Finding the right apartment in NYC at the right price is a skill. But it is a skill you can learn easily if you do your research and follow all the correct steps.

First and foremost you don’t want to start looking too early. Most rental websites have apartments available for rent within the next 30 days. If you’re looking to move in on February 1st then don’t start looking in November. The places available to you then will not still be available by your move in date. Also something to keep in mind is that the best apartments are rented within hours or days of being posted on the web, not weeks.

Find out what your budget is. Take your yearly income (all of the income that you will be able to prove to a landlord, that is) and divide it by 40 or 50. This will not only give you a range of what you can afford but it will tell you the type of apartments you will be approved for. Landlords require that you make at least 40 times the cost of one month’s rent in a year.

If you find that this budget isn’t sufficient you will need a guarantor. A guarantor is someone who will co-sign your lease. They will need to make 80-100 times the monthly rent in order to be approved.

You must be able to prove all income to a landlord with financial documents. If your grandma gives you $100 in cash each month, that won’t show up on your documents so you shouldn’t include it in your estimate.

Here’s what you should come prepared with:

  • License or passport
  • Last two pay stubs
  • 1-2 years of tax returns
  • Last two months’ bank statements
  • An employment verification letter stating your salary, position, and length of employment

It’s also a good idea to have personal and business references. Two letters of each type of reference will stand as a very good sign to the landlord that you are not only prepared but clearly dependable and well liked. The most important reference would be a letter from your current landlord. If you cannot get your landlord to write a good letter, you should still be prepared with his/her name and contact information. Your potential new landlord will want to get in touch with them to, at least, discuss the basics.

Make sure you’re prepared to sign immediately. Due to high demand, you may have to commit on the spot, so have all of your paperwork ready. You should be prepared to write a check for an application or credit check fee. This can be anywhere between $25 and $100. Some landlords may also ask for a good faith deposit of a few hundred dollars or a personal check for the security deposit up front. If your application is denied any deposits will be returned but you will not be refunded for the application fee either way.

Once you’ve been approved, however, the first month’s rent, security deposit, and possibly a broker’s fee (if you’ve chosen to use one) need to be paid with certified bank checks. Each check must be separate as the landlord is required to keep your security deposit a separate account from his money and if it’s an interest earning account, you’re entitled to that money. Most likely the landlord will not have cashed the “good faith” check you gave him/her to hold the apartment. It is held onto in case you back out of the apartment during the application process. You should ask for the check back (if it’s not being applied to your security deposit) and destroy it.

When all of the checks have been submitted and you’re ready to commit, you just need to sign and you will find yourself the proud new tenant of an apartment of your dreams.