Five bedrooms, five roommates: That was the setup for Garrett Aries and Olivia Jung, both 25 and friends from the University of Michigan, class of 2013.
They enjoyed sharing a duplex in the East Village with three friends. The total rent was $7,600. But, last spring, their roommates began leaving for jobs or graduate school elsewhere.
“It was easier to find a two-bedroom than to fill the three bedrooms with people we didn’t really know,” said Ms. Jung, who works as a project coordinator in the financial field.
So she and Mr. Aries, a commercial real estate broker who represents retail tenants, went on the hunt for a less unwieldy place. They wanted a two-bedroom that had a living room with enough space for at least a few friends to sit.
A closet in each bedroom would be good, too. Mr. Aries is from California and, unlike some of his friends, was unable to store his off-season clothing at his parents’ place. “I needed a closet for winter and summer stuff all together,” he said.
Their price was $3,000 to $3,500 a month. If one bedroom was larger than the other, they would divide the rent accordingly, as they had in the five-bedroom duplex.
For assistance, Mr. Aries contacted a former colleague, Ashley Haupt, a saleswoman at FirstService Residential.
They preferred a lively downtown neighborhood that didn’t roll up the sidewalks at sundown. In that case, Ms. Haupt told them to prepare themselves for high prices and small spaces. “There were a lot of apartments that were not true two-bedrooms, and were in poor, unrenovated condition,” she said.
Though apartments looked reasonable in listing photos, the photos often bore little resemblance to the actual space. “We didn’t know if it was bait-and-switch or the pictures were touched up beyond recognition,” Mr. Aries said.
The roommates were alarmed to find indifferent upkeep and ancient interiors. “We needed appliances that were built in the 20th century,” Mr. Aries said.
As they hunted, they learned to check the number of electrical outlets for their gadgets, which included cellphone chargers, TVs, computers, computer speakers, an Xbox and a hairdryer.
An apartment in Chinatown for just $3,000 a month sounded too good to be true, and was. It was a partitioned-off studio, with just one closet. In place of a standard stove, there was a cooktop designed for a wok.
Ms. Jung, who is of Chinese descent, was familiar with the setup, similar to what close family friends had. “It was almost like a Chinese restaurant kitchen,” she said. “It wasn’t unusual for me, but it is unusual for a New York apartment.”
On East 21st Street in the Gramercy area, near a large police station, a duplex for around $3,000 a month was nicely renovated. But a narrow spiral staircase went directly into the second-floor bedroom. “I could barely get down it, and I was sober,” Mr. Aries said. Moreover, that bedroom had no door.
Nearby on East 22nd Street, a two-bedroom for $3,400 a month had an awkward layout. What with the door, windows, a hallway and an open kitchen, wall space was so limited that setting up a couch facing a television set was impossible.
By now, the roommates were at the top of their price range. With 10 days before their lease expired, they started becoming nervous. Then Ms. Haupt took them to a two-bedroom in a lively part of the Lower East Side.
The apartment was newly painted and clean. Each bedroom had a closet and several electrical outlets. The living room was big and square, though the bathroom was tiny. The rent was $3,500 a month, but the building paid the broker fee.
The friends signed on and arrived in late spring. Mr. Aries pays $1,880 for the larger bedroom with windows on the street, and Ms. Jung pays $1,620 for the smaller one, with a pigeon-filled courtyard outside. She keeps her blinds down.
Her parents live in New Jersey, so she doesn’t mind the relative smallness of her closet. “It’s easy for me to store my seasonal clothes back in New Jersey,” she said.
The Lower East Side is even more interesting to them than the East Village. “This area provides a lot of great, cool eats,” Ms. Jung said. “It makes us go out and explore the neighborhood.”
Though each pays a higher rent than before, the utility bill has dropped.
“Living with three guys, we had to get the ultimate on-demand sports package,” Ms. Jung said. “So I told Garrett the only way I can pay this much is if we don’t have cable. If he needs to, he can go across the street to a sports bar.”