Moving to NYC: The Ultimate Guide

Moving to NYC comes with a unique set of challenges. How do you choose a neighborhood? Find an apartment? This ultimate guide answers these questions and more.
Moving to NYC

So you’re moving to NYC. Whether you’re relocating for a job, to go to school, to pursue a passion, or simply for a new adventure, you’re far from alone — the Department of City Planning estimates that just over 150,000 people move to the Big Apple every year.

New York is the biggest city in the United States (as well as one of the most expensive), which means moving there comes with some unique challenges that don’t necessarily exist when moving to other places. Getting ready for your move might take a little extra planning and preparation.

Ahead of your move to the Big Apple, read this guide. In it, we explain how to plan your move to NYC, how to choose a neighborhood and find an apartment, and all the steps you should take as you get ready and begin your move.

What NYC Neighborhood Should You Live In

Get to know each NYC borough

Decide what’s important to you in a NYC neighborhood

Factor in your commuting needs

Spend time in your neighborhood before you commit

Finding an Apartment in NYC

Should you rent or buy an apartment in NYC?

Should you live alone or with roommates?

How brokerage fees work with NYC apartments

How to find an apartment in NYC

Moving to NYC Checklist

Use Neighbor to Find Storage in NYC

What NYC Neighborhood Should You Live In

New York City is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. Within the five boroughs are hundreds of neighborhoods, all with their own quirks, flairs, and paces of life. If you’ve never lived in NYC before, you’ll want to start your moving process with a lot of research. Here’s what to consider.

RELATED: Check out our guide to moving to a new state for more tips about relocating in the U.S.

Get to know each NYC borough

Each of NYC’s five boroughs has its own style. Manhattan is what most people think of when they think “New York City” — the densely populated downtown area that includes neighborhoods like the Financial District, Midtown, and the East and West sides. Staten Island is more suburban, with single-family homes and wide open spaces — but no subway lines. Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx include everything in between.

The best way to get to know the boroughs is to pound the pavement — spend some time in each of them to see what you like and dislike. But if that isn’t possible, the city’s tourism agency offers a guide to the boroughs and neighborhoods that will be a good place to start.

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Decide what’s important to you in a NYC neighborhood

What you want and need from your neighborhood will also help narrow down your choices.

For example, if your budget is your biggest constraint, it will immediately knock some of NYC’s pricier neighborhoods, like many of those in Manhattan, out of the running.

Do you want your neighborhood to be walkable? To have less noise? To offer access to outdoor space? To be full of nightlife or cultural activities? Your answers to these kinds of questions will help you choose the neighborhood that’s right for you.

Create a prioritized list of what you want from your neighborhood, and then compare it to the research you’ve done, or ask someone who knows the city, like a local friend or a real estate broker, to help you choose areas that might fit your wants and needs.

Factor in your commuting needs 

The average one-way commute time in NYC is around 36 minutes. If you have a job in New York that requires you to go into an office, you might consider proximity to work or nearby subway station when choosing which NYC neighborhood to live in.

Your daily work commute aside, be sure to also consider how you plan to get around the city. In NYC, it’s not common for people to own their own cars — many rely on the city’s vast network of buses, subways, taxis, and other public transit options instead. But there are parts of the city where public transit is less accessible — Staten Island, for example, has no subways, and is only accessible by ferry and a sometimes unreliable bus line. If you plan to explore the city extensively via public transportation, choosing a neighborhood with easy access to multiple transit lines might be the way to go.

Spend time in your neighborhood before you commit 

If at all possible, spend some time in your desired neighborhood before you commit to a lease. Look for a short-term rental or a furnished sublet where you can book a temporary stay  to get a taste of the history and what living in the area will actually be like. That way, you won’t lock yourself into a lease in an area that doesn’t end up living up to your expectations.

Finding an Apartment in NYC

When moving to NYC, it’s not easy to find the perfect apartment that meets all your needs when it comes to location, space, and price. Demand for the best apartments is high, and it may take time and a lot of searching to find an apartment that offers most of what you need.

Here’s everything to know about finding your NYC home.

Should you rent or buy an apartment in NYC?

NYC is a city of renters, which goes against traditional wisdom that you should strive to build equity by owning your home. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy a home in NYC — many people still do.

When considering whether to rent or buy an apartment in NYC, you’ll need to take a few things into account:

  • Your lifestyle. Do you want to be tied down to a piece of property at this stage in your life?
  • Your budget. Rents in NYC are high, but property values are, too — Zillow reports that the median price of homes currently listed in NYC is more than $775,000. Even a small apartment will cost hundreds of thousands, and, depending on the neighborhood, could easily creep into the millions of dollars. Plus, owned units typically come with maintenance fees, which can add hundreds or thousands of dollars on top of your monthly mortgage payment.
  • Your short and long term goals. Do you intend to stay in NYC for a long time? Do you want to have a family someday? Is your career established, and could you need to relocate for a better job prospect sometime in the near future? All of these questions should be taken into consideration when choosing whether to rent or buy.

There’s no one right answer for everyone. Ultimately, your financial situation and personal preferences will help you decide.

Should you live alone or with roommates?

Another consideration when choosing an apartment in NYC is whether you’ll live alone, or with roommates. This is another decision that just comes down to personal choice, and will depend on factors like your lifestyle and your budget.

In general, there are three options to choose from:.

If you choose to live alone, you’ll be responsible for the full rent and utilities, all upfront costs and fees to move in, and for furnishing the entire home. For those who have a large or flexible budget, this is certainly doable. Many people prefer not to share their space with roommates, and are willing to pay more to avoid it.

For those who are working with a more limited budget, however, sharing the costs of a home with another person can open up different neighborhoods and larger or nicer apartments.

If you want to choose to live with a roommate, you’ll be able to split all the upfront and move-in costs for the apartment with the other person (or people), as well as find a space that fits everyone’s needs.

Of course, finding a compatible roommate comes with its own challenges. If you don’t know anyone in the city who you’d want to live with and who is seeking a roommate, there are online services that help match potential roommates with one another. RoomZoom is one that uses an extensive questionnaire to match roommates based on their budgets, cleanliness, lifestyles, and more.

Finding a vacant room or sublet might be the best choice if you’re less picky about your space and roommate, looking for a short term rental with more flexibility, or you want to avoid the upfront costs that come with leasing and furnishing a new apartment.

In these cases, you’ll split the rent and other bills, but costs like the broker fee and deposit will often already have been paid. If you don’t have a lot of furniture, this can be an ideal way to rent, since common spaces in the apartment may already be furnished.

How brokerage fees work with NYC apartments

Historically, NYC renters have had to also factor brokerage fees into their apartment hunting decisions.

An apartment in NYC with a broker’s fee essentially comes with a commission — the broker would charge the tenant, on average, 12-15% of one year’s rent as a sort of “finder’s fee” for connecting them with the landlord. Using a broker (and paying a broker’s fee) often means you have access to a broker’s “secret” listings and network of landlords, plus the broker does a lot of the work of filtering through listings and setting up appointments for you.

No-fee apartments in NYC can be found, but it takes a lot more legwork on the tenant’s part — you’ll have to search through listings yourself and set up your own appointments. Plus, many NYC apartment listings you encounter will end up being fake or scams, so you have to look out for that.

In January of 2020, New York State issued new guidance on the 2019 Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act. They said that under the new law, it was illegal for brokers to collect fees from tenants if they were acting on a landlord’s behalf. The Real Estate Board of New York and the New York State Association of Realtors quickly filed a lawsuit, and as of now, a judge has reversed the guidance that made broker’s fees illegal.

Things are still up in the air, though, so watch this as New York legislators make new laws — there’s still a push to eliminate the costly burden of requiring tenants to pay brokers’ fees. In the meantime, if you don’t want to pay a broker, focus your NYC apartment search using tools and websites that allow you to search specifically for “no-fee” listings.

How to find an apartment in NYC

As you become more familiar with the neighborhoods and boroughs in NYC that best match your lifestyle, budget, and apartment-living needs, finding your apartment will be a little easier if you follow these tips below.

Set a budget 

In NYC, rent to income ratios tend to be higher than in many other places, simply because rents in the city are so high (not to mention the cost of living, which is higher than many other parts of the U.S. in tandem with high rents). Still, taking the time to set a budget will give you a clear idea on what you can afford to  pay monthly on rent without overextending yourself. A good rule of thumb is to pay no more than 30% of your monthly income in rent, and expect to pay about three months’ rent in move-in costs and fees.

If you need some help with this, StreetEasy offers an affordability calculator that allows you to enter your income, number of roommates, and whether you have a guarantor to see what you can afford in monthly rent. The calculator also displays what you can expect to pay in upfront costs and fees, and allows you to click directly into a page that shows listings within your price range.


Be ready to pay move-in costs and fees

Most NYC apartments will come with a security deposit of at least one month’s rent. In addition to that, many landlords will expect first and last month’s rent at move in. Then, if your apartment has a broker’s fee, that will be another month’s rent or so.

In general, expect to pay the same amount as about three month’s rent at move-in, but know that costs can be even higher than that. Without some money in savings, you’ll have a hard time renting a NYC apartment.

Be flexible

Even after all the time you spent choosing the right neighborhood and living arrangement, know that you might have to make changes to that plan. Getting an apartment in NYC can be so tough, so you have to be willing to be flexible and compromise.

This is where that priority list of what you want or need in a NYC apartment will come in handy. Say, for example, you find two apartments that fit your budget. Apartment A is larger and more modern, but will require a longer commute to the office. Meanwhile, Apartment B is cramped, but it’s in your ideal neighborhood with a short commute to work. Here you’ll have to decide if you want to place higher priority on having more space, or being in a better location.

Search a lot of apartment listings 

Even if you’re working with a broker, you want to search as far and wide as possible to find the perfect NYC apartment. That means searching through listings in a lot of different places on several different platforms to ensure you’re seeing all potential options available to you.

Some popular sites for NYC apartment listings include:

Take pictures and bring a tape measurer for apartment showings

When you’re hunting for an apartment in a market as competitive as New York City’s, you never know when you might have to drop everything and head to an apartment showing. That’s why it’s so important to keep a tape measure with you at all times — so whenever you see a new apartment, you can take measurements and make sure your things will fit.

When you go to showings, make sure to also take as many pictures as possible. That will help when you’re going back over listings and can’t remember which apartment had that extra cabinet space in the kitchen, or which one had dingy carpet floors.

Have your documents ready to go 

Before you even start your search, gather all the documents you’ll need to apply for and rent an apartment. These include:

  • A photo ID.
  • Proof of employment, such as pay stubs, bank statements, or a letter of employment that includes your salary.
  • A reference letter from a past landlord.
  • Two years’ tax returns. If you’re self employed, you may also want a letter from your account verifying your income.
  • A copy of your credit report. The landlord will run their own credit check, but this is good to have so you know if there will be any problems with your credit that you’ll need to discuss with the landlord.

Be ready to move quickly when you find an apartment

In NYC, apartments sometimes get rented so quickly, someone else might pay the deposit while you’re still thinking about it. This is especially true for good apartments, so if you find one you love (or even like), it’s in your best interest to move quickly to lock it in.

Be prepared by bringing your documents to every showing, as well as your checkbook. Make sure you’re ready to pay a deposit on the spot, since that’s typically what it takes to hold an apartment in your name.

Moving to NYC Checklist

You finally found an apartment. Congratulations! You’ve accomplished one of the hardest things about moving to NYC. Now you can focus on the move itself.

Use this checklist to prepare for your move, and keep in mind that some things about moving to a city as big as New York will be more challenging than you expect. Take a deep breath and remember that everything will be alright in the end.

  • Start by getting rid of as many belongings as possible. NYC apartments are small, and shipping and moving items is expensive. In many ways, it’s easier to start fresh in NYC, only taking what you need and getting the rest once you’re there.
  • Measure your space carefully, especially doors, hallways, and entrances. In older New York buildings, some furniture just won’t fit. Calculating the square footage in advance will save you a lot of hassle.
  • Decide how you’ll get your belongings to New York. Be aware that many movers and container moving companies don’t operate in the city because it’s so difficult to park for loading and unloading. Take your new apartment’s location into account when deciding how you’ll move. In many cases, it’s more affordable and convenient to pare down your belongings and ship everything
  • Conduct a change of address and transfer your information to your new address.
  • Set up your wifi and utilities ahead of time, so they’re ready to use on the day you move in.
  • Secure packing supplies. You can also save on moving costs by finding free moving boxes
  • If you choose to move without the help of a professional moving service, make sure you bring a friend on moving day to watch the moving truck while you’re unloading.
  • If you’re moving to NYC without a car, utilize services like Zipcar to take trips to stores to get the things you need once you’re in NYC.
  • Take advantage of e-commerce sites that offer free shipping, even on large furniture pieces. In some cases, it might be cheaper to buy new furniture than ship or move what you already have.

RELATED: Check out our Ultimate Moving Checklist for a more comprehensive, week-by-week moving plan.

Use Neighbor to Find Storage in NYC

Once you’re all settled into your NYC apartment, you might find that you have too many belongings for the space. It happens — city apartments tend to be tight spaces!

You can avoid the added high cost of reserving a storage unit and find a much more affordable storage space in NYC by using Neighbor. As a peer-to-peer self storage solution, Neighbor will connect you with hosts nearby with available space where you can store your belongings you may not be able to fit into your apartment. Avoid high monthly fees at self storage facilities, and instead store your things safely with a Neighbor.