The New York City real estate market has a vocabulary all its own, and one of the first terms would-be renters encounter is “no-fee,” used to describe an available listing. There are two types of rental apartments in the Big Apple – ones that come with a broker’s fee, which is often 15% of a year’s rent, and ones that can be rented with no fee attached. For the former, you pay the fee yourself; for the latter, you don’t – either because you are dealing directly with the property owner (or management company) or because the owner has paid the broker fee for you.

So that means that for a $2,000 per month apartment, a no-fee listing would save you approximately $3,600, right? Well, not always. Many of the no-fee apartments in New York City are in luxury high-rise buildings, which have high rents. It is possible that a broker could get you an apartment that, even adding his or her fee, might end up costing less per month than one of the no-fee variety. (For more on working with a broker, read Is It Worth Paying A Broker Fee In New York City?

We asked Teri Rogers, founder of BrickUnderground.com, a trusted New York real estate survival guide, about the likelihood of finding a no-fee apartment in New York City: “It’s possible,”  she says. “It just requires a lot more legwork and resourcefulness and creativity. In fact, I just found one for myself.” 

Neighborhoods With the Most No-fee Apartments

According to one of the online search sites for no-fee apartments, the neighborhoods in Manhattan with the most no-fees are the Upper West Side and the Upper East Side; in Brooklyn it’s Brooklyn Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant. Remember, this ranking is about numbers, not affordability. 

How to Start the Search

There are two ways to go about finding a no-fee apartment: One is to research online and through social networks, and the other involves good old-fashioned footwork. Pounding the pavement can yield some terrific results.

Start the same way you would with just about any real estate search you are making – with your own social networking sites. Ask friends, relatives, friends of friends, colleagues, etc. whether they have any leads on a good, no-fee apartment in NYC. After that, go to the “biggest, messiest, and most hated rental-finding option, Craigslist,” as Curbed NY, a website that tracks NYC real estate trends, puts it. Nevertheless, Curbed concludes that “Craigslist still contains a few gems, particularly in neighborhoods (Astoria for example) where the rental inventory is not at all centralized.”  

Some good advice on the subject from Rogers, of BrickUnderground: “Many renters find it easier to use Padmapper to search Craigslist....On Padmapper, you can sign up for alerts for new Craigslist listings that fit your requirements...and search by keywords, as well as filter results by things like price-per-bedroom and commute time to your office,” she points out. 

Online Sources for No-fee Apartments

StreetEasy is a logical stop early in your no-fee search. It is quite comprehensive and gives you useful and detailed information on each listing – what apartments have that washer/dryer you (think) you can’t live without, that fireplace you dream about. 

Zumper provides listings as well as an alert system that will tell you when the kind of apartment you want becomes available. 

NakedApartments will show you no-fee listings (and some low-fee ones as well) using its filter system, and it lets you schedule an appointment to see an apartment the minute you see one you like. The site also indicates how long the property has been listed. 

NYBits is a no-nonsense listing of no-fee apartments posted by owners, building managers and no-fee brokers. It lets you contact any of these people directly, gives you a heads-up on just-posted properties and allows you to search by amenities, neighborhood, etc. The site’s alphabetical listing of property managers is a great resource for anyone willing to put the time and effort into a DIY search. 

GoNoFee specializes in apartments in Harlem, the Upper West Side, the East Village, Washington Heights and Hamilton Heights, all managed by the same management company, which touts its experience renting to Columbia and Barnard students. 

Urban Edge NY wants to save you the aggravation of looking at old, stale listings. Anything not updated for more than two weeks is deleted. Listings come directly from owners and managers.

Apartable promises to match you with the no-fee apartment you want and to feature only “b.s. free, detailed and real apartment listings.” The site allows you to see multiple units side by side in order to make useful comparisons. 

Renthop has its own scoring tool – called HopScore – that helps you look for the newest listings in your category. 

The Listings Project is the creation of artist Stephanie Diamond who started in 2003 compiling a list of available apartments and work spaces for her artist friends. It has grown into a full-scale website that only lists no-fee spaces and won’t take any listings from either managers or brokers. Available apartments submitted each week before Tuesday at 10 a.m. will be sent out to subscribers by email on Wednesday. To subscribe is free, to post is not.

The Pounding the Pavement Option

Up to now, your fingers have done all the work. Now it’s time to give your feet a workout. Try going from building to building in a neighborhood you like. Copy names of management companies posted on the outside of the building and call them while you’re standing there. Ask doormen about vacancies; go to the local playground and ask around and check bulletin boards in local cafés and other businesses.

The Bottom Line

It’s certainly worth an investment of your time and effort to explore the no-fee rental option for a New York City rental. Take advantage of all of the useful resources online and enlist the help of folks who have been through the process before and are able to give you some good been-there, done-that advice. (For other money-saving tactics, read Easy Ways To Cut Rental Costs.)

 

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