Posted on February 28th,2013

by Emily Ackerman

Just when you thought moving was totally stressful all on it’s own, the rental market in NYC is one of the most complicated and daunting rental markets in the country. I have heard many clients say that renting an apartment here is like buying a house in other states. The amount of paperwork and personal information that is required is extensive.

And as an extra special bonus, the rental market in NYC is full of scams and horrible sleazy brokers. And, to top it all off, it’s expensive! Super fun!  What could go wrong?

A lot.

With identity theft crimes on the rise and horror stories abounding of awful rental scams, I’ve made a list of ways that you can protect yourself.

GET A GOOD BROKER. The rental market in NYC is a broker dominated market in part because it is so complicated. We are regulated by the State Department, and have a vast knowledge of how this market works. There are a few ways that you can tell if your broker is good. THEY LISTEN TO YOU, THEY ARE COMMUNICATIVE, THEY ARE UP FRONT ABOUT COSTS, AND THEY ARE NICE. A lot of brokers in this business act like they are on some weird reality TV show about the mean streets of NYC. I have had clients come to me after being yelled at, hard sold, pressured, and belittled. THIS IS A SERVICE INDUSTRY. You are paying for our assistance and expertise, and you should be treated fairly, honestly, and professionally.

ASK HOW LONG YOUR BROKER HAS BEEN IN THE BUSINESS. There is a very high turn over rate in this industry. The longer your broker has been working, the more likely that they are very familiar with the properties and the landlord processes. However, this isn’t to say if someone is new that they aren’t good. We have a lot of new trainees at Bohemia that are fantastic, and are under the guidance of our amazing team of Senior Agents. At Bohemia, unlike other gigantic firms, we don’t just throw our new people into the deep end of the pool.

ASK TO SEE YOUR BROKER’S REAL ESTATE LICENSE. This is not offensive. We are required by law to carry a valid license at all times. We take tons of classes and renew it regularly. I worked and still work hard for mine, and I’m happy to show it to you.

ASK IF YOUR BROKER IS A MEMBER OF REBNY. I, and all of the agents at Bohemia, are members of REBNY (the Real Estate Board of NY), which is an organization that many legitimate brokers belong to–it regulates moral codes and behaviors, and we pride ourselves in being members.

LOOK UP YOUR BROKER’S BROKERAGE. If you are feeling nervous about your broker, call up their brokerage and make sure they are legit. DO NOT just call the number on their business card. I had a client who was ripped off by a guy claiming to be a broker, and he had made himself some cheap business cards with fake information. Look up their firm yourself.

NEVER email any sensitive information to anyone unless you are certain they are legitimate. This means that you have met them, viewed an apartment in person, and submitted an application.

NEVER EVER wire or send money to someone to "hold" an apartment for you without making sure it is real. This is something I have heard about with clients who are trying to rent an apartment before they move to the city. If you need to rent an apartment before you move to NYC, I encourage you to enlist a trusted friend to view the apartments in person for you. I never rent apartments to a client sight unseen unless they have someone in town that can view the apartments and act on their behalf. Better yet, come to town for a few days and view apartments yourself. You can usually handle the details remotely after that.

ALWAYS trust your instincts. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. If it seems bad, it probably is.

It can be daunting to hand over a lot of money and all of your personal information to a broker. If you don't trust them DO NOT DO IT.  The personal information of my clients is very important to me, and we take great steps to safeguard it.

Now that I’ve scared and hopefully empowered you, here are some things that are typical but possibly unique to NYC or a similarly competitive market:

APPLICATION FEES. Everyone charges them, and they usually range between $50-$150 per person.

FINANCIAL SCREENING ON THE PHONE. We all do this. In order to qualify for an apartment, you need to make 40 times the rent and have good credit, and a guarantor will need to make 80 times the rent and have excellent credit. We will always ask you questions about your financial status and credit on the phone. It can sometimes seem invasive, but we are trying to gauge your approval possibilities before we take your application fees. There is nothing worse than putting money down and getting denied because you don’t qualify.

TAKING A DEPOSIT. We take a deposit when you submit an application, and this shows the landlord you are serious. This deposit is refundable if you are not approved for any reason. When approved it will apply towards the rent, security, or broker’s fee if applicable. If you back out of the deal it is often not refundable.

Good luck out there! There are a ton of very legitimate, excellent brokers, and they are on your side in your search for a new home. If you are prepared and know what to expect, you are going to have a much less harrowing time. 

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