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New York apartment search tips: How to work with a rental broker

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Your next apartment search will be a breeze with these tips

Everyone knows the process of finding an apartment for rent in New York City can be overwhelming, with everything from deciding which neighborhood to live in to finding a pet-friendly home causing major headaches. And, in theory, that’s where rental brokers come in: You tell them what it is that you desire in a home and it is their job to do all the pesky legwork for you.

While there are many good real estate brokers out there, as with anything in life, there’s a chance that you’ll run into a not-so-good one who most assuredly does not have your best interest at heart. But how do you tell the good from the bad? Here are a few things to look out for, and tips to help you avoid getting cheated by a rental broker.

Is a broker right for you?

The first thing you should do is decide if you actually need a broker in the first place. “People relocating to New York City are often in need of a broker who will help them understand the city, pack a number of showings into a several-hour tour and help negotiate for the best deal,” explains Philip Lang, chief operating officer of TripleMint. “Experienced New Yorkers often take a more DIY approach, the success of which can largely be determined by their budget.”

Only you can decide if you feel comfortable enough going the broker-less route, but know that working with one doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t have to go through one once you find your dream apartment.

Fee or no fee?

If you spot an excellent apartment online (or elsewhere), check to see if it comes with a “fee” (i.e., you’ll have to work with a broker for the place and pay the equivalent of a finder’s fee) or “no fee.” Websites like NakedApartments and StreetEasy have search options that let you filter out apartments where that fee will be a necessity, and in some cases, brokers are willing to waive their fees to help an apartment move faster.

Craigslist is also still an option, but be careful for scams. If you’re asked to send money to a broker upfront or an apartment is priced questionably low, don’t just assume it’s because you’ve hit the jackpot.

Do your research

One of the best ways to find a good broker is to ask friends who’ve had good experiences. But if you do cross paths with a broker you’re unfamiliar with, make sure they are legit. Check out their online reviews (through Yelp, sites like Curbed, and other places), and do your research on the company they’re affiliated with.

“Though more than 90 percent of people start their search online, the number one way that people find a broker is still through friends,” explains TripleMint’s Lang. “If you can't find a referral, go to a brokerage that has five stars on Yelp. Odds are they will care about your experience to make sure their profile stays stellar.”

Ask lots of questions

It’s always a good idea to ask plenty of questions before paying or signing anything. Be sure to enquire about an agent’s brokerage fee: some charge the price of the first month’s rent on your new place, while others opt for a percentage of the first year’s rent (15 percent is the industry standard).

If there is an application or credit check fee, find out beforehand so you can plan accordingly. And if an apartment is advertised as “Owner Pays,” the broker is likely getting paid from the management company and you should be in the clear.

Don’t be afraid to move on

And finally, if you don’t think you think your broker has your best interest at heart—if they’re pressuring you to take a place you’re not 100 percent sold on, or if you suspect that they’re trying to get away with getting paid from both ends—drop them like a bad habit and move on.