Summer is high season in the New York City rental market, and this past weekend I was reminded of that. I had two guys and their mother in from California, and on Saturday afternoon we put in application for a two bedroom apartment. We even had a back up unit with the same management company. By Monday afternoon, however, we were told that someone else beat us to the punch in the application process for both units, and by only a few hours. After two more days of looking and a little low-grade stalking on my part, they ended up finding something else.
That said, as I enter yet another summer rental season, I thought I may offer some realistic advice for tenants out there. While other outlets may try to offer guidance, unless you work in the field there really is no way to understand exactly how this business it works.
Look for An Apartment In The Middle of The Week: This is the best piece of advice I could give anyone. Everyone looks for an apartment on a weekend, and in peak times like summer you're more likely to lose one you saw on a weekend than if you saw it in the middle of the week. Monday mornings are crazy in the real estate business, because everyone who looked over the weekend and put in an application, or considered putting in an offer to buy a place, is waiting for approvals and feedback. Also, inventory lists are more likely to be accurate in the middle of the week, once the ebb and flow on Monday morning has passed.
Brokers are also not as busy on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and will have time to devote to your cause. I can easily book two or three appointments on a Saturday, and if you're not one of the first in the queue you may actually get rescheduled.
You'll Probably Have To Use A Broker In Manhattan Every time I'm at a cocktail party there's always that sanctimonious twit in the corner who claims he's found every apartment he ever had on Craigslist or through word of mouth. That's great. When you need something specific, however, such as a good share apartment for a couple of new college grads or a one bedroom within walking distance to Grand Central, a broker will make good use of your time.
Just be careful who you choose. When you answer a random Craigslist Ad from a hole in the wall brokerage called something like #1BestNYCLivingSpace.com, don't be surprised if the guy you meet is a little sketchy, pushy or at the very least, smells bad. Ask around to people who have had good experiences. If you need a high end, Upper East Side Classic Six, a marquee name brokerage will most likely be able to get it for you.
You Don't Have to Work With 12 Different Brokers. Thanks to the guidelines set up by Real Estate Board of New York, every broker in Manhattan has access to every listing out there. Unless someone has something in their pocket that they're not sharing, chances are your one genius broker can find it. Remember, this is a business relationship. If you're running around town with different brokers, it won't inspire anyone to make an effort try to find something for you. It's a waste of their time. Fidelity will get you what you want.
What's The Deal With The Broker Fee, Anyhow? The broker fee, which is generally 15% of the annual rent, is how the broker gets paid. Some people think it goes to the landlord, but it's a service charge for the broker who found you the place. Most landlords in Manhattan don't deal with the general public, which is why a job like mine exists. We also have access to the whole gamut of available apartments, from your standard rentals buildings to private owners who just have one or two units to offer.
When you ask a broker to lower their fee, you're asking them to work for less, which never makes us happy. Even if we only showed you one apartment, and you took it, it doesn't mean we did any less of a job.
If you have a slow week at your desk job, doing little but surfing Facebook and shopping online, does your boss ask you to take a cut in your pay? Nope. There is more to being a broker than just opening a door. A good one spends their week previewing, managing their marketing and scoping out new listings. We also have to be ad-hoc therapists, tour guides and financial advisors. It's less passive of a job than you think.