How I Scored an Apartment for Free at NYC’s Crazy Market

  • The NYC rental market is cruel right now – more than usual.
  • I waited in line at crowded open houses, was joked by real estate agents and avoided ridiculous real estate fees.
  • Here’s how my roommates and I finally got a free Manhattan apartment within our budget.

New York City is back – and so are ridiculous rents, crooked real estate agents and fierce competition for the most mediocre apartments.

In September, my two roommates and I joined the wave of young professionals who wanted to move into the city after months of work from our childhood rooms, unleashing a frenzy of pent-up demand on the rental scene.

After weeks of searching, here’s how my two roommates and I finally got a three-bedroom, free apartment within our budget, and key tips I learned along the way.

Photos and virtual tours can be incredibly misleading

The “spacious” bedroom? Can’t even fit a double mattress. Are you expecting a functional kitchen? The gas has not worked for several months, but don’t worry – an airfryer will be provided. Oh, and go ahead and delete a dishwasher or washing machine from your list.

My first residential trip to the East Village taught me an important lesson: agents are incredibly skilled at wide-angle photography and PhotoShop. One hundred percent of the apartments I saw were significantly worse personally than they looked in photos.

If it was not already posted, I always contacted the agent for a video tour. Since we lived an hour away from Manhattan, this was crucial in determining if the apartment was worth the train ride.

Before arranging official tours, I asked the agent a list of questions to determine details such as hidden fees, amenities, floor plans, and closet space.

Luckily, we did not have a difficult move-in date, which allowed us to be selective in our search and only apply for apartments at no charge. If an apartment ticked off the basics on our list, we called the agent to arrange a tour as soon as possible.

Arrive early at the open house with your application ready

Most young people returning to New York have similar budgets and location preferences – applicants looking for shared apartments in the city center face stiff competition.

I learned it the hard way after traveling an hour and a half to a directory where I arrived only three hours after open house. When I reached the front door, the real estate agent sent me a text message: “sorry, we already have too many applicants.”

There are plenty of online resources on what kind of materials are needed to qualify for an apartment in New York City. If you are a student or entry-level professional who does not do six digits, you probably need a US guarantor.

Our apartment had an online application posted on its website, which we filled out even before the trip. Although many brokers do not let you apply in advance, it is worth checking to make sure you are the first applicant in their inbox.

Follow up and be persistent – you may be lucky

That "Summer of Freedom" has long been compared to that of love in 1967.

This year’s “Summer of Freedom” in NYC has been compared to the summer of love in 1967.

Mathias Wasik / image alliance via Getty Images


The last leg between our application and acceptance was a combination of perseverance and luck. We followed up with the agency’s office on the phone and over email to show our interest. But the next day we were informed that they had decided to move on with another applicant.

Any hope we had of scoring the free apartment (with a dishwasher!) Was gone when we frustratedly returned to the Streeteasy app.

Then, a week later, they sent us an email saying that the other applicant had fallen through and that the lease was ready for use for signing – a miracle in New York City.

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