Looking for apartments in NY is an awful experience. I don’t think there’s any way around that. There are a few things you can try to do to make the experience as painless as possible. Many people have a very specific neighborhood in which they want to live, this can actually work in your favor.
1) Cut out brokers. Take a walk through the neighborhood with a notebook. Most building will have some sort of a sign that dictates the management company/owner of the building. Google the management company and try to come up with a phone number. Call building owners or managers directly and ask if they have any apartments available and if they are willing to work directly with tenants, they oftentimes are. They really don’t get much out of brokers, and in fact often they have to pay the broker as well, so it’s in the best interests of both the management company and you to cut out the broker. The catch here is that it will be very hard to see the actual apartment. You can ask if the super can show you, or apartments are often left unlocked while vacant especially if being renovated, in which case they may tell you that you can just peek in. Calling the management company directly can often save you what amounts to 13% on rent (assuming you would have paid 15% of your annual rent money in a brokers fee).
2) If you use a broker, don’t waste your time and make them work for you. If you have certain requirements, i.e. I want to live between 75th and 85th, and you’re sure you won’t be swayed by a “super deal” at 89th, tell them that you don’t want to see it. If they’re annoying about it talk to another broker in their office or another broker entirely. If you use a broker you really have no obligation to them, feel free to set up appointments with multiple people throughout the day. Don’t worry about keeping it a secret that you have other possibilities, they should have to fight for your business. If they’re not willing to negotiate don’t be worried about walking away. In fact telling them no will often net you a phone call the next day on more favorable terms. If you saw a specific posting on craigslist that looked great, be adamant about seeing that first, if they can’t show it to you ask why. It’s not unlikely that they are fabricating listings just to generate interest.
3) A little help in finding management companies http://www.nybits.com/ this site seems to be more legit than craigslist which is inundated with false postings, however the vacancies don’t seem to be very up to date. There are apartments available in general, look up the vacancy rate, usually you can find them by congressional district or zip code. A 5% vacancy means that 1 in 20 apartments is open. Given that many residential buildings in NYC are 6 floors or so, with maybe 15 units per floor, you’re looking at 4 vacant apartments _per_building_. So if someone tells you that there’s nothing in a 5 block radius, you pretty much know for a fact that they’re either intentionally misleading you or totally incompetent, either way you don’t need to be dealing with them.
If you have any questions I don’t know if I can answer but put them out there.