Us is really just me. I am a licensed real estate broker who works alone, and is thus able to charge the lowest fees in town.
What you might not know is that all of the brokers share the same listings. So the only differences between brokers are their ability to understand what you are looking for and the fees we charge.
When you contact a large company to see an apartment, you are likely hustled into the broker's office and asked to fill out forms before you are offered a chance to see an apartment. You then find out that the apartment you were originally interested in is not available, but are told there are better apartments to see. You are then sent out with a "junior agent," someone still wet behind the ears, who just passed the state licensing exam, and has no knowledge of the rental market, how to actually get an apartment for you, or any inkling about his or her inventory. If you do happen to want an apartment shown to you by this junior agent, you are then hustled back to the broker's office, pressured to give the "senior agent" at least one month's rent on the spot, and made to sign a fee agreement, usually promising to pay the broker 15% of a year's rent (1.8 times the monthly rent). This fee agreement states that you owe the broker that commission unless your application is not accepted by the landlord. This means that the broker will keep your one month deposit if you change your mind, find a better apartment, find out your company is relocating you, etc.
I went through this process and it was hell. I also worked for a small business (28 agents under one broker) and was required to do business this way. I have a different vision.
Bait and Switch: Although it's true that apartment availability changes, literally, in a New York minute, I do my best to list the apartments that are currently available. If an apartment has been rented, I will tell you when you call. Of course, I will tell you about other apartments that are similar, that's just good business.
Mobile Office: My office is located where ever you are. I always meet apartment seekers at the apartments they wish to see. Finding an apartment in New York is a grueling experience at best. I know you don't have the time or the desire to come hang out at my place. I can get any information I need from you over the phone or at the apartment.
Apartment Deposits: I never charge a deposit when you apply for an apartment. I give you an application, you get it back to me with whatever documents the landlord requires, I submit it, the landlord approves your application, we meet at the landlord's office, you pay the rent and security directly to the landlord while signing leases. If there is a broker's fee, you pay the fee at the lease signing. The only time you pay anything in advance is if the landlord requires an application fee or credit check fee before processing your application.
Broker's Fee: I still have to pay my rent, feed my kid, pay taxes, etc., but I charge the absolute minimum I can. Because I work alone, I can charge bargain basement rates. Although quickly disappearing, there are still a few no fee apartments out there. No fee means that the owner is paying the broker a commission usually equivalent to one month's rent. Not everyone will tell you that they are receiving payment from the landlord--you should ask. Broker's have a duty to disclose to each party (renter and landlord) if they are receiving payment from the other. If an owner is paying one month's rent, I do not charge a fee. A few landlords pay a smaller amount. In that case, I charge a very small fee--depending on the rent for the apartment. If the apartment is $4000. per month and the owner is paying a half month commission, I certainly don't have to charge a fee. If the apartment is $1200., then I will usually charge $500. Its most common that the owner is paying zip to the broker these days, and in that case I charge the lowest fee possible--always negotiable and always lower than anyone else would charge. Some landlords have reprimanded me for my fees, but I was raised by hippies, what can I say?
Pressure: Salespeople who work under brokers are just that, salespeople. They try every technique they can think of to get you to take an apartment. It's not easy to convince someone to fork over almost two months rent to some schmoe for an afternoon's worth of walking around Gramercy Park. But you've got to feel for these guys. They show and show and rarely rent an apartment. And when an agent does finally rent something, he or she gets 40% of half, the senior agent gets 50% of half, and the broker keeps the rest. So, in the end, the agent who does all of the work gets a few hundred dollars. They are desperate. Hence the pressure. Without this hierarchy, I feel no need to pressure you. You are the one who is going to have to live in the apartment for at least the next year. I want you to be certain about your choice.
Salesperson vs. Broker: Although the terms are used interchangeably, they are not the same thing. Salespeople are required by law to work under a broker's supervision. They have less experience, knowledge, and accountability than the broker under whom they work. It is likely you have never actually met a broker. The broker is usually the guy in the corner talking on the phone. Or maybe in the cave-like office in the back. He's the guy who knows how everything works, but won't even tell his salespeople. The salespeople deal with the customers and the brokers deal with the landlords. I am a licensed broker. I am accountable for every part of the real estate transaction. I have all the knowledge and experience of other brokers, but instead of hiding in the corner, I choose to share my skills directly with apartment seekers. Because I deal with both apartment seekers and landlords, I can cut through the crap and tell you exactly what is going on.
In sum, why pay more for less? It is my job to make your renting experience as painless as possible. I can't make the apartments bigger or cheaper, but I can find you the best apartment faster and save you tons of dough.
Erin Costello Licensed Real Estate Broker 577 Isham St., New York, NY 10034 (212) 567-4347