Of all the soul-destroying things that moving to New York can throw your way, perhaps the most painful is the broker fee. I was blissfully unaware of the term until I landed in NYC and started looking for an apartment to rent, quickly realizing that on top of exorbitant rental prices, hopeful house-hunters must also pay a month’s rent to a broker for the privilege of living in Gotham. Considering, rents are at their highest—Manhattan dwellers pay, on average, $4,081 a month—extra fees seem just cruel. For the uninitiated, a broker is basically a person who will turn up (occasionally on time, but tardiness seemingly goes unpunished in the rental brokerage profession) to unlock the door of a prospective apartment and allow you to walk inside. Sometimes they will even give you some information about the place! Often, however, they simply wait outside, looking bored, while you show yourself around. Then, they will try and take you to some other locations—that probably are not within your price range and fulfill none of your requirements—before commanding a whopping fee if your application is approved. It’s extortion, but there are a couple of ways around it. In fact, in the past two years I’ve rented three apartments and have managed to avoid that nasty fee every single time—here’s how.
Be strategic on Craigslist.
Moving to New York from Sydney, I was skeptical of Craiglist and the people who used it. That was old Jasmine—new (York) Jasmine feels no shame in spamming every rental on Craigslist within my budget until I receive a response. My current apartment—a renovated one-bedroom loft with a private courtyard in West Village (see below; it’s such a find!)—was a Craigslist score. Originally the flat was being offered as a sublet, however with a little negotiating I was able to take over the lease, which is much better for multiple reasons. First of all, a sublet rarely asks a broker fee, because the current tenant is managing the rental themselves in most cases. Second, requesting to have your name on the lease ensures everything is legal and above board. It also deters the current tenant from overcharging you for the apartment and skimming a bit off the top for themselves, which is common. You can filter your searches by location, price, and whether you want the post to include an image. Oh, and obviously, you do have to be careful of scams—Craiglist is full of them, but as long as you’re not transferring money to strangers over the internet without viewing the apartment, you should be OK.
Move into a share house.
While you won’t be able to choose your housemates, moving into a spare room in a share house is easier on so many levels—and you completely avoid paying any broker fee. There are dozens of sites to help you find roomies, but you can start by searching on SpareRoom.com or Craigslist. It’s also worthwhile checking out Speed Roommating; a regular, speed dating-inspired event to help you meet potential housemates in a safe environment. You need to reserve a space, which you can do online, and then just turn up to the event with a clear idea of your budget, where you want to live, and the type of person you would like to share with. Finally, Metro Roommates specializes in short-term leases and sublets, which can be helpful if you just want to test out the waters in a particular neighborhood. Make sure you keep an eye out for (and avoid!) ads marked in red with “broker fee” on their listing page.
Search Facebook groups.
If you’re Australian, you’re in luck: Your fellow countrymen regularly share available sublets and rooms available across Manhattan and Brooklyn to groups like Australians in New York and Australians in NYC. Once you have joined the groups, post a quick paragraph in each outlining your budget, a little bit about yourself, and where you like to live. You may like to highlight that you’re looking for a sublet without a broker fee, or if you’re hoping to join a house as a roommate, explain that. Also, I suggest doing some research first on the roommate-finder sites I mentioned earlier to make sure what you’re looking for actually exists within your budget. Be sure to check your “Message Requests” tab on Facebook Messenger, as this is where notes from strangers in the groups will probably end up. Finally, if all else fails, look on the “monthly sublets” section of Airbnb. While you should expect to pay a premium for these apartments, it’s a smart way to find short-term accommodation while you search for a permanent apartment that doesn’t charge a broker fee.