The Essential Must-Read Guide to Finding an Affordable Rental ASAP (Which I Learned the Hard Way)

No money? No place? No problem!
Publish date:
October 22, 2012

Freaking out because you need a new place to live super quickly and you're on a tight budget?

I feel you, girl. But seriously -- no stress, BB.

I totally have you covered. And if I can do it with a gaping deficit of time and a surplus of workaholism, anyone can. For real. The happy news? Everything I learned is now here to benefit the world with The Essential List of How To Find a Cheap Place Super Quick -- anywhere in the US (and with a few bonus New York specific super-secret tips at the bottom of this list, too).

After I got this job at xoJane, I took a sublet with a young woman who has a really awesome dog and who told me I'd be chill to live with her in Long Island City for a year. But then because of a change in her job situation, out of the blue, she decided to break the lease, and I was suddenly homeless. Did I wallow? Hell no! Well maybe a little. But then I found a new place -- in Bushwick for $30 a night through March (and maybe longer). Pretty good, yeah?

When I was researching options for unconventional living situations, I solicited awesome advice from all of you awesome readers -- and please add any further housing advice for others reading this piece in the comments below (especially any affordable storage or mover recommendations, as I'm sure others can use those, too). Thank you so much, guys, for truly being the best.

Here's the culmination of everything I learned. And it took me, like, 8 years to pull together all the info in this post. So I think it's a good one.

1. Word of mouth is critical. So. Send an email and write a Facebook message/tweet to everyone you know saying exactly what you need.

Realize this may sound no, duh, but this is ultimately how I've found some of the best places I've lived in during my various stays in New York -- including the kickass lesbian couple I lived with in Park Slope for a year and a half in their million-dollar co-op in the spare room for under a grand. This is also how I found my new place in Bushwick -- from someone who's on my YMLP-powered mailing list where I sent out my housing query email. If I didn't have a mailing list, I would have sent it to as many people in my address book as humanly possible. Getting your query out there is so important. You never know who is going to forward it on to that that perfect person who is renting out the amazing room he doesn't normally advertise but, well, you seem like a nice person.

2. Make your word-of-mouth housing-query message A) specific B) grateful, C) short and D) viral.

For instance, here's one of the emails that I sent out that ultimately led me to my new place: "My roommate quit her job suddenly so I need a new place to live in New York under $1k (open to couches) in less than two weeks. If you have any suggestions, I'm open to them. 36-year-old editor, professional, work a lot, write about my life frequently and you can check out my stuff at Please share with friends, and thanks so much."

3. Post your query to the listservs of your alumni network -- and your friend's alumni networks.

I've found (and helped others find) several awesome apartments this way. I went to Northwestern and half the emails on the Medill listserv are basically apartment ads, shares and sublets. Why? Because people know that anyone on the listserv has gone through the extensive vetting process that the university has already done on prospects -- and potential roommates will pass a certain bar of reliability, intelligence and responsibility. But don't stop at your own alumni listserv. I didn't end up needing to take advantage of the offer, but a friend of mine who's a Princeton grad was willing to post my ad as well, and I'm pretty sure several other alumni communities will do the same. Don't be shy about asking friends to post! Word of mouth is everything for housing. Besides, you're being all Malcolm-Gladwell-style hustler-networker-connector by helping others out.

4. Turn to the best Craigslist-alternative apartment aggregators on the market.

Here are the three people seem to like the most:

5. Short-term rental site AirBNB is good if you're in a bind, and you can negotiate for a lower rate using the awesome Rent-o-Meter resource.

The room I'm taking in Bushwick is actually an AirBNB rental, but because I'm friendly professionally with the journalist who rents it, he's giving me the cheaper non-commercial rate on the room. Score. Thanks to @worldofRandi for the AirBNB recommendation and to @karabuller who notes of Rentometer: "Have used the Rent-o-meter to successfully negotiate a lower rent. It's not a finding resource, but it's definitely a good 'don't get screwed' resource. I was of course diplomatic about it, and just stuck to the facts."

6. Pound the pavement, dude.

Great tip from my friend, the delightful journalist and sexy TV star Marianne Garvey: "Walk around and collect the numbers of management companies from the lobby walls in buildings you like. Call up and ask for vacancies. No fee. Also buzz the super, ask for any vacancies and pay him a few hundred bucks to get you in with the landlord. Worked for me every move."

7. You can always play around with posting on the new website Socialisting.

It's jobs, apartments and "stuff" from friends and friends of friends. Log in with Facebook.

8. And for the truly adventurous, hell, why not try Couch Surfing.

I went to Brazil a while ago with a super-smart IT guy who did it for months on end, and when I queried for this article, another smart friend Colin Huggins, AKA the Crazy Piano Guy, suggested it. Good +1s on the option.

**And now... the New York-specific options below***

9. Use the invite-only Janelle's List on Facebook. It's like a more selective Craigslist with only 4,000-ish members -- mostly for NYC -- and each new invite needs to be admin-approved.

See which of your friends are members of it, and they can add you to the list. It's terrific. Probably my favorite little housing resource discovery gem of all. (Thanks to @marthaburzynski and @samlansky for the rec!)

10. Sign up for Stephanie Diamond's kickass Listings Project.

The woman behind this email list started looking for a cheap place in 2003 -- and has continued to forward on affordable listings to anyone who signs up ever since. Mazel, Stephanie, (and mazel to @mikeblaustein for the hookup).

11. Check out the Nonsense NYC Listserv.

Every once in a while, amongst the one-of-a-kind events and fun culty happenings listed around town, apartment stuff is listed, too -- and you could even send your query on for consideration to be included in the Friday digest. (Thanks to @jessicadelfino for the reminder.)

12. Rent Direct New York is a no-broker-free site along with incentives like free rent.

Hat tip to @travels007 for the great recommendation.

13. Of the agent recommendations I've received from friends, you can find some good affordable options on Citi-Habitats and

14. Check out this affordable option for women on the Upper West Side called the Brandon Residence.

As "Fat Chick" author Lorraine Duffy Merkl tipped me: "It's on the UWS around 85th. Cost per month is around $1,000. Temp safe housing for women who don't want expense of setting up an apartment, but also can't afford a hotel."

15. Another dorm-like option for women: Webster Apartments.

As another lovely wrote me: "Not sure what the rates are now, but I lived there for several months when I first moved to NYC. Single-room, dorm-like, female only (think "Bosom Buddies"), safe, decent location, used to include a couple of meals a day. It's definitely somewhere you only want to live temporarily (they seriously enforce that female-only thing, even for visitors), but again, it's clean and safe and will give you lots of writing fodder."

And finally -- the silver lining of situations like this? You'll discover angels in your life you didn't even know existed. I certainly did. And thanks to every single one of you who offered me a place to crash. I'll never forget it, ever.

Happy renting -- and please, please for the love of all things Manhattan real estate, will you share your hot tips below? Thank you, and then some. XOXO


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