In a city of single-digit vacancy rates, there are some compelling reasons to pay a good real estate agent to find you a rental: You’re new in town (read this first), you’re busy, you can’t find what you want on your own, and/or you plan to stay put for a couple of years or more.
But the reasons not to work with a broker can be compelling too—such as, you can’t afford the fee (typically ranging from one-month’s rent to 15% of a year’s rent) or you just don’t want to pay if you can help it, and you’ve got time and energy to do the legwork on your own.
To help you get started on the right foot in the dog-eat-dog May-October rental season, here's our annual update of the best places to start your no-fee apartment search online.
Among the websites below that display listings, most get them directly from landlords, management companies, and/or brokers whose fee is being paid by the landlord. Some carry both fee- and no-fee listings but provide a filter to search no-fee listings only.
While you'll definitely find some overlap in listings, you will still 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:
A relative newcomer to the apartment search scene, Apartable offers listings with and without broker fees and has dedicated an entire section of its site to no-fee listings. It's dominated by Manhattan listings--from landlords, management companies, and brokers whose fee is paid by the landlord--though there are some in Brooklyn and Queens.
Apartable helpfully "ranks" listings for you, displaying them not only in terms of freshness but also how "good" the listing is--typically measured by thoroughness. For example, a listing that includes 10 photos, a detailed description of the apartment and the amount of the security deposit and other fees will rank higher than one that includes just a single photo and the number of bedrooms.
You can also search by the date the apartment will be available rather than just by the date the listing is posted, and sign up for a daily alert for new search results to be delivered to your email box. Another useful feature: Apartable requires submission of actual addresses (even if they're not publicly displayed on the site) and doublechecks that the neighborhood classification is accurate rather than a bit of marketing hyperbole (eg East 112th Street is actually East Harlem, not the Upper East Side).
Call it what you like—necessary evil, bait-and-switch.con or an addiction—Craigslist is still a viable player when it comes to finding no-fee apartments. You can search its NYC apartment rental section 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.”
Though some say as few as 1 in 10 listings are accurate, Craigslist is still the best place to find apartments listed by small landlords and a good place to turn if you're looking in Brooklyn or Queens.
You can't sign up for a daily alert, but instead of hitting refresh dozens of times a day, subscribe to the RSS feed by clicking at the link at the bottom right of the list you're viewing.
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 watch out for brokers posing as owners in order to list their apartments for free.
Don't be shy. Countless NYC renters find a rental 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 an artist, The Listings Project is a free weekly email newsletter that is about as grassrooots 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 renew directly with the landlord.)
Because brokers are not allowed to post on the list and it costs $20 to post a listing, 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 frutiful 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.
Next to the listed rent for each apartment is an estimate of how over- or under-priced the apartment is, based on the median rents for similar apartments in the neighborhood.
No-frills NYBits deals exclusively in no-fee apartments, drawing its listings from property management companies, landlords and brokers whose fee is being paid by the owner. (Broker listings are in the minority, because most decline to disclose the addresses of their listings.)
For proactive apartment hunters who want to head upstream for future availabilities and apartments that may not be advertised for rent (too many vacancies can project an unwanted atmosphere of negotiability), NYBits also lists property managers and rental buildings that deal directly with renters. There are also lists of buildings by characteristic including pet friendly, pool, garage etc.
StreetEasy gets listings from major brokerages, management companies and owners, and lets you search for apartments listed “by owner” as well as “broker, no fee.”
The site 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, neighborhood information like school zone and commutability, and much more.
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.
Started in 2010 by the folks behind The Online Marketing Group, which provides marketing services for New York City landlords and management firms, UrbanEdgeNY.com carries no-fee listings only.
Like NYBits, you can also find lists of property management companies and landlords in case you want to take your search to the next level, phoning directly for availabilities that aren't listed online. There is also a list of newer rental buildings.
Finally, if you exhaust your no-fee options (or are just plain exhausted!), sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered to BrickUndergrounders by our 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% of a year's rent instead of the usual 12-15%. Bonus: They're a delight to deal with.