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10 Tips for Would-Be Renters in Manhattan's Summer Rush

By Amy Zimmer | July 17, 2013 7:37am
 To find something during the busiest rental season, be ready to act quickly and smartly, brokers advise.
Manhattan rentals
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MANHATTAN — It's a red hot market and the busiest time of year, so prospective renters should gird themselves — practically and emotionally — to keep their cool, real estate agents advise.

"There's a 1 percent vacancy rate throughout [Manhattan], with vacancy rates at half a percent or slightly higher below 23rd Street," said Douglas Wagner, of Bond New York, whose rental division had a record June in terms of volume and dollar value.

Even out-of-town parents, looking to set up their college kids in new digs, are getting started earlier, looking to secure apartments for July 15 or Aug. 1 instead of the usual Sept. 1 move-in, Gary Posylkin, of Miron Properties, said.

They're hoping to snatch up whatever two-bedrooms they can find in the $2,600-range on their brief trips to the city — only to find other parents lined up at the showings, he said.

Recent college grads looking to locate here aren't having an easy time, either.

"They don't even ask for the East Village or the Lower East Side anymore. They just go right to Brooklyn. They'll live in Bed-Stuy or Greenpoint" — neighborhoods they've seen on television shows like "Girls," he said.

"But then they'll go to the Upper East Side when their parents won't pay for their heat and hot water," he added.

Despite the tight market citywide, more than 4,000 units a months are being rented in Manhattan alone, Wagner said.

"Business is booming," he said, "but it's moving at lightning speed."

1. Start your search five weeks before your move-in date

There’s no reason to start your search too early since it’s a market with quick turn around. “About 80 percent of the housing stock hits the market about 30 days prior to vacancy date,” Posylkin said.

2. Find a broker you’re comfortable with

“There are many, many brokers on this little island, and most have the ability to show you the same properties,” Posylkin said, which is why it’s important to find someone who responds fast.

It helps if you're prepared, too, by researching the market with sites like StreetEasy.com or CityRealty.com

"The most prepared, responsive and open-minded customers usually receive the best care and attention from their brokers, because they feel secure in risking their time and expertise on those customers' potential closings," Wagner said.

3. Be ready to act quickly

Many apartments are shown during 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and can disappear before the weekend arrives.

“When there is such low inventory of apartments, landlords are not motivated to show their properties after hours," Wagner said. "The decision makers in the management company offices work from 9 to 5, so it's in your interest to be available to do business when they are available to do business.”

A "well- to good-priced apartment" will rent within 24 to 48 hours of being listed, Posylkin said.

4. It's no time for bargaining

Landlords are sometimes collecting multiple applications to spur bidding wars.

“If you have two very qualified parties applying for one your apartments, and one of the parties offered to pay extra rent on top of the standard rent, and security due at lease signing. Who would you choose?," Posylkin asked.

An Upper East Side apartment recently listed for $2,200 was rented for $2,300, he added.

5. Ask the right questions to figure out an apartment’s size

Most landlords don’t provide square footage, and even if they did it might not be accurate.

"Imagine a long entry foyer that is 30 feet long, by 4 feet wide. That's 120 non-usable square feet," Posylkin said. "My interpretation of 600 square feet is much different that your interpretation of square feet."

Some landlords don’t let brokers photograph occupied apartments, so it’s best to ask what type of furniture fits each room, Posylkin advised.

6. Get your financials in order

Landlords often ask for income and assets, so be sure to at least two recent pay stubs, copies of your last two bank statements and the name and phone number of your previous landlord for a tenant reference.

"Know your credit rating because every landlord will run a credit report," Wagner said. "If you have ever had any issues with credit, disclose them up front rather than letting the landlord discover them in your credit report."

If you have a guarantor, they will have to provide their financial info, too.

Often you need an employment letter on company letterhead, which can take some Human Resources departments up to a week to produce.

"If you submitted a rental application, the landlord will not wait for your employment letter; he will approve another application that has all their paperwork prepared,” Posylkin said.

7. Prepare yourself emotionally

Having to provide rigorous documentation of finances may feel invasive, but tenant screening is part of the process.

“Landlords have only one chance to look before they leap into a new tenant relationship, and they have all learned to look very deeply and very carefully in order to avoid problems in the future,” Wagner said.

8. Know your budget: Be honest with yourself and your broker about it

"Be sure to have enough liquid assets in a New York City bank account to cover the first month's rent, the security deposit, application fees and broker fees, if applicable," Wagner said. "Personal checks are almost never accepted in the New York City rental market."

Also, be up front about what you really can afford, Posylkin advised.

"If your budget is up to $3,000, don't tell the broker that you can only spend up to $2600, and then two weeks before you move, raise your budget,” he said. “At that point, all the good ones have rented already, and you're left with slim pickings."

9. Remain open to compromise 

Figure out where you have wiggle room in terms of price, size, location and building amenities.

"Know your priorities ahead of time," Wagner said. "Are you willing to change neighborhoods to get the most for your money, or do you prefer to accept less space in order to be in your ideal area?"

10. When you score an apartment, figure out logistics

Be aware that if the current tenant leaves on July 31 and you need to be in Aug. 1, the landlord still needs to paint and prep the space, which can take up to 24 to 72 hours, Posylkin said.