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, 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 (ranging anywhere 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 enough time (and perseverance) to do the legwork on your own.
So where to start your search?
While New York City lacks a centralized database of no-fee rental listings, there are a number of free sites that get listings directly from landlords, management companies, and/or brokers whose fee is being paid by the owner.
To get you started, we’ve rounded up 8 websites to bookmark on your browser. Where possible, we’ve also noted the number of Manhattan listings posted in a recent 7 day period—a useful metric for the NYC rental market, where apartments can be snapped up a matter of hours, particularly during the busy April –September renting season.
You’ll find some overlap in listings on the sites below, but you’ll still need to play the field daily in order to get the most comprehensive view of what’s out there. To stay organised, may we suggest you drag-and-drop Nestio.com’s handy “bookmarklet” onto your web browser, which will enable you to save interesting listings all in one place.
Started in 2007, UrbanSherpa lists apartments from about 800 New York City owners and management companies. The advertising-supported site’s bread and butter is Manhattan south of 96th Street.
Of 2,478 active listings in Manhattan when we checked recently, 316 were posted in the last 7 days.
Each listing contains a “history” tab with information on the last price the apartment was offered at and the day it rented; there is also information on that landlord or management company’s application procedure and building amenities.
Telephone help is available, and you can sign up to receive email updates about listings that fit your search criteria.
StreetEasy gets its listings from major brokerages, management companies and owners, and lets you search for apartments listed “by owner” as well as “broker, no fee.” A recent search of both types of listings in Manhattan pulled up pulled up 2,017 listings, with 453 posted in the last week.
StreetEasy requires an address for every listing, which keeps out the fake ones. 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-up rent), as well as other current and former availabilities in the building, neighbourhood 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. Buy “Insider” access for $10 a month and you can get hourly updates (vs daily ones), which in hot rental market can make the difference between success and failure.
Launched in 2005, NYBits currently has around 2,800 no-fee 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.)
A quick search of no-fee listings in Manhattan on a recent weekend pulled up 2,129 listings, with half posted in the previous 7 days. (To filter by most recently posted, select “date posted” in the “Order Results By” line on the search form.)
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.
Founded a little over a year ago by a frustrated renter, InsideDigs matches renters to tenants whose leases are about to expire in the next three months. If you see something interesting, you can email the tenant for the landlord or management firm’s contact information to try to rent directly and skip the broker.
Renters who aren’t planning to move are also encouraged to post reviews about their buildings and their apartments; if a review strikes your fancy, be proactive and email the tenant to find out who to contact about vacancies in the building.
InsideDigs is free to use if you review your own building or refer 5 friends to the site. With around 350 listings for NYC apartments (concentrated in downtown Manhattan, the Upper East Side and Brooklyn) whose leases are expiring within 3 months, the site is still gaining traction; it will soon also start featuring listings directly from management companies and landlords.
Among major NYC media outlets, The New York Times offers the most comprehensive rental database.
After checking the “no-fee” box on a recent weekend, we pulled up 6,657 listings in Manhattan alone, with 448 posted in the past 7 days.
The majority of the listings seemed to come from brokers versus landlords or management firms. Put a checkmark in the “price reduction” box to find motivated landlords who may be willing to cut you a deal.
Started in 2010 by the folks behind The Online Marketing Group, which provides marketing services for New York City landlords and management firms, the no-fee listings site UrbanEdgeNY.com currently carries about 2,900 active NYC rental listings (2,100 in Manhattan) from around 400 owners, property managers and leasing firms.
Though UrbanEdge could not provide us with the number of new listings within the last 7 days, it noted that listings are automatically removed if not updated for two weeks.
Manhattan is UrbanEdge’s sweet spot, though the listings database also covers The Bronx and Northern New Jersey, and UrbanEdge is working hard to bolster its database of Queens and Brooklyn listings.
A relative newcomer to the NYC rental scene, start-up Rentenna.com currently features no-fee listings from landlords and management firms, supplied by UrbanEdge (above).
Rentenna plans to expand its listings base later this spring. Its secret sauce is a 10,000-strong database of apartment buildings that can be filtered by characteristic (eg “hipster,” “budget”) and carry a livability ranking (from 1-100) based on value, amenities, neighbourhood and renter reviews, among other things.
Rentenna encourages renters to log in through Facebook Connect so that, among other things, renters can see what buildings their friends have lived in, loved or hated. Renters who prefer not to log on via Facebook need merely scroll to the bottom of the homepage and click on the “Home” link to access the site directly.
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.”
Keep your guard up for scams (such as too-good-to-be-true pictures, request 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.