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6sqft’s ongoing series Apartment Living 101 is aimed at helping New Yorkers navigate the challenges of creating a happy home in the big city. This week, we’ve put together the top five reasons it makes sense to move in the winter.
Until the end of WWII, moving day in New York City was May 1. Today, many people continue to move on this date and in the four months following, but if you’re a renter looking for great value, more options, and lower stress, the very best move dates fall in the winter months. In this article, we outline why a winter move makes sense and how to prepare for one.
1. Increased inventory
There are two reasons why New Yorkers still move between April and October. First, there is a higher concentration of people ending leases and moving to the city in the spring to early fall. New York City is home to more than half a million university students, for example, and naturally, this population, which is heavily comprised of renters, needs to start and break leases between April and September. Second, because there is a higher demand for apartments during the spring to early fall, owners and management companies also work hard to ensure leases end during this period and sometimes even offer leases for a year and a half to avoid a November to March lease renewal date. Despite such efforts, however, some apartments still do come up in the winter months, and if you’re a renter looking for a deal, there is no better time to move. After all, when inventory surges, renters benefit from lower prices, less competition, and other incentives.
2. Lower prices
To appreciate the price differences between the winter and summer months, it’s useful to look at two dates. While March prices are generally higher than January prices, even at the end of the winter, there are still great deals to be had on the New York City rental market. In March 2018, for example, one-bedroom units in Morningside Heights were $2,978 on average and studios were $2,615. By July, the same apartments had soared in price. One-bedroom units had snuck up to $3,352 and studios to $3,467. While one might assume that Morningside Heights is an exception since so many local residents are students, similar trends can be found across the city. For example, in Park Slope, one-bedroom units rented for $2,548 on average in March 2018 but were $2,703 on average by July 2018. While seasonal rent fluctuations in neighborhoods without university campuses are not as notable, they are still significant. The bottom line is that locking yourself into a lease in December to March could lower your housing cost by several thousands of dollars annually.
3. Lower or no broker fees
When you rent an apartment in New York City, especially in Manhattan, someone—either the tenant or owner—typically pays a broker’s fee that equals 10 to 15 percent of the first year’s rent. In most cases, the fee is paid by the tenant, and this generally means handing over anywhere from $5,000 to well over $10,000 to a broker. When vacancies soar and there are fewer prospective renters on the market, however, the terms of the arrangement shift and the broker’s fee is more likely to be paid for by the owner, not the tenant. Given how high brokers’ fees can be in New York City, this alone is a great reason to move in the winter months.
4. More flexibility about when your lease officially starts
If you move in May, June, July, August, or September, your official move date will likely start as soon as you sign the lease. Of course, in most cases, you won’t be ready to move the day after you sign your lease, and as a result, you’ll likely end up paying for two units simultaneously. By sharp contrast, moves that take place outside the prime moving season, especially from December 1 to early-March, are generally flexible. For example, if you close a deal on December 10, with fewer prospective tenants on the market, you might be able to push back your move-in date to January 1. As a result, you’ll avoid paying for an apartment that you are not yet occupying.
In New York City, owners typically don’t need to work hard to find tenants, but in the dead of winter, they sometimes do get a bit more creative. From December to March, owners will sometimes throw in incentives to entice renters—for example, a flat screen television or gift card for Ikea or Home Depot to help you offset the cost of buying new furniture or redecorating.
Factors to consider before your winter move
First, if you’re planning to move on a holiday, such as January 1, bear in mind that it may be difficult to find a moving company ready and willing to do a move at 8:00 am on New Year’s Day. In addition, some buildings, including most doorman buildings, do not allow moves on statuary holidays. Second, whether you’re moving in late December, January or February, weather may be an issue. Finding parking for a moving van during a snow snowstorm and hauling sofas and mattresses over snow banks isn’t impossible, but it is a bit more challenging. If it snows during your move, be prepared to pay more for the additional hours it may take to complete your move.
The most notable challenge you’ll face during any winter move, however, is your lease negotiation. While owners will likely be happy to rent to you, in most cases, they will also push you to sign a lease that is either shorter or longer than a year to ensure the lease renewal happens in May to September rather than the winter months. The reason for this is simple. If your lease comes up in May rather than January, when you do go to renegotiate your rent, the owner will be in a better position to raise your rent back up to market rates. If you’re asked to sign a lease that renews in the spring, summer or early fall, attempt to negotiate, but if you’re getting a great deal, your willingness to renew the lease on the owner’s schedule might prove to be a deal breaker.
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