At the end of August my family needed a vacation, but we didn’t have the energy for a big trip. A staycation was out of the question—we’d been home in Brooklyn too long. So we Ubered over to an Airbnb in the Rockaways.
We enjoyed five days at the ocean and took surfing lessons, rented boogie boards, had tacos at Tacoway Beach (the Rockaways has great food), and capped it off with dinner in the pool area at The Rockaway Hotel. All in all, it was an easy and more private way to vacation that felt ideal for another pandemic summer.
Staying in an Airbnb also gave us a chance to get to know a new neighborhood in the city (in ways both good and bad). My husband says watching the planes take off from JFK while he walked the dog along Jamaica Bay was “magical” but I wonder if living under a flight path full time would still be so enchanting. And he got spooked when a teenager approached him and told him someone in the neighborhood wanted to steal our dog. The area seemed less welcoming after that.
Renting before buying is what vacation home buyers typically do—it’s something that primary home buyers can take advantage of as well—and going the Airbnb route is a much easier and shorter commitment. Brokers that Brick spoke to had their own take on why renting first can help buyers feel more secure in their decision.
Here are three reasons why you should Airbnb or rent before you buy.
[Editor's note: A previous version of the article ran in September 2021. We are presenting it again in case you missed it.]
1. Look before you leap
“I’m always surprised when people move to NYC from another place, like LA, without renting here first,” says Ari Harkov, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens. “How do you know what type of housing or what neighborhood will really suit you? Sometimes you only spend 20 to 30 minutes at an open house.”
For that reason, he recommends buyers rent first when making a substantial lifestyle change. But in his experience, only a handful of new-to-NYC buyers have taken his advice. Why? Harkov says that's likely because “it’s not common practice, and “as humans, we’re wired to do what others do.
“People make decisions in shockingly spontaneous ways. They do research for years then something pops up, they see it, and make an offer,” he says. For that reason, renting first could protect you from making a purely emotional decision.
2. Learn the weather risks
Climate change offers many cautionary lessons, and with storms increasing in frequency and intensity, leaks and flooding are a bigger headache for owners. Testing out a building’s storm sturdiness or seeing whether a neighborhood has a tendency to flood can help you avoid a pricey mistake later.
“I think it's crucial to experience all seasons. If you live near the water, it's a dream during the summer, but even colder during the winter. Some people may not be OK with this, while others will appreciate the summer so much that they won't care about the winter,” she says.
3. Fast track your search
Over the years, clients of Nicole Beauchamp, a broker at Engels and Volkers, have taken this approach in a variety of ways, including house sitting, staying in hotels or doing a short or long-term lease in a neighborhood “so they could get a sense of the area and if they want to commit to buying.”
But now, with so many people working from home, going the short-term rental route can fast track that process, if speed is your goal. (Just be aware of NYC's rules regarding short-term rentals. Stays of fewer than 30 days are only allowed if the host remains in the same unit as guests, and no more than two guests are permitted.)
Since “many people are working remotely and you spend a greater portion of your days at home/in your neighborhood and are not spending large portions of your day in an office or commuting, you could probably get a sense much faster, instead of months it could be weeks or days,” she says.
Plus when staying in the neighborhood you can follow some classic advice about buying.
“My mother used to say—long before I was in real estate—that it was important to visit an area multiple times: Different days, different times of day, and different seasons if possible to truly understand where you are buying and what life there might be like and if it’s for you.”
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