Rental Dementia: A Broker in Waiting

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I’m drowning in complaints. My fellow rental agents have gotten it into their thick and neurotic skulls that I’m the resident shrink, the guy to go to when you need to unload the latest litany of crimes perpetrated by those ruthlessly insensitive clients. Whether they’ve been stood up, laid out, flat out insulted or backstabbed, I invariably become the vacuum for every pent up sob story pressing enough to necessitate an immediate release. I’m spared not one gory or trivial detail. Every low blow is laid bare and left on the table for evidence. Once the horrors have been purged, a look of shock and wonder settles over the wounded agent, as they marvel at their own ability to have somehow survived such indecency. Still bewildered, they look off into the distance while a moment of silence poses the question, “Can you believe it?” I have nothing to offer, and nothing to say beyond, “We’re lucky to be alive.”

I go downstairs with one particular broker to have a smoke and conjure an easier way, but his cell phone rings, and the recent injustice is completely forgotten. His real estate composure immediately returns and all of a sudden he looks as though he is standing on a golf course in Florida. “Why yes, it is still available. Have you got some time this afternoon?” The cigarette is stubbed into the ground as he checks his watch and then charges off to the subway. I hear him mumble, “Fuck’em,” as he walks away. There is no love in renting.

What I can’t understand is how an agent could expect any kind of loyalty in this market. Who are they kidding? With prices beyond silly and thousands of listings to ogle, why would anyone work with one broker? And why would any broker think for a second that a complete stranger is going to factor their feelings into the final equation? That would be as absurd as paying someone to find you an apartment in a city over loaded with apartment buildings. Wait a second …

And yet the agents still complain. Those who’ve been in the business a few years too many hold tightly to the distorted picture of the old days and the naïve misconception of an above board business where people are honest about their budget, when they will move and how many other agents are scratching around on their behalf. But these old timers are crushed by the new business model.

Though never exactly a joyful experience, the business of renting an apartment in New York seems to have gotten both more difficult and more painful—for everyone in involved … just ask the renters. The introduction of modern technology should have made the process clearer and easier. It was no back-rub-and-a-happy-ending before the Internet, but it wasn’t a game of lucky cut throat either. These days you can’t trust anyone, and I don’t see the supposed wide open access as a necessarily good thing.

Soon after the Internet became “the only tool” for finding an apartment, my clients would drop by the office to sign leases with the agent who sat next to me. It was a little disheartening when we share the same listings, and I had already spent a week working with them. Better hide your keys and keep your addresses to yourself, as even my own office was no longer safe. The arguments started shortly thereafter, but there was no real solution. We were reduced to sheepishly asking our potential renters to show some restraint and only work with one agent per company. It was as effective as asking my favorite stripper not to flirt so much with the other customers.

With its pretty pictures, misguided descriptions, catchy phrases and all night access, the Internet turned even the dullest and dimmest renter into an instant expert. It immediately made the market easier to navigate, but not any more transparent. In the rush to list every apartment ever constructed, or already rented, it also created a huge glut of fakes, phonies and lures. The hours spent “researching” dime store websites, and online classifieds is now virtually worthless when over half of what you find isn’t actually available, or never even existed. At this point, you might as well just call a broker and save yourself the trouble. In the end, all roads and perfect pictures of tree-lined streets and stainless steal kitchens lead back to a busy broker just waiting to show you any apartment but the one you called about. So leave your computer alone, pick an agent and get to work.

Welcome home renter, your back in the warm bosom of the rental agent, no matter how hard you’ve tried to get away. And you better get comfortable, as you’ll need to hire a licensed agent just to sort through the thousands of online listings.

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