A year ago, Nicolas Gaffié was living in his native Paris, paying the equivalent of about $1,000 a month for his half of a two-bedroom apartment.
When his employer, a French investment bank, offered him the chance to transfer to New York, he grabbed it. “I had never been to New York before, but I studied for one semester at the University of South Carolina and traveled for pleasure,” Mr. Gaffié, 30, said. “I wanted to have the American experience.”
He landed in New York knowing no one, just days before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the city. For months — much longer than he anticipated — he bunked in a furnished corporate rental in Midtown West, close to his company’s office. “I was able to get up in the morning, get ready, walk to the office and not stay in my apartment all day,” he said.
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By summertime, Mr. Gaffié needed to find his own place. But even as Manhattan rents began to fall, he was “amazed,” he said, “because rents are twice the price of Paris.”
He added: “Overall, New York City is more expensive. Salaries are higher, so it compensates. But the rental market is higher than the rest of the costs, like for groceries or restaurants.”
What’s more, as a foreigner lacking the paperwork required by most landlords, he knew he couldn’t navigate the rental market alone. His income was in euros, and his bank statements in French.
“I needed all this documentation, so I needed to have someone to help me and argue on my behalf,” he said. “I had a whole list of things that were usually required, and I didn’t have half of it — not even 25 percent of it.”
Through a chain of friends, Mr. Gaffié met Marisol Bañuelos, a licensed saleswoman at Keller Williams NYC. For up to $3,000 a month, he wanted a one-bedroom within walking distance of his office and Central Park. So he stuck to the West Side.
He was also hoping for plenty of sunlight, a functional kitchen, a laundry room in the building and a place to store his bicycle, although he was willing to keep it in his apartment if necessary.
“The bike is the first thing I bought when I arrived in the U.S.,” Mr. Gaffié said. “I knew zero people when I landed, and I didn’t have a lot to do, but during the weekend I could at least grab my bike and discover New York.”
Ms. Bañuelos focused on buildings with doormen, laundry rooms and bike rooms, making sure the landlords would consider a foreign renter who didn’t have a nearby guarantor. “All of these management companies have had experience with foreigners,” she said. “They just asked for a little bit more information.”
By summer, there was plenty of inventory, and buildings were dropping fees and adding incentives like one or more months of free rent. (Back then, two free months was a good deal, Ms. Bañuelos said; now she is seeing four.)
Inside the newer buildings, Mr. Gaffié found similar layouts. “They are all just a cube, basically,” he said.
Among his options:
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