Had same experience -- craigslist adventures, running from BedStuy to Wash Heights in search of that perfect affordable dump -- moving from Toronto years back. Ended up with a Manhattan broker who was the WORST. The 15% fee plus the Being Canadian Tax (no US credit rating) of two extra months rent. From broke to broker to brokest.
But. Did find a great apt in Astoria two years later through an exclusive broker (nice Irish lady, office on Broadway) and the fee was worth it as all the comparable no-fee apts had rents at least 15% more per month.
At least that's what I told myself so I could sleep at night. Also, booze.