Finding the right apartment takes dedication and a lot of research, which can be quite the burden if you’re working full-time or going to school. For this reason, many people turn to the expertise of a rental broker. These certified professionals make it easier to find an apartment or rental home when you don’t have time to search on your own. But, of course, this isn’t “pro bono” and the broker fees can be costly.
Whether you decide to hire a rental broker, here are a few things to consider before you put your life on hold to search for a new apartment.
Benefits of a Rental Broker
Expertise and Local Insight
If you’re moving out of town, it can be difficult to know where you should start your search for a new home. Which apartments offer the best rates? Is the area safe? Are there quality schools nearby? A local rental broker is familiar with the community, eliminating a lot of guesswork for renters who don’t know the neighborhoods and market conditions. Obviously, this hinges on the knowledge of your broker, so it’s a good idea to meet with your rental professional before you start searching. Also, make sure you clearly communicate your rental requirements—e.g. apartment size, number of bedrooms, amenities, and your budget.
Some apartments only use rental brokers to find new tenants. When these places become available, you need a broker with industry connections to access them because they’re not advertised to the general public. As a renter, this is beneficial because it expands your rental options beyond what’s available online and in the newspaper, not to mention these apartments usually have less competition since they’re not public. Also, a broker can get the keys to the apartment so you don’t have to wait for a showing, and if you decide to sign a lease your real estate broker can help you with the paperwork.
Your rights are protected
All certified rental brokers are responsible for ensuring that landlord and tenant laws are upheld without misrepresentation or misinformation of facts when you sign a lease. This includes protecting you from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or marital status. A rental broker can also help you in the event that a landlord deliberately omits important details about the property.
Limitations of a Rental Broker
“Always be closing” Mentality
Some rental brokers are only concerned about closing the deal and making sure you sign a lease. If you’re slow to make a decision about an apartment, for example, they’ll immediately drop you and pursue another prospective renter. This is known as the “always be closing” (or ABC) model, a phrase made popular by the 1992 film, Glengarry Glen Ross. Of course, not all brokers have this mentality, so it’s simply a judgment call. If your rental professional is not genuinely interested in finding an apartment that works for you, then you might want to find somebody else.
While most rental professionals are honest, others are deceitful and swindle tenants with bait-and-switch scams. According to Tara Odams, a senior at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Progress 910 Apartments advertised spacious walk-in closets in their floorplans, but the units are not exactly the same as promised.
“It sounds like petty to be like, ‘Oh, my God. My closet is too small,’ but I feel like it’s more the principle of it, because they told us walk-in closet like numerous times,” says Odams.
Christine Holt, another tenant at the apartment complex, said she got a walk-in closet but it was much smaller than expected.
“Our closets are half the size of what the model was shown,” says Holt.
Bait-and-switch schemes, although illegal, are frustrating to say the least, but your best defense is to stay informed.
The fee for an experienced real estate broker tends to vary. In NYC, for example, the broker fee can range between 12 and 15 percent of a year’s rent, according to Apartable, an online database of apartment listings. So how much does this really cost?
Let’s say you find a beautiful Manhattan apartment for $2,500 a month. If you hire a broker that charges a 15 percent fee, then the total cost is $4,500 (12 x $2,500 x 0.15 = $4,500). For some couples, this is way beyond couch change and a savings account even with a dual income. However, if you can afford it and you don’t want to waste your precious weekends searching for apartments, then hiring a rental broker might be right for you.
Sometimes you can find an apartment without having to pay a fee. Obviously you could rent directly through the landlord without hiring a rental professional, but you can also find “no fee” apartments through a broker. These places technically charge a fee, but the landlord pays the broker, so the fee is included in the rent.
As you can see, there are benefits and costs to working with a rental broker. With determination and a few hours of your time, it’s possible to find an apartment entirely on your own. But if you’ve got the money and you’d rather let somebody else do the heavy lifting, then you might consider hiring a professional.
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