Should I Rent or Buy in New York City?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

At a glance: New York City is unique both in costs and how likely and frequently people are to move. You may be surprised by the strategy that enables you to spend less.


New York City is a different world compared to most other places. It’s tempting to think that there’s a well-kept secret to figuring out how to live in such an expensive and transient city, but the truth is, there are many ways to make the Big Apple--perhaps too many!


There is so much variety in New York City that it’s impossible to consider every single option, deciding to rent or buy is a great way to narrow your search. Anywhere you go you have to think about how permanent your move is in making a decision, but New York City is unique in that even if you won’t move out of New York City, it’s very common to move within it, especially if you don’t yet have a family and still have room to grow in your career.


Be Prepared Make Quick Decisions


Things move fast in the big city whether you’re buying a coffee or a home. Many renters don’t even bother looking until one month before they’re ready to move, or they move into a new place before their old lease is over. Chances are, if you have your eye on a place, someone else does too, and it’s a competitive first-come-first serve game.


In order to avoid feeling pressured, it’s best to know exactly what you want so that when you find it, you can secure it.


What’s Your Budget for Living in NYC?


Everyone knows New York City is expensive, and your budget might help you quickly eliminate buying as a possibility. After all, nearly two-thirds of New Yorkers rent, but even if you don’t have any financial restrictions, it would likely be less expensive over time to rent than buy.


Renting in NYC at a Glance


Pros

  • Lower cost (both short term and potentially long term)

  • Flexibility to move

  • Not responsible for appliances or building maintenance costs

  • You can find a place very quickly

Cons

  • Process can feel rushed

  • No return on investment

  • No control over rent increases

  • Landlord choses appliances


Why You Would Rent


A lot can change quickly in the big city, and even if you don’t move out of New York City, chances are you’ll move within it. Whether you get a promotion, a new job, decide to move in with a partner, or just want to experience a different neighborhood at some point, it helps to be flexible with your living situation in a city with so much opportunity.


Many modern NYC apartments come with gyms, laundry, dishwashers, security, doormen, package receiving areas, and more. Of course, you can find an apartment to buy in a building with amenities, but renters are not responsible for maintenance.


Utilities also tend to cost less for renters, and renter’s insurance is much less expensive than homeowner’s insurance.


Renting Costs


One bedroom apartments average $2,683 not including utilities. Bear in mind prices vary neighborhood to neighborhood, and Manhattan neighborhoods can be nearly twice as expensive as other neighborhoods. In any case, in order to get on a lease, the combined income of all tenants is expected to exceed 40 times the rent.


It’s also common for landlords to require


  • First month’s rent

  • A security deposit equal to one month’s rent (and may no longer exceed that amount)

  • Application fee (which can no longer exceed $20)

  • Proof of income (or a guarantor’s proof of income)


If you don’t make 40 times the rent and have a willing cosigner, you can pay a rental guarantor service to sign for you. The service fees vary depending on credit history, but are typically equal to approximately one month’s rent.


Bottom line for NYC Renters: Be prepared to have three months of rent set aside to move in. Rent can be a drain on your finances, but compared to buying you’ll likely save more money and be able to adapt to life changes.


Buying In NYC At a Glance


Pros

  • High potential return on investment