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The author is a New York City real estate agent.
In early 2013, I decided to move out of my room in Yorkville after a short attempt at sharing an apartment with a roommate and several mice. Traumatized by the experience of sharing my bed with Speedy Gonzales, I was determined to find something on my own. It had to be in a clean building but couldn’t cost me an arm and a leg. I capped my budget at $2,600 a month.
At the time, I’d been a residential real estate broker for about a year. Armed with professional experience, I was sure I’d have a leg up on other renters.
One of the first apartments I looked at was a small one-bedroom in Lenox Hill, just east of Lexington. The broker who showed me the apartment was easy going, and there was a sense of camaraderie between us. He didn’t try to “sell” me and hinted that the price was likely flexible. The place was a fourth-floor walk-up in a brownstone—pretty high up there, and a bit dark as well. But I was fit enough to climb the stairs, and at $2,250 the price was right.
After going through every inch of the apartment and common space searching for signs of unwanted fauna—and having a good sense of what else was available—I decided to make an offer. The owner was a private individual, so I expected some wiggle room on the rent. I’ve had better results bargaining with them than large management companies.
Like most brokers, I only earn commission—no salary—which generally makes it difficult to sign a lease, since landlords want to know their tenants make a regular income. Still, the listing broker seemed to think the owner would accept me, provided I could show some past performance at regularly closing deals. I had good credit and a demonstrable income, so I prepared an application.
Then the bad news. The landlord decided not to rent to me unless I could produce a contract of employment. It didn't matter that I earned more than 40 times the monthly rent—generally considered the minimum for a tenant—every year. The only alternative was finding a guarantor who made at least 80 times the monthly rent, but the only willing co-signer I had didn’t make more than 65 times.
It was ironic. In the past, I'd managed to get around these requirements for customers new to New York, including one client who had little more than a handshake from the hiring manager at a local bank where he had yet to start working. But in my case, the landlord was firm. I moved on, telling myself that everything happens for a reason.
Two days later, I received a notification from StreetEasy (you can sign up for emails on desired search terms) for a one-bedroom in a beautiful townhouse in the low 70s just west of Lexington. At $2,000 a month, I thought it sounded fishy, as it was definitely below market rate. But a colleague in my office vouched for the agent who was listing the place, saying she would never represent anything lousy. Reputation is everything in this business.
I gave the agent a call, and she was forthcoming, especially about the apartment’s only major flaw: it had but one window, which was located in the bedroom. Still, I wagered that I could live with it, if there were enough pluses to balance out the equation.
The building was a charming combination of two former townhouses with a Florentine arcade which set it aside from the neighboring brownstone. The apartment was clean and, though it was technically on the first floor, was actually a couple of steps lower than the building’s main entrance. The only window was indeed in the bedroom, facing a dark, barren courtyard that looked like it once hosted a zombie apocalypse.
But I loved the building, and it was on a well-maintained block a five-minute stroll from my office. I could already see myself running home for post-lunch espressos. As the saying goes: location, location, location.
The landlords, who live in the building, were refreshingly flexible and didn’t require an immense amount of documentation or even references. I wrote a nice letter to present my credentials and offered to pay $1,950 a month. They accepted within a day, and a week later I was in.