apartment in winter

Ice forms on a fire escape in apartment in Park Slope (Courtesy Elizabeth Gay)

If you are an experienced New York City apartment hunter, then you know winter is the “rental off-season.” From May to September, there is a huge influx of people who move to NYC after graduating and it starts to mellow in October. By December, many rental brokers take their four-week vacations because they feel there isn’t enough demand to bother sticking around. But know this — if you are a renter and have time on your side, renting in the winter is probably the best time of year to look.

1.       Try to Negotiate!

Obviously New York City is one of the most expensive cities to rent in year-round, but competing with fewer applicants means slightly lower rents and it opens the ability to negotiate. For example, if a rental is listed at $3,150, don’t ask for $2,500. But, you could try to ask for $100-200 less, which is much more reasonable. Yes – there are people who have negotiated a good $500 off, but that’s probably because it was a much higher rental.

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Also, winter is an excellent time to look for co-op or condo rentals as individual owners tend to be easier to negotiate with and actually care about who is living in their apartment. This means if you are nice and a seemingly well-behaved, non-party type person, they will want to rent to you over someone who could pay $100 more. I have seen it happen.

2.       Less Demand, But Less Inventory

People tend NOT to move in the winter, but this can be a bonus for renters. Looking for a rental in winter is actually a leisurely experience as compared to the summer sprint in which you have three days to run around and try to find something.  If your lease is up in March, take December through February and look around for the right place to pop up. If you want to break your lease, be smart and read your rental lease agreement to see what penalties you might face. Don’t be afraid to call your landlord and ask how much time you need to give them if you want to leave early, or to get permission to find your replacement, which could help you avoid paying penalities.

3.       You Still Need ALL of Your Paperwork and Monies Ready

Just because there are less people looking doesn’t mean it’s OK to submit a careless application. Landlords and brokers will still want the following:

  • First month and security (available as a cashier’s check – can’t be tied up in funds/stocks)
  • Letter of employment (stating length of work and salary; if self-employed, get a letter from an accountant)
  • First two pages of last year’s tax return
  • Two pay stubs
  • Two bank deposits
  • Copy of your photo ID
  • Optional: Reference letter from previous landlord

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