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Winter is for renters: How to get a deal in the "cheap" season

By Virginia K. Smith | January 5, 2017 - 11:59AM

The phrase "winter is coming" usually comes with pretty bleak connotations, but for renters in search of a bargain, the onset of the colder months is downright sunny news. After the expensive summertime boom, the transition into the fall and winter usually means one of two things: lower rents, or landlord concessions.

[This story was originally posted in November 2015 and updated in January 2017.]

As demand quiets down, "a lot of clients would prefer to not drop the price but will offer maybe an additional free month's rent," explains Compass agent Takk Yamaguchi. Rather than conceding to rent their apartments at a permanently lower price, to which they'd be committed the rest of the year, landlords will often offer to cover the broker fee or throw in a free month's rent (or if you're lucky, both).

According to Douglas Elliman's most recent rental report, concessions were up as much as 25 percent in Manhattan in November.

It's also not unheard of for management companies to offer shiny goodies like an iPad or prepaid credit cards, though keep in mind that a free month rent (or avoiding a pricey broker's fee) is almost certainly a better value than a fun new gadget.

Another way landlords are more lenient this time of year: "If tenants are signing a lease on November 15th but don't want to move in until December 1st, the landlord might give them those extra days for free on top of the free month already being offered," Yamaguchi explains.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you plan to do any bargain-hunting this winter:

  • Look in big buildings and new developments. As a rule, concessions tend to be found more frequently in larger, pricier, buildings. (When was the last time you saw a rental in a new development that didn't advertise itself as no-fee, for instance?) "Buildings with 500 or 600 units naturally have more vacancies than their smaller counterparts," says  DJK agent Alexander Gross, noting that you'll find quite a few if you take your search to neighborhoods like the Financial District, Battery Park, Midtown West or Midtown East, and in particular Long Island City, as opposed to, say, the Lower East Side or the West Village. You can also filter your search on sites like StreetEasy and NakedApartments to show only no-fee and low-fee listings, and Urban Edge keeps a current directory of buildings offering deals, as well. And of course, don't forget to be the squeaky wheel, and ask any brokers you work with if they know of any deals currently on the market.
  • Keep an eye out for odd-length leases. It's common for landlords to offer longer leases (say, 16 months) this time of the year, to engineer your lease to be up for renewal right when the busy summer season hits and they can ask for as much money as possible. But if you go in with eyes wide open, this can work to your advantage, insofar as you'll be locking down a set rental price for a longer period of time. On the flip side, says Yamaguchi, some properties he works with are offering shorter leases, but with the same concessions—for instance, a nine or 11-month lease with one month free, or a 19 or 24-month lease with two months free. "If a renter doesn't want to be tied down to a two-year lease, they can still get the two month concession for a 19-month contract," he explains. It's not for everyone, but if you'd like to keep your housing plans flexible and still want to score a deal, it's an option.
  • The colder the weather, the better your chances. The real estate industry has its data down to a science at this point, says Gross, and concessions are so heavily based on algorithms that they can be here today and gone tomorrow, as opposed to steadily available throughout the winter. But one pro tip to keep in mind: follow the weather reports like a hawk. "If you're hoping to score a deal, January, February, and early March are your best bets, he says, "and by the first week of April, they disappear."  


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