No, your eyes don't deceive, that is indeed a one-bedroom apartment for $2500 a month. To rent. Which is what most of us do here. Why? First, NYC is a transient city for many so it doesn't make sense to buy if you're only here a year or two. Second, the average home price in Manhattan is $975,000. Third, please see the second reason.
So where do you start when you want to rent an apt in NY? With this:
• What's your budget?
• Do you want roommates?
• How important is location to you? (want to be near the subway, live in city or outside, etc)
Regardless of your situation, start by asking friends if they know of available apartments, people looking for a roommate or if they know of a good broker.
Broker: If you'll live by yourself and your budget allows for a broker contact a brokers office (you pay a fee if you rent one of their listings, usually equal to a month's rent). If you know what area you want to live in walk around and you'll find broker's offices with apartment rental postings in the window. Or look on craigslist under housing > apts/housing > all apartments.
No broker: Not impossible, but harder to find. Start with craigslist, the most popular aparment listing site in NYC. Look under housing > apts/housing. You can filter it by "no-broker fee" apartments, but even some of those are listed by a broker and you'll pay a fee if you rent it.
Roommates: Craigslist is the way to go if your friends don't know of anyone looking for a roommate. Look under housing > rooms/shared.
Location: A general rule of thumb on most pricey to least pricey: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Staten Island. Also, usually the closer you are to the subway, the higher the rent.
Paperwork: There's no set rules on what you'll need, but here are guidelines:
Roommate: reference letters and a letter of employment - along with security deposit, first, last month's rent (so monthly rent x 3).
Your own apartment: A letter of employment, pay stubs, W-2, bank statements, a copy of your ID, reference letter from current landlord - and you'll need to pay for a credit check ($50-$100). If it's a broker-listed apartment you'll typically need monthly rent x 4 (first, last, security, broker fee). Ex. if your monthly rent is $1550, have $6200. And many times they'll require that you make 40x the monthly rent so if your monthly rent is $1550 you'll need to make $62,000 a year.
Finally, know that unless you have unlimited funds you'll have to make sacrifices. It can be in size, neighborhood, distance from subway - and many other things you'll discover. You may not have a sink in your bathroom, your shower may be in your kitchen - oh, where there's no oven. You probably won't have a dishwasher or washer/dryer--but what you will have is NYC. And trust me, she's worth every penny.