Mission Impossible NYC Edition :: Brokers and Listings

As you read in a previous post, real estate is on the brainnnnn! So as I continue upon my Apartment Journey aka Mission Impossible NYC edition, you all are coming with me along the journey! 

Today I’d like to talk about brokers and listings! Because the real estate market is so competitive in the city the market is dominated by real estate brokers. Some other cities have brokers as well, but people in NYC are subjected to the dreaded broker fee. Basically apartments are divided by No fee and fee apartments, which basically just determines who is paying the broker’s fee (the apartment building or the tenant). Back when the economy was in the dumps, it was easier to find no fee apartments, but now that the market has rebounded and real estate in the city is at an all time high you really have to work to find no fee rentals. Another thing that should be noted is that no fee rentals are usually significantly more expensive than fee apartments. So making the annual 40x the rent requirement also goes up. 

Since I’ll be looking for apartments at the peak of rental season and since my budget is on the low-end (for Manhattan) I will most likely be using a broker. Another thing about brokers.. they don’t exactly have the best of reputation.. They’re kind of like the used car salesmen of Manhattan. Of course, like car salesmen they aren’t all bad though! In fact, there are more really great brokers who make the rental nightmare here a little less nightmare-ish, but that reputation still haunts the industry. And for that reason I want to expose some of the not-so-great tactics brokers use so anyone looking knows what to look for!

Bait and Switch: Aw, the old bait and switch. This technique goes hand-in-hand with my next tactic, fake apartment pictures. Brokers are notorious for setting up meetings with potential tenants and then at the last minute or upon meeting say, “Oh, that apartment was just rented.. but I have another one around the corner.” or “Yeah, the keys weren’t available.. let me show you this other one.” This is a red flag! It is possible for these scenarios to happen a time or two, but more than likely you’re being bait and switched. Basically the broker just wants to meet with you and thinks that once they have you that they can show you something else you will like. If they find you something you like then it’s not such a terrible thing, but personally I don’t want to work with someone who is untrustworthy from the beginning.

Fake Apartment Pictures: This happens SOOOO much! For various reasons.. sometimes a tenant is still living in the apartment so brokers want to put up some photo so that people don’t look past the listing and other times they just do it to lure you in. I had this happen to me this year already and I was so bummed! And if this can happen to the apartment obsessed-girl, it can happen to anyone. I found a listing that I was really excited about on the Upper West Side — only two blocks from my office. I set up a meeting with the broker, met him at their office where he made me sign a form that I would pay the broker’s fee if I rented the apartment, and then he took me to the apartment. The one I had saw online:

  • seemed like a doable size
  • had great light
  • had a long hall that led to the main living area

The one he showed me?

  • was not much bigger than my current bedroom
  • had a sleeping loft — and not one you could stand up in. Think a glorified storage space
  • was dark
  • oven didn’t currently work
  • andddd he quoted it for $50 more than the online listing I saw

SO disappointed!!!! and I’m sure it won’t be the last time.. but as soon as we left the apartment I knew I wanted nothing to do with that broker. Even though he had been nice up to that point the only thing that was accurate about the apartment he took me to was the location. So I said, “so nice to meet you” and ran as fast as I could. 

I’m not going to lie though, my first little meeting left a ding on my ego. It was like showing up on a blind date thinking you were meeting Ryan Gosling and instead being greeted with Marilyn Manson. Uh, so disappointing.

The Too Good to be True:  This approach isn’t just done by brokers, but just scammers in general. They’ll post a beautiful apartment and say $1200 a month when the actual listing shown would probably go for an upwards of $4000. It’s another bait scheme.. and not a very good one at that. These usually target people who aren’t from the area and will often try to get you to wire them money to secure the apartment. RUN, RUN, RUN! 

On a lesser scale, you’ll more likely see brokers list apartments under the wrong area. For example, they’ll post a decent apartment with upgrades and mark it as Upper East Side and then when you contact them you find out it’s really in East Harlem.. or it will be marked Upper West Side and it’s really in Central Harlem. Another bummer! Know the boundaries. There’s a big difference between the areas on 96th and Madison and 105th and Madison.

Those 3 techniques are the worst of the worst and why some of these slime-balls have given the industry a bad rep. Like I said though there are great brokers out there that really are there to help you through the process and find you apartments that you couldn’t have found on your own online. Those are the kind of people you want to work with and that I hope to work with! If I’m paying someone 10-15% of the annual rent on the apartment I lease then I want someone who doesn’t mind doing a little more work than simply opening the door to a listing I found.