Wednesday, August 31st, 2011
63

Rental Brokers Are Useless

At the beginning of this month I spent about a week and a half of improbably beautiful, sunny, breezy, vacationing-in-New-York days huddled over my laptop in a borrowed apartment, hitting “refresh” over and over again. I would wake up in the mornings and instinctively reach for the phone (kept next to my pillow) and check my email to see whether anything had changed. I often didn’t shower until 3 or 4 p.m. I survived, largely, on coffee, and I slept at most a few hours a night. I didn’t read the news or even watch television except for that one night the stupor was so thick that I managed to get through four episodes of "True Blood" without actually suffering a brain hemorrhage brought on by excruciating dialogue. This, if I recall correctly, was what having a full-time, soul-destroying corporate lawyer job was like. But this past month I was not working. I was not getting paid. I was just trying to find a place to live in New York this September, in a rising market where the vacancy rate in July was well under 1%.

The wrinkle was that I was trying to do it without paying a broker’s fee. I have rented five apartments in the city, in three different boroughs, and not once have I paid a broker. It’s become a point of pride for me, though this time around I could have been accused of carrying the strength of my conviction to the point of lunacy. I certainly scraped up against the edge of it in August.

After a few days of this, I caved. I contacted a few brokers and tried to commit myself to the notion that I could part with a couple of thousand dollars if it promised to liberate me from this hell. But with one exception, instead of helping me, these brokers mostly toyed with my patience and time. I arrived at one apartment in Fort Greene at 9 a.m. for what I was told was a group showing; upon arrival the broker's intern told me it had rented the night before. This had not been mentioned when I confirmed the showing by email that very morning. I arrived at another appointment in Astoria with an agent who’d been informed I’d be using a guarantor; after dragging me through two apartments, the agent told me the landlord didn't accept guarantors. I saw a studio on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, and said I’d like to put in an application on it, and even confirmed this by email with the relevant broker. Then, as though we had had a bad Nerve.com first date, I never heard from her again, despite numerous polite—I'm Canadian, remember?—follow-ups. Only one broker of the dozen or so I contacted—this guy—was consistently responsive and courteous. The rest all seemed dedicated to no other cause than preventing me from renting an apartment.

I returned to combing the listings myself; and, in the end, I did manage to rent something without paying 15% of my annual rent (the standard brokerage fee in New York) to a class of professional whose chief skills, it seems, are phone-and-email avoidance and egregious overuse of superlatives. I'm not a cheap or even a frugal person, but there’s something about the idea of paying a broker for performing no service whatsoever that activates my latent skinflint genes. And those genes, lately, have been screaming: “Why isn’t this business model completely goddamn illegal??”

***

When did New York first succumb to the power of the broker? I’m not really sure. Nora Ephron mentions using one in her essay about her first New York apartment, included in New York’s recent collection My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City. She writes that she rented this place, at 110 Sullivan Street, after graduating from college; that would put the year at 1962, and that's the earliest mention I've found. The customs then apparently deviated little from contemporary practice: the broker reassured Ephron that the apartment was located in “a coming neighborhood, on the verge of being red-hot. He was about 25 years off.” (Yes, the Village—or SoHo, depending on who you ask—once was East Bushwick too.)

Ephron, however, was almost certainly renting in the blessed era before the emergence of the “standard” Manhattan-and-much-of-Brooklyn fee of 15 percent. That amount appears to have been drawn from the market's hat sometime in the early 1980s. Before that, according to New York Times articles I’ve dug up from the era, brokers usually collected a month’s rent as a fee. Assuming that’s what Ephron paid for her then-$160 a month apartment, with inflation that would come out to just under $1200 today. (Whimper—that was a two-bedroom, and, as of three years ago I was paying over $2000 for a tiny if charming one-bedroom around the corner, on Spring.) If she had had to pay 15 percent that would have been almost $2160 in today’s dollars. Perhaps I know all the wrong recent college graduates, but this strikes me as an absolutely astronomical sum to be spending, at that age, on what often amounts to, on the broker's end, as a day's worth of work.

No doubt the more wealthy among you are shrugging your shoulders, thinking your time is more valuable to you than your money. I hardly need to tell you, though, that that isn’t true for all of us. And for some people not being able to afford a broker fee is a major hurdle to being able to obtain an apartment.

Don't believe me? Well, note that in a recent cut to housing subsidies, the city announced that it would only cover one half of a one-month broker's fee. Housing Works objected, noting that the policy would "severely inhibit the ability of low-income people to find permanent housing." From the standpoint of affordable housing advocacy, I'm of course sympathetic to the objecting parties—people using Section 8 vouchers shouldn't be shut out of the market simply because they require government assistance to secure a roof over their heads. But it's a very strange thing, in my view, that we find rental brokers so totally natural and acceptable that we don’t even ask why they are even operating at that level of the market, where the potential tenants are so transparently unable to afford the fees.

***

The utter irrationality of the rental broker fee in New York probably explains why, despite some effort, I couldn't locate any academic work that even bothered trying to justify its existence. My amateurish extrapolation from some of the literature on real-estate brokers writ large (i.e., in sales) seems to go something like this: brokers serve us as “market makers,” providing an all-around benefit by allowing more prospective tenants/owners to meet more prospective landlords/sellers than they could find on their own, and thus maximize their chances of getting the right apartment for the right price. That sounds lovely and useful, of course, but it also sounds nothing like the actual experience of using a broker to rent an apartment in New York.

At some point, in a different kind of New York, it was no doubt true that brokers were necessary to find owners, because most landlords were actually flesh-and-blood individuals. At some point, it was also no doubt true that you needed the broker to facilitate the introduction because your personality was an indication of your creditworthiness. This was a time when there was no central repository of people’s credit information, consultable for $25 and a click of the mouse. But if that city ever existed (and I'm pretty sure it only ever existed for a precious few), it's gone, now. You'll hear, on occasion, nervous assurances from friends that to rent directly from someone, with no broker middleman, more or less guarantees you a terrible landlord. But there's no longer any obvious reason why this would be true.

Meanwhile, the costs of organizing the apartment-search bazaar are now dramatically lower than they once were—which makes it even harder to swallow the high cost of the fees. I could repeat a cliché about the advent of Craigslist, but you know just what I mean. There is less and less reason to need your hand held through the buying process.

If nothing else, the advent of the online ads has made visible just how absolutely venal the whole process currently is. Indeed, Craigslist has likely been just as destructive to the reputation of brokers in New York as it has been a logistical saving grace. On the one hand you can reach a lot of people quickly. On the other, consumers of all types become pretty quickly inured to, and turned off by, breathless assurances that the apartment in question is “SICK MINT++++!!! CALL NOW thsi wont last!”

The New York City Council did a study (pdf) a few years ago and found that almost a third of the no-fee ads on Craigslist were scams, insofar as the apartments did, in fact, carry a broker fee. The main solution that emerged from that brouhaha, apparently, was that Craigslist began charging brokers to list there. The Department of Consumer Affairs investigated a few of the brokerages themselves, but the outcome of their investigation was less than clear cut. And the listings sections are still stuffed to the gills with misleading ads.

***

Until some enlightened legislative soul catches on to the ridiculousness of this whole thing and bans brokering in the rental market outright, there is some good news for us, as renters—namely, that the scams are bumbling and transparent, to an almost endearing degree. There are regional variations: the by-owner ads in Astoria, for example, are especially ridden with listings from brokers who try to game the system by referring to themselves as “agents for the owner.” The Brooklyn ads are more commonly afflicted with multiple brokers listing the same apartment, often one that, if you searched far back enough in the ads, was originally listed on Craigslist as a by-owner—meaning you could simply cut out the middleman if you read the ads carefully enough. This happened with not one but two of the apartments I looked at during my search. In one case, four ads were running side by side for the same apartment: three from a broker and one from the owner. But then, of course: I noticed that. In other words, a certain amount of renter due diligence can avoid this kind of problem (not that it excuses the practice).

And due diligence is what it comes down to when you're looking for an apartment. Some of it is luck, of course (sometimes even a lot of it). But mostly what it took me was careful searching of the listings and being reasonably quick on the draw on email. I probably would have had an even quicker time if I was using sites like nybits.com, which aggregate rental-company listings—but most of those services were out of my price range.

And all those dark mutterings you’ll get from New York friends about the risks of skipping the broker can be traced to two thoroughly unreliable sources. One is the brokers themselves, who you can find trolling things like the Streeteasy user forums, repeating their doomsday refrains, always without actual examples or evidence. The other is the crush of the self-serving New York narrative that makes the difficulty of renting here stand in as some kind of test of personal mettle. I, too, have derived cocktail party mileage from New York real-estate battle stories (not to mention this piece itself). But if the result of being so proud of our overcoming real-estate adversity is thousands of dollars, paid out to an industry that in any other circumstance we would probably call predatory, we aren’t building character. We’re adhering to a much older, and more venerated tradition of New York-style capitalism: being the chumps who get cheated and then claiming that we actually like it.



Michelle Dean's writing has appeared, among other places, at Bitch, The American Prospect and The Rumpus. She sometimes blogs here.

Photo by littleny, via Shutterstock.

63 Comments / Post A Comment

So here's my broker battle story:

This June I tried to get a rental in a Brooklyn Heights co-op via a broker who's been in the neighborhood for many years. I was first to the first showing, first to express interest, and brought over a check for the application fee 20 minutes after they called to request it. While I was walking over, they called and said the application fee was being increased to an entire month's rent.

After I filled out ten pages of detailed financial information, they expected me to wait in their office indefinitely, on a workday, while they tried to reach the owner. Two hours after that, they called to say that someone had just put an application in, so I wouldn't get it. Apparently, my ten-page application labeled "Application," to their exclusive listing, wasn't an application.

AYFKM?

amuselouche (#448)

Oh god, I am never moving. Just knock down a wall and cart me out of my dilapidated no-sink-in-the-bathroom-two-sinks-in-the-kitchen railroad apartment when I'm finally dead.

There might be one exception here: the vanishing breed of brokers who have exclusive listings. I had a good experience with one of those about 16 months ago. He negotiated his fee down and got me a nice place in the E. Village for below-market rent. He had me look at three good apartments and there wasn't that pressure to sign immediately because he knew exactly what the level of demand was and he didn't abuse that knowledge. Or so it seemed. I'm still in that place. Before that I used one of those big, awful brokers that are attached to 95% of listings and that was ok, but it was near the bottom of the market, a time at which a chimp with a Blackberry could have landed me a place with a free month. The only reason I used the broker on that occasion was to save time, which it did. Anyway, good article.

Titania (#8,471)

@Matt Creamer@facebook My current apartment was found through a similar situation: our broker had an exclusive on the whole building as long as he was able to rent it all within a month and he was down to his last three apartments. We walked in at 7pm, he showed us both places he had within our price range, we picked one, he paid our application fee out of his fee, and by the next morning we had an adorable albeit tiny three-bedroom in the heart of the West Village for $2400/mo. My parents, lifelong New Yorkers, refer to him as my unicorn, and I have referred at least a half dozen people to him, several of whom also found great places. The woman I used when I first moved back was a rude, evil wench who, it turned out, actually worked for our management company as well as representing herself as a broker for an independent company, which I'm pretty sure is illegal since she'd pretend to be someone else when she answered the phone at the office number.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

@Titania tiny three-bedroom

#whisperycomment

@MollyculeTheory @Titania for $2400/mo.
#whisperycomment

amuselouche (#448)

And, really, never use a broker. Brokers are for the weak of both mind and character and using one will probably end with you murdering whatever poor 22 year old is stuck trying to convince you that $2500 is a reasonable price to pay for a walk-up closet. The one time I went to look at places with one, the poor guy lost his own wallet in one of the (totally empty and uncluttered) apartments and had to go back and search through them all afterwards :(

I have never lived in NYC by real estate brokers in Boston are the scum of the earth. They know NOTHING about the properties they are renting–they cannot answer even the most basic questions–and engage in shady dealing after shady dealing (using pictures of other apartments in ads, springing pet/security/cleaning deposits at the last possible minute, posting fake ads to lure in customers, calling to ask if they can show your apartment while they are standing right outside your door). I despise real estate brokers and avoid using them–if I have to use one, I will never pay a brokerage fee.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@antarcticastartshere I didn't really have a problem with the two brokers I've used up here, although they both came from referrals from friends. My roommate and I wound up renting a fifth-floor walkup shoebox in the Theater District which wasn't that great, but I blame us being fools, not the broker being shady.

There was one broker who showed us a basement apartment on that part of Boylston Street between Mass Ave and Fenway. It was May, and whatever Simmons College student who had been renting the place was in the process of moving out. This apartment made Buffalo Bill's basement look charming, and it was clear from the dismayed look of abject horror on the girl's parents' faces as they sat on the couch watching us give this apartment a look that they had just been giving their daughter money for rent and hadn't actually seen the loathsome squalor she was living in. Anyway, good for that broker, that she didn't bother trying to play it off like this place wasn't a shithole.

Bittersweet (#765)

@antarcticastartshere: When we moved back to Boston from CT during the Regency era (OK, it was the late 90s), we used the local Coldwell Banker office, which employed a "rental specialist." She showed us 5 nice apartments in our price range in 3 hours, handled the paperwork for us and sent us a welcome basket when we moved in. The time she saved us was by itself worth her fee of a month's rent. But that was Newton…maybe different from Boston?

@boyofdestiny I don't remember having any terrible experiences as a renter myself (other than, you know, getting fleeced by the brokerage fee), but I had an awful experience being on the other side when I was renting out my condo. The agent I used (mostly because they were convenient had a lot of knowledge of this building) was downright awful. They lied to me on several occasions, promised the prospective tenants things I had expressly told them not to, and tried to pressure me into approving tenants without actually reviewing their information myself. Since I was living on the other side of the country at the time, the whole situation felt totally out of my control, and it was so frustrating.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@major disaster The lesson here? Never own anything.

@boyofdestiny Yeah, there are definitely days I feel like that.

@Bittersweet In my very very limited experience, brokers who sell houses/condos as well as rentals (probably the case with Coldwell Banker/in Newton) are waaaay better.

All of the practices I mentioned above I learned about from my husband when he worked for a real estate company in Boston (not as a broker), so it's definitely the worst of the worst behavior. Shady behavior aside, I feel like brokers put in minimal effort (just showing whatever's in the neighborhood that's around the price of the apartment you first called about, regardless of amenities, knowing very little about details beyond the monthly rent) to earn that brokerage fee, and I dunno, I just can't stand it.

Bittersweet (#765)

@boyofdestiny: 8 1/2 years too late, my friend…

@antartica: Yes, that office mostly handled sales with a small side-business in rentals, and rentals were generally to older, professional couples or singles. Seems like anywhere there's a student or just-out-of-college demographic, the shady real estate people thrive. I have too many of those stories from grad school at Tufts in the early 90s.

Hamilton (#122)

Good piece. Start the movement, I'm in.

KenWheaton (#401)

"Can you look at the apartment tomorrow at 11?"
"No, I'm working."
"How about at 2?"
"No, I'm working."
"What about the next day at 11?"

"I'll show you this one. It doesn't take pets."
"I have two dogs."
"Well, we can ask the landlord if you like it."

"This one doesn't have outdoor space, but it's nice."
"I said 'outdoor' space is a must-have."
"It doesn't hurt to look."

"I've got nothing today."
"What about the listing that popped up on your RSS feed."
"Our what?"

I could go on. I've mostly escaped the broker shenanigans in my time here, but last time around I was running out of time and the Craigslist has been so overrun with scam artists I found it pretty much useless (for my price range at any rate).

ample pie (#16,622)

@KenWheaton: Reminds me of planning my wedding. I'd call a venue, ask when they could show me around. "Um, Tuesday at 2?" I think you're supposed to quit your job in order to undertake these sorts of tasks.

checkonetwo (#3,234)

This article makes it sound like moving to New York is not even worth the trouble. Which is really a shame, because I was kind of planning on doing that in about a year's time.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

Strictly for people who love trouble. (And restaurants.)

katherine (#10,025)

@checkonetwo It's doable — I basically had two days in the city (with maybe a week each from several states away) to find an apartment before moving here, and I found a brokerless place that I like a lot. I realize that this means I got incredibly lucky, but still.

Titania (#8,471)

@dntsqzthchrmn Someone should put that on a t-shirt.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

@Titania All yours. (I can't be the one to do it — it describes too many of my exes.)

City_Dater (#2,500)

It also depends on the neighborhood — every kid fresh off the bus wants to live downtown (and now Brooklyn), so the vilest brokers are there to prey on the newbies. The further uptown one looks, the more likely to find a relatively honest soul, not charging an absurd fee, who is familiar with the area, the owners, and the management companies.

When I used a broker for my last apartment she constantly showed up late to our appointments, one time getting very angry about it when we said we didnt get the text she swore she sent. Then she wouldn't give us the keys, even after we signed the lease and gave her a check. To top it all off, she cashed her check before we were allowed to move in, which is definitely illegal. this system is a sick joke.

Brokers provide a service like any other service. You dont have to use one, just like you don't need an attorney for everything attorneys are hired to do.

If there is a particular building you are interested in all you need to do is find out who the management is. Legally, all residential buildings in NYC have to have a sign with the contact info of the landlord/management in the lobby. Just get into the building and call the number you find to inquire after any vacancies.

max bread (#5,970)

Feels like some people out there might have "'rental broker' 'new york city'" Google Alerts!

young preeezy (#44,987)

I've been complaining about DC's rent situation for a while now, but perhaps should be more grateful that the situation isn't as dire it can be, it seems. Don't know anyone here that actually uses a broker for apartment searches, unless you're looking to own a condo or something (which is what my sister and her fiance did, and her broker was absolutely fantastic).

This is a great article, and you'd think it'd give me more hope and appreciation for DC, but it just makes me even more depressed about the fact that I'll probably never escape :(

Matt (#26)

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLwhite america, I used a broker to find a place in FAIRFAX, once.

young preeezy (#44,987)

@Matt Fairfax. what a waste! oh the humanity

km1312 (#45,006)

So…anyone have any advice about where to find a no-fee, no broker apt, outside of scam-ridden Craigslist? This comment thread has brought back some harrowing memories of my last search, which is why I signed a 2-year lease…too bad that was a year and a half ago.

@km1312 Try our website, http://www.UrbanEdgeNY.com which has thousands of no fee apartments all listed by owners and property managers. It's 100% free to use.

MissMushkila (#42,100)

This is so horrifying, and makes me very glad I live in the midwest – where I have never had to use a broker nor do I know anyone else who has used one. My biggest problem apartment searching is that I am a cheapskate about it and so visited lots of scary, rundown shitholes before finding a cheap apartment I was willing to live in.

totallyunoriginal (#45,259)

@MissMushkila I just moved here from Ohio. Not only are the rent prices terrifying here but I had no clue about brokers or fees until one of them was showing me apartments!

oscarina (#45,226)

Well, I spent two years searching for a decent 2BR or 3BR (at the time I included the option of moving in with my BF if I found a place big enough). By the end of two years of looking at crappy apartments on CL, and finding out that half of them were in bedbug-infested buildings or neighborhoods, and the other half were fake 2BR's (walls up up in a 1BR), I got a broker. The good thing about having a broker — I knew I was paying him so I gave him all my requirements right off the bat: must be no more than two blocks away from an express subway, must have building heat, must be pre-war building, and must have an elevator if the apartment is above the 4th floor. I refused to see anything that didn't meet those requirements. My first broker was a ditz. Luckily I spotted a better one at the same office, and hijacked him. He found me exactly what I needed. It was totally worth it. Yeah, I could've used that 15% for myself. But man, two years of looking with no success told me CL was a losing bet. It used to be good. Not anymore.

oscarina (#45,226)

PS – for anyone looking for an apartment, broker or no, use propertyshark.com. If you pay for a membership (I think you can do a month by month membership renewal), you get to see if there are any complaints about health hazards (rats, bed bugs, mold) reported for that address, and also who lives there already, crime reports, who owns the mortgage on the building, if the mortage is paid, what the building is worth, you name it. It's a great tool. I saved myself some time using that. And no, I don't work for them.

totallyunoriginal (#45,259)

One broker told me his fee was 15% of our annual income. Mistake? Hopefully. But I threw up a little in my mouth when he said it.

The broker I'm currently working with refuses to answer phone calls or emails. They have accepted our application for the apartment (that's supposed to be ready tomorrow!!)but won't set a date for the lease signing.

clobberella (#45,380)

Rental brokers are one of my greatest sources of irritation. When I moved to Boston, the ones I worked with were totally useless. I almost felt bad because they were obviously right out of college and had no idea what they were doing, I would be surprised if they even had training on the Fair Housing Act. Unfortunately for them, I am a former property manager for a professional rental management company, so I know exactly what to look for. My requirements and questions about the apartments I saw were extensive, I had a double-sided work sheet for every unit I saw.It just seems lazy to me, as someone who did all the rentals for her properties, to source this out. I find it had to trust a landlord who not only uses a service like this, but passes the cost onto the customer. Ridiculous. Especially in an aggressive market like Boston or NYC, where there is no lack of willing tenants. In the end, I found a place without a broker through Craigslist. Very, very lucky.

Pro tips: Read the tenant rights for your state/city before you do anything. Seriously. Lift up the cooktop on the stove and look for mouse droppings. Roaches like damp places, look around and under the sinks for evidence of them. Look at the outside of the windows and make sure the panes are not crumbling. Ask if the unit has ever been flooded or has had mold/moisture damage. Ask how often the building is exterminated and if it has a history of infestations. Ask if there are background checks run on the maintenance staff. Check the bedbug and sex offender registries. Call the emergency maintenance line and see if someone picks up.

rock78martin (#46,414)

One broker told me his fee was 15% of our annual income. Mistake? Hopefully. But I threw up a little in my mouth when he said it.

neil74carr (#46,566)

One broker told me his fee was 15% of our annual income. Mistake? Hopefully. But I threw up a little in my mouth when he said it.

@neil74carr They probably meant 15% of the annual rent, which is standard in Manhattan, and parts of Brooklyn. So, if your rent is $2000/month, the annual rent is $24,000, which means the brokers fee is $3600.

Beck Rea@facebook (#46,967)

Nope.

Nothing about that system is sensible.

…but it does make me feel a teeeeeny bit better about looking for apartments in Los Angeles.

myonlinegames (#48,098)

more details please.

shawn2ritz (#45,533)

@myonlinegames what details?

Nora Regis@twitter (#12,225)

I thought that one month's rent was still the standard for a broker fee, no? Maybe it is just in North Brooklyn.

InfoMofo (#505)

Ugh. I am never moving. So… spend more money on furniture?

SeaBassTian (#281)

Don't know when this whole guarantor nonsense started but I recall signing a lease for the worlds tiniest studio (really, it was like a walk-in closet!) and having all my shit in the car and having to ask my Dad to sign some crap agreement that he'd pay if I default. It was 20 years ago, I was a young punk but the memory still burns.

jeff beer@twitter (#49,727)

Had same experience — craigslist adventures, running from BedStuy to Wash Heights in search of that perfect affordable dump — moving from Toronto years back. Ended up with a Manhattan broker who was the WORST. The 15% fee plus the Being Canadian Tax (no US credit rating) of two extra months rent. From broke to broker to brokest.
But. Did find a great apt in Astoria two years later through an exclusive broker (nice Irish lady, office on Broadway) and the fee was worth it as all the comparable no-fee apts had rents at least 15% more per month.
At least that's what I told myself so I could sleep at night. Also, booze.

speaking from the other side of the divide, I'm on the co-op board of my NYC apartment and we have shareholders who use a broker. They're idiots. I ask them why and they say, Because I can't be bothered to screen craigslist ads and I don't know how to order a credit report. The brokers they use give us tenants but no application, so we know nothing about these people, and so we approve them if they show up for the interview and speak English.

You want an apartment in NYC? Check out the real estate blogs, brownstoner (for Brooklyn) and curbed (for Manhattan). I think both offer real estate listings. Not cheap but solid.

Sam Gimbel@twitter (#58,940)

My girlfriend and I had such a bad experience looking for a place that we've resolved to write an article (not dissimilar from this one) about it. It mostly focuses on the holes and cracks in the system, and coming from a tech/start-up background I plan on suggesting a few alternative models, but I think this is amazing. I'd love to talk more about it via email once I start writing the article! Thanks for this.

Nataliya @twitter (#76,003)

Three years ago when I was moving to Manhattan from NJ and working as a Corporate Event Planner, I was on the hunt for a space in the city. I had never worked with brokers before and had exactly one day to find a space for me, my husband, and our then 35lb "puppy". First I tried going the by-owner route and after speaking to an owner over the phone and by email, I went to visit the building. The super opened the door while smoking a joint. Not kidding. Not the right building for us.

I then picked up the phone and called a broker at M********* A*********. The apartment I called about was rented (of course) but would I like to come in to see others? This involved me leaving the area I was interested in renting and going to their midtown office to meet with said broker and sign a commission agreement. I mentioned I needed pet friendly, needed Hamilton Heights and needed no fee. His intern took me to see a tiny one bedroom that came stocked with a mini-fridge, a 15% fee and it wasn't pet friendly. I was then told "no fee apartments in your neighborhood do not exist". Mind you, we went back uptown and at that point my metro card ran out and the intern actually suggested I hop a turnstile.

!!!!!…..!!!

The second broker I called walked me into an apartment, negotiated a price with the landlord, treated me fairly and respected my wishes for a no-fee space. We signed the lease a couple of days later and proceeded to live in the apartment for the next 2 years.

It's been three years since that move and when the economy tanked and I lost my job, I went into Real Estate myself. I wound up working for the company that found me my apartment. Because of the horrific experience I had as a renter, I choose to run my business differently. I HATE Craigslist with the passion of a thousand fiery suns and find it an unfortunate necessary evil. I, too, know there are hundreds of brokers who post fake ads with fake pricing, fake "no fee" ads, fake "by owner ads", etc etc etc. It infuriates me that I pay X amount of dollars per ad to put up something honest (cross streets, fee disclosures, my exact contact information and company worked for, an actual available apartment!) all the while having skeevy mcskeeversons put up BS ads that Craigslist clearly does not monitor. I have more than once, called the agent's agencies to place formal complaints about their agents, printed ads ready to be faxed, only to find out the agency doesn't care either.

The only advice I can give renters is to stop using Craiglist unless you absolutely have to and go to other mediums. For instance Streeteasy is a website that IS monitored and controlled. The only listings that are allowed to be listed by brokers are exclusives and if they're not, the agent's access to the site is removed. It pulls information directly from our databases. So the second the agent notes in his own listings system that the apartment is rented, it is pulled off of the Streeteasy site so you do not call about something that is gone.

You should also check that the agent is a member with the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY). This organization exists for accountability purposes. If an agent is not with REBNY (please do your due diligence and call REBNY to check), you may not want to work with them as they are not held to the same code of ethical conduct as the agents who are.

Third and final, ask around. Everyone has horror stories about bad brokers but there are plenty of people who have had great experiences with brokers and will recommend them wholeheartedly. A good broker will let you contact their previous clients. I have had clients who have asked me to contact previous clients for a review or even fellow tenants of the building they're interested in, if I know them. I have no problem providing this information. Why would I? This is still a service industry, even if so many of my peers have forgotten what we are in this business to do. I don't get upset if a client doesn't take an apartment. Why would I? I don't have to live there – you do!

A good agent will be one that previewed the apartments they're about to show you, that will walk you through a co-op process (@Diana, I'm horrified to read that you wouldn't demand an application and backup paperwork for a tenant and would approve them without seeing their qualifications! Two years of financials minimum!) or through a condo process and will call you a week after your move to make sure you are settled. They will allow you to negotiate a fee down if you need to. I ask my clients to let me know their fee parameters ahead of time and won't show a space that costs more than what they can afford, whether it is in terms of rent or in terms of the fee.

At the end of the day, my clients are my neighbors and many of them are now my friends that know not just me, but my husband, my dogs, and some of them my mom. I see these people on trains, in coffee shops and in the park. I know that I present a different business model but firmly believe that this is what will lead to success, and not just in my business but in life.

All this to say, yes, A LOT of brokers suck. But there are many that don't and I will fight tooth and nail to protect my name in this business and keep providing a GOOD service to those who need it.

I'm truly sorry so many of you have had a bad experience – I have, too. I sincerely hope for tighter reform for my industry, even if it means I have to fill out 10 forms per transaction for the NYDOS that put my license on the line to ensure it was legit and my clients walked away happy.

Best of luck to you all.

As an agent, I cringe when I read stories like this. Having experienced some of the things you experienced when I was looking to rent, I can't argue that there are some really bad agents out there. However, there are also agents that have integrity, listen to their clients, are responsive and care. I promise you that is true.

I agree with many of Nataliya's comments. At TOWN we are trained to treat every client, regardless of transaction price with the best service possible and to be upfront with each client. We also are trained to ensure our listings are accurate and they are checked and also required to be updated at least weekly to ensure accuracy. REBNY has very strict requirements about this.

I won't repeat all of Natalyia's points, but I agree with many of them. Being a REBNY broker is important and I also agree that any agent in it for the long haul does not benefit from giving poor or misleading service. Why would we? We want a life long customer and want you to recommend and use us in the future for your next rental or sale.

However, I also want to clear up some misunderstandings about "the fee" and that we do nothing for it. It's more than "a day's work". I know this will be unpopular, but a good agent works hard for that fee.

We make sure the apartments are real listings and active. We search through ads based on your criteria, make sure the listings are available, we set up appointments and alerts, sift through listings (many of which may only deal with brokers and not renters), ensure that you are qualified based on the landlord's requirements, become knowledgeable about the buildings/neighborhood/units, show up at appointments based on your schedule, help you with the documents and forms and any moving help, negotiate on your behalf, follow-up after the rental to ensure you are happy, etc.

A lot of the work we do is done out of your sight and often it is our connections, knowledge, technology and the ads that we create (and often pay for) that helped find that apartment for you. And, at the end of the day, if you change your mind and do not rent, we did that work simply as a free service. That's fine and fair and we then just hope you might use us or recommend us in the future.

The agents do not keep the whole fee and are not getting rich off the fee and you don't even pay it unless you do rent an apartment that the agent finds that you like.

When you use a good agent, you should feel like the fee was well-deserved and they saved you time, money and the frustration of doing it yourself. I hope you use an agent in the future that proves me right and I, too, am sorry so many have had such bad experiences. I agree, it should not happen.

Corey H (#191,061)

It is like going into a restaurant ordering food and when the bill comes saying I do not want to pay the tip or the bill because I could of cooked at home. To be called scum from an attorney, now that hurts! Being in the legal field I would think you would be the first to understand the need for brokers. The legal climate in NYC is such that it is so pro-tenant that renting an apartment is like applying for a mortgage in other areas. The reason brokers need to collect and verify all these documents is because landlords do not want to be stuck with some tenant who sits in his property anywhere from 6 months to a year without paying rent and costs an unbelievable amount in legal costs to remove. NYC is such that is it nearly impossible to kick a tenant out; even when they stop paying rent. Landlords do not want the headache of dealing with the crazy public so they hire an intermediary to buffer themselves from the headache. And you should feel the same, do you know how many deals would be ruined if you spoke directly to the landlord. A lot of landlords are rude, arrogant, and if you thinking waiting 20 minutes on a broker or super is bad try depending on meeting with a landlord who is rich and knows his shit will rent with or without you. They are arrogant and often rude. Brokers verify credit, after spending time with you we also tell the landlord if you are nice and polite or maybe otherwise. A good broker in NYC works 70 hours a week. If you want a loyal broker than you should clearly let them know from the outset you do not want the hassle and that you will not cheat (even if you do) and you will be much more likely to get an agent who focuses on you. After awhile in the business you know who is a cheat, unrealistic, deluded, a time waster or a professional who does not have the time or energy to waste and is loyal and expects great service. That is who brokers focus on, so maybe the shit show experiences you had were from new agents who had nothing better on their plate that day and gave you a half assed go since you were not worth the time (proof that you used a broker and didn't pay a fee.) I bet you used them to find your place then like any good corporate scum bag attorney screwed him/her over. The vacancy rate is so low there are usually five applications on any decent apartment; a good broker positions you to win. And there is no way around it unless you go on streeteasy and deal with the landlords yourself…goodluck and god bless ;-) I literally had a guy after working with him for a week tell me one of his buddies is a broker and he was going to apply with him for an apartment I found him. People who use brokers knowing brokers do not get paid anything, in fact at least waiters get min wage, we pay to work, we pay for our marketing, business cards, search databases, copying keys for you, taking you around in cabs, spending hours searching databases for you, and then after using brokers cheap scumbags can not wait to try to go behind your back and try to screw you out of your well deserved and well earned commission. Sometimes it is out of the agents hands when things run behind, supers don't show up, shit happens. It is a messy process- if you don't like it go live in Ohio.

Waterfalls (#239,209)

@Corey H

Very well explained. I work with landlords and couldn't agree any more. Ignorance is such a bliss. These renters are comparing leasing a rental unit with REBNY board and regulations equivalent to purchasing retail. Its obviously apparent that a landlord will not sit and meet with "potential tenants". He doesn't have that time on his hands to sit down with you nor answer your questions. He'd be held liable on so many charges if he dealt directly snd with " potential tenants " and refused them based on section 8, numerous reasons, perhaps he just didn't think the tenant made a good fit , or has four children, you name the scenarios, or Is a one way minded corporate shady attorney he doesnt want to rent an apt to, to sue him and live rent free looking to cause problems, ,examining the lease all night, you get my drift.? That's only one reason. What a good landlord does ?? He lists his apts through brokers: agents to rent his apts out, ensuring maximum occupancy rates, so he can avoid the frustration., headache, legal issues, evicting scumbag from his apts, and invest that time wisely in focusing on his next purchase. Landlords typically don't pay brokers fees for renting their apts out , making arrangements, handling leasing process, qualifications, etc, accommodating tenants to show apts at night, having easy access to apts, etc. smart landlords list their properties through brokers. Every bldg is managed differently so if tenants can't understand perhaps the landlord may be based out in a different location from the property he's trying to rent , ex : Yonkers, manhattan and will not have easy access to meeting clients, allowing random thieves in the bldg, so they list through brokers who charge "fees". Typically when you're in the line of business meeting and greeting , qualifying many tenants , ensuring max occupancy rate for the landlord, the landlord trusts your judgment , and approves your clients he may not have approved himself if he sat down with them for five min. Landlords are quick to judge based on my experience renting apts for landlords….

Corey H (#191,061)

@Diana Jarvis….That is such bullshit. Coops are the last real form of housing discrimination left. You have people fill out insane board packages and have brokers spend a week collating documents and then with no reason given deny them. Often it is about if you go to same synagogue, certain college, and fit a certain profile they like.

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