Rental Dementia: Pay to Play

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With the vacancy rate dropping to an all-time low and rental prices rising in some cases 24 percent, I was considering calling that Army recruiter back. It was one of those rare times in the real estate market when you would tell a renter, “If you don’t take this place right now, you will lose it,” and actually mean it.

Making matters worse, my client list was down. If it weren’t for the calls on places that had rented two years ago, I’d have no one calling at all. According to our website, you still had your choice of spacious $2,100 one bedrooms in Tribeca. I was expected to find something “similar” to the $1,300 studio in the West Village that had unfortunately “just rented,” when the closest place I had was in Washington Heights.

Meanwhile the company was assuring us that it was a great time to be a real estate agent. The owner even came down and give us a pep talk, which accomplished little more than confirming our growing suspicions. The market was getting dangerously tight and even the higher-ups were beginning to panic.

We were told to stay busy, stay positive and to never take no for an answer. This last bit of strategic advice was quickly followed with instructions to think “outside of the box.” Still relatively new to the real estate game, I figured it was time to up the ante. I needed to take the next step in my career. I decided to bribe my first super.

In this slightly confused business, it’s often the guy fixing the toilets and hauling the garbage that has the most influence. Supers know everything. A couple of Yankees tickets or a $100 bill slipped under his door can go a long way in a tight market.

A good super has the inside track on who is moving out and more importantly, when. They open the doors for some agents, and can’t seem to find the keys for others. It took me a while before I learned to interpret, “Sorry Pal. Can’t get you in, just had the floors done.” What he really means is that another agent is already slipping him enough cash to keep the door closed to competition.

Unless you had a stable of exclusives, which I didn’t, most agents are showing the same “open listings.” A few days ahead of the pack is a huge advantage when solid apartments are renting the day they hit the market. Armed with only a set of business cards and 40 bucks, I set out for the East Village in search of anyone in work boots and a garden hose in their hand.

I had little experience in bribing anyone (other than my younger brothers), and wasn’t really sure of how to start the conversation. “Hello there. I’m sort of new to real estate and was wondering if I gave you $20 would you please tell me if there are any available units in this sturdy building?”—seemed a little a forward.

I was out there for over an hour before I spotted my first mark. He was standing in front of an elevator building on East 12th street, and had a huge ring of keys dangling from his belt—a tell tale sign. I approached him cautiously.

“How’s it going? I work in real estate. You guys have any empty apartments you need help renting?”

“How the hell should I know?” he replied.

“I’m sorry I thought you might be the super.”

I waited for a response, but that was the only information he was willing to part with. I never did figure out why he had all those keys. A few more hours of circling and trying to make small talk with a few guys on the street and I hadn’t even found a super, let alone bribed one.

Getting ready to call it quits and head back to the office to start thinking “outside of the box” again, I passed a hardware store on First Ave. An older and well-built Spanish man was leaving with a bundle of rat traps. I was too tired to play it coy.

“You a super?’


“Got any apartments available?”

“Not right now, but I might in a week.”

I felt it was going ok, and waded in a little further.

“Great. How can I, you know, get into to see it?”

“Just call me up,” he said flatly.

“I’m sort of new to this, but is there any way I can make sure I get in first?”

He thought about it for a moment, but seemed a little confused by the question.

“I guess so…if you’re the first one
who calls.”

I handed him a business card, and headed back to the office. At least I had a new building to show. Now all I needed was a client.

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