It’s almost the end of renter’s month, and we’ve covered agencies like the DHCR, different types of rental listing companies, proposed changes to the broker fee, how to avoid rent increases, Amazon/LIC, and a bunch of my opinions about awful landlords (and a greater appreciation for the good ones!). So today, to wrap things up, I’m going to cover how to rent an apartment in NYC without using a broker. Do I want you to work with someone you trust? Yes. But are you going to? Probably not. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about all the reasons you should bring your own TRUSTED advisor to the table, but at the end of the day, if you want to DIY it, I want to at least share some tips and tricks that will make you look smart and hopefully not get totally screwed over.
1. Search Compass.com AND StreetEasy. Now that StreetEasy is charging $4.50/day for rental listings to be posted, more and more agents are foregoing posting their rentals on the site. Also, open listings (to be explained at a later date) are not on StreetEasy. To get ALL the inventory you should check both. You can check sites like Craigslist too, just be wary of potential scams.
2. If it’s a no fee, look at who listed it. If it’s an individual agent at a brokerage, the landlord is paying them a commission to rent the apartment. If it’s a management company, the employees are salaried. It doesn’t make a huge difference, but generally management companies are more tenant-friendly and willing to work with you than an agent being paid by an owner a la carte.
3. If there’s a fee and you want a discount, offer one month instead of 15% because you’re going direct instead of working with an agent. Your mileage may vary; depending on the time of year and how desirable the apartment, agents will take this or want the full fee.
4. Educate yourself about the market before you go out. Know what is available in your price range so you can speak with certainty. Don’t be someone who demands a lower rent because “it’s only worth XXXX” without having backup information.
5. Walk the block and ride the commute. If you aren’t familiar with the area, walk past the building at night before signing a lease. Know where the closest trains are and actually map out/experience what your commute will look like. You never want to sign a lease and then end up feeling unsafe coming home or realize your commute is actually way more brutal than expected.
6. Advocate for yourself. Don’t sign anything that you don’t understand, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can ask for a lease in advance of signing, and if they won’t send it to you, that’s a red flag.
7. Look up your landlord! A lot of times this is hidden behind an LLC, but at least look at the building info and know whether there is an individual owner or if it’s a larger company. Also look in the lobby — it should be clean and you should be able to quickly find information about the management and super. If the common areas are gross and you can’t find info, it’s not a great sign.
8. Take pictures of EVERYTHING when you move in! And, ideally, even when you are viewing apartments. If you like a place, take a video and/or photos of it. You never know when this will come in handy. I really wish I had photos of my apartment when my roommate and I first looked at it. You can also look up and print out a move-in checklist to give you a better idea of what you check for and document.
9. Have all your documents together BEFORE you go out and look at apartments. There’s nothing worse than finding the apartment of your dreams and then losing it because your boss took five days to get you an employment letter. Be prepared and you’ll beat the crowd.
10. If you go direct to a listing with an agent who is representing the landlord, make sure they gave you the correct agency disclosure form. Don’t know what that means? Read my post on dual agency here.
1. Don’t reach out to multiple agents and have them pull listings for you. You can contact listing agents directly to . But DO NOT ask more than one agent to set up tours for you and take you out. It means someone is definitely working for free. It’s mean.
2. Don’t ask if an agent will do an apartment “no fee” when it’s not listed as a no fee. The answer is no, and it makes you look like an idiot.
3. Don’t ask to come view an apartment in February if you won’t sign a lease before May. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, including yours.
4. This is a big one — don’t sign a lease on an apartment with work to be done without the exact work needed in writing. And honestly, even with everything in writing it is still risky. Your best course of action is to sign a lease on an apartment that is move-in ready, or just needs to be turned over from a prior tenant (like painting, minor work). The exception here is in fancy rental buildings with management companies. But again, get it in writing.
This is all relatively common sense, but there’s a lot of misinformation out there. I hope that all of you can go out into the world and get great apartments!