NEW YORK CITY — Irina wanted to live within walking distance to the Midtown software company where she works, but when she started looking for Manhattan studios this summer, she found nothing under her $1,700 price cap.
So, the 23-year-old approached her search strategically, waiting out the market, staying in her month-to-month rental in Astoria until prices dropped — as they did in October — and she found what she was looking for: a studio in Midtown for $1,650 a month.
"When I started looking this summer, prices were so high, or nothing that I wanted seemed available,” she said. “I figured I’d wait a couple of months and hope for better luck.”
Mid-October through December is the best time to find deals on rentals, experts say. Landlords don’t want their apartments sitting empty through the long, dreary winter, so they're willing to offer a deal in a bid to get leases signed.
“Mid-October through the end of December is the slowest time in the rental market — more available apartments, and less people wanting to rent them is good news for renters,” said Gary Malin, the president of real estate brokerage firm Citi Habitats.
“If a landlord doesn’t get their apartment rented by Thanksgiving,” he added, “there’s a good chance it’ll be empty for a while with the holidays, and that’s not what they want.”
While even the reduced prices are by no means cheap — the average Manhattan studio rental went for $2,790 a month in September according to a report by real estate firm MNS — those familiar with the market say there are still definite savings.
The average Manhattan studio rental prices for non-doorman buildings dropped by $146 between September 2013 to December 2013, according to reports from brokerage firm MNS. And 3-bedroom apartments in Manhattan rented for $194 less a month on average last December than they did in September, according to Citi Habitats.
Landlords might also offer incentives, like payment of brokers’ fees or a free month of rent up front, experts said.
Without the summer crush of renters, there’s a little more time for savvy shoppers to be choosy, said Itzy Garay, the executive vice president of leasing for TOWN Residential.
“In the summer months it’s just so competitive for leasers; there’s a crunch of students moving in, people starting new jobs — and when you find a place, you have to rush to lock it down and make a decision pretty much immediately, or it’ll be gone.” Garay said.
“But in these next few months, you have more time to think about your choices, and not feel like you’re scrambling as much.”
Citi Habitats broker Nardeen Billan, who worked with Irina, said they likely wouldn’t have found the apartment she wanted — much less with a $50 a month deduction — at any other time of year.
“She was looking for a studio in midtown Manhattan and didn’t want to pay more than $1,700,” said Billan. “That’s not something you come by easily.”
“He wouldn’t have reduced the rent if he didn’t want to make sure to get someone in the apartment before the snowy, holiday season,” Billan said. “Irina knew what she wanted, and when we got that price, we were ready to quickly move on it.”
Here are a few tips from the experts on how you can make the most of this renter-friendly season to find the perfect deal:
1. Be Aware of the Limits of Your Negotiating Power
These next couple months may hold more bargains for renters, but it's still not easy to find a great place, experts said. Don't expect landlords to be begging you to take the apartment. They'll usually offer up right away what they are willing to do, which may be a slight reduction in rent, a partial payment of the brokers fee, or free first month's rent. But don't expect to get all those things at once.
"If there's something you really want, that would make the apartment a shoo-in for you, you should ask for that one thing," said TOWN's Garay. "But I wouldn't go in thinking you're doing to get multiple concessions."
2. Make a Wish List
Knowing what you really want, and what you’re willing to sacrifice, will help you more quickly decide on the right apartment when you see it. Irina, for example, knew she didn’t want to budge from her $1,650 limit, and she wanted to be in Manhattan, as close to her midtown job as possible. But, she said, she was willing to give up other amenities — such as an elevator — accepting a cozy studio is a fifth floor walk-up. That's not a tradeoff every apartment hunter would be willing to make.
3. Be Flexible
There are certain high-demand neighborhoods, like the West Village, for example, that are not likely to offer bargains no matter what the season, said Citi Habitats' Malin.
"Maybe a renter will decide on the Upper East Side, but are you willing to live near construction zones on Second Avenue, or further east, and further from the subway," said Malin. "There are a lot of nuances to each neighborhood, and having flexibility on the exact location can help you find a better deal."