How to Get a No Fee Apartment in NYC

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If you live in New York City, you know that when it comes to renting an apartment, it's not uncommon to go through a broker. This was such a culture intrigue for me coming from Rochester (NY) and then having lived in Ohio for 5 years where you just go to the management office of any apartment complex, see a place, apply and move in. It can be quite the adventure finding apartments without a broker in this town but I was determined to find my new place without them. If you've got the time and energy to put into it, because you will need both to get through it, you can find a place in the Big Apple on your own without paying a middle man.

Did I have the means to pay a broker? Of course, I just didn't want to spend the money. My thought processing was it's an APARTMENT, not a house. I used a broker for my last place and told myself not again. Most brokers I've encountered charge you one month's rent, some charge you anywhere from 12-15% of a year's worth of rent. For an apartment? I don't care if it's NYC, no. This time around, I wanted to save that money I would have paid for a broker so that I'm closer to reaching my six month emergency savings fund. But maybe some of you want/need to move and really don't have the extra money to pay a broker. I will share how I did it. I will admit, it can be a lot of foot work and becomes another job almost (for a month my lunches were spent looking and making calls) but where there is a will, there is a way. If you don't want to or can't afford to pay the fee, you do have options that support this but be prepared to WORK, make lots of phone calls and experience some frustrations and missed opportunities. It comes with the territory but I believe everything happens for a reason so you have to see those missed opps as it wasn't the right place for you. Ready to roll up your sleeves and snag your no fee apartment?


First, I asked God for what I wanted and made up my mind to genuinely believe that I would find a no fee apartment that was what I wanted; that it was out there and existed. A lot of it is mental so that you will attract situations to support it. Then I gave gratitude for my new, no fee place before I ever saw it or the ad for it. I also got very specific about what I wanted in the apartment aesthetically, what kind of area, what kind of landlord/management, etc. and then I obsessed about it 24/7. I daydreamed about my apartment, I dreamed about apartment hunting and I used visualization to attract my apartment. Some of the aesthetic things I said I wanted were hardwood floors, high ceilings and sunny windows. I then put up pictures everywhere that represented those elements including my work and personal computer desktop backgrounds and my iPhone background so I could be reminded every day of what I wanted. If anything I wanted changed, I simply changed my thoughts and changed any pictures that didn't support what I wanted anymore. At first I thought, with my budget, I could only expect to get a studio apartment so I had a lot of pictures of studios with hardwood floors and such. Not wanting to limit myself, I made myself open to the fact that I could find one bedrooms in my range so I changed the photos. I took down the studio apartment photos and replaced them with one bedroom photos and kept any photos that represented other elements I wanted. I also originally wanted to stay in Queens until I changed my mind to move to Brooklyn. Once I changed my mind, I changed my thoughts and my searches. I thought about the apartment I wanted everyday, I border lined obsessed over it. Until I secured a place, what I wanted stayed on my mind and frequency daily.

In my 2013 vision board on Pinterest, I have pictures that represented what I wanted in an apartment. I wanted a place with hard wood floors so I added the pin/picture to the top right was about a recipe to make for shiny hard wood floors to attract it.

Like many, I first turned to Craigslist. It's gotten me all my apartments since living here. They list fee and no fee apartments available all over New York City. You can scale down your search results by selecting which borough you want to live in and there are also other search options to filter your results even more like by neighborhood, price range, bedrooms or specific words in descriptions. Beware that if you filter by no fee apartments you will still see some listings put up by brokers "by accident" or on the sly and it's totally annoying so read carefully and ask lots of questions when you call any listings. Many times you can tell if a broker is involved if it's the rent times 3 (deposit + 1st months rent + broker fee [which many times equals one month's rent]) to move in.

I also learned of and tried some of other online resources that I didn't know of until I embarked on this apartment hunting adventure:
This is a subscription service for direct information for available rentals. You pay a $26 fee to have access, for three months, to many of the same listings that brokers have access to. Your subscription expires after 3 months because they claim that you should be able to find something by then or earlier through their resources. This service wasn't a very helpful service for me but I also feel that I waited too late to subscribe and if maybe I had done it earlier it could have been a more viable resource for me. I can't give a fair review because I feel I utilized them too late and didn't get to really see if they were effective. Learn more about them at Rent Direct NY
This is another subscription service for direct information for available rentals. The lowest subscription option is about $120 for a 3 month subscription. This subscription only lasts for 3 months also because they claim, with their service, you should be able to find something within 3 months or less. I heavily contemplated subscribing but didn't. I heard mixed reviews about it. Some people had great results, others not so much.You will have to decide if you want to invest in it. $120 is definitely cheaper than a broker though!
I found a lot of listings on here; there is a mix of fee and no fee places so read the information carefully. I didn't have much luck with this one because many, not all, of the listings I called or emailed for more information on something I saw never got contacted with me. I think I couldn't contact listings fast enough because I would have to wait to call until I went to lunch.
This site was recommended to me by a few of my colleagues. They have no fee and fee listings. Like Hot Pads I didn't have much luck with any listings that I contacted getting back to me but this is just my experience.
This site wasn't helpful for me because, at the time, they didn't have listings for places within my budget. However, that doesn't mean that isn't a resource worth looking into. It's free to use and is a viable option, within your budget you may find tons of options.
At my time of moving they didn't have next to any listings within my budget but they had a lot of places posted up.Again, just because it didn't work for me doesn't mean that it won't help you find what you are looking for.

Some other sites you can check out that may be helpful: (classifieds)

So who did I end up snagging my no fee apartment that was what I wanted through?

Good ol Craigslist.

If it aint broke, don't try to fix it I suppose. In this town, it has been an invaluable resource for me to find places across all budget ranges. They are still a viable and hugely successful player in the game for finding apartments in New York City. Like anything else online, you do have to be careful for scams and use your better judgement. Craigslist has gotten a little better at weeding them out and many are flagged before you can even open them but you must use your common sense because many still slip through the cracks. Don't hate the player just change your strategy. Most of the listings are not scams so just read everything carefully and make yourself versed in typical rental prices for what you want in the area you want. If a two bedroom apartment in Ft. Greene [Brooklyn] is listed for $900 a month, you can be pretty sure that it's a scam. If I saw any that I just knew were scams, I flagged them to get them off the search results and to possibly help someone less discerning to fall prey. When viewing listings from there (or any of these online resources, honestly), you need to use your best judgement. If something doesn't feel right or feels shady, don't go through with anything, cancel the appointment, whatever. Don't go through with it. Any listings that say that the owners are missionaries looking for someone to watch their apartment while they are out of the country so they can't meet you, is a scam. Does that even sound right? Don't let your desperation for a place cloud your judgment. You know when something is too good to be true, be smart about hunting.

I want to buy something next. I am in love with brownstone buildings in (Bed Stuy) Brooklyn and have started getting my ducks in a row and saving to buy one! Right now, I'm saying in about 3-4 years, I'll be ready to buy something. {Image Source}

Some Other Helpful Tips

- Act fast. It's super competitive. If you see a listing you like, call as soon as you can. Rentals, especially no fee ones, go fast and if you hesitate; by the time you call, someone that fast has rented it. Also, arrange to see the place as soon as possible. If you call a listing on a Tuesday and they say call back on Saturday to view, don't take the bait. Ask them if that is the earliest you can see the place. That place could be rented before Saturday and you will be pissed when you call Saturday morning only to be told that it got rented. Anytime you call a listing and you want to see it, arrange to view it as early as you possibly can.

- Trust your gut and act fast. If you see a place that you really like and you have other appointments lined up to see, cancel them and get the place. Again, rentals move fast here. Time is of the essence, if you wait to make a decision after you've seen everything, the place you really liked may be gone by the time you call back. So if your gut really likes a place, do yourself a favor and get it or someone else will!

- Take a day off to make calls and hunt if possible. It's not uncommon to see a place, apply for it that same day and be approved for it as early as the next day. If you work a typical 9-5 type of job and have a vacation day to do so, take at least one day off to make calls so you can view places immediately if properties have limited availability. Search and make calls first thing in the morning. The early bird catches the worms. One of my challenges finding a place were that I couldn't get to view them early enough before they were snapped up by someone who got there before I could. During the week days, it was not feasible for me to leave at any given time to see a place. I would schedule appointments to view after work and they would get rented just a few hours before I could get there.

- Walk (or drive) around neighborhoods you would want to live in and look for signs on buildings or private houses saying that they have apartments for rent. This may or may not be daunting for some but it's another way to find a place. Be prepared to keep calling back until you get someone on the phone though. Sometimes management will not return your calls even after you have left a message (because there are other people that have gotten to them and will rent).

- Answer your phone. Many of us like to screen calls from numbers we don't recognize. If you are calling places and leaving messages, sometimes they may call back from a number that wasn't the one you called. In my experiences, they do not leave messages. It may be annoying but until you secure a place and are calling listings, PICK UP YOUR PHONE FOR EVERY CALL. Rentals know if they can't reach you there are plenty of others who will pick up the phone and rent the place.

- Be persistent. If you call a place and can't reach anyone and you really want information on a listing, keep calling until you get a live being on the other end. These rentals know people are sweating them so they will not sweat you. If you want information, blow their phone up until you get a person on the other end.

- Stay encouraged. This is hard when you've been making calls and seeing places but nothing has panned out yet or it's getting down to the wire. There were many times I got frustrated and wanted to cry, no lie. But I kept pressing on, looking at pictures that represented what I wanted and kept obsessing over my place and making calls. Stay encouraged and stay focused. If you asked God for it and told the universe what you wanted, you have to believe you will get it. As fast as listings are getting rented in this town, new listings are sprouting up. Keep visualizing and looking at pictures of what you want.

You must think in abundance. There are MANY nice apartments here to be had and there is one just waiting for you, right now, to see it and rent it. That place is patiently waiting for you. Every day and sometimes, every hour there are new listings popping up so just keep plugging away. You WILL find what you want! What you want DOES exist! Tell yourself this, believe it, give thanks in advance for your place and keep doing your part to attract the situation (making calls and setting up appointments). After I applied to my place, I played out in my mind how the call would go of them offering me the place. The next day after I applied for it, I GOT it! And the call was very similar to how I had played it out in my head.

I hope this was helpful. It can be a lot of foot work but if you have the time and energy, it CAN be done. NYC is a big and fabulous city that is filled with tons of awesome apartments and yours is out there with no fee involved if you want it!

After God, the Law of Attraction (which to me is meeting God halfway), got me my place. I truly believed that what I wanted was out there. I believed that God was able and that me being his child that I was able in some capacity too.

Happy No Fee Apartment Hunting!

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Amma Mama said…
What an informative post! One of my dear friends is moving to NY for work and graduate school this summer. She's actually there today preparing. I just forwarded her this helpful post. Thank you :-)
mickybelle said…
Absolutely love this. Congratulations on your new place. I really need to get onboard with Pinterest for some easy vision-boarding. I keep saying I'm going to do an actual VB, but I think I'll be much more likely to use Pinterest for that purpose. I already have the app on my phone, so I could look at my boards often. But I digress, lol. Thanks for your inspiration!
This is an awesome informative post. Will definitely be sharing :D
Harvie Adams said…
Great post! Similar to hotpads in BC Canada is