New York City Rental Insider: An Apartment Search that Narrowly Escaped Bedbugs

Originally from San Jose, CA, Tri Tong made it a goal to move to New York City after falling in love with the city during repeated visits. He made the move last August and hasn’t looked back since. Here’s Tri’s story behind navigating New York City’s crazy rental market.

Renter Profile: Tri Tong
Current Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Top 3 apartment qualities: Laundry, elevator, and not noisy. Granted everywhere in New York is noisy, but some places are louder than others. Right now I’m living next to a hospital and it’s pretty loud with ambulances and police cars driving by.
Tools used to find an apartment: Craigslist and word of mouth. 

@NYCphotos-flickrThe Upper East Side, by @NYCphotos-flickr via Flickr

HotPads: How did you kick off your housing search? Did you start really early?
Tri Tong:
I pretty much used Craigslist and word of mouth to get started. Craigslist is a bad place, though, with lots of spammy listings and brokers. My move was last minute, so I spent a month and a half searching while crashing with a friend. 


What was the biggest challenge apartment hunting in New York City?
It’s all about being there at the right moment, at the right time, when the apartment is available. Everything moves really fast – you need to make sure you’re prepared with the paperwork at the showing, or someone else will get the place. I worked, and once I got out and arrived at a showing, someone already got the place. It’s competitive


Did looking to live with roommates make things more difficult?
I can’t afford to live on my own, so I was interviewing with roommates. When you arrive at the showing, you have to make sure they like you. I met up with a group of people for a 5-bedroom place, and they had a 3-page interview questionnaire and an individual 40-minute interview with everyone. They knew it was a great place at a great price, but you had to jump through hoops to get it. It’s all about making sure they like you.


What were your priorities when finding a new place to live?
First of all, it’s about how much you can get. It’s normal for New Yorkers to spend the majority of their income on rent. Your income determines how much space you live in, so you work around that budget. For me, I was willing to spend $1,000-$1,200 so I figured it out from there. I was considering Brooklyn or even Harlem, but I came to NYC to live in the city, and I didn’t want to give that up.


What did you look for at each showing you attended?
The condition of the place, especially bedrooms and restrooms. The condition tells me a lot about who I’m going to live with – if they’re dirty or clean. I also looked at the neighborhood. I talked to friends to research the neighborhoods, and looked online for reviews. 


How did you find your current apartment?
My current place I found through a friend who was moving out. It was really easy, but my first place was in the Lower East Side and I found out it had a bedbug problem. I moved in on the first day, went out to dinner with friends, and came home late at night to discover a sheet next to the bed explaining how to get rid of bedbugs! Two weeks before, the apartment had gotten bedbugs. I grabbed all my essentials, left, and pretty much lived on my friend’s couch for 1½ months. It’s hard to trust anyone now after what I’ve been through.


A must-have in my apartment is…
One thing I absolutely have to have is laundry in my unit, but that’s a ridiculous request in New York. You have pay about $2,200/month or more to get in-unit laundry. You’re lucky if you have shared laundry.


Your best advice for other renters looking for a place to live in New York City:
It’s all about who you know. You want to know the history of the place so you can trust it. If you have money and want to save time, work with a broker. Working with a broker guarantees you a place and prevent problems like bedbugs. It’ll cost you, but it helps you search while you’re busy taking care of other things.