep moving costs is having a sale for your items.

4. It's Cheaper to Ship

Did you get rid of everything like I told you? Great! Now that you have compacted what you need to move, I suggest shipping items (if you're flying). It is much more cost-efficient to rely on USPS than it is to pay hefty baggage fees when your luggage is over the limit. I personally like cramming as much as I can into the flat rate boxes, as long as you are under 70 lbs you only have to pay however much the packaging costs, their largest boxes (23-11/16" x 11-3/4" x 3") are $14.95.

This is a much better rate than excess baggage fees which can run from $90 to $170, just for being one pound over the 50-pound limit.

3. Monthly Metro Passes vs. Pay-Per-Ride

When I first moved to New York I didn't want to worry about whether or not I had enough money on my MetroCard so I bought a monthly unlimited card for $97 (now $121.00). A few weeks later I realized I could walk to work and decided to recalculate how often I used the subway -- about 10 times per week.

I was able to lower this number to 6 per a week, by walking whenever I could and investing in a bike. This meant that it would cost me approximately $54 a month to ride the subway, a big difference from the initial $97 payment. Don't pay the metro more than you have to, monitor your transportation use.

NOTE: Your first month or so you may be traveling more to see the city and/or lost more often, your usage should decrease a bit as you settle in.

2. The Yellow Ones Do Stop

The second you step off the plane you will be greeted by a guy in sunglasses and a leather jacket offering you a ride. A seasoned New Yorker knows never to take him up on his offer no matter how good it sounds. Private car services are notorious for up-charging their patrons, plus they typically do not accept credit cards. Although these cars sometimes seem to be the more convenient choice, go for a yellow cab to avoid paying more.

1. Breathe. No Seriously, BREATHE

This is probably the most important tip. Moving to New York is often a scary and exciting time and it is easy to get caught up in the worries of finding a place, finding financial stability and fighting your footing in general. Relax, take a breath and realize you are in (or about to be) the greatest city on Earth. Take advantage of the opportunities around every corner; some of your favorite memories will take place in the next few months.

Average Prices in New York

Item Price
Gasoline per gallon $2.45
Electricity 1kWh $0.20 (47% more expensive than the National Average)
Natural Gas 3.25% lower than the National Average
Food Prices Only 3 Cities outranks New York- Honolulu, San Francisco, Anchorage
Internet $53
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