07/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Get Along With Your Real Estate Broker

It's summer, which means that real estate brokers such as myself are helping lots of people find new places to live. New college grads, newly married couples, even people just sick of their old digs are getting out of leases and hitting the streets.

In New York City, brokers are an integral part of any real estate transaction, be it a rental or a sale. We're conduits for landlords and management companies who don't have time to deal with the general public. We run credit and screen applicants to make sure they can actually afford the places they apply for. We're gatekeepers, but above all, we're matchmakers, matching tenants to the right apartments, so that everyone leaves happy.

First and foremost, brokers are here to help you. Finding a place to live in Manhattan is a nerve-wracking process. You're combing the emotional investment of a new home with the financial obligations. Contrary to popular belief, brokers are not out to victimize or take advantage of clients. Like a hairdresser or a financial planner, we have expertise about a certain sector, and it's a sector pretty much everyone in Gotham needs. After all, there's no reason why anyone who doesn't work in real estate would know how much a two bedroom rental in Chelsea goes for (It's about $4400, if you were curious.) As much as we want to close deals, educating clients is a big part of the job, and it's one we're happy to do.

That said, as you take on New York Real Estate this summer, I offer a few tips:

There are no $1000 studios in Manhattan. Please stop asking if there are. A typical studio in Manhattan will run you about $1500, and that's on the low end. Every now and then something for $1400 will pop up, but it's not the norm.

Respect the fact that a broker is providing you with a service, and be prepared to pay for that service. A few weeks ago I took out a young woman who wanted a large one bedroom for herself and her boyfriend. Our tour almost ended early on when she refused to sign the fee agreement, a piece of paper that basically states that if she rents a place that I show her, she will pay me a commission. She told me outright that she wouldn't agree to pay a broker's fee because she was going to try to find whatever I showed her on Craigslist, and basically screw me for the time I put into researching her apartments and setting up appointments. I reminded her that nothing I showed her would be on Craigslist, because owners list with brokers precisely so that they won't have to deal with the deluge that comes from posting on an open, free site. I also suggested some no-fee places. Eventually she realized that if she wanted her quirky, 1,000-foot apartment in SoHo, she was going to have to stick with me. Or at least get off of Craigslist.

A good broker will bend over backwards to help you.
Back in May I had three young investment bankers, in three different parts of the world, who needed a place to live together for July 1. They needed a doorman, a large living room and central air. I spent a good week/ two weeks walking around, previewing places for them and taking photos. Eventually I set up a Flickr page so that the guys, each in different time zones, could check out the properties on offer. I spoke to them several times a day for two weeks, and one even called me from Dubai. Not only did we close a deal, but they're very happy with their new place. They were organized, clear about what they wanted and listened to my advice. Model clients all around.

Rents are not negotiable. It you see a three bedroom for $4000, that's how much it is. You can't ask for $3500 or $3800. There is about a 1% vacancy rate at any time in New York City and if you're not willing to pay a market rate for an apartment, there are plenty of people behind you who will. True, sometimes a landlord will wiggle a little if you sign a two-year lease or have amazing credit, but that is not the norm. Square foot for square foot, rents are pretty much the same, depending on the neighborhood. You get what you pay for.

Brokers get paid even if you take a no-fee apartment. Brokers are always more than happy to show you a no-fee apartment. In fact, it's a win-win situation. You get a new place to live and the broker is usually a paid a month's rent by the landlord. Of course, there aren't as many no-fee options as one might think. No-fee options tend to occur when an owner has a lot of vacancies in one particular building, or in a new development or a luxury building. It's fine to ask to only see no-fee apartments, but you're limiting your options.

Bad credit or even questionable credit isn't a big deal.
It happens. The worst that may happen when signing a lease is that a landlord may take extra security from you or more rent up front. If you've had problems in the past, tell your broker. Don't try to lie about it or make up stories. Never, under any circumstances, falsify bank records or pay stubs. If anyone can find you a landlord who's willing to work with less than stellar credit, it's a broker. We see it all the time. Just don't pretend it's not there, because we're going to find out about it eventually. After all, no application goes through without a credit check.

This is the best part of the job:
In mid-May I showed a young man a small studio in Chelsea. It was on a tree-lined street and about four blocks from his office. The building was pre-war, with large staircases and Art Deco details. I led him into the fifth-floor unit and instantly his face lit up. He loved the new kitchen and the Juliette balcony. The bathroom tile needed work but he loved the finishes. Instantly, he knew it was his new home. It was then that I was reminded that the whole apartment-hunt process is like dating. You know what's right for you when you see it. I want to see that electricity on every client's face when they walk into an apartment. When I don't, we move on to the next listing. In the end it's not about selling anything, but finding the perfect match.

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