Housing is one of the largest expenses and it’s worth trying to get the best deal you can. When it comes to finding an apartment rental there are a few tricks I’ve picked up that help find the best value. Generally, the approach is more suited for apartments that are being rented out by an owner rather than a development being rented out by a single company since there’s just more information out there.

The idea is pretty straightforward - estimate the total costs the owner is paying and then see how that compares to the listed rent. At least in the New York City area, the primary expenses when owning a home are the mortgage, taxes, and the maintenance fees. Each of these can be fetched or at least estimated using Zillow.

To calculate the monthly mortgage payment, Zillow provides the Zestimate and you can use a simple mortgage calculator assuming a common 20% down payment and a 30 year loan to get the monthly mortgage payment. The taxes may be available on the listing as well but if not they may be available from public records usually available online or estimated from another unit in the same building. The maintenance fee is usually the trickiest to get since it’s not typically listed unless the unit is for sale. The best way I’ve been able to get it is by looking at units in the building that are listed for sale and adjusting their maintenance fee by the ratio of floor space since maintenance fees are usually calculated based on square footage.

Adding these three numbers up should hopefully give you something that’s more than the rent. Then to see how good of a deal the rent is you just take the ratio of rent to our estimated monthly cost: the lower it is the better the value. I did this with a few units in the area and it turns out the majority of the ratios fell between 0.75 and 0.9 which makes sense since renting should be cheaper than owning.

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