The Under-the-Radar Site That Helps You Find an Affordable NYC Apartment
Finding a great apartment in New York City can be one of the toughest things you’ll ever do — just ask anyone who’s spent hours and hours on Craigslist, being promised a “stunning Brooklyn brownstone filled with lots of natural light,” only to find out that the only source of light comes from a small window in the bathroom.
And say you finally find something you really love that matches your budget? Well, you often have to then shell out thousands of dollars in broker’s fees — even if you never had any face time with the broker at all. What is a broker’s fee, exactly? As New Yorkers know (and onlookers are horrified by), renters must pay an exorbitant, non-negotiable fee to a real estate broker for showing them the apartment, although they often have not hired the broker themselves.
Broker’s fees are a controversial practice in the Northeast — they’re common in Boston as well — and were temporarily outlawed in NYC for a time in 2020. This fee can run as high as 15 percent of an apartment’s annual rent, which means if you’re hoping to rent a place for $2,100 per month, you have to fork over first and last month’s rent, a security deposit of $2,100, and a broker’s fee of $3,780. That’s a total of $10,080 just to get the keys.
To sum it up, the barriers to entry for renting an apartment in New York is unreasonably high — especially as rent prices continue to climb. That’s where a certain under-the-radar website comes in, with a possible solution for skipping all that hassle.
Known as The Listings Project, the site started as a newsletter back in 2003, when founder Stephanie Diamond was looking for an apartment in the city herself. Many of her friends sent her tons of vetted places, and she soon realized there was a gap in the market: There just weren’t any sites with reliable options for NYC housing that weren’t incredibly overpriced. Thus, the website was born, working to bridge the gap between listers and buyers. Diamond took care to ensure the entire process is respectful as well — there’s a set of community guidelines, which listers and buyers have to comply with while communicating with one another.
Here’s how it works: Listers pay a weekly fee to list their apartments. The listings can include everything from subletting rooms to renting out whole apartments. Each listing is vetted by staffers to make sure they represent the properties adequately and fall within market averages. The staff does this by checking past rental records and looking at average prices of similar homes in the area. There are also absolutely zero broker’s fees, because Diamond believes finding a home is hard enough — you don’t need to make it more expensive than it needs to be.
These days, the Listings Project features listings from all over the world, from London to California, although the newsletter is still alive and well. The ethos is the same no matter the city: Access to affordable apartments with the bonus of community.
“I wanted it to be more community-focused,” Diamond tells Apartment Therapy. “Moving to big cities can be lonely, and so I wanted to create an environment where people could connect with one another and help each other find a safe, comfortable space in which to live.”
Most readers find the Listings Project through word of mouth, and they forward their newsletters to one another in the hopes of helping their friends and loved ones find a new home. One renter, Alex Lesman, a lawyer in NYC, says he found his dream apartment within just two newsletter emails.
“After looking at gazillions of ads, exchanging choppy communications with tons of agents, and going to see several disappointing apartments, I got a Listings Project email forwarded from my friend,” he says. “The first one had a great apartment, but the lease was starting too early for me. In the second weekly email, I saw the ad for the apartment I ended up getting. ‘Dream apartment’ would be putting it too strongly, but it’s a good place for me and my kids at a price I can afford, and it’s the only rental in a house where the owners live upstairs, which I like.”
The no broker’s fees was also a huge plus, but Lesman did note that the Listings Project shouldn’t be your only means of looking when it comes to finding your dream home.
“It’s a small subset of the rental market that serves like-minded people, so there’s less to sort through and a higher chance that what’s there will be suitable,” he adds. “But it’s not all of what’s out there, so it probably shouldn’t be the only resource you’re looking at.”
Still, it’s a great place to start, and you’ll at least rest easy knowing your options are vetted and free of broker’s fees.