Roommates Matthew Gorman, left, and Steve Kaliski hang out in...

Roommates Matthew Gorman, left, and Steve Kaliski hang out in their kitchen. (Charles Eckert) Credit: Roommates Matthew Gorman, left, and Steve Kaliski hang out in their kitchen. (Charles Eckert)

It's no secret that the New York real estate market requires skill to navigate, but it's especially difficult for those who've never rented or bought property before.

While prospective renters and buyers can arm themselves with knowledge of market conditions, average rents, closing costs, inflation statistics and brokers fees, problems pop up in the process (the elevator broke, a co-op denies an application) that are hard to prepare for.

We spoke with real estate experts and a first-time renter to get advice for new renters and buyers, and to help experienced New Yorkers avoid repeating mistakes in the future.

The preparation

Gary Malin, president at CitiHabitats, said knowing the city's market conditions often doesn't arm prospective tenants and owners with enough information.

"Whether it's on the rental or the buyer's side, going into the process educated is always helpful," he said, recommending enlisting the help of a broker. "People think that knowing market conditions provides them with everything."

He said the rental process is quick, and prospective renters should be prepared to make immediate decisions.

Emily Lundell, vice president at Corcoran, said buyers should speak with a broker early on for financial reasons.

She said brokers understand the financial requirements for different buildings and that some require larger down payments than others, or varying amounts of savings in the bank.

Matthew Gorman, a 21-year-old senior at NYU, moved off campus to a West Village apartment this semester with friends he met freshman year.

While Gorman loves his apartment, he and his roommates had to take the first one they saw with a broker because they unsuccessfully searched on their own before enlisting help at the last minute, he said.

"If anything," he said, "my advice would be to start early. We basically had to take any apartment, so that was a little bit scary."

Gorman added that first-time renters need to be aware that there are bills to pay other than rent. Moving out of the dorms, Gorman and his roommates weren't used to conserving electricity, and were shocked to see their first Con Edison bill was upwards of $500.

"It always ends up costing more than you expect," he said of the process.

The search

Experts advised being open-minded in your apartment hunt, as prospective residents face compromises on location, apartment specifics, and sometimes pricing.

"It's important to make a list of all the things that are important to you and then to understand, because Manhattan has such limited inventory, you are going to have to do some picking and choosing," Lundell said.

Be open to suggestions from brokers, Malin said, adding that sometimes people are decided on a neighborhood that isn't right for them in the end.

"Working with someone who really understands your circumstances may give you some guidance you wouldn't have otherwise," he said.

In addition, once you've found a place that piques your interest, check out the block at different times of the day, Malin said.

"A lot of people want to live in the Village," for example, "but then they don't realize that it's loud at night," he said.

The move-in

"It requires a lot of patience, know that ahead of time," was how Lundell summed up the process of moving in.

She said buyers have to be flexible in terms of timing, as brokers and buildings have to agree on a closing date and co-ops and condos often have specific move-in guidelines to follow.

"Expect the unexpected," Malin added. "Everyone has a move-in horror story."

Do your homework, he suggested. Find out the building's move-in policies and when the elevators run.

In addition, Malin recommended transferring utility, cable and other bill accounts in advance, so you aren't stuck without electricity and Internet when you move in.

He said that people often get to their new apartment and find that landlords didn't keep promises, like fixing walls and replacing broken doors.

"Try to do a walk-through a day or two before you move in to make sure it's exactly how you want," he said.

Gorman said his group was not prepared to move to the fifth floor of a walk-up on a hot day in May. They hired movers, but helped with the process anyway.

"That turned out to be one of the worst experiences -- trying to move up five floors," he said. "We're all in shape now."

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