In a city with shockingly slim pickings for rentals, it can make sense to pay a real estate broker to find you a place: You’re new in town (read this first), way too busy, you can’t find what you want on your own, and/or you plan to stay put for at least a couple of years.
But not working with a broker has its benefits too. Why pay the typical fee of 12 to 15 percent of a year's rent when you've got the time and perseverance to do the legwork on your own?
To start you off on the right foot, here's BrickUnderground's annual update of the best places to kick off your no-fee apartment search online.
These websites (all free to use) get their no-fee listings directly from landlords, management companies, and/or brokers whose fee is being paid by the landlord. Some list both fee- and no-fee rentals but let you filter your search to display no-fee listings only.
While you'll definitely find some duplication in listings, you'll need to play the field in order to get the most comprehensive view you can get (online anyway) of what’s out there.
Here's where to start:
Apartable's no-fee listings are dominated by Manhattan apartments--from landlords, management companies, and brokers whose fee is paid by the landlord--though some are in Brooklyn and Queens.
Apartable requires submission of actual addresses (even if they're not publicly displayed on the site), and checks that the neighborhood classification is accurate rather than a bit of marketing hyperbole (for example, East 112th Street is actually part of East Harlem, not the Upper East Side). Knowing the real address also means that the estimated walking time to the nearest subway line, displayed next to each listing, is more likely to be accurate.
To help make sure you're not dealing with a slumlord before you sign a lease, you can look up the building and the landlord on Apartable to see building violations, complaints by tenants to the city, and more. (For an even deeper dive on the building and the 'hood--including estimated elevator wait times and nearby noise and rodent complaints--check out AddressReport, formerly known as Rentenna.)
Call it what you like—necessary evil, bait-and-switch.com or an addiction—Craigslist remains a viable player when it comes to finding no-fee apartments, though many renters these days prefer to conduct their Craigslist searches via Padmapper (more below).
On Craigslist's NYC apartment rental section, you can search by “all no-fee apartments” (which includes apartments listed by owners as well as by brokers whose fee is being paid by the owner) or “by-owner apartments only.” Click on the "map" tab to easily search by neighborhood.
Bear in mind that while Craigslist is still a good place to find apartments listed by small landlords and a necessary stop if you're looking in Brooklyn or Queens, some say as few as one in 10 listings are accurate. Keep your guard up for scams (such as too-good-to-be-true pictures, requests for cash wired in exchange for keys, vague answers to simple questions like, “When is the apartment available?”) and brokers posing as owners in order to list their apartments for free.
Don't be shy. Countless NYC renters find a place without a broker simply by posting a message to their friends on Facebook.
You may find someone whose lease is about to end or who is aware of an upcoming vacancy in their building or a friend's. Ask your friends to share your message with their networks too.
Curated by artist Stephanie Diamond, Listings Project is a free weekly email newsletter that is about as grassroots as they come. You'll find apartments for rent as well as shares and sublets. (FYI, taking a sublet that runs to the end of the lease term is a tried-and-true way to avoid a broker fee as you can often, though not always, renew directly with the landlord.) You can also place a listing explaining what you're looking for.
Brokers are not allowed to post on the list and it costs $20 to publish a listing, so the odds that what you read is what you get are vastly higher than, say, on Craigslist.
Listings tend to come from the "creative community," so this is a particularly fruitful source of opportunities in established and up-and-coming areas of Brooklyn.
Although it has many more listings for "fee" apartments, Naked Apartments has a decent number of listings from brokers whose fee is paid by the landlord or management company. To see them, click on the "Filter" button at the top of the screen and select "No Fee." (Naked Apartments' "low fee" filter pulls up rentals with broker's fees of 9 percent or less.)
For each apartment, you can compare photos and descriptions posted by multiple agents. You can also schedule an appointment to see the apartment right away by clicking the orange "Go See It" button.
To help scam-proof its listings, Naked Apartments screens agents by verifying their licensing information, and landlords by asking to see utility bills, a scanned copy of a lease for sublettors, or by checking that they are the owner of record.
No-frills NYBits deals mostly in no-fee apartments, drawing its listings from property management companies, landlords and brokers whose fee is being paid by the owner.
For proactive apartment hunters who want to upstream the competition and find apartments not yet advertised for rent, NYBits also lists contact information for property managers and rental buildings that deal directly with renters. These are usually--but not always--no fee, so be sure to ask. Have a dog or need a garage? NYBits also groups buildings by characteristic including pet friendly, pool, garage, and so on.
As its name suggests, Padmapper lets you search for apartments via a giant map. To narrow results down to no-fee listings only, click "Show More Filters" at the bottom left of the screen, and then check off the "no-fee" box next to "Require."
Many if not most of Padmapper's no-fee New York City listings come from Craigslist, and many renters find it easier to use Padmapper to search Craigslist. Why? On Padmapper, you can sign up for alerts for new Craigslist listings that fit your requirements--so you don't have to keep checking back every half hour to stay on top of the competition--and search by keywords, as well as filter results by things like price-per-bedroom and commute time to your office.
To establish yourself as a solid candidate from the get-go, Padmapper lets you pull up your credit score and send it along with your mini-profile to any listings that catch your eye. You can also hit the streets armed with Padmapper via the site's iPhone and Android apps.
Relaunched earlier this year as an entirely free site, StreetEasy also shows price history for every listing, so you can see the last price the apartment was listed at (though this can vary from the actual agreed-upon rent), as well as other current and former availabilities in the building, building amenities, neighborhood information like school zone and nearby public transport, and much more (washer/dryer in the apartment? yes, please!) via its"advanced search" options.
Like some of the other sites mentioned here, StreetEasy lets you “save” searches and will email you about price changes and new listings that fit your parameters or are in your desired buildings.
Plus one to watch...
We're keeping an eye on RentHackr, where renters post information about their apartments and lease expirations to get the inside track on upcoming vacancies--so you can skip the broker by approaching management companies and landlords directly. When RentHackr reaches critical mass, things could get very interesting. The site plans to add no-fee listings from landlords and management companies later this year.
Finally, if you've exhausted the DIY method--or just feel exhausted--sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by BrickUnderground partner Suitey.com. An upstart, tech-savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of young Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment-search experiences of classmates and colleagues, Suitey agents typically charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent instead of the usual 12 to 15 percent. Bonus: They're a delight to deal with.