life in a tiny apartment.

July 10, 2013

Tip #71: Finding a tiny apartment.

Here’s something that I’ve never really officially covered but that gets asked of me a lot.

How did you find your tiny apartment?
I think the people who ask this question are fairly evenly split between two camps: on one side, there are the people who wonder on what level of hell does one find a 240-square-foot studio to share with her husband, and on the other, there are folks who, like us, move to the city all starry-eyed and eager and willing to live like sardines for the chance to hack it in New York. Being riddled with student debt can also help fuel the passion for tiny-apartment living.
If you too want the pleasure of living in a humble abode like ours, here are a few pointers for finding one.
Search for studios. The legality of this apartment is still under some degree of debate. Apartments in new construction need to be at least 400 square feet, but my understanding of rules for existing buildings is fuzzy. I promise I’ll get around to researching this one of these days. An architect-friend of ours in the city told us that lofts like ours need to be billed as “storage” because the low ceiling and the ship’s ladder means they can’t classify as one-bedrooms. So don’t look for one-bedrooms; it’s a studio you’re after.
Use Keywords: Mezzanines and Lofts. Search terms like mezzanine and loft will help you find the loft set-up like we have. I’ve done enough evening walking in this neighborhood to know that we’re not the only ones with a similar set-up. Historic brownstones with ceilings over 12 feet lend themselves to being hacked in two (good for us, sad for the building). It’s unlikely that you’ll find a similar situation in a newer building, unless it’s been specifically designed to accommodate sleeping lofts.
Look often. Here’s the real secret. James looks at apartments for rent almost every day. It’s become like a hobby. The same way that you might drool over Pinterest, dreaming up romantic plans for picnics with individually wrapped sandwiches, James sits at the computer and ogles rental listings. There’s a lot out there, and a lot of it isn’t good. It helps to search regularly. 
Craigslist/Padmapper. We found our apartment directly through the landlord on Craigslist. Padmapper is a genius website that pulls in listings from a few different platforms–Craigslist included–and puts them on a Google Map so that you can see where they are.
Any other small-apartment-dwellers care to weigh in? How did you find your space?
Tiny Apartment Survival Tips 1-70, right here.

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  • Reply Jodi July 10, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Really adore your blog, Erin and admire your ability to live (so joyously!) in a tiny space. I'm an Australian living with kids in a split-level home but I often reference apartments like yours when my partner talks about the fact that we're outgrowing our space. "People live with three kids in tiny NY apartments – we're fine! It's all a matter of perspective – and de-cluttering!" – and so the conversation goes x

    • Reply Erin July 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm

      Thanks, Jodi! so glad to hear it!

  • Reply pretty little things July 10, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    I always love reading your tiny living survival tips. Before the place I'm in now, I used to live in a 450 sq ft apt with my bf and dog and let me tell you — we drove each other crazy!! xo

  • Reply Heather July 10, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    I love this series. My boyfriend and I are moving to NYC in a few months and it sounds like you already know us – starry-eyed, willing to live like sardines, riddled with student debt. That's us!

    Thanks for these tips and please oh please keep them coming. 😉 God knows we need all the help we can get.

  • Reply SarahE July 10, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I live in a MUCH smaller city, but when my partner and I were apartment hunting, craigslist didn't turn up much for us. I had made a ton of appts to see both independent and professionally managed complexes, but in the end, we put 300 miles on our rental car just circling blocks, looking for signs out front. That's how we stumbled onto our current little 450 sq ft apt, and we have a fantastic landlord- which is hard to screen for in listings.

  • Reply Drew Frohn July 10, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I found my tiny apartment (in Philadelphia) directly through the landlord on Craigslist as well. Last week marked exactly one year living in the space, and I still can't imagine being any happier anywhere else!

  • Reply Amanda July 10, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    Prepare thyself to apply on the spot; a little moxie may not hurt, either.

    Following a year of Craigslist searches and great hope in the face of bathrooms lacking sinks, I was told that someone else had already applied for my current apartment. I politely asked the broker to ring me back just as soon as that applicant backed out, and she did. I was in Brooklyn with the deposit an hour later.

  • Reply Emily July 10, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    My partner and I have lived in a 400 square foot "junior one bedroom" apartment in Oakland, CA for the last year and a half. We have eight bicycles between us hanging on a single wall of our living room/kitchen, which gobble up a good 50 square feet. We both finally landed post-graduate school jobs so we've been fantasizing about moving to a larger space. But as always, your blog makes me feel empowered to make our little space work for a while longer. We also have a lot of student debt we need to pay down. With new jobs, we have the illusion that we can live a little larger (spatially!), but really, the smart thing to do is to maintain (or even reduce) our current spending and expense patterns, pay down some debt, and start saving for once in our lives. This is all to say that I will continue coming here for inspiration for living joyfully (to borrow from Jodi above) within our means.

  • Reply Beth July 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Great tips, and I agree with Amanda! Once you do find a place, you want to nab it quickly, and prepping your paperwork is invaluable in competitive cities. When my husband and I moved from NYC to LA, we came with pre-prepared "rental packets" containing the standard things landlords typically ask for: letter of employment/copies of work contracts (for freelancers), ID copies, pay stub and bank statement copies, list of references (including our previous landlord). When we finally found our place, we had the lease signed within 24 hours.

    In terms of finding, we found our former NY apartment through a no-fee broker (the fee is paid by the landlord). We found our LA apartment by hoofing it around our desired neighborhood, using as a guide (an LA-specific listing site with a fee). is another great listing site. I spend entirely too much time on there!

  • Reply Lexie July 10, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    My roommate and I just found a house to rent in East Nashville (the Brooklyn of the South, jk;), and we checked Craigslist about 8-9 times a day! Sometimes we would text each other links and the listing would ALREADY be removed by the time the text sent! It was nuts! Keep on the hunt, and email immediately even if it isnt the most ideal listing in pictures!

  • Reply runningtindera July 11, 2013 at 5:03 am

    hi there. we found ours by looking up studios on google. then we came across streeteasy and hotpads. you really have to do a lot of research online but thats why its great that at this time and age we have the technology at our disposal! heck we even have apps that tell us where we are and the distance from where we are going. so use all that and youll land your dream loft or apartment. it is not easy to tell you the truth but it helps to look, look and look=)

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