Few things move as fast as New York City real estate, so when you find a home you love, it's imperative that you're ready to pounce. Before you even start scanning listings, take a few minutes to get your finances and documentation in order. It could mean the difference between "home sweet home" and "the one that got away."
1. Check Your Credit Score
The first step in preparing to qualify for a home, whether buying or leasing, is to check your credit score. Not only do you want to see a numerical score in the good to excellent range, typically 700 or above, but you want to make sure your debt-to-credit ratio is low and that there are no derogatory remarks.
Credit Karma is a great place to start. There, you can review your score, assess why it is what it is and simulate the effect different scenarios will have on your score (i.e. adding a card, raising credit limits, paying down balances, etc.). Best of all, Credit Karma allows you to dispute erroneous information on your file directly through their site — a huge time-saver. Remember, improvements to your credit report can take time to process, so start here first to allow a month or two for changes to be reflected in your score.
2. Have Your Paperwork in Order
Even if you have perfect credit score, you're going to need to back it up with paperwork. A lot of paperwork. Grab your last two or three paystubs, monthly bank statements, tax returns (the first two pages of your federal return should do) and investment account statements. If possible, save or scan them as PDFs to make emailing to brokers and potential landlords a breeze. Scan or snap a photo of your state-issued ID while you're at it, and homeowners should prepare copies of their most recent mortgage statements. If you're self-employed, you'll need to pony up ever more documentation, and if you're using a guarantor, they'll need to supply all of the above as well.
3. Organize Your References
This is a competitive market, so landlords must often choose between two extremely qualified candidates. Make sure you pull ahead of the pack by collecting references and contact info as soon as possible. Be prepared to provide contacts for your last few landlords, if possible. Or, even better, have them write a reference letter ahead of time, including how long you lived in their property, your payment record and any other positive remarks.
Make sure you have a letter of employment on company letterhead from your current place of work which details your start date, current salary and bonuses (FYI, an offer letter for a new position is typically not adequate), and have the name and contact info for the human resources person who's authorized to verify this information over the phone.
4. Don't Forget the Pets
Some apartments in the city are pet-friendly with zero restrictions, but more often than not, there are qualifications Fido or Fluffy must meet in order to be welcomed. Prepare a dossier on each of your pets, including a photo, details on breed, weight and age, plus verification of up-to-date licenses and vaccines. If you can get a letter of recommendation from a veterinarian, trainer or daycare facility familiar with your pet, all the better. Keep in mind that many buildings have a quantity or weight limit for dogs, or a "dangerous breed" policy in place that will exclude Pit Bulls, German shepherds, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Huskies, Akitas, Chows and others. If you own one of these breeds, or a dog that even resembles one of these breeds, be prepared for a potentially challenging search. Keep in mind all Dixon homes are pet-friendly. (Breed and weight restrictions may apply, and the one-time pet fee varies by breed and weight.) View our pet friendly listings here.
5. Scout Out Your Insurance Options
Many landlords now require that you have renters' insurance prior to finalizing your lease, so it's a good idea to investigate your options early in the process. If you already have an auto or other insurance policy, check if that insurer also offers renters' policies so that you can take advantage of bundled savings. If not, there are a number of other options, including industry stalwarts like State Farm and Amica, and "insurance tech" firms like Lemonade.
For more information on renters' insurance, read our blog post: 5 Reasons You Should Have Renters' Insurance and How to Get It.