Rental Dementia: Chasing the Dream

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I once showed 25 studios to a young architect who was moving here from Philly. They were all around the same price, and, since she had no real neighborhood preference, they were scattered all over the city. She drew sketches of each apartment in a small notebook. They looked like miniature blueprints, and I began wondering if she needed an apartment or was just practicing. In the end, she had roughly 20 almost identical sketches, and I had absolutely nothing. She eventually found a place, but not through me.

She was an architect for God’s sake. She’d look at one boxy studio with a closet, a window, and a separate kitchen, and then another identical one. She’d inspect the space very closely, and then say to herself, “Hmmm...,” as if there were an imperceptible detail that she sensed would make all the difference. I couldn’t tell her she was wasting her time. Even her drawings weren’t enough to point out the obvious. They were exactly the same. If I tried to explain this to her, she’d accuse me of rushing her into a place. Just one more broker cruising through a search, trying to get paid as quickly and as easily as possible.

Maybe another smart-
er, more aggressive agent was finally able to explain to her that $1,400 studios simply do not vary much, and landlords rarely make mistakes in pricing an apartment. Or, maybe it just took seeing 25 places with me before this simple fact slowly dawned on her. Either way, the more work you put into a deal, the harder it becomes to let go.

It’s crucial to separate the winners from the losers as early as possible. The winners are hard to come by and more difficult to spot. The losers, on the other hand, often announce themselves quickly; sometimes seconds into a conversation.

“Yeah, uh, hi. Do you have any no-fee apartments?” It still happens, and it still drives me crazy. The moment this question is asked I know I’m dealing with a complete idiot. It’s no crime to look for a no-fee apartment, but why call a broker? You may as well ask if I have any free haircuts, or if I’m giving out free backrubs. I picture this same caller asking a bartender if he has any no-fee beer.

You want a no fee apartment? Call a landlord. If you don’t know any landlords try asking a super. When that doesn’t work, pick up a paper and hit every no-fee apartment you can find, but get there early. If all else fails, call me, but at that point, expect to pay a fee.

 “Yeah hi, I’m looking for a two bedroom in the West Village with a large living room. I need a doorman for packages, because I travel a lot, and the second bedroom is essential because my family likes to visit.” This wouldn’t be a terrible request, except that they can only afford a one bedroom without the doorman, and with the money saved by renting a smaller place, their family could stay in the penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton, and have a better time.

“Dude? Do you have any, like, huge raw lofts in Soho, that are like really cheap? My cousin is an awesome carpenter, and I’ll totally deck the place out. Tell the landlord, I’ll pay for my own renovations, and when I move out, he’ll have a sweet joint.” Wait a second here, you might be on to something. You mean… you want to take a really large space in a somewhat industrial area, that isn’t in great shape, and make it beautiful? Better keep that idea under wraps, before all of Wall Street, and every developer with a truck and some sheet rock catches on. If only we could get the artist-types involved…

“Do you have any one bedrooms downtown, close to the subway, and in a safe neighborhood?” A little prodding on my part reveals that the caller does not indeed need an apartment, and in fact owns a home in Long Island. The call was made on behalf of the recent college graduate, far too busy to be looking and subsequently paying for their own apartment. The minor task of making appointments and driving into the city to meet with brokers is left in the capable hands of their doting mother, who I also imagine, will call in the morning to wake them for work.

The sad truth is I spent my first year in real estate taking each and every one of those requests seriously. So who is the real idiot? It’s one thing to ask for the impossible, and quite another to spend a few weeks looking for it. So, if your mother is out there looking on your behalf for the perfect no-fee apartment in one of Manhattan’s premier neighborhoods and your criteria looks a lot like a letter to Santa, best of luck to you. But it’s a big city, keep looking…

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