Take your very own bite of the Big Apple

IN ANY job transfer abroad, top of the list of concerns is finding a place to call home. This is particularly overwhelming if your destination is New York: finding a cosy foothold in this concrete jungle can be a confusing affair.

But rather than making a beeline for an estate agent, or realtor, as yanks call them, it pays to do the legwork – literally. Walking around a neighbourhood not only gives you a feel for the area, but also enables you to take note of signs advertising apartments for sale or rent, the most popular of which might otherwise be hard to find.

This is particularly important because buying or renting in New York is all about the building. Many, particularly those that form coops or condominium associations, have peculiar rules: in both a condo and a coop, for example, the building’s board often has a right of veto over any potential new buyers. Prospective residents have to go through an interview and meet certain requirements to make sure they are “the right sort of person” to join the club. In both arrangements, buyers also have to pay an application fee ($75-$500) and annual maintenance fee for the upkeep of any shared spaces.

But even finding the building can be a trial. The most popular ones don’t advertise because word of mouth ensures they are always full. There is not much getting around this, but visiting a wide range of estate agents as well as browsing online gives you a hope in hell.

Luckily, it is very much a buyer’s market at the moment. Katherine McFarland of estate agent Corcoran says: “Sales prices have fallen 25 per cent from their peak and haven’t recovered but we’ve seen a huge increase in activity this past spring. The amount of buying is the same as in spring ’08 but the prices are much lower.” This means it pays to be a tough negotiator – some buyers are accepting offers 30 per cent below their asking price.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for rentals, where prices have recovered to early 2008 levels. Londoners looking to rent also have to contend with paying the estate agent’s fees, which can be 10-15 per cent of the first annual gross rental costs. In addition, because the law stringently protects tenant’s rights, most landlords will demand extensive credit checks and paperwork before signing. It is a good idea to get all these documents in order before you watch your dream apartment get snapped up because you are busy printing bank statements.

Whether it’s a cut-price investment you are seeking or an archetypal big apple lifestyle in a rented haven, make sure you know the market and its rules before biting off more than you can chew.

RENT: $3,800 (£2,460) PER MONTH
Minutes from Central Park, the Lincoln Center and the Museum of Natural History, this elegantly furnished, Upper West Side one bedroom apartment sits in an elegant pre-war doorman building. Also near three major subway lines. Non-smoking, no pets. Contact: Corcoran, on +001 212 875-2824, www.corcoran.com.

PRICE: $1,295,000 (£838,595)
This is that rare thing, a Chelsea loft, albeit a one bedroom. In a brilliant location in arty lower Manhattan, this loft is flooded with light and and has terrific view of the Empire State Building and Met Life from three over-sized windows north and east. Contact: +001 212 444-7866, www.corcoran.com.

PRICE: $1,250,000 (£809,683)
Here you have the best of both worlds: a desirable New York neighbourhood and a two-family duplex with garden and attached, “professional space”. Ideal for rentals: you live in one apartment and rent out the other. Contact: +718 935 6145, www.prudentialelliman.com.

Tips | finding the best pads in the city

l It might seem arduous, but one of the best ways to get in on a great New York apartment in a popular location is to walk straight into the most appealing buildings and ask the superintendent if there are any apartments for rent.

l New York estate agents will try anything to get hold of their fees – even if it means charging you for renting in a building that has a rule against realtor fees. Ask current residents or superintendents about their no-fee requirements.

l If being chatted up by realtors isn’t your cup of tea, try newyork.craigslist.com or StreetEasy.com. But beware of scams and landlords who post photos of one apartment and then show you another.

l A lot of agents will direct you towards new luxury developments, but many are in unappealing areas such as the financial district.