I'm apartment hunting, and newspapers and craigslist haven't yielded much. I'm thinking about consulting with a broker. Any advice?
Claire, Greenpoint

Before you go find a broker, know that we've heard many success stories of people who found apartments on craigslist or through owners without having to pay any fees. So if you hang in there, you might just find a fabulous place.

2004_06_askhandshake.jpgAlso, walk around the neighborhood you want to live in and look out for rental or sales signs (sometimes they are just stapled to poles or bus shelters) and try to deal with owners. Talk to your own landlord about other properties. Management companies also usually have their open apartments posted on their websites.

But, if you're in a crunch, brokers can facilitate your search greatly. When picking a broker, keep a couple of things in mind:

-A friend of Gothamist suggested going through craigslist's "broker no fee" listings, not to look for apartments necessarily, but to find broker's with no-fee apartments. Then schedule an appointment and see what they can offer.
-Broker's fees in New York are high. Most make you sign something up-front disclosing their fee policy. Broker's fees run anywhere from 10-18 percent of one year's rent which, depending on the apartment, can be upwards of $3000.
-We recommend making appointments with more than one broker. Sit down and chat with them a little first. If they are schmoozy, smarmy, and trying to push you into making a decision fast, ditch them. If they're willing to be accomodating and have a couple of places in mind, hear them out. Also: Does the broker seem excited about the places he's offering? Has he seen them before? Does he know the building owner and/or the super? Or, does he rely on his computer to tell him what's available?
-You're better off going to a smaller real-estate agent. Most neighborhoods have agencies that specialize just in that neighborhood, and you're more likely to find someone who is knowledgable about the specifics (Which laudromat is best? Where do you buy your groceries? Where's the closest pet store? Where can I get a cheap dinner?) and about which streets are safe. Some of the bigger real estate companies are less personal and have so many listings that they don't know their properties or the neighborhoods well, and mostly just want to make the sale.

Our recent experience (and indeed some statistics we've read) indicates to us that the process is a bit easier if you get some help, but that perseverence and some luck can produce a great apartment without a fee.