Your Perfect Apartment Might Not Be in Your Favorite Neighborhood

Anyone who has been apartment hunting lately knows that just as the prices have changed, so have the rules. And in the country's most competitive markets, the process can be a blood sport. No matter where you want to hang your hat, experts advise being realistic about expectations and budget. There's nothing worse than falling in love with a neighborhood you can't afford.

When budget is an issue, experts suggest looking for an area with the same attributes as your dream 'hood, but at a lower cost. If you've fallen in love with the leafy but pricey streets of brownstone Brooklyn, for instance, you may find your money stretching farther in Jersey City, a lower-profile neighborhood with a similar vibe -- and, depending on where you land, killer views of Manhattan.

"I recommend people be open to areas other than Manhattan and to other parts of Brooklyn that are commuter-friendly," says Eric Benaim, founder of Modern Spaces, a Long Island City-based real estate firm.

Louise JordanFor Louise Jordan (pictured at left), 35, an account director with a public relations firm, that meant looking outside New York City. She had lived in the city for 11 years before moving to Sweden with her now-fiance for 16 months. When they returned to New York, they settled in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint but soon found themselves wanting to replicate their quieter, greener situation in Gothenburg.

"Once I got back to New York, I was overwhelmed by how crowded and dirty it was [compared to Sweden]," she said. "I wanted to continue working in Manhattan but have my outdoor space." After looking around, they settled on the town of Irvington, just north of the city. There, they spread out in two bedrooms and two bathrooms, in a complex surrounded by nature and bike trails -- a luxury they couldn't afford in their former, hip Brooklyn neighborhood.

Considering an alternate neighborhood may also ease some of the stress of competition. Jordan recalled feeling pressured to take an apartment in Manhattan's East Village because her broker assured her that the place would be gone within minutes. In super-hot neighborhoods, it's not uncommon to come to a showing with a checkbook in hand, a credit report and references.

"If you come unprepared, they're not interested in you," Jordan said. "You have to prove yourself, because [landlords] can pick anyone." Benaim suggested that smaller landlords in lesser markets may be more lenient.

That was the case for Tina Awad, 52, who, after living in downtown Manhattan for 13 years, moved nearly 100 blocks north. A massage therapist who has her own business, Awad was in search of a rental where she could devote one room to patient care. Priced out of downtown, where most of her clientele lived, she sought an alternate neighborhood with good transportation. Her other challenge: Because she runs her own business, she lacked many of the employment documents that most landlords required for a background check.

But by seeking an independent landlord, she found one who reviewed her tax returns, found her income adequate and rented her a two-bedroom apartment on West 104th Street. "I think an owner-operated kind of building is more flexible, as opposed to the kind that has a doorman and all the brouhaha," she said.

See more about renting:
Rental Perks You Might Get -- If You Ask
When You Can Force Your Landlord To Listen To You

Most Renters Have Pet

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