THE NEW YORK POST - Finder's Keepers
LESSONS FROM THE FRONT LINES OF LOOKING FOR A NO-FEE RENTAL
By SARA LIEBERMAN
THE SEARCH IS OVER: Sara Lieberman found something in her price range - and her desired neighborhood.
I am the casualty of a cohabitation breakup.
After year one of a two-year lease, hearts were broken, boxes were packed and penalty fees were paid.
To make matters worse, I knew my criteria for a new place were demanding: Studio/1-BR, lots of light, reasonable closet space, full-size refrigerator, for $1,700. In the coveted
I'd found three previous Village rentals without a broker and refused to believe I couldn't do it again. But it didn't take long to realize the difficulty of my task, considering one listing touted a hot plate as part of a $2,150 Perry Street studio's "recently renovated kitchen."
So, instead of taking something I didn't want (or couldn't afford), I moved back to
After resuming my search in the fall, I succeeded in finding my little piece of
Consider upping your price range
During my initial search, the listings I found in my desired price range and neighborhood were all brokered apartments and insultingly tiny. Like, shower-in-the-kitchen, closet-in-the-bathroom tiny.
I decided I would up my price range a bit if necessary to avoid a home the size of a small conference room and settling for a broker. I just couldn't rationalize paying someone just to show up and put a key in the door. Tolerating higher rent to avoid a broker's fee is also great for those unsure of where they'll be in a year. Instead of paying a big lump sum up-front for an apartment you might not renew, you'll split your costs over 12 months.
Go straight to the source
You can download a comprehensive online listing of management companies with information about the buildings they own and how to inquire about availability. (Skipbrokers.com, which charges you a one-time fee of $120, is one option.)
I had a similar (though older) list on hand - it's how my ex and I found our posh lower
Most of the leasing agents suggested I check their frequently updated Web sites for new openings, so I bookmarked a bunch and did so daily. The posts that fit my criteria only came up about three to four times a month, depending on the company and how many buildings they owned. So yes, still pretty silm pickin's.
But every so often I'd see an apartment and laugh to myself when some other apartment hunter showed up with his or her broker. Knowing I found the place on my own was so satisfying.
Think (and search) outside the box
Walk around your desired neighborhood toward the end of the month. I made it a point to peer into windows, look for rental signs and check the sidewalks for furniture, excess trash and other clues that suggest someone is moving out.
I stumbled upon people moving a few times, which tipped me off to openings. Of course, while this is a great tactic, it'll still be questionable whether the vacancy is in your budget, let alone the right size. But you can at least ask the former tenant for information on the management company. Who knows what else may be opening up in that building or in another nearby?
Know when it's too good to be true
Most quality listings I found online were beyond my budget by at least $300 and usually involved a fee. But then I'd come across something like "Quaint, exposed brick studio on Bank! $1,650," which brought me the site for Innovative Apartments - where for a one-time fee of $175 (much cheaper than any broker's fee), I could get a ready-to-submit credit check and access to "exclusive" management company listings.
But while the company's Craigslist posts advertised "1br on Perry!" and "Large studio on Jane!" none of the apartments I was interested in were available after I paid for the service. Aggravated, I asked for a refund. My agent gladly deactivated my membership but said I'd have speak to the finance department about the refund.
After several unreturned phone calls, I got them to cut me a check. It bounced. I saw another interesting Craigslist post of theirs and, desperate to find my dream apartment, asked to have my account reactivated. After that listing didn't pan out, I threatened to call the Better Business Bureau. Weeks of more frustration ensued, but I finally got my refund.
And while I felt like a sucker, the persistence I used to get my money back was the same persistence I used to find my apartment.
Make a new friend
Even in our Web-obsessed culture, nothing beats actually talking to and forming a relationship with someone who can help you. I started gently pestering a leasing agent, whose management company had several great buildings in the neighborhood, including the one I lived in with my ex. And when I say "gently," I mean making her my new best friend and calling once a week.
Every time we spoke, she reminded me to check her company's Web site, but I wanted the scoop before she posted it. After seeing a few close-but-not-quite-right apartments with her company, we had developed a good relationship. In fact, there was one point where I had her calling me!
And that's how I found my top-notch new apartment. When we sat down to sign the lease, she said she usually never calls a client but got the sense I wouldn't lay off until she found me something.
And so here I am in my fabulous fifth-floor studio in the
Q: I can't afford a broker's fee. What else can I do?
A: The typical broker's fee runs about 15 percent of the yearly rent. That's a few thousand bucks to most of us. But you have options. "That was the real reason we did the site," says Mike Jacobs, co-founder of UrbanSherpaNY.com, which has a huge number of no-fee listings throughout
Q:There are roaches all over my kitchen! Isn't it my landlord's job to call an exterminator?
A: You bet. All tenants have a right to a vermin-free space. "Warrant of habitability" means you're entitled to a livable, safe and sanitary apartment. So if you see any bugs, call the landlord ASAP. Kevin Denison, a 29-year-old graphic designer called his landlord, who refused to do anything. "I called an exterminator and withheld the amount I spent from my rent,"