life in a tiny apartment.

February 5, 2014

Tip #91: Make a portfolio.

Thanks so much for all of your kind words about the apartment search. As my mom would say: Onward and upward!

Since we’re back on the hunt, I thought it might be useful to provide a little snippet into what it takes it rent an apartment (of any size) in New York City. When we first moved to Brooklyn almost three years ago, we had no idea what we were in for. We had always just wooed landlords with our good looks and sparkly personalities, but in New York City most real estate brokers and landlords require a little more than that. Happily, we found a place on Craigslist directly through a landlord and kind of slipped through the bureaucratic cracks.

This time, we haven’t been so lucky, so with a fervor I haven’t experienced since putting the final construction paper finishes on a book report about The Diary of Anne Frank in 5th grade, I put together a neat little PDF of all the documents we’ve been asked to produce.

Here’s what’s in our ‘rental portfolio’ (copies of everything for both me and James):

  • Pay stubs: our last two 
  • Bank statements: from the last 2 months
  • Tax returns: first two pages which lists our total income
  • Letter of Employment: a signed letter affirming that we’re employed and our yearly salary
  • Copies of Photo ID: James and I both have amazing hat hair in our NY State licenses. Couples that go to the DMV together, stay together
  • Credit reports: brokers and landlords sometimes insist on running these reports themselves (and they charge anywhere from $30 – $75 for each report. We pulled our own reports on ($1.00 to save as PDF) and that’s sometimes been enough.
Beyond this list of documents, it’s typical that brokers and landlords expect that your yearly salary equals 40 times your monthly rent. (All I have to say about that is thank goodness James and I have each other otherwise we’d both be living in closets somewhere.)
Most landlords also expect the first month’s rent on signing, plus a security deposit of the same amount. Real sticklers also ask for the last month’s rent. If you work with a broker, you can expect to pay 12 – 15% of your yearly rent for their fee. 
If you just did a mental calculation of how much it might cost to move into a modestly priced apartment and nearly choked, then you feel my pain. It’s a small fortune, no matter how you look it. But at least now you’re prepared. Happy portfolio making, fellow renters, and GODSPEED.

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  • Reply Karen - Quilts...etc. February 5, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    wow – had no idea what it takes to get an apartment in your city – I think i will stick with small town/country living 🙂 good luck

  • Reply Liz Woodbury February 5, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    Please tell me that you meant to say "40 times your MONTHLY rent"!!! Egad, either way it seems nearly impossible.

    • Reply Erin February 5, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      yes, indeed! edited!

  • Reply Danielle E. Alvarez February 5, 2014 at 4:40 pm

    This list is golden – thank you! I may very well need it sometime soon 🙂 wishing you the best as you continue with the search for your next home sweet home!

  • Reply J and H from Beyond The Stoop February 5, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    I feel your pain right now. after going through all of that several times in Hoboken (still sky high rent even though it's not even in NYC), we scored a rather disgusting 2nd floor apartment in a brownstone in downtown jersey city, right in the center of it all, and just 2 blocks from the grove street train for just $900/month, month to month lease, no deposit, no up front rent, no broker fee. a little elbow grease and a landlord that let us renovate whatever we wanted so long as we paid for it, we now have a beautiful, stylish, welcoming home. the kicker? we decided it's now time to buy…. you're in for a REAL treat when you take that plunge. best of luck with finding a new place! your hard work will pay off in the end 🙂

    jenn @ beyond the stoop


  • Reply Lauren Ashley February 5, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    Oh man, I feel your pain. Same story here in San Francisco … yikes!

  • Reply kari February 5, 2014 at 5:28 pm

    40 times?! I knew it was expensive to live in NYC, but I had no idea part of the "expense" would be salary expectations so much in excess of rent.

  • Reply Abby A February 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Renting an apartment in NYC brought so much anxiety to my life! Probably the most stressful thing I've been through. I definitely don't make 40x the rent, but thankfully I used my parents as guarantors to make things easier, but I would be so freaked out if I didn't have them to rely on.

  • Reply laura February 5, 2014 at 6:09 pm

    good golly. in maine all it takes is a handshake and a few good notes of reference! i feel for you! you'd think you would get some leniency with the bump!

  • Reply Amy@OldSweetSong February 5, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    It is the worst.

  • Reply Anonymous February 5, 2014 at 6:16 pm

    Oh my goodness! That's crazy expensive!

  • Reply Stefanie February 5, 2014 at 6:33 pm

    Woah. This is why I picked Los Angeles. Also, the weather 😉
    Good luck finding a new place!

  • Reply Emily February 5, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    Yikes. In Ohio, all I had to do was sign on the dotted line. The whole process took about 15 minutes from the second I stepped into the rental office.

  • Reply Neurotic Workaholic February 5, 2014 at 6:55 pm

    40 times your yearly salary?? Yeeesh. Guess I'll never be able to afford an apartment in New York then, though apartments don't come cheap in Chicago either.

    • Reply Erin February 5, 2014 at 6:59 pm

      40x your *monthly* salary.

  • Reply Linda February 5, 2014 at 7:36 pm

    Apartment hunting in New York is comparable to being mugged. However, on the 2nd time around I did learn a few things to avoid/reduce the broker fees.

    I liked using to look for apartments, they generally have a 7% broker fee but it's higher if there's a co-broker. However, sometimes you can find the same apartment on for no fee. Sneaky brokers! I also used to check if there were any problems with the building, these include things like pests, electrical problems and tenant complaints which can be public record. Finally there's, it's a weekly email list of studio and apartment spaces oriented towards artists in the city. It's safer than craigslist because folks have to pay to place ads on the listing. I hope that's helpful. Good luck with your search!

  • Reply Danielle Alexander February 5, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    Yikes! You are a saint for going through all that and deserve the best, new little space for you, hubby, and babe to be. Good luck!

  • Reply Kirstin February 5, 2014 at 8:19 pm

    Oh gosh, in Belgium we got an awesome place (even after it was promised to another couple!) just because we have a kid. Babies trump everybody else! what a bummer that it's not as simple everywhere. Good luck with your search!

  • Reply Portlandier February 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Holy moly. I thought it was expensive for me to move to LA!

  • Reply Beth February 5, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    Yikes! Looks like I'll be staying in Chicago or heading back to Atlanta! Best wishes!!

  • Reply Charlotte London February 5, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Oh good lord that sounds painful… they really like to double and triple check everything before letting you in, huh
    Charlotte x
    The London Project

  • Reply Claudia February 6, 2014 at 12:19 am

    I hope they don't ask for your first-born child too in case something goes south!

    • Reply Erin February 6, 2014 at 1:54 am

      Only the worst cases…

  • Reply April February 6, 2014 at 1:29 am

    This process sounds no different than in other city's. We've rented in Denver and Nashville in the last 18 months and had to do the same. New Yorkers crack me up.

    • Reply Erin February 6, 2014 at 1:53 am

      Fascinating! We've rented three apartments before this one–two in North Carolina and one in Rhode Island–and haven't encountered the same rigor. Would be so curious to know more about the process in other places.

    • Reply Abbie February 6, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      I've rented in Princeton, NJ, Los Angeles, and Tampa, FL and NOTHING compares to NY. April must have terrible luck. I've never even heard of any other city having the 40x rule. When my roommate found our place in Brooklyn (in 2004, before it was "cool") her dad still had to sign our lease as a guarantor, as did all of our friends' parents after we moved out of the NYU dorms and into "real" apartments. At 21, who on earth makes that much money!? None of us did! ha. Good luck Erin, you'll find the perfect place, all your readers are pulling for you!

    • Reply Anonymous February 7, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      I live in Boston and I can attest to it being just as bad, if not worse, as New York. At least New York has more housing stock and public transport that runs a bit more frequently to allow people to live a bit farther from where they work. Boston is over-priced, and practically every apartment comes with a nice "broker-free." And don't even get me started on all the students whose parents gladly shell out $3000/month for 700sq ft dumps that allow this madness to continue!

  • Reply olivia jamie February 6, 2014 at 1:35 am

    Yes, ma'am. Going through that for immigration. Baby steps and yes, onward and upward. Well done.

    • Reply Erin February 6, 2014 at 1:53 am

      Good luck!

  • Reply Heather February 6, 2014 at 3:15 am

    My guy & I are apartment hunting in NYC right now too. 40x the rent is f-ing brutal. Nothing like a 15% brokers fee to make you curse the New York gods and wonder, Is this all really worth it?

    (It is, though. It is!)

  • Reply Brooke February 6, 2014 at 3:19 am

    Wow so much you need! This is certainly good to know just in case!

  • Reply andee / payingoffthehouse February 6, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    That is more than it took to buy our current house! That's wild.

  • Reply Nicki Marshek February 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    I feel your pain, Erin! My husband and I just moved into a beautiful sublet in Crown Heights 6 days ago, and now we're getting kicked out because no one told us we couldn't have our cat. We don't make anywhere near enough to qualify for our own apartment yet, and finding a sublet without roommates is brutal! Back to the drawing board. Good luck to you!!

  • Reply Rachel February 6, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    Totally read that wrong and thought you were saying you needed your MONTHLY salary to be 40x the rent! I was wondering how anyone in NYC has an apartment, ever! It's similar here – most places say a monthly salary has to be 3x or 4x your rent.

    BUT, our rental market is nothing compared to yours! I can't even imagine the broker craziness. We moved into our current place knowing we might move once our lease is up in a year but I'd never have been willing to do that if we were in NYC.

    You're so prepared – something will pop up and you'll be on it!

  • Reply Anonymous February 6, 2014 at 6:01 pm

    San Francisco is similar, which is why I'm living in what used to be a garage with my boyfriend. Thank god the neighborhood is great and the landlord wonderful. Good luck!

  • Reply NR February 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    It is more or less the same deal in DC…Good luck!

  • Reply sandra February 6, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I know your pain from first hand experience. When I became pregnant, while living in Bushwick – a district with no good public schools – I panicked and promptly set into motion a plan to move to Greenpoint. Every effort of which failed miserably. In the end we realized that living in a smaller, more rundown apartment and paying twice what we already pay just wasn't worth the herculean efforts we were expending. We remain in Bushwick and we like it there.

  • Reply DeAnna February 6, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Wow. It was easier and less invasive for my husband to buy in a major city (Atlanta, GA) than for you to rent. Good luck… can't wait to see where you three land! 🙂

  • Reply Jennifer February 7, 2014 at 2:10 am

    Geez. That's what it takes for a mortgage where I'm from… not a simple rental.

  • Reply Daina Ankrum February 9, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    I totally feel your pain! Apartment hunting in NYC is one of the most stressful experiences. When I moved into my first apartment on my own without roommates, the stress of rents and broker fees was horrible. I ended up finding a place on Craigslist that I loved, but was forced to pay a broker over $2,000 because that was the only way I could rent it! So ridiculous! My boyfriend and I are lucky; right now we are living in a house in Astoria and are not on a lease. Fingers crossed our living situation stays so easy! Good luck to you guys!

  • Reply Amanda February 10, 2014 at 12:52 am

    Make sure you cancel your account with freecreditreport, otherwise they charge a monthly fee automatically.

  • Reply Becca - Rebecca Atwood Designs February 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    Moving in NY is one of the most stressful things I've ever done. I'm sending good thoughts your way and hope the process is smooth! Our first time moving was a nightmare…but the second time we found a no-fee apartment listed by the landlord in Brooklyn. I don't ever want to have to move again…but I know it's inevitable. Good luck!!

  • Reply Molly February 11, 2014 at 12:12 am

    I just went through this process and paid out my nose for it, and still feel like I experienced a real estate miracle by virtue of the fact that I found an affordable (by Brooklyn standards) 1 bedroom capable of housing both me and a baby that was not in a demilitarized zone. I wish this or better for you!

  • Reply Ashlee February 12, 2014 at 6:23 pm

    And I thought that finding a great one bedroom/studio apartment near campus with moderate rent in a college town was an impossible task/hassle. Best of luck to you on finding your new space!

  • Reply Laura - Artifact Uprising February 12, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    Sheez, feel you on this one! Just moved out of Brooklyn. Crossing my fingers that you find that magical new space!!

  • Reply May 15, 2014 at 1:20 am

    I feel your pain having been through a few NYC housing hunts. Right now, I just applied to rent a condo and the board's application process is more invasive than when I purchased a condo in another city. I am not exaggerating.

    But I like to think it's worth it to live in such a wonderful city. Hope you're enjoying the new home.

  • Reply vancouver furnished suites September 28, 2014 at 4:39 am

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