Moving to New York City? Know your apartment terminology

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For the most part, apartments come in three varieties in the ‘burbs: complexes, duplexes and quadruplexes. With a few variations in between, the double driveways and outdoor staircases tend to give apartments away, and rent prices are generally determined by a unit’s square footage, general condition and quality of the neighborhood surrounding it.

But if you're living in or moving to New York City, the lexicon of dwelling types is practically infinite. If you’re considering a move to the Big Apple, we’ve got a simple glossary to help you navigate the maze of apartment options.

Rent-stabilized v. Non-stabilized

Rent stabilization laws protect tenants from the dramatic and often unpredictable swings in the NYC real estate market. Under such laws, when a tenant’s lease ends and he or she renews, the rent can only go up under the law’s current limitations. In a non-stabilized apartment, rent may skyrocket when it comes time to renew a lease, based on the owner or lease manager’s whim or arbitrary reasons.

Due to the financial security that comes with living in a rent-stabilized (or “rent controlled”) apartment, these units are in high demand and are becoming a limited commodity in the city. Many addresses have a mix of apartments that both are and aren’t rent controlled, all in the same building.

Looking for a rent-stabilized apartment? Get in line... (we kid). They're tough to find, butthis post from our friends at Brick Underground lays out some best practices to get you started.

No Fee

When an apartment hunter uses a broker to find the perfect space, the broker typically charges a percentage (usually 8 to 15%) of the lease total once a lease is signed; this is referred to as a “broker’s fee.” A no fee apartment is one in which the broker will not charge the tenant an added finder's fee for connecting him or her with the owner and brokering a lease agreement. Usually, this means the broker is being paid by the owner instead. If you’re on your own, searching for a place without a broker’s help, every apartment you look at is considered “no fee.”

Pre-war v. Post-war

In terms of architecture, there’s old New York and new New York. Much like it sounds, a pre-war apartment was built before World War II, with thick walls and sturdy construction, often featuring crown moldings, arched doorways and other old world elements. Post-war apartments, built after World War II, can range from modest mid-century living quarters to ultra-contemporary spaces. Usually, walls between apartments in post-war buildings are much thinner than their predecessors, thanks to inexpensive modern innovations like drywall. For these reasons, rents are higher in higher in pre-war buildings.

Doorman v. Attended Lobby

These terms are sometimes confused or misused, but strictly speaking, there are four types of buildings when it comes to help getting in the door: - Doorman - Attended lobby (or “concierge”) - Full service - No doorman

Simply put, a doorman is a uniformed individual who helps residents and invited guests into the building; an attended lobby features an attendant or concierge behind a desk inside who can welcome visitors and also help with receving deliveries and the like; a full-service building has both an attendant/concierge and a doorman (obviously, these are generally pricier); and some buildings have none of these services (i.e., “no doorman.”)

Elevator Building

An elevator building has an elevator (pretty obvious), but no doorman or concierge. Generally, these apartments feature voice or video intercoms through which residents can buzz up their guests.

One thing to note about moving into elevator buildings: many NYC elevators are quite small, and are not necessarily large enough to hold large furniture items (i.e. king-size mattresses) on moving day. And since the whole community of the building depends on use of the elevator to get around, many elevator buildings place restrictions on when elevators can be used for moving, such as no moving on weekends or only with limited reservations.

If you're moving into an elevator building, be sure to confirm your moving plans with your super, and make sure your crew knows what's up before they arrive to move you in, or you may run into unwanted delays.

Townhouse

A townhouse is basically the closest thing to a house a person can live in within New York City’s inner core. Usually offering amenities like a private backyard and eat-in kitchen, townhouses are often more ornate than most other pre-war buildings. While they were originally built as single-family homes, some are now split into multiple units.

Brownstone

A brownstone is a specific type of townhouse made of brown sandstone, a popular pre-20th century building material. Brownstone townhouses are commonly referred to as “row houses.”

Railroad

Often seen in brownstones, railroad apartment layouts mimic those of of old railway cars -- long and narrow, sometimes with a hallway running down one side, providing access to each room. Some may have interior panel doors as well, leading from one room to another; these are commonly referred to as "shotgun apartments," dating back to the Civil War era, when small residences could provide a clear shot from front to back. Most buildings containing them are five to six stories tall.

Railroad apartments were first built to provide a solution to urban overcrowding in the mid-20th century. Since the linear layout of a railroad apartment is less than ideal, they're sometimes cheaper on the market. But if you're searching for a place to share with roommates, proceed with caution. Railroads mean that you'll be walking by or through each others' personal space to get around the apartment, and the noise and intrusion will get old pretty quickly.

Walkup

Usually pre-war buildings, walkups have no elevators and are generally five stories or shorter. Most have a voice intercom for buzzing guests in. (Technically, townhouses are considered walkups, but are simply called townhouses.)

Condo

In a condo, each unit is owned privately, and unit owners share ownership of common spaces like hallways, lobbies and so on. Rental applications are typically submitted to the respective unit’s owner and reviewed by the condo board.

Co-op

In a co-op, the entire building is owned by a group of people on the property who have bought shares of the corporation formed by the building’s co-op association. In this setup, each “owner” is actually a proprietary lessee. While a proprietary lessee may sublet his or her living space, prospective tenants must go through an often rigorous approval process with the building’s board of directors, who may under law reject the tenant’s sublease request for any reason they choose.

If you're applying to get an apartment in a co-op building, don your Sunday best, expect character and credit checks, and prepare to promise away your first born to get in. Condo and Co-op board reviews are no joke.

Studio

Just like any other city, New York’s studio apartments don’t differentiate between a classic living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom. Transitions are left up to residents to establish through furniture placement and creative solutions like curtains, temporary partitions and even simple, subtle cues like rugs.

New York is teeming with studio apartments, often with very little square footage. That said, because there are so many single young professionals living in NYC, it can be quite tough to find a studio at a reasonable rate, which may explain why so many sitcoms set in NYC feature 30-year-old roommates.

Microstudio

As New York’s population grows ever denser and the island stays the same size (because, you know... science), the city is seeking out intelligent ways to accommodate more residents. Although living spaces under 400 feet are currently illegal in the city, Mayor Bloomberg is looking into alternatives in the way of microstudios (or “micro units”), which are around 350 square feet and have transformable furniture (think “wall by day, fold-out bed by night”), making small space dwellers the wave of the future and giving new meaning to the term “efficiency apartment.”

Loft

Lofts are open-plan spaces that could also be used for purposes other than living quarters. Often industrial in appearance, these spaces are typically large, with high ceilings and large windows. Lofts are especially popular among artists and those seeking live/work spaces. Not for traditionalists, lofts are fairly abundant in downtown NYC and in Brooklyn.

All in all, the process of finding the perfect apartment in the city can be a challenging one, but New York is full of amazing gems and creative solutions. Whether you’re working with a broker, asking friends for help or just looking online with the assistance of sites like Craigslist and Nestio, knowing your terminology can save you time and keep you on track.

And of course, if you’re planning a move to the city and need help pulling together an inventory of your belongings, comparing price quotes and finding a reputable moving company, the team here at Moveline is happy to help -- for free.

To get started, head to our homepage or simply contact a Move Captain for a little guidance, and let us know how we can help. That’s exactly why we’re here.


Moving to New York City or Brooklyn?? Let Moveline help. We'll get you guaranteed quotes from the top NYC and Brooklyn movers, and assign you a Move Captain to manage your move.