One of the many complicating factors of the New York housing market is the dreaded broker fee. “A broker what?” you may ask, if you are a newbie who has yet to become acquainted with one of the biggest hurdles confronted by renters in the city.
Broker fees are levied by agents who help you find an apartment. They generally cost between 12 and 15 percent of the rent for one year. In some cases, having an expert do the heavy lifting for you is worth the hefty price tag. For instance, if you don’t have time to DIY, can’t find what you want on your own, and/or are planning to stay put for a couple of years or longer.
[Editor's note: This story was originally published in May 2018. We are presenting it again here as part of our summer Best of Brick week.]
If you have time and grit to to helm your own search, there’s the no-fee apartment. These come in two varieties: Apartments rented directly from a landlord or management company, and those for which the landlord pays the broker’s fee, usually because of a slow market, a new building with lots of space to fill quickly, or a need to make a less-than-desirable feature of the apartment, building, or location more appealing to prospective tenants.
Where to begin your search? With Brick Underground’s newly updated list of best New York City real estate search websites for 2018, presented below in alphabetical order. While you’ll likely wade through some duplicate listings across the sites, playing the field will maximize your options.
If you exhaust the DIY method--or just feel exhausted--sign up here to take advantage of the corporate relocation rate offered by Brick Underground partner Triplemint. A tech savvy real estate brokerage founded by a pair of Yale grads in response to the frustrating apartment searches of classmates and colleagues, Triplemint will charge a broker's fee of 10 percent of a year's rent versus the usual 12 to 15 percent if the apartment is an "open" listing (versus an "exclusive" listing where the fee is split with the broker holding the listing.) Bonus: The agents at Triplemint are a delight to deal with.
Below, eight websites and mobile apps that make it easier to find no-fee apartment listings across New York City.
Known for: Anything goes
Mobile app: No
If you’ve ever hunted for an apartment, bicycle or missed connection, you’re probably familiar with Craigslist. Its enduring popularity proves that you don’t need a fancy (or even modern) interface with bells and whistles to make an effective real estate tool for both renters and landlords—as long as you use it with discretion.
Under the site’s housing tab, you can choose "all no-fee apartments" or "by-owner apartments," then narrow your search according to your housing preferences, and further refine those preferences according to amenities, like whether it has a washer/dryer and whether pets are allowed. The map function is especially useful if you’re looking in a specific neighborhood, and also helps give you a sense of an apartment’s actual location, versus where its poster claims it is.
Craigslist, however, is a free-for-all, so take special care to avoid scams (more tips on signs of a scam here), and by searching only apartments with photos, another filter option. We’d also recommend investigating the building and the neighborhood more closely, including information like bedbug history and neighborhood crime rate (more tips on that here), as well as plugging the address into the city's Building Information System to check on things like outstanding violations. Also look up the name of the management company and broker to see if any red flags appear. For further intel, look up the building on the sites Rentlogic and Localize.city.
2. Facebook (and all your other social networks)
Known for: The uncle you never talk to getting involved somehow
Mobile app: Yes
High-tech search options abound, but word-of-mouth is still a powerful tool in the world of New York City real estate. The best deals are generally found via well-connected friends, family members and coworkers, so don’t be bashful when it comes to reaching out.
Post on Facebook, hit up your college's alumni network, send a mass email to everyone you’ve ever met in the city, and use any of your other social feeds of choice (Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat) to let your network know that you're on the hunt. You’d be surprised by how serendipitously the timing can work out to be.
3. Listings Project
Known for: Carefully vetted listings for artists, loosely defined
Mobile app: No
Listings Project have started small, but it has expanded to much of the U.S. plus 70 countries around the world. And with good reason: The weekly email list is carefully curated by Stephanie Diamond and her team, and caters to artists and other creative types searching for everything from studio space to sublets to long-term rentals. The email has evolved over the years and become increasingly easy to use, and prospective renters can always take solace knowing that each lister is vetted, and that brokers are not permitted to post on the site.
Keep in mind, one of the perks of living with roommates is that you can avoid broker’s fees, either by subletting or leasing directly with the landlord. What Stephanie’s list lacks in endless listings, it makes up for knowing that each apartment has been hand-vetted by either Stephanie herself or a member of her staff.
4. Naked Apartments
Known for: Lots of features to help narrow your search
Mobile app: Yes, for iPhone and Android
Naked Apartments is a consistently solid option for apartment seekers on a budget.
Sixty percent of the site's apartment listings are for no-fee rentals, which you can find by clicking the "Filter" button at the top of the screen and select "No Fee." (There's also a "low fee" filter that pulls up rentals with broker's fees of 9 percent or less.) The site has a variety of options for no fee listings across all five boroughs, though like the other entries on this list, the majority are concentrated in Manhattan.
Naked Apartments was acquired by StreetEasy a few years back, though both have their own sets of features. Naked Apartments includes “open” listings, (versus exclusive listings) that are being advertised by more than one broker, while StreetEasy sticks to verified exclusives, meaning that while there are more listings on Naked Apartments, many of them are duplicates. The site is also very thorough in vetting its posters, verifying brokers’ licensing information, and even checking utility bills and public records for management, weeding out those who post inaccurate listings.
Other useful features include the ability to group duplicate listings, which allows you to choose which broker to contact (i.e., in a no-fee scenario, a situation where the landlord is paying the broker's fee) based on reviews from former clients (brokers can't delete these from the site), and compare apartment descriptions. Seeing how different agents describe the same apartment is a great hack for separating hyperbole from starker reality, and sussing out which agent might be the most professional to work with.
You can also compare broker response time and any fees. If there’s a place you like, click the "contact now" or "schedule a viewing" button to set up an in-person visit ASAP. There's also an app, which lets you keep track of apartments you've seen with notes, photos, and a checklist to help keep you organized.
Known for: Being no frills, but with quality control
Mobile app: No
NYBits is the oldest rental site in New York, but like Craigslist, its straightforward interface belies a very reliable means of finding no-fee listings. As of right now, around 60 percent are available without broker’s fees, though it’s frequently closer to 75 percent. No-fee is the default search setting, though users can also switch to the “all-listings” option.
More than 60 percent of the offerings on NYBits are in Manhattan, but in recent years the site has noticeably increased the number of listings in Brooklyn (26 percent) and Queens (7.5 percent), so it's certainly worth a look for outer borough renters. To do this, search through the site’s “neighborhoods to search” option, which provides a fairly granular breakdown of areas throughout the city, though listings remain far more robust in Manhattan versus the other boroughs. From there, check out an overview featuring a map of the area, its selected no-fee rental buildings (and their property managers' contact information), and the listings currently available. Even if there isn't an apartment immediately available, it's smart to contact property managers of the buildings you like, so you can be first in line when something opens up.
Also, a new feature allows users to receive notifications when listings that match their requirements are posted, which can cut down on the legwork of regularly checking the site.
To improve accuracy, NYBits publishes addresses for every listing, and does its own research before posting them. This helps cut down on duplicates as well as bait-and-switch scams, and allows you to research a given building on your own more easily. To keep things fresh, postings are limited in how long they can be active, including listings submitted via feeds. Open listings are generally prohibited, which keeps the site from getting clogged with duplicates with “approximate” addresses.
Known for: Scoring listings to punish shady behavior
Mobile app: Yes, for iPhone and Android
RentHop is known for its "HopScore," developed to identify and encourage accurate listings and ethical behavior among real estate professionals. This year, the site upgraded its system to analyze apartment photos and determine whether they’re relevant to renters—are they of the space itself, or common areas like the gym, or the building’s exterior? The relevance of the photos is included in the HopScore, which is used to rank apartments by value, up-to-date information and effectiveness of the landlord or agent. Scammers are actively shut down, and RentHop employees personally verify email addresses, and usually have an actual phone conversation with, new listers to make sure they're legit.
RentHop has tens of thousands of listings in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, searchable by filters for "no fee" or "reduced fee," with the option for a map-based search. The map function groups listings together by buildings and neighborhoods, with an accompanying “Show Agents” feature that shows users where brokers and participating leasing offices are available in real-time. Similarly, if you're searching in a particular neighborhood, the site will display agents who are "neighborhood specialists," making it easy to get in touch with a professional who might have more listings in the pipeline that suit your search.
And if you're on the hunt for someone to share that apartment with, they've got a roommate finder tool, in which renters are matched up with roommates based on the answers given on a questionnaire.
Around 45 percent of listings on the site at any given time are no-fee, either listed by the owners, or by a current renter looking to hand over their lease to a new tenant. In fact, by-owner and sublease/leasebreak listings are prioritized on the site, as are exclusives and listings that offer the full address. The site also has a built-in directory searchable by keyword or address.
Known for: Ubiquitous subway ads, advanced search tools, and robust neighborhood pricing data
Mobile app: Yes, for iPhone and Android
StreetEasy is one of the best-known sites in New York City for both sales and rentals. (It's also now owned by Zillow, the kingpin of search sites in just about every city in the U.S.)
There's a prominent "no-fee" search filter on the site, as well as the option to save your preferred searches and receive notifications if something new hits that market that fits your criteria. On both the mobile app and the website, you can connect with an apartment's agent or landlord instantly. (And the app has a useful "map view" feature that lets you see what listings are nearby when you're out and about.)
The site is also good for research thanks to their building pages, which let you find more info about the specific building an apartment is listed in—things like amenities and zoned public schools—as well as price history so you can see rent trends on comparable apartments. This info is more likely to be available for higher-end buildings and options in Manhattan than it is for cheaper fare in the other boroughs. The listings on StreetEasy tend to be pricier, though they're constantly expanding their reach. So when it comes to the no-fee search process, this one's particularly useful if you're in the market for, say, a higher-end building that's offering concessions. Of course, there are downsides to them, too.
Known for: Letting you trim the fat and focus your research
Mobile app: Yes, iPhone and Android
One of the more user-friendly and well-designed options on this list, Zumper takes special care to avoid duplicates, verifying and "de-duplicating" their options regularly. They also make it easy for users to flag outdated or bait-and-switch listings to remove them from the site. Another perk is their free “concierge” service called Zumper Select, which allows users to customize their search preferences with such details as their commutes, credit scores, and other crucial factors that allow Zumper staff to tailor listings specifically to users’ needs. Renters can message Select listings to get answers to property questions, and have their tours booked.
About 40 percent of Zumper's listings are no-fee, and the others are either full fee or limited fee. The listings are easy to filter and identify thanks to badges that indicate the listing type. Listings in Manhattan remain more numerous than in the outer boroughs, but around 30 percent are in Brooklyn, and 10 percent are in Queens. Search via Zumper's no-fee page for NYC, or by checking the "hide listings with leasing fees" box when you tick off other search requirements like in-unit laundry, a doorman, or outdoor space.
To make things as painless as possible, the site allows you to create alerts. Like many competitors, it also offers neighborhood guides, maps, and a mobile app. If you see a place you like, Zumper offers a one-click application—sort of like the college "common app" but for the apartment hunt—and lets you create a $10 Experian credit report that can be used an unlimited number of times. The site has also begun prioritizing its “no fee” listings in search results to make them easier for renters to find.
On that note, we also recommend taking your search to Padmapper, which was acquired by Zumper in 2016, but maintains its own set of unique listings as well, and has been overhauled for a faster and more seamless user experience. The site used to cull from Craigslist, but it now gets its listings from landlords, property managers, and direct postings to the site. It will have some of the same listing inventory as Zumper, but Padmapper also has more sublet, room-share, and short-term rental options. Apartments are displayed in map form, making it easy to stick within your chosen radius. It also has the all-important option of hiding listings you're no longer interested in to cut down on the white noise, and help you avoid accidentally re-visiting pads you've already vetoed.
Padmapper also has a feature for directly contacting listings, letting you send a "mini-profile" with info like your credit score if you see a place you like.
If you’re looking for a short-term lease, Leasebreak focuses especially on landlords and agents who specialize in leases that run less than a year, in addition to, of course, lease breaks. The site allows users to search all five boroughs using a “no fee” filter, with around half of its results falling in that category.
On Igluu, a new New York City-focused apartment search site (and a Brick Underground sponsor), you can search specifically for no fee rentals as well as other potentially determinative criteria, such as apartments that you can rent without putting down a deposit, or that will accept an institutional guarantor if you don’t have a willing and wealthy enough relative in the tri-state area. The team at Igluu vets listings that don’t include photos or descriptions. As of now, only around 30 percent of its listings are no-fee, but that’s liable to change as the site gets its bearings.
UrbanEdge currently features no-fee apartments exclusively, though it will be rolling out fee listings across the five boroughs sometime this summer. When that happens, a “no fee” box will allow users to sift through the results easily.
Finally, there's Apartable, a site for primarily Manhattan-based listings that includes user reviews of buildings as well as the listing's full address, and details like permits, violations, etc., all in the name of knowing what you're getting into before you rent.