Wowowow we learned so much from this experience/others in our same boat. Most of this is pretty anecdotal so take it with a grain o' salt.
  1. Set your goals/budget.
    Get familiar with neighborhoods, average rents, and what kind of roommate situation you want. Know this right off the bat and stick to it. Like any good negotiation, you're going to find great success if you know exactly what you want and why.
  2. "Tell your broker your budget is at least $200 less than what it really is" -my roommate Leslie
    Anyone who's going to be taking a fee isn't going to be looking to save you any meaningful amount of money. You're going to end up spending money in all kinds of places (applications, credit checks, move-in fees, trash violations, brokers fees, etc etc) that aren't just rent.
  3. Commit to the broker thing or commit to getting yourself a no-fee place.
    If you have the money for a broker fee, leverage that (legitimate and non-sketchy) broker to do the hard work for you and find you the place of your dreams. We made the mistake of being kind of in the middle (two of us were on the west coast when the lease was signed) and falling into the broker situation unintentionally. That made the fee hurt more. Also, we dealt with some terrible brokers in the process. Ugh. Horrible memories.
  4. Be wary of certain co-ops.
    Sometimes great, sometimes crazy. We currently live in a co-op and are technically subleasing from a real estate holdings company, who are the majority shareholders (a co-op building runs like a business, and if you own an apartment, you essentially own part of the business). The problem with our setup is that the care of the building kind of falls by the wayside because there's no great ownership—we're just someone's investment. However, there was no board approval (typical for co-ops).
  5. Read all the NYC real estate sites that aren't trying to sell you something.
    BrickUnderground etc will give you really comprehensive answers to most anything
  6. Punch what you're looking for into a StreetEasy search and get email updates. (They have a great app as well!)
    Stay plugged into what the market's doing in areas you care about. If you're in the position to do so, you can even pounce on a listing you like.
  7. Know what's important to you and check for it on each visit.
    Working appliances, sunken floors, sunlight/view, exactly how tough those four flights of stairs are–be real with yourself and stay thorough even when you're exhausted. Don't let something slip past your notice because you're desperate to sign a lease.
  8. Be ready to make quick decisions!
    People/brokers will pressure you to make a choice on the spot. Things move really quickly, and this is a high-demand market. If you don't put money down (anywhere from $100-1000), someone is going to take that place from you within hours. Have money and paperwork ready. You're most likely not going to find your place more than 30 days before move-in.
  9. Check the outlets.
    Make sure they work and the endless coats of paint between tenants haven't rendered them useless.
  10. Keep in mind how previous tenants have furniture arranged.
    Makes it easier to figure out what you do and don't want, especially in small spaces. Sometimes people are open to selling their furniture straight on to the next tenant since moving is such a pain. Check for bedbugs 🙃
  11. Try to get a Blumberg lease.
    No negotiation, no surprises
  12. Have all your paperwork in order and ready.
    Fast decisions mean fast application processes. You're going to be giving an obscene amount of personal information. Letters of employment, bank statements, copies of id, etc etc plus all of those same documents from your guarantor (if you have one)
  13. Know what your guarantor situation is, if applicable.
    Will you need a guarantor? If you're not making like 40x your rent, probably yes. Have all their information on hand. If you have roommates with individual guarantors, run this by the building first. That's a rarely accepted situation that usually involves a document amongst tenants. Also check out Insurent if you don't have a wealthy relative on hand.
  14. If you need a subletter, get someone reliable.
    Red flags: won't get their credit checked, criminal background, refuse to pay for fees/security deposit, cash-poor, etc…🙄 Sometimes you need someone to fill a room a for a few months of the lease. Make them pay everything upfront. Agree upon terms and necessary payments before move-in. Especially if you're subletting illegally (not uncommon), you need to have this stuff figured out or you're asking to get burned.
  15. Read any available public documents on your building.
    A Google search does wonders. Is there a rodent/cockroach/bedbug/maintenance problem in the building's history? That's all available to you as your right. Also run a search on your landlord/broker/neighbors/neighborhood/local businesses (especially if you live somewhere with a lot of noise-inducing places, like the lower east side).
  16. Be in the city if you can.
    Get a hotel or Airbnb or stay with a friend when apartment hunting. It's so much easier.
  17. "Buy a box of heavy duty tissues." -my roommate @swongalong
    It's going to be a heartbreaking process. We lost like three or four amazing places due to broker error, cash-rich people, or just needing to move on. It's awful, but like with any intense search, you'll end up where you're supposed to be. We found a cute little place in a prime neighborhood for the same price as places way far away from anything.