Searching for an apartment in NYC can often be a tiring, confusing and frustrating process — but it doesn’t have to be.
My job as your rental agent is to make your apartment hunting journey as quick, efficient and fun as possible from our first interaction to lease signing and everything in between. In that vein, I’ve put together answers below to some of the questions that I’m most commonly asked, as well as some information about what to expect from our time together. As everyone’s situation and experience is different, this list is by no means intended to be an answer to every question that could possibly ever come up. Part of my responsibility as your guide will be to keep you informed about your apartment search and application approval process at every step of the game, so there is never any confusion or frustration.
If you have any questions that aren’t answered here, please reach out and we’ll find an answer together.
- Why should I work with a rental broker?
- What is your fee?
- Do you have any “no fee” apartments?
- What do I need to bring with me when we meet?
- Can you meet me directly at an apartment?
- What should I expect while we are viewing apartments?
- I didn’t fall in love with any of the apartments we saw. Now what?
- I’ve found the apartment I love. Now what?
- I’ve signed my lease, remitted payments to the landlord and picked up my keys. Now what?
- I’m all moved into my apartment. I love it! Now what?
- Do you have a referral program if I recommend my friends, family or coworkers to work with you?
- How do I know you’re the real deal? Do you have any client testimonials I can read?
Why should I work with a rental broker?
Finding a quality apartment in New York City is much more complicated than it used to be. With the advent of listings portals like StreetEasy, NakedApartments, PadMapper, etc, there is an endless amount of misinformation and miscommunication that can happen between initial contact and signing a lease for an apartment. Even when all parties have the best of intentions, the way that these listings portals present the apartment hunting process to consumers is at best a fairy tale. The unfortunate reality is that the pace and competitiveness of the Manhattan rental market makes it impossible for landlords and real estate agents to keep listings current on these portals. And because the internet portal ecosystem is so saturated, it almost encourages listing agents and landlords to be dishonest and cut corners.
The best deals in the city rent long before they ever make it onto the internet.
Considering the point of view of a real estate agent: if a new listing comes onto the market from one of their associate landlords that they know is a good deal, they aren’t going to go to the apartment to take photos and go back to their office to post it on the internet — they are going to reach out to all of their current clients and bring them there directly, in hopes of renting the apartment before any other agents have the opportunity to get access and advertise on one of the listings portals. If the apartment is truly a good deal, the first client to see it will likely be the one to rent it. By the time the landlord updates their information to all one hundred plus real estate brokerages in Manhattan, there will be plenty of agents who have listed the apartment on the internet thinking that it is still available — when in fact it was rented long before they even gained access.
Now take this situation and multiply it by the tens of thousands of apartments that are listed on the internet every month, and then multiply that by one thousand brokers and two thousand active apartment hunters. The only way to find a quality apartment at a competitive price using this method is with lots of good luck — and luck is not a strategy.
For most apartments that you find through a listings portal, you will end up paying some sort of broker’s commission to the person who opened the door to the apartment for you. For the same cost or less, you can meet with a broker, develop a strategy and allow them to do the legwork on your behalf. Often the broker will have market knowledge that you, as a consumer, may not have access to. They will employ their market knowledge along with their rental expertise to streamline and customize your apartment hunting process to your needs.
The listings portal system was developed in other parts of the country and continues to work fine in smaller towns and cities where there are less apartments available and less people searching. You will also rarely encounter a rental broker asking for a commission from the tenant anywhere outside of New York City. But in Manhattan, finding an apartment via internet listings portals is just a stressful, time consuming, ineffective and unnecessary endeavor.
When I first moved into the city, I didn’t know that it was possible to have a broker conduct a proper, strategic apartment search on my behalf. I found my first apartment on the internet, paid a full 15% broker’s commission and it was exhausting. I now consider it my duty to let people know that there is a better way.
If you can find a broker you trust, reach out and talk to them about your situation. You’ll be glad you did.
Broker’s commissions can vary on an apartment-by-apartment basis. Commission structures are determined by a variety of factors: the specific apartment, the apartment price, the landlord, exclusivity and more. Our firm has arrangements with the management companies we represent, wherein they will sometimes subsidize the commission, or in some cases, receives a partial fee themselves from the transaction. Terms you’ll likely see while browsing online are “no fee”, “low fee” or “exclusive”. Exclusive implies a full 15% commission, and the other two happen when the landlord is offering some sort of incentive to the broker – and you’ll owe the difference. There are pros and cons to each (see “Do you have any “no fee” apartments“). Upon our initial consultation, we will discuss your budget requirements, as well as the specific commission structure for any available apartments within your criteria, before we ever step foot inside the unit. This will ensure transparency for all parties, and eliminate the possibility of surprises upon lease approval. My job is to find you the apartment that meets and exceeds all of your criteria, not to knock you over the head for the highest commission possible.
Our commission will be no more than 15% of the annual rent and is payable by certified check, credit card or debit card at lease signing. If you choose to pay with a credit card, there will be a 3% processing fee assessed by the credit card company.
Do you have any “no fee” apartments?
“No fee” apartments exist in two categories:
1) By Owner Listing
Some landlords or management companies prefer to list and rent their apartments on their own, without the assistance of a broker. This mainly exists with small, family owned landlords who prefer to handle everything in-house, without involving anymore parties than is absolutely necessary. Since there are no brokers involved in this transaction, there will be no broker’s commission owed. The larger a landlord becomes, the more difficult it is for them to handle advertising, interviews and paperwork on their own, at which time they will generally reach out to a brokerage to represent them. These listings are becoming fewer and farther between, as residential real estate becomes more corporatized in Manhattan.
2) Owner Pays Broker’s Fee (OP)
As mentioned above, there are some cases in which the landlord or management company will offer to subsidize the broker’s commission on the tenants behalf. This happens to encourage brokers to advertise and show their apartments when the landlord is having trouble renting the apartment on their own. This can be for a variety of reasons, such as: an issue or something undesirable about the apartment, the apartment being in an undesirable location or the landlord wanting to rent the apartment at a price that is above market rate. There are pros and cons to renting an “Owner Pays” apartment. The main benefit to this structure is that there will generally be a lower upfront cost than renting an apartment with a broker’s commission required (you’ll only be paying first month’s rent / security at lease signing, rather than a broker’s commission / first month’s rent / security).
While many apartments do exist where there are no broker’s commissions involved, calling these transactions “no fee” is generally misleading. Landlords do not generally offer incentives on high quality, well-priced apartments. This is because a “good deal” in Manhattan real estate will never last longer than a few days. Landlords are also not generally in the business of giving away money for free (in the form of thousands of dollars to a broker). To combat this, “Owner Pays” apartments will often be priced a few hundred dollars more than comparable “Fee” apartments in similar criteria (OP can also stand for overpriced!). This allows landlords to recoup their upfront losses over the course of the lease. This also means that even though you are not paying a broker’s commission at lease signing, the net cost for your apartment will often be the same at the end of the year, if not more. If you decide to stay in the apartment for longer than your initial lease term, you will end up paying for the amount of the initial broker’s commission each subsequent year.
“OP” apartments are a good option if you have limited funds upfront to secure an apartment that requires you to pay a broker’s commission. However, if you can swing the up front cost, it will make your apartment search much easier and expand your options significantly (and generally save you money in the long term). Even in the winter season when the market is at it’s slowest, only around 25% of available apartments will ever carry an “OP”. This limits your search significantly, especially if you are looking to secure a quality and competitively priced apartment.
Here’s a great article written by NakedApartments.com explaining these concepts further:
What do I need to bring with me when we meet?
An open mind and a positive attitude are most important. Second to that, you’ll want to prepare as many qualifying financial documents as possible. Quality apartments rent on a first come, first served basis — and it is very competitive, even in the slower rental seasons. Having all applicable documents with you when we meet will guarantee that we can secure the apartment you want as soon as we find it.
You’ll need to supply the following documents, demonstrating that you generate at least 40x the monthly rent in annual income:
- Picture ID
- Letter from Employer or Accountant (stating position, salary and length of time employed)
- 2 Most Recent Tax Returns
- 2 Most Recent Bank Statements
- 4 Most Recent Pay Stubs
- 2 Most Recent Investment Portfolio Statements (if applicable)
- Landlord Reference Letter (if applicable)
For more information on these items, or what to do if you don’t meet the 40x criteria, please visit:
https://www.justinduffy.com/rental-application-requirements/ (this link will open in a new window)
If you are relocating to New York City from outside of the United States, a slightly different set of rules will apply. You’ll still need to supply as many of the above documents as are applicable (proof of U.S. employment and U.S. assets), however approval in most cases will hinge upon your ability to pay additional rent or security at lease signing, to supplement a lack of established United States credit history. We’ll discuss this in further detail upon initial consultation.
Can you meet me directly at an apartment?
In most cases, the most effective strategy is to sit down for a consultation prior to viewing apartments. This will ensure that we are on the same page in terms of your criteria, your urgency and what apartments are available. Our office meeting will generally take no longer than 30 minutes. We’ll sit down and review your criteria thus far, speak about any apartments you’ve already seen (and what they’ve been missing), look through all available apartments together to compile a list of what you’d like to see, then head out and see everything in one shot. It is important that you are 100% honest with me during this time, concerning your wants, needs, worries and budget. This will allow me to tailor your search to exactly what you need.
The most efficient time to conduct an apartment search is during the week in the morning / early afternoon. This is because listings are generally updated around 10am, and all leasing offices and landlords will be accessible at this time. Apartment hunting after hours and on weekends is not recommended, as most landlords, leasing offices and superintendents are not available after 4-5pm or on Saturdays and Sundays. If you work during the week and during the day, Saturday morning / early afternoon will be the next best thing. If you are unavailable on Saturdays as well, let me know and we will figure out a way to work with your schedule.
We have four conveniently located offices, and can arrange our initial consultation at whichever is most convenient for you, your needs and your schedule. Our offices are located at: Columbus Circle, Union Square, Upper East Side and Chelsea.
What should I expect while we are viewing apartments?
Because we will have sat down for a consultation and talked through all of your search criteria, desires and worries, all of the apartments we view will be some variation of what you are looking for. Even though you will generally find the same sized apartment for the same price in a particular area, there are thousands of different layouts and combinations of amenities out there. If you haven’t lived in New York City before, you’ll often run into things you didn’t even know you wanted (or didn’t want!). For this reason, it is crucially important to have an open mind and communicate your thoughts as we go along, especially if you haven’t looked for an apartment here before. This will allow me to make note of the new developments in your criteria, so I can continue to tailor our search and reroute if necessary.
I didn’t fall in love with any of the apartments we saw. Now what?
Don’t worry, this isn’t an uncommon occurrence, even with the most experienced NYC residents and the most experienced rental brokers. Because new apartments are renting and coming available every hour of every day, things sometimes don’t fall into place on the first day. If this happens, we will reconvene at a time that we determine is best (depending on the time of month and your schedule), and we’ll view another group of apartments using your initial criteria along with all of the feedback you gave me during our first outing. Historically, success rates on the second day of searching are doubled from the initial viewings. This is because you’ll have gotten your feet wet with the search process, and we’ll both know exactly what you’re looking for. You generally won’t have to come back to the office for subsequent viewings — I will meet you directly at the apartments being viewed going forward.
I’ve found the apartment that I love. Now what?
That’s great! Once we find the apartment you want to apply for, the clock starts. In most cases, you’ll need to come back to my office.
We’ll have you fill out an application (every landlord has their own version of this), surrender an application fee (usually between $50-$150 per person, for credit/background check), place a deposit (if applicable, this varies per landlord) and submit all of the supporting documentation you brought with you. If there’s anything you couldn’t bring, a computer will be available here for you to gather the rest.
Once all of this is done, I will assemble your application package and submit it to the landlord. If this happens after hours, the landlord will receive your application first thing in the morning (most leasing offices close after 5pm). The approval process varies significantly from landlord to landlord, but we will generally receive an answer within 24 hours. Once you are approved, lease signing will be sometime in the few days following.
At lease signing, you’ll need to bring a Photo ID along with whatever payments are due. Certified bank checks will generally be required for all monies submitted to the landlord at this time. The lease signing will either be at my office or at the landlord’s office, depending on the landlord’s current policies.
I’ve signed my lease, remitted payments to the landlord and picked up my keys. Now what?
Once you’ve signed the leases (there will generally be two copies), the landlord will countersign them and mail a copy back to you at some point in the following weeks. If you are taking immediate occupancy of the apartment, the landlord will generally give you your keys and a welcome packet with building information at lease signing. If your lease has an occupancy date in the future, you will either pickup the keys from me, from the landlord’s office or directly at the apartment from the superintendent a few days before your lease begins. There may be specific dates or times of day that the landlord will not allow you to move in furniture or large items. All of this information will be provided to you at or before lease signing.
After that, it’s time to move in! We work with a long list of heavily-vetted suppliers of moving services, storage, interior design, cleaners and much more. Many of our affiliates offer exclusive discounts to our clients. At some point between lease signing and moving in, if you would like, you’ll receive a list of contact and discount information for any suppliers that might be applicable to your move. If there is a specific moving-related service that you are looking for, make sure to mention it to us at some point throughout the process. We’ll do our best to pair you up with the most reputable and affordable services that we can find.
I’m all moved into my apartment. I love it! What now?
My job is to find and secure you an apartment as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, our relationship doesn’t need to end just because you’re moved in! Generally, your first point of contact for apartment-related issues will be the superintendent or property manager, however I am always available via phone, text or e-mail to answer any apartment, real estate or New York City related questions you may have going forward. If you have a question that I don’t know the answer to, I will reach out to the appropriate parties to find the answer for you.
And if you know anyone else moving within the city, please feel free to send them my way!
Do you have a referral program if I recommend my friends, family or coworkers to work with you?
We sure do!
It means a lot to us when a client of ours has such a positive experience that they can’t help but tell their friends, family and coworkers about it. When one of those connections rents with us, we make it a point to reward the referrer for sending business our way. These rewards can be in the form of airline travel certificates, wine gift boxes, event tickets or anything else. If you know someone who is moving within the city and needs assistance, send them our way and we’ll talk about what referral reward you would prefer.
How do I know you’re the real deal? Do you have any client testimonials I can read?
Yes, of course! We have been very fortunate that we’ve had many great clients that have been willing to publish testimonials about their experiences with us. There are a lot of different places to leave reviews for real estate agents in New York City — and we’re on all of them! The total number of testimonials may differ slightly from site-to-site, as we can’t very well ask EVERYONE to leave their thoughts on EVERY website all of the time. (although, a surprisingly high number of people do – our clients are amazing!)
Check out some of the links below:
https://www.bondnewyork.com/Justin-Duffy (click “Testimonials”)
https://www.renthop.com/managers/justin_duffy (scroll down a tad, along the right side)
We’re also on Google Reviews, Yelp, and anywhere else real estate testimonials are gathered!