3 crafty ways to find your next NYC rental (and potentially skip the broker's fee)

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How much total do you plan to tip the building staff this year?

In the spring and summer, New York City rents traditionally reach scorching heights, inflamed by tens of thousand of college- and graduate-school who descend on the city to start their careers all within a few short months. With competition at its keenest and rents at their most painful, it pays to add some non-traditional tactics to your search to find the gems missed by others.

"Most renters, especially first-time renters, approach their search the same way. They work with a broker who shows them apartments in a range of rental buildings, or if they're trying to avoid paying a broker's fee, they look online for no-fee rentals advertised directly by major landlords," says Lee Lin, founder of RentHop,  a nationwide apartment listings site that typically has over 50,000 rental listings, around a third of which are no-fee listings. "If that's all you do too, you'll have tons of competition and you'll totally overlook great options that aren't being marketed to the masses." 

Here are 3 not-so-obvious ways to scoop your competition and find a great rental:

1. Look for lease breaks

Someone else's job transfer can be your lucky break. When circumstances compel a renter to break their lease early,  management companies and landlords often tell them that as long as they can find someone to take over their current lease, they won't be penalized or be on the hook to pay rent through the end of the lease.

What that means for you is that you probably won't have to pay a broker fee (unless the current tenant has hired a broker to market the apartment).  Moreover, the current lease holder might be willing to negotiate price in order to avoid paying through the nose for an apartment they don't live in anymore.  Just make sure you check with the management before you sign any deals (to make sure they're okay with the lease turnover) and keep in mind that the rent may go up as soon as the lease expires, which is probably in less than a year.

Sometimes lease breaks can be found through word of mouth (or social networking as it were). You can also search RentHop for sublets and lease breaks.

And to find out more about an individual co-op or condo in advance, check out RentHop's buildings page.

2. Rent a condo

Condos are not just for buyers.  In fact, plenty of people buy them as investments and rent them out.  

"When you rent from an individual condo owner as opposed to a rental management company, the apartment tends to be in better shape," says Lin. "That's because condo owners put real time and money into their apartments since they care a lot about resale value and usually condos have less renter turnover and wear-and-tear than pure rentals. And you're more likely to get luxury finishes like Carrera marble tubs and Viking ranges."

Renters also often find that condo owners are quicker to respond to problems than supers or management companies, since they're more invested (literally) in the property staying in good condition. 

And, "you can often save 10 to 20 percent on a condo over an apartment in a regular rental building, between the owner agreeing to pay the broker fee and wanting to find a stable, low hassle tenant quickly," says Lin. 

But there are some fees to consider, too, including condo association costs and higher application fees (expect to pay anywhere from $50-$400 for application fees and condo fees can easily be about $1,000 a year). And sometimes those amazing building amenities (like state-of-the-art gyms) and privileges like owning a pet are reserved for owners only, so make sure you read your lease carefully for details. 

3. Rent a co-op

Co-ops are the second most common form of housing in New York City after rentals. In a co-op, a corporation owns the buildings and people buy shares in the corporation (the larger the apartment, the more shares).  Because of their somewhat legendary restrictions (buyers have to be approved by a co-op board and usually must plan to live there as their primary residence rather than renting it out as an investment) co-ops tend to be signficiantly less expensive to buy. To accommodate circumstances like a temporary job transfer, most co-ops let owners rent out their apartments for one to two years every 7 to 10 years, subject to board approval.  

You'll have to jump through a few more hoops to get approved--including passing a board interview, filling out a board package that includes extensive financial documentation, and paying application fees of anywhere from $50-$400. It can take several weeks or longer to secure approval. Also, you'll only be able to rent for a couple of years at most--and if the owner decides to sell, you may be out of an apartment sooner--so if you're looking for a longer term living solution, this isn't it.

However, says Lin, "All these inconveniences usually pay off in the form of lower rent than either condos or traditional rentals."

RentHop is a search engine to find apartments for rent that uses mathematical algorithms to aggregate and score listings inventory from top landlords and brokerage firms. With over 6 years of NYC apartments rental data and millions of listings observed, RentHop's proprietary HopScore sorting ensures renters find high quality listings posted by trusted managers and agents.