Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The good ol' bait and switch

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...still shame on you! Every time I think to myself "Oh, this broker sounds kinda nice, maybe she/he won't try to fuck me" someone should come out of the woodwork and smack me upside the head. Because 100% of the time a broker will give you a bum deal.

One thing I've noticed going through the by-owner apartment rental section on Craigslist is that there's a surprising number of broker listings in there. AKA miscategorized. And no matter how often I flag them (and I'm sure I'm not the only one flagging them) they never seem to get removed. The end result being that probably about 1/3 of the listings I contact are actually broker's fee listings cleverly disguised as by owner listings.

So earlier today when I saw two no-fee listings in the by-owner section I should have known better than to respond. I must be masochistic though because respond I did. One was a $2195/1 BR and one was a $2295/1 BR. Both listed by the same broker. I spoke with him soon after and got the details.

I should have known the bait and switch was coming when his first questions to me were "How do you feel about a basement apartment? How about a 6th floor walkup?" Ugh. I rejected the basement but said I was willing to consider the 6th floor. No one above me sounds great right about now (right, crazy loud upstairs neighbor?). Then I got the usual rundown -- what are you looking for (1 BR preferably), how much (up to $2500 but the closer to $2000 the better), and when are you looking to move in (oh ya know, whenever). Then he asked about broker's fees and I know I clearly said "I am not willing to pay a broker's fee. Of any kind."

Suddenly the apartments that I called about were no longer options. Instead the broker wanted to show me 2 1 BRs he had. One on Sullivan in between Spring and Broome, one on Mott between Prince and Houston. Both areas I am down with so I said OK. I made two mistakes: I didn't ask how much either was and I didn't ask how much security was expected on either. This was very dumb on my part. Because the broker may as well have said "Pay attention to my hands. Notice there is nothing up my sleeve. Yet in the next hour we shall go from no fee to a 15% of the annual fee! Moohoohahahahaha...."

The pledge: I met him at the Sullivan apartment. He gave me the actual address (and bragged about it, as though he had to proove that he was human and not broker scum). It was really, really close to work. As in I could see my work's windows from the front of the apartment building. It didn't really bother me too much. I was more worried about the location -- the building was on the end of Sullivan right against the Avenue of the Americas. Street noise would be an issue. One of the tenants came out to put out some garbage so I asked him about the building. He had nothing but good things to say which was nice.

The broker came up shortly after and seemed nice enough. Not smarmy. He took me inside to a 2nd floor 1 BR. It was cute. It was a gut renovation and had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. A year ago I would have shit my pants at the washer/dryer. But now I'm kinda like 'damn that is taking up valuable real estate in this apartment.' The kitchen did have a dishwasher which made me drool. The layout wasn't too bad. You walked in to the living room with the kitchen and the bathroom off to the right. The bathroom was a nice size and had a full tub and a cool sink. To the left was the bedroom. The bedroom was OK. My bed and maybe a small dresser would have fit. But the closet space was disappointing. Smaller than what I have now and only one closet in the apartment. I wasn't sold.

I asked the rent and found it was $2350/mo (ahem, notice how this is already $50/mo more than the most expensive apartment I had called about?). I balked and the broker said he wanted to help me out by negotiating a rate I was happy with, like $2200/mo. Well, that's a bit better. Then he mentioned broker's fee something-something and I must have made such a look of sheer horror that he suggested we move on to the next place.

The turn: On the way from Sullivan to Mott the broker started talking about how long he's had a relationship with the owners and blah blah he tries to sign long term tenants yadda yadda so he doesn't earn very much money in fees sob sob so he works very hard to earn his fee. I wanted to say "by doing what, opening a fucking door or two?" but instead I replied, "Well, if there's one thing I can say it's that I have been looking for a couple of months now and I've noticed that owners and brokers alike have already become more flexible in their demands because of the market downturn." I was pretty proud of myself. He retorted that his apartments never stay on the market very long so he wouldn't have to do that, but I just shot him a skeptical look and dropped it. He spent the rest of the time talking about how quickly the apartments would rent and how if I wasn't ready to move rightthissecond I should just not move at all. Whatever, dude. Is that broker code for don't waste my time? Because if it is, go fuck yourself. If I spend 1 hour with you, that means you cost $66/minute if I pay your frickin fee. That's more than any phone wench I know of.

The prestige: The apartment on Mott was actually on the corner of Houston which again meant road noise. While the Sullivan building was probably 15 units or less, this was an elevator/walkup hybrid with probably closer to 30. The apartment was on the 5th floor and we took this weird little elevator up. It was kind of cool, kind of claustrophobic in there. As the broker opened the door to the apartment he told me they were going to list this apartment for $2395/mo but again he was willing to negotiate...the rent but not his 15% of the annual rent fee. Whoa, what?? How did we get to that amount of fee from no broker's fee. He said he had to go check out another apartment so he left me alone to walk around.

I immediately texted T for advice. No reply. I walked around the apartment. Like Sullivan St it was gut renovated and had a washer/dryer in the kitchen. The layout was slightly better with two closets but they were single door and would still be less closet space then I have now. The bathroom was nice with the same sink as Sullivan St. There were no windows in the living area which was weird. The bedroom had two windows and the top portion of the wall was actually a window to let light filter into the living area. Still, no windows in the living area was kind of weird. It was a reminder that I had neighbors on both sides plus above and below.

I did some quick calculations in my head. Let's say this was a by-owner apartment going for $2200/mo. If the owner required a 2-month security that would mean $4400 inaccessible to me for the entire time I lived there but theoretically coming back to me when I moved out. If the apartment required a 1-month security deposit plus a 15% broker's fee for a 1-year lease that would add up to $6160, $3960 of which would go to the broker. No fucking way. Negotiation ahoy!

I started talking money with the broker. We talked about getting the rent down from $2395/mo and his fee. I told him that I wasn't really comfortable paying more than one month as a fee as an opening point. The grimace on his face was palpable and I couldn't help but smirk. Since he had blindsided me with the broker's fee I blindsided with him with some news of my own: my deposit money wouldn't be available to me until November 15. At that point he totally cut off the deal. Which was actually OK with me. Neither apartment was The One. They were decent but far from perfect and while $2200/mo would have been OK, I honestly felt they were overpriced.

He uncerimoniously dismissed me from the apartment at that point (no handshake or anything, jerk). I walked down the stairs, not wanting to get stuck in the elevator. I saw a reply text from T -- "Get the fuck out of there now. Bad deal." Amen. I will be interested to see if these apartments do in fact rent right away or if they sit on the market for a bit. Seems like everything else is sitting tight, just waiting for a renter.

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