Monday, October 27, 2008

Timing is everything and procrastination is key

OK hounds, go find me the perfect apartment!

Timing is the thing that frazzles me the most about Manhattan apartment hunting. I am of two minds when it comes to timing: some things I wait until the last second on, like when I was a journalist I just couldn't write a story until there were only a couple of hours before deadline; some things -- like moving -- I like to take my time with and plan out every last detail. I start prepping 2 or 3 months in advance.

Apartment hunting is tilted towards the procrastinator in NYC. Really, you shouldn't start hunting until 15 days before you want to move. Which is ridiculous to me! Who can plan a move in 15 days?!?? (Probably more like 13 once you sign the lease and all that stuff.) Find movers, get boxes, pack, in less than two weeks? Just the idea kills me. Imagine if your lease was up November 1 and you didn't start looking until October 15. It would freak me out. What if you don't find a place? I really think this pattern tilts in broker and management company's favors. Just another factor that leads renters to accept less than awesome for their apartment. At some point it becomes a matter of finding anyplace rather than THE place.

For the majority of apartments you really cannot expect a lead time of more than 21 days at most. If you're not planning to move until Dec. 1 it's way too early for you to be looking. All you can do is get an idea of what is available in your price range. The longer an apartment stays vacant the more money the owner loses, so the excuse you'll get is that someone else will come along who can move in sooner.

Slowly though, the glut is starting to appear and maybe the scales are tipping in the renter's favor. A few apartments I've seen but passed on have sat on the market for close to a month and the price is dropping. In fact, I'm pretty sure the cute 1 BR I saw on Sullivan St just dropped from $2495/mo to $2295/mo (still a bit too much in my opinion, but getting closer!). I'm also starting to notice more lead time in the ads. Apartments that won't be free until Dec. 1 or even Jan. 1 are starting to pop up slowly but surely.

I'm not really sure how much negotiation latitude this opens up just yet. This past weekend, management reps and brokers without fees were still rejecting my requests for a free month of rent. But some of them have started to say things like 'I think we could negotiate them down a little bit on the rent.' That kind of leverage has been missing for far too long and I look forward to its return. $100 or $200/mo off the rent may not seem like a lot but that's up to $2400 a year. That's like 2000 Wendy's double stacks. (I just had one this weekend, and man they are tiny in NYC! Way smaller than I remember them being in Connecticut. My stomach is still thanking me today.)

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