Even if you plan on working with a buyer’s agent when searching for an apartment to buy, there are several reasons why you should know how to conduct thorough online research for apartments on sale.
- You will get a better idea of the market.
- You will know what you can buy in your budget (square footage, amenities) and where (neighborhood, location within the building).
- You will be able to refine your want/need list.
- Ownership cost assessment (maintenance fees, common charges, and taxes).
The goal of comprehensive online research is to get as much information as possible and make an educated decision.
Best Website For Apartment Search
Each website differs in how they post a listing, what information they provide about the apartment, what kind of comparisons they allow you to make, and how much inventory they have for potential buyers. There are also different filtration tools that allow you to fine-tune your research.
The more comprehensive these filters are, the easier it might be for you to short-list available listings to close in on the right apartment. Apartment pictures have been a part of listings for a while now, but nowadays, many online listings also come with 3D tours, so ideally, the website you choose to execute your apartment search should have good 3D tour functionality.
There are multiple sites that can help you look for apartments listed in NYC, including Realtor.com, which operates on a national level but is also getting quite popular in New York. However, the most popular website for apartment search in NYC is arguably StreetEasy.
It offers a comprehensive number of listings at any given time and has great search filters that allow you to search apartments by amenities, pet permissions, within a custom area boundary, and even search by proximity to transit lines. There are several other app and website features that make StreetEasy a go-to option for NYC apartment buyers.
Features To Look For
It’s important to understand that you may not be able to make a final decision without visiting the apartment in person, but you can short-list the number of apartments you need to see by filtering them through the important features of an apartment. For example, if you are not sure whether you want to buy a co-op or a condo, searching for apartments in your price range can help you make a decision. You may consider compromising on board-related restrictions of a co-op if it means that you can get more area, a better location, and proximity to work within your budget instead of the flashy amenities of a small condo.
You should also try to refine your search based on must-have features and the features you might be able to compromise on. If you are adamant about buying in specific neighborhoods and are looking for a pet-friendly building, it might shrink hundreds of potential apartments (in the borough of your choice) to a couple of dozen – a much more manageable number. It’s much easier to refine your search based on the features you are looking for online than in person.
But you have to understand that online research and in-person visit both might offer you different pieces of information about an apartment, and both may be necessary to make a good choice. For example, you might see features like laundry in the building, storage, and a gym in a listing, but when you visit, you realize that the laundry is painfully small for the number of tenants/residents, storage comes with an additional fee, and the gym has run-down equipment.
If you are willing to dig deep enough for each building, including its social media outlets and any open forums where it’s discussed, you may find out some of the problems through the complaints and comments of current and past tenants/residents. But that’s impractical for too many apartments and should be reserved for the ones you are really interested in.
Cutting Through The Marketing
It’s important to learn to cut through the marketing language of a listing to isolate the necessary facts. A small apartment may be marketed as “spacious” because the current owner has bare minimum furniture. You can compare your current place’s square footage to the listing’s. If your place is crowded now and the listing is even smaller in area (or similar), it won’t be spacious for you.
However, you can find useful bits of information, like how long ago the apartment was renovated, what kind of equipment/appliances are in the kitchen, as well as information about kitchen top material, other finishes, floor, and what’s covered under maintenance. If the maintenance seems unusually high due to an assessment, the duration of the assessment might also be provided in the listing description.
If an apartment boasts an ideal location, that’s one of the focal points of the listing. StreetEasy listings even show the distance to the nearest transportation points. You can use that to plan your route to work (if you use public transport) or map your distance to your place of work (if you use your own vehicle).
You can also use the map to identify nearby places like restaurants, parks, shops, etc. The location can also play a crucial role in your lifestyle and your apartment’s value appreciation.
Choosing the right neighborhood is also important, but your budget often influences this decision. You might consider a smaller apartment in a great neighborhood compared to a larger apartment in an average neighborhood, but it might be impractical to go for a studio when you need a 2-bedroom apartment simply to live in what you consider a good neighborhood.
Researching a neighborhood online starts with identifying your needs. You can short-list neighborhoods based on your preferences, like quiet atmosphere, proximity to work, greenery, nearby restaurants, transportation options, etc. Then you can look online into the short-listed neighborhoods.
You can look into video tours, read about the neighborhoods in blogs, go through the discussion of residents on social media forums, etc. If you have kids, you can also look into the school districts a neighborhood falls in online.
Other Listings In The Buildings
Other listings in the building and the past transactions of the apartments you short-list might give you a good idea about pricing trends and how long the apartments from a building sit in the market.
Even though it’s influenced by market dynamics (whether it’s a buyer’s or seller’s market), other, most recent listings in the building might give you some additional information.