The first few weeks in New York can be exhausting, while you get to know your new city. I’d recommend setting up a place for the first month, before you arrive, so you have a safe place to leave your stuff, and collapse at the end of busy days. It will also give you a good base while you look for a more permanent spot.
If you are fortunate enough to have a friend/relative/lover in New York who is willing to put you up for any amount of time, grab that opportunity with both hands, as finding a house in New York can be one of the most stressful experiences you've ever partaken in. It will probably be expensive, and time consuming, but definitely worth it when you have a place to call home.
The Model Apartment
Most agencies have one or more model apartments - a shared apartment where you can stay for a while. The pro points are that you can expense the rent to your account at the agency, which will then be paid off as you start working. Which means you don't have to have liquid cash when you move to NY - great! However, the model apartment can get expensive compared to regular rent (usually around $60/night, $1800/month). Depending on the demand, you may share a room with up to 3 other girls (in bunk beds), so things can get a little cramped, but its a great way to meet new friends and get to know girls in a similar situation as you start out in NY.
Tips for the model apartment:
- Take care of your valuables; purchase a lock for your suitcase, or leave them at home until you have your own place — lots of people coming in and out can mean some things go walkabout.
- Immerse yourself; take the opportunity to get to know girls in your situation, learn and grow together.
- Be neat; if the apartment is at maximum capacity, things are going to get squished. Make sure you’re tidying up after yourself, and be respectful to aid the smooth sailing of the apartment.
- Try not to be dragged into drama.
Finding a Spot Online
Amazingly, Facebook can be a great resource for finding a place to live. Groups such as Ghostlight Housing are now huge networks of people subletting rooms. You need to be invited into the group - I can do that for you if its something of interest.
Furthermore, lots of models are regular and constant travellers, and like to rent their rooms while they are gone. Keep your ears open for availability.
Other groups that feature sublets, furniture, and all things home-making:
Craigslist is another great resource, but be aware that it is also full of up-sellers i.e. you may be paying for more than you're getting. Be sure to view the apartment and meet the people responsible before you agree to anything. Use all the tools available on the left hand panel of the website; it allows you to be very specific with your search.
Padmapper is a great app/website if you have an idea where you would like to live. It plots all the current available craigslist ads onto the map so you can search by area. Handy if you don’t want to compromise on location. Downside to this website is that a lot of old posts still show as active, so you might waste time chasing a dead end.
Streeteasy is the most prolific search engine for apartments on the market, but they tend to be realtor represented properties so you’ll be more likely to commit to a lease, and pay a broker’s fee (more on that below) It is, however a great way to gauge the cost of whats on the market, and what you can expect to pay if you find a sublet.
Most sublets are charged at a slightly higher portion of the total rent, as you pay for the luxury of not being tied to the lease. The bonus here is that if you sign a lease, you usually pay a brokers fee, which you’ll avoid in this scenario. Always view the apartment before you agree to anything, and if you can walk a few blocks around the neighbourhood and see how you feel about it. Look for a 24hr deli, how close it is to the train (look up how long it takes you to get to the agency, and the airport from your potential new spot), and a laundromat. These things will really impact the convenience of your life.
What to ask when viewing apartments:
- How much are utilities?
- When is rent due?
- Will the lease be renewed during your stay; will the rent increase?; are they anticipating you’ll sign onto the lease upon renewal?
- When is the lease renewed? (This may indicate that rent will increase, or that the current tenants will move on)
- What’s the temperature like? (New York can be boiling in summer, and freezing in the winter. You might want to know if there is no A/C; or whether the heat is controlled by the building, or within the apartment)
- What’s required to move in? (Money wise, it could be first month’s rent, and a security deposit, or maybe an extra month’s rent depending on the situation.)
- The etiquette of the roommates - can you have friends/partners to stay? Whats customary for the shared space like kitchen and TV use - try to get a feel of the situation you'll be living in.
Signing a Lease
If you’re ready to commit to a lease, you need to think about a few extra things. Most landlords require you to earn 40x your portion of the rent, annually, and you prove that by submitting your tax return, or a letter from your employer. As a freelancer (and maybe as a newbie to the States, or modelling) that can be difficult to estimate, and then prove your income. Talk to your agency about a letter of expected income (sometimes they can do you a sneaky favour).
If you don’t have a good credit score, or one at all (more on that in Money) you may need to put down more rent in advance to secure your place. Alternatively you could use a guarantor, which can be a friend or family member, who can guarantee that they can pay your rent if you default at any point, but usually they need to be in the tri-state area (New York state, Jersey, or Connecticut).
If you know you don’t have these qualifications, talk to the landlord or realtor - they are looking for assurance that you are financially, and personally reliable; be accommodating, and see if you can work out a deal. Ask what you could supply to secure the lease.