Two roommates on the hunt for a dream apartment to rent in Manhattan are at the centre of Joyce Cohen’s saga, “Off-Campus, With Elbow Room.” One guy wants a big living room. Another wants to save. The third needs to be close to school.
It’s not a tall order, but as soon as the guys realise they’re about to shell out thousands for the broker’s fee, things start going downhill pretty fast:
“Searching online, Mr. Igyarto first thought it would be possible to find a place without paying a broker’s fee,” Cohen writes. “But the listed price was almost always a fiction, ‘or the no-fee notation was incorrect,’ he said. ‘These great deals online don’t turn out to be as good as you expect.’ He didn’t have much time to devote to looking, either.”
Eventually, the guys bite the bullet and everything pans out in the end, la-di-da. But what if you’re in the same boat and can’t afford the broker fee at all? If no-fee apartments are a must for your budget, here’s what you need to know:
The on-site leasing agent game. “Large landlords frequently have leasing offices or management firms that deal directly with renters and do not charge a fee, though if a broker brings you there, you will pay a broker’s fee unless the landlord does,” said Teri Karush Rogers, CEO of BrickUnderground.com. It’s best to go through the landlord directly.
Run-down apartments. When there’s something wrong with the apartment and the landlord can’t rent it, he’s going to pay the broker’s fee to attract more renters, said Rogers. “Keep your radar up for obvious flaws (6th floor walk-up, bathtub in kitchen, dank/dark/mildewy, generally rundown condition, location next to a construction site), and less obvious ones like bed bugs, a location that’s bad for reasons that may not be immediately clear, say it’s located above a bar, Subway Sandwich shop or other noisy/smelly business. (For more on finding an apartment free of bed bugs, click here.)
The old bait and switch. “This dominates so much of rental apartment advertising, especially on Craigslist,” said Rogers. “The agent’s goal is for the phone to ring and to eventually close the deal—most likely not on the apartment advertised, if it even exists. Be suspicious of anything that seems to good to be true, and make sure to confirm with the broker that the apartment is in fact no-fee on the phone and in-person before you see it.”
High rent. Look for apartments listed directly by the landlord for a lower rent, as sometimes he’ll try to hike the rent to offset the cost of a fee, Rogers said.