If you’re planning to start looking for an apartment to rent in New York City in the next few weeks—good luck. Seriously. It’s much harder than ever to find a place because the number of available listings have plunged as a result of booming demand this fall. And if you do find a rental, it’s likely the landlord has raised the rent and isn’t offering the generous concessions available last year.
That stiff competition is one reason you might want to consider using real estate agent to help you zero in on a place. Yes, hiring a broker comes with a price that is painful to your wallet, but if you need to find a rental fast or you’re new to the city, you’re facing an even more challenging market these days. With landlords holding all the cards now, the usual calculations have changed. It may be worthwhile to pay a fee to get an edge over other renters.
Most broker fees range from 12 to 15 percent of your annual rent, and that’s on top of your first month’s rent and security deposit (ouch!) For example, for a $3,200 rental (the current median rent in Manhattan), you might pay up to $5,760 for a broker fee.
Of course you don’t necessarily need to hire a broker if you’re very familiar with renting in New York City. You can do the legwork yourself and search online listings and check them out on your own. There are rental apps you can use to search listings, schedule showings, and submit applications online, and bots that will crawl listings for you and text you apartments to check out. But you will be up against a lot of other prospective renters doing the same searches.
One quirk of the NYC rental market: You can do all the work in finding an apartment by yourself, without an agent by your side, and still have to pay a broker fee if the landlord has hired their own broker to market the apartment. So if your goal is to do the work yourself and avoid paying a broker fee, you need to look for no-fee listings, where the landlord pays their broker fee as a concession. However, narrowing your search this way may limit your options in the current market even more severely.
So how do you tell if it makes sense to use a broker to find a rental? Here are five scenarios where it is likely to pay off.
1) If you’re new to New York City
Renting in New York is complicated so if you’re new to the city, it can be helpful to have a broker guide you through the process. Eric Shostak, a broker at Corcoran, says that renters relocating from out of town usually need the most help. They typically don’t understand the differences between neighborhoods and how prices change depending on the area, he says. For example, some renters want a one bedroom for less than $2,000 in the West Village, which isn’t going to happen.
Renters new to the city are most surprised by the broker fee, Shostak says. In places like Ohio, paying 15 percent of your annual rent to a broker isn’t a thing, he says. But a broker can also explain the required documents for your application and the terms of a lease when you’re approved.
2) If you’re in a rush to find a place
When you’re in a time crunch, or you’re too busy to look for places on your own, brokers can find places within your budget so you don’t have to waste time browsing listings.
Another perk: Brokers often have relationships with certain management companies and landlords, so they might find a listing that hasn’t even hit the market yet. Shostak recently worked with a client who needed an apartment by a certain date, and he was able to find an apartment that was going to be available just in time—before it was even listed.
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3) If you’re searching only online
Virtual apartment tours became more popular during the pandemic. They’re a good option if you’re not in the city or are uncomfortable visiting lots of places in person due to Covid. However, if you’re exclusively browsing online, you’ll find that many listings do not include virtual tours. So you should use a broker to check out places in person for you, especially if the listing only has photos, says Jeremy Kamm, a broker at Warburg Realty.
Sometimes listings will use misleading photos like shots of supposedly similar unit that might not be similar at all, Kamm says. A broker can check out the place for you in person and give you feedback about the place before you commit to a lease, he says.
4) If you need to use a guarantor
If you don’t meet the financial requirements to rent on your own, using a guarantor is a workaround. Guarantors must also meet strict financial requirements (like earning at least 80 times your rent and having solid credit) and submit an application. Brokers can help your guarantor prepare their application and proper documentation, says Karen Kostiw, a broker at Warburg Realty. If you don’t have a personal guarantor, brokers can introduce you to institutional guarantors like Insurent or Guarantors.com.
Brokers will also be familiar with a building’s specific requirements. For example, some buildings want the guarantor to live in New York City, Kostiw says. Some buildings also won’t accept guarantors who live in states where it’s harder to sue for back rent if you default.
5) If you’re looking in competitive neighborhoods
Some New York City neighborhoods are more in demand than others—that's pretty much always the case but these days it means some renters are finding an extremely limited number of available apartments. Brokers say that neighborhoods like the Upper East Side, West Village, and Williamsburg are particularly in demand. If you go to a showing and there’s a line down the block, a good broker will make sure you are prepared to apply on the spot.
Most brokers specialize in specific areas of the city. So if you’re set on a particular neighborhood where there’s a lot of demand, hiring a broker who is very familiar with that neighborhood can help you root out available listings.
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