Saturday, October 11, 2008

Oh, the lies brokers will tell

You know how Wall St just crashed? And you know how everyone is internally conflicted, because they feel bad for themselves for losing their own money, and they feel bad for the people who got conned into bad mortgages but they can't bring themselves to feel bad for the greedy bastards on Wall St? I feel like real estate apartment rentals are much the same.

Take broker's fees for example. You hate paying the fee, the management company couldn't care less if you pay the fee and brokers will do everything possible to make sure you just pay the damn fee. I understand that this is how brokers make their livelihood but that doesn't make it OK! The ends do not justify the means. Real Estate in NYC is broken. As I have said, I think broker's fees for purchasing apartments are justified. It's rentals I have the issue with.

Here's how rental brokers work in NYC: you (the renter) finds the apartment you like yourself, usually through ad somewhere or a good old fashioned sign. You call the number/email and the broker meets you there. The only function the broker performs is letting you into the apartment (after much fiddling with the keys). Then they call the owner or management company to tell them they found a renter. Ladies and gentlemen, give this broker their 15% of annual rent fee! They opened a goddamn door! Something you could not possibly have done yourself! Even better, the broker usually has little valuable information -- they don't know if the building is quiet, they don't know what the neighbors are like, they don't know the neighborhood 80% of the time. They don't know if your Super is attentive, they don't know if the management company will jerk you around. They know nothing except keys and fee.

Let's give the broker the benefit of the doubt -- maybe you don't like the first apartment you see. They have some other apartments for you to see. OK, that is something that I think is valuable. But is it worth $3150 on a $1750/mo apartment? Fuck no. The best is when you don't like the apartment you see the broker asks what you do want. You tell them -- let's say renovated, elevator, above the 2nd floor, dishwasher, laundry in building, less than $2000/mo. Now the broker is supposed to be doing the legwork for you. Except they keep calling you with apartments that don't fit what you want. I had this situation last time around. The broker would call with two or three of my criteria -- and I only found this out when I learned to ask about the apartment before we saw it. He was basically wasting both of our time showing me apartments I didn't want. That is not a value-added service.

Yesterday I looked at 3 apartments, all of which were under Craigslist's no fee listings. I hesitate in that section because more than once I've gotten burned by a broker who "accidentally" listed an apartment in the no fee section with a H1 "NO FEE" that oops, actually had a fee. But you gotta keep hope alive that you'll get a decent broker who is legitimately not charging a fee, or getting their fee paid by the owner/building management company.

The first apartment was at a dream location -- in between Lafayette and Mulberry in, umm, either Soho or Nolita. I'm still learning the neighborhood lines down there. It fit most of my criteria (except of course price). The listing was in the no fee section and clearly said 4 or 5 times no fee. I met the broker from Best Apartments outside the building. This was after convincing him that I'd already filled out their form and no I would not be meeting with him on the Upper West Side at their office before going to Soho. The apartment was really nice. It was an alcove studio with 3 large windows and a nicely done kitchen with a DISHWASHER and a breakfast bar. There were two closets, one of which was walk-in. $2595/month was really high for me but seemed like a decent price for what you get.

So I started asking about fees. Application fee? No. Credit check fee? Yes. And then the broker slipped in that he had a "low fee" -- one month instead of the normal 15%. I was livid, but I forced myself to remain calm. I explained to him that the ad I'd called from clearly said no fee several times. He said it must not have been his ad. Oh, buddy. This be the 21st century you're lying in. I took out my phone, browsed to the webpage and said, "This is your picture, isn't it? And this is the apartment we're in, right? Because this ad says No Fee." The broker's reply? That someone else in the office had put up the ad and it was a mistake.

I didn't even respond. I just turned around and left and went to my next appointment. Had there been people waiting for him outside the building I would have warned them. When I got home, I flagged the listing on Craigslist. It was still up this morning though.

The second apartment was more bullshit art. It was on Mott St. in Nolita. I never even got far enough to ask the broker if there really was a fee or not. Because I walked in to an apartment that did not match the pictures on the ad one bit. The ad showed bright, airy, new. The apartment was dark, smelly and old. I was there less than 5 minutes.

The last apartment was in Astoria. Given the long trip, I didn't want to waste my time a 3rd go-round so I had a preliminary screening call with the broker. I tried to hold myself back from being outright rude, but I bluntly asked questions like "This place is really no-fee, right?" and "Are the pictures in the ad actually of the apartment I'm going to see?". It turns out I was dealing directly with the management company. They come with their own set of issues, but in this case I was satisfied enough to head out to 30th Ave via the N.

It was both the largest and the cheapest apartment of the night. $1395/mo for a 1-BR. It had been gut renovated and had a huge closet and a huge living room. But it was in Astoria...I am still not convinced about Queens. At least there was only a $100 application fee. I took an application and headed home. It took me 20 minutes just to make it back to Manhattan. My commute would be around 45 minutes I guessed. Ugh. Luckily I am in no rush to move so I have time to wait for that perfect place.

No comments: