Serial Renter

Serial Renter: 5 secrets for working with a NYC rental agent

By Caren Maio  | July 11, 2011 - 8:13AM

Living in a city where real estate is competitive and rental prices are sky high, paying an additional fee for a broker can be hard to swallow. Not to mention that there are some bad seeds out there, and if you’ve lived in NYC long enough, you probably have your own horror story.  If you’re anything like me, this could include hidden move-in fees, mislabeled listings, and location/price/unit/photo misnomers.

My broker vs. non-broker moving history is probably about even at this point, and the techniques of each search are very different (more on my non-broker experiences in future posts!). I can tell you from personal and anecdotal experience, there are good ones out there (and I promise they’re just as frustrated by the bad seeds).

I’ve outlined a few tips below to optimize your broker experience and get the most bang for your buck. Check them out before you go clicking on that Craigslist ad....

1. Establish loyalty quickly

Find someone you really like, and build a relationship. Exclusive rental listings are rare, so you’ll be able to see just about all the inventory that’s out there with your go-to broker. Your broker will appreciate your loyalty more than you can imagine and work harder for you.

On one of my moves, I spent the first week of my apartment hunt chasing dead ends with a broker that obviously didn’t have my best interests in mind. We had connected over a Craigslist listing he posted for a one-bedroom in Chelsea (Chelsea was my number one neighborhood choice). The listing was not what it had appeared to be - a one-bedroom that was actually a studio, closer to Times Square than Chelsea, and carried a rent about $300 higher than the listing noted. Needless to say, our relationship quickly deteriorated from there…  

Then, I found my guy. He had posted a bunch of listings in Chelsea and seemed to specialize in the precise area in which I wanted to reside. We decided to work together, checked out some apartments to refine my requirements, communicated regularly over the next few days, and guess what? I was the first person he called when my dream apartment came on the market. We met up immediately to see it, verified it was perfect for me, and filed the application in less than two hours.

2. Talk money early.

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s not exactly the most comfortable subject to discuss upfront, but that’s exactly what you should do. A broker’s fee is a pretty hefty check to be writing out, and the final amount will more often than not affect your overall budget/price range for the apartment itself.

Negotiate the fee before you start looking: You have a much better seat at the negotiating table when discussing a still-hypothetical unit, rather than an apartment you have already found, fallen in love with, and are working hard to make fit financially.

In my experience, most brokers come in with a starting offer around 15% of the annual rent. This can often (though not necessarily in a hot market like this) be negotiated down somewhere between one month’s rent to 12% of the annual rent. Most brokers will be willing to have the conversation, and more often than not, are willing to work with you until you reach a number that satisfies both parties. 

Quick note: There are some buildings, particularly of the luxury high-rise variety, that are "no fee" (the landlord will pay the broker’s fee on the tenant’s behalf).   This is often prominently displayed on the building’s signage/website/listing, but make sure you square away at the outset of your relationship with your broker that you will not only be notified about any fees being paid by landlords but also that your broker will offset that fee against the one he or she expects to collect from you.  

3. Communicate regularly

Once you’ve started working with your broker, keep the communication going. Open, honest and transparent discussions are key – and two-fold. It helps the broker narrow down a list of apartments that better suit your needs (no wild goose chases), and get you settled into that dream apartment even faster.

I always found it best to not only tell my broker what I was looking for, but show them as well. I’d send along listings that caught my eye, share what I liked/disliked about each unit, and keep him/her abreast of any changes to my bucket list (i.e. if I was willing to explore an additional neighborhood or two in exchange for more flexibility in another category like amenities or price).

(Requisite moment of self-promotion: You can integrate your agent even more effectively into your search via our brand-spanking new share feature on It keeps your inbox clean and it’s a simple, easy way to collaborate with your agent and/or roommate.)

4. Remain calm

Don’t stress - over the hunt or the check writing. You have a dedicated consultant to walk you through it…so don’t be afraid to lean on him/her! It will provide for a much smoother process, and you can rest easy knowing that this was money well spent.

I remember the first really great broker I worked with – he was more of a cross between a real estate agent and a real estate therapist. He spent the better part of a half hour on the phone with me listening to my bucket list and trials and tribulations of the process thus far.

We saw a flurry of places until we found the apartment I knew would be mine. All the while, he was calm, cool, and collected – and his unwavering confidence that we would find my dream home became contagious. When it came down to signing the lease, I had zero hesitation writing that check. It’s much easier to get comfortable when you’re working with the right person.

5. Pay it forward 

If you have a great experience, tell your friends. Word of mouth/referrals are a great source of business for brokers, and a glowing recommendation can go a long way. Be sure to let your agent know that you intend to pay it forward.

Being helpful is an awesome feeling – and it’s super easy when it comes to broker-client introductions via email. It takes less than a minute, and it’s a win-win-win – your friend gets a helpful broker, your broker gets a new client, and you get serious karma points plus a very motivated broker the next time your lease is up.

Happy Hunting,



Caren Maio is the CEO & Co-Founder of Nestio.coma website that makes it easy for renters to collect and organize rental listings from any site. She currently lives downtown in a boutique elevator building that has ten coffee shops in a three-block radius (a feature she claims sealed the deal--but the washer-dryer didn't hurt either).

Related items:

Introducing Serial Renter Caren Maio: Start your hunt with a bucket list

12 insider tips for renting in NYC

Confessions of on-site leasing agent

Guerrilla Guide to Finding a No-Fee Apartment in NYC


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