Demo Day: Why hundreds of Y Combinator alums keep coming back

Twice a year, Y Combinator holds Demo Day to officially debut and graduate a batch of startups presenting to investors and press.  An event called Alum Demo Day takes place the night before.  It’s the last chance for the startups to practice and rehearse their presentations to a field of YC alums [1].

Next Tuesday is the 19th YC Demo Day.  Mine was the 9th, in the summer of 2009 (usually called S’09). Back then 26 companies presented for about 6 minutes and YC partners encouraged us all to include live demos of our product if possible (apparently the audience pays much more attention if there is some chance of the demo going awry).

In more modern times, over 80 companies deliver Demo Day speeches lasting only 2-3 minutes, each deck running off a shared computer with screenshots, graphs, and occasionally videos and physical stage props (robots on a Segway or Back To The Future like hover boards).

Even more drastic than the format, the audience at Alum Demo Day now spans representatives from 9 years of  founders (and I definitely see 05 through 08 alums in addition to my fellow S’09 batch mates).  Some alums have long sold their startups and become angel investors.  Others graduated only 6 months prior.  In any event, a nearly standing-room only audience of founders fills the auditorium each session and I’m perplexed by a simple question:  What keeps everyone coming back?

Obviously, first and foremost, we are there to help our fellow YC founders.  All of us received tremendous amounts of aid from the YC community and we love giving back whenever we can.  Still, with literally hundreds of founders in attendance, are there other benefits for attending Demo Day?   Here are my guesses, mostly my own reasons for going, and I’d love to hear from other alums and compile some results:

1.)  Mini-reunion with other YC Alums — It’s always great to see my batch mates but we’re often very busy running our startups!  Twice a year is a great frequency to hold a reunion and Alum Demo Day becomes a great catalyst and rally point.

2.)  Scout the latest wave of ideas – We know many YC companies pivot mid-program and others iterate and refine niche ideas into grand visions. In any case, many of the startups spent time scouting out the latest and most promising pitches.  I consider the evening a tour of the newest ideas swirling around Silicon Valley.

3.)  Early Look for Angel Investing – Quite a few alums make occasional angel investments.  In all of my (very few) angel deals, I only invest a tiny amount in companies that happen to interest me.  I probably wouldn’t have even made it into the round had I not introduced myself to the founders prior to the swarm of professionals on Demo Day.

4.)  Meet with YC partners – A great YC benefit is lifetime office hours as needed.  Usually that entails giving some high-level updates and asking a few specific questions about the road ahead.  Demo Day is a terrible night for office hours because the partners are preoccupied, but it’s a great chance for a quick chat and follow up to get on the calendar.

5.)  Watching your friends graduate – I had several close friends participate in earlier batches than me.  That’s how I first heard about YC and decided to apply.  Over the years I’ve encouraged many friends to follow and it’s always great to see them on stage.  Don’t worry, I believe admissions to YC is as merit-based as can be, but like lines in a fraternity, the social connections between alums are quite complex [2].

6.) Bdev, Sales, and Networking – Fellow YC companies make great beta testers, service providers, and business development partners.  By default I trust a YC company far more than most startups to do right, whether it’s going the extra mile to seal the deal on a partnership or to give excellent customer service if we try their product.  Also, the event is founders-only so everyone can be sure they are talking with top level decision-makers.

7.)  Excuse to visit the South Bay – Our startup is in New York and increasingly more alums are moving here.  However, during the 3 month program almost every event takes place in Mountain View, CA.  I have many fond memories living on Castro Street, but I’ll admit it’s a trek.  Maybe the SF dwellers think the same way.

These are roughly my top 7 reasons for attending the last 4 Alum Demo Days.  I’m sure others have great reasons I haven’t considered.  As usual, I’ve booked my tickets and fly from NYC tonight!  I hope to see many familiar faces next Monday!

[1]  Some people hear the term Alum Demo Day and think it’s a YC sponsored event for older, previously graduated YC companies to present to investors.   Maybe that’s a fine idea, but the only companies presenting in this batch is the current class.

[2]  Fast Company once tried to create a social graph of many YC Alums, but they quickly found the web extremely complex and intertwined.  They finally went to print with an infographic called Y Connector, but they had to cut out almost all of the people and some of the most interesting connections (http://infographics.fastcompany.com/magazine/163/y-connector-xl.html).

By Lee Lin, one of the co-founder of RentHop, a marketplace for apartments rentals, that participated in the Summer 2009 batch of Y Combinator.

Seven Things To Think About In Your Summer Apartment Hunt

We hope you had a great July 4th weekend! Now it’s summertime, and we’re into the thick of the apartment-hunting season. Students are looking for new places, new graduates are moving to their new cities, and people everywhere are trying to avoid moving in cold weather.

What a colorful show!
What a colorful show!

Photo: Bob Jagendorf/CC BY 2.0

When you’re searching in the summer, there are definitely items you should keep in mind to help make sure that you make a great decision. Here is our list of seven things to remember when you’re looking at apartments during the summer:

(1) Imagine the area when it isn’t summer. There won’t always be the same amount of foot traffic, for example; if you think it feels quiet now, it’s liable to feel more so in the winter. (This is especially true for parks.) Conversely, the area around a school won’t be as busy in the summer as it will be during the rest of the year. And it won’t just be kids – there will be adults and potentially cars and buses around.

(2) Pay attention to your commute. Proximity to public transit is always important, but beautiful summer weather can make a bad commute seem palatable. That said, that 15-minute walk to the subway will feel a lot less nice in the dead of winter. Bottom line: try to keep in mind what it will be like to live somewhere when the weather isn’t sunny and warm.

(3) Does the heat work? Make sure to ask the super (or, better, the last tenant) how well the heat works and whether it’s had any maintenance problems. You won’t easily be able to test it (especially if the building has central heat), so you’ll need to be extra-careful to ask. This also goes for any utility or amenity that is more relevant in cold weather than in warm. And don’t forget to ask whether the apartment is drafty!

Also, don’t forget to have a look at our list of nine questions you should ask when looking at an apartment.

(4) How much sun does your apartment get? Remember to check the window treatments (and confirm that there will be some!) to see how bright your apartment will be. If you need darkness to sleep you may want to invest in blackout shades. Also, if you get lots of sun your apartment will be hotter in the summer (and likely colder in the winter), and unless you have very solid, well-insulated windows you may end up with a correspondingly higher utility bill.

(5) Can you wait a month or two? Rents are at their highest right now. If there’s a way for you to stay in your current space for a couple of months, you might consider it. While there will be less availability later on in the year, rents are substantially lower – and at their lowest in November. There may also be more rental concessions in the off-season, though that isn’t guaranteed.

(6) Be extra-prepared. Even more so than normally, you’ll need to have your documentation in order and funds available for the deposit/fees. Competition can also drive rents up; landlords with multiple acceptable applicants may take the opportunity to ask for greater than the listed rent, or a larger security deposit. Don’t let your desire to have this space lead you to take a deal you can’t afford. (But don’t forget that even, during the summer, it’s possible to negotiate on some points!)

(7) Don’t overvalue amenities you won’t use often. We’ve written about this before but it bears repeating: some amenities aren’t worth what you’ll pay for them. Amenities like outdoor space (especially roof space) or a pool may be great in the summer, but you may not be able to use them for large parts of the year.

Good luck with your hunt — and don’t forget to check out RentHop!

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Looking for some creative ways to make your apartment seem bigger? We’ve got you.

How about some tips for working with movers? We have those as well.

Your Hot New York Apartments for the Week of June 27!

Each of the apartments below was featured in one of our New York newsletters for the week of June 27. If you’re interested, follow up with the contact person in the listing; we have not confirmed since the time the newsletter was sent out that the apartments are available. Things move fast in New York!

4 bedrooms, Clifton Place and Classon Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, $6,500 (posted 6/24)

1 bedroom, 201 E. 36th St., Murray Hill, $2,795 (posted 6/24)

2 bedrooms, 34 Grand Avenue, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, $4,000 (posted 6/24)

1 bedroom, Third Avenue and E. 88th St., Upper East Side, $1,950 (posted 6/27)

1 bedroom, 88 Greenwich St., FiDi, $2,950 (posted 6/27)

3 bedrooms, Adelphi St. and Myrtle Ave., Fort Greene (Brooklyn), $3,895 (posted 6/27)

Five Creative Ways to Save Money and Space in Your Apartment

We know that saving money is a constant struggle. Life’s expensive, especially in cities like New York, Boston and Chicago. Equally, everyone wants more and better space in their homes. (We can help with that!) We at RentHop put our heads together to come up with five creative ways to do both at once. Let us know your thoughts!

Get an on-faucet water filter. If you don’t mind tap water, stick with that. If you prefer the taste of purified water, or if you’re (justifiably) scared of the myriad pharmaceuticals that find their way into city water supplies, you have some choices. You can buy bottled water, but that means lots of expense and extra recycling trips, as well as valuable storage space. (You’ll also note that bottled water is often just tap water — be careful!) You’re better off with a water filter. There are some great carafe filters, but if you’ve got a small refrigerator or countertop, get and attach an on-faucet water filter. You’ll need to buy filters to keep the water clean, but they’ll more than pay for themselves by comparison to buying bottled water.

If your faucet looks like this, *definitely* get an on-faucet filter.
If your faucet looks like this, *definitely* get an on-faucet filter.

Credit: RIBI Image Library/CC BY 2.0

Sell (or donate) your stuff. It may break your heart to part with that sweater…until you realize that people will pay good money for it. But posting stuff on eBay or Craigslist is hard, right? Not so much. Here are some handy guides for selling on eBay and Craigslist. Bear in mind that depending on where you live you may need to deal with state sales taxes or similar – here’s a helpful resource for dealing with that. Also, remember that you need to be extremely careful when selling (and buying) on these sites. Remember to protect your person and your personal information!

If you don’t want to deal with buyers directly you can sell your stuff through consignment shops. Broadly speaking a consignment shop will take possession of your stuff, sell it and give you the purchase price minus its take. Most towns have at least one – New York has several – and they’re often great for shopping as well as selling. If your stuff isn’t worth reselling, don’t just trash it – donate it, and take the tax deduction. Note that if you donate property valued at more than $250 you’ll need an itemized declaration of the property donated (which you can create with the staff at the center where you donated it). Put this document with your other tax documentation. Also, make sure that the organization to which you’re donating is qualified for this purpose. If you’re not sure, ask them.

Here are eight handy tips courtesy of the IRS on getting deductions for charitable donations.

Netflix + Chromecast = way cheaper than premium cable. There are several devices available today that let you stream directly to your TV. Assuming you have wireless internet in your apartment, having a Chromecast (or a Roku box or similar) means that with a subscription to Netflix or HBOGo or similar you can do away with premium cable channels (and, presumably, the capacity to Tivo one or more shows). If your apartment building has free wifi, you’re definitely in luck — no separate cable required!

It's just so...cute!
It’s just so…cute!

Credit: medithIT/CC BY 2.0

Want to know more about how Chromecast works? Try here.

Libraries are better at keeping books than you are.  No matter where you live you almost certainly have a public library. Use it. You can borrow hard-copy books if you don’t like reading on your Kindle or iPad. Many also lend ebooks — look here, or check your library’s website. But either way, don’t forget to return them! You can also donate books, CDs and DVDs to your public library (make sure to request appropriate tax documentation).

Separate note: if you still have a DVD player, you can rent lots and lots of DVDs for free from the library. In theory you could do away with your digital subscriptions and your Chromecast or other streaming device. If you have the discipline for this, you’re a better person than we are.

Two more handy ideasWindow treatments (if you pay for heat and AC). A good set of curtains or blinds can help you keep your heating and cooling costs down. If you’re getting blinds, make sure you get “room-darkening” vs. “light-filtering” shades – the room-darkening version will retain heat/cool air better. This guide can help you make the right choice. This will also make your apartment feel much more finished (and keep your neighbors from peeping!).

Looks nice, right?
Looks nice, right?

Credit: RepairWindowBlinds/CC BY-SA 2.0

Multipurpose generic cleaning supplies. Very few things actually need purpose-designed cleaning solutions. (Also, you can make many varieties of effective cleaners out of things like baking soda and vinegar. See here for some ideas.) Also goes for shampoos, too – and keep in mind that shampoo can double as soap in a pinch.

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Moving? Check out our handy tips for dealing with movers.

Staying put? Here are some tips for making your apartment look bigger (without getting rid of your stuff!).

Seven Lease Provisions to Watch Out For

When you’re looking for a new apartment, it seems like finding a place where you’d love to live is the hardest part. (We can help!) But finding the new place is only half the battle. You still need to apply for it, and once your application is accepted you need to negotiate and sign a lease.

You can't get one of these until you've signed your lease.
You can’t get one of these until you’ve signed your lease.

Photo: Joe Mazzola/CC BY-SA 2.0

The lease is a legal contract that gives you the exclusive right to inhabit the space identified in the contract for a specified period of time. It’s extremely important that you read and understand it. If the landlord refuses to offer a written lease, or if she pressures you to sign it without reading it, that’s a major red flag.

As you read the lease, make sure to check key terms. Is the address listed for the apartment in the lease the right address? Is the rent correct? Does the lease tell you how and when to pay your rent? If there is a rent concession (like a free month of rent), is that reflected in the lease? Who pays for utilities, and which ones? You need to confirm all of those points, and ask any questions you may have, before you sign anything.

In addition, there are certain provisions that you should take issue with if they appear in the lease. We’ve got a list below – if you see these provisions in your lease, make sure you ask some questions! Note that laws differ across the 50 states; this list is intended to point out relatively common issues and help you start addressing them.

Before we get started, a couple of notes:

Beware if the landlord offers things to you verbally but won’t put them in writing. You’ll have a hard time enforcing them later. Similarly, if the landlord tells you she won’t enforce a provision in the lease, either get that in writing or ask that the provision be removed from the lease.

If you have a dispute with your landlord, educate yourself, and then ask for help. In almost every city you will find both online resources and one or more tenant’s rights organizations. Use those resources. For New York, you can find resources here, here and here. For Boston, try here, here and here. In Chicago, start with this, this and this. Otherwise, start with a google search, and remember that if you’re in federally-subsidized housing there may be federal resources available too.

If at all possible you want to resolve disputes amicably, and the tenants’ rights organization may be able to help. If you can’t, or if you don’t know what to do next, don’t waste time (or engage in self-help by withholding rent) – reach out.  

Tenant takes the apartment “as-is”. In 49 of the 50 states every landlord is required, whether the lease says so or not, to make sure that the apartment and all common spaces related to the apartment are (1) fit for human habitation and (2) not subject to conditions which would be dangerous, hazardous or detrimental to the tenant’s life, health or safety. This is the implied warranty of habitability, and renters can’t waive it except in very limited circumstances. (In the 50th state, Arkansas, it’s also a crime to not pay your rent when due. Be careful!)

What does this mean? If the apartment isn’t currently habitable, or is unsafe, your landlord is required – at his expense – to fix it up, no matter what the lease says. A landlord trying to get you to take an unsafe apartment may be trying to make you pay to fix his problem. Don’t do it. And don’t ask too many questions about whether an apartment is habitable or unsafe. If it looks or feels reasonably unsafe, stand your ground.

If the apartment is habitable and safe, the landlord isn’t obligated to do anything else. You may want to negotiate for move-in repairs or modifications, but a statement that you accept the apartment is irrelevant (your signing the lease evidences your acceptance).

Tenant is responsible for repairs. The landlord must ensure that the apartment is safe and habitable, and you can’t be made to pay for those repairs. Otherwise, if the landlord agrees to provide certain things in the lease (e.g., a dishwasher), then as a matter of contract law the landlord is responsible for ensuring that they work. You might agree to do certain repairs in return for compensation, but it’s the landlord’s job to provide the apartment she agreed to provide.

Landlord may enter at any time for any reason. Landlords can enter with no notice in case of emergency (which is probably a good thing!). Otherwise, by law in nearly all jurisdictions your landlord can’t enter your apartment without prior notice. How much notice may be specified in the law – it’s often 24 hours’ notice – or it may be “reasonable notice”. Your lease may describe specific things that constitute emergencies, e.g., bedbug infestation, and may also describe circumstances when the landlord can enter the apartment with notice. Be clear on what these situations are.

Tenant will pay X in maintenance/guest/cleaning fees. Often fees are permissible, so this is more about making sure you know what you’re getting into. If you’re going to be charged a monthly cleaning fee, for example, make sure you know what’s being cleaned, by whom, how often, and whether the cleaners will be able to access your apartment without you there. Also note that certain types of fees (unreasonably high late fees, or guest fees) may not be legal in some states.

Anything where you waive a right. It’s difficult in almost all states to waive rights to which you’re entitled by law, even if the lease says you’re doing so. That said, whenever you’re waiving anything make sure you understand what you’re waiving and why you’re being asked to waive it. This may alert you to an issue of which you weren’t aware, and though the landlord may not agree to change the lease you’re now forewarned.

Landlord will not be held liable for any damages. Again, the landlord can’t get out of his legal responsibilities. If the landlord acts negligently in failing to keep the apartment or building safe, the landlord should be liable if you get hurt or your property is damaged as a result. Beyond that, ask what damages the landlord is concerned about and why. You’ll get clues as to what’s important to the landlord.

Landlord has the right to change lease provisions at any time. Maybe this doesn’t matter – do you really need notice and an opportunity to be heard if the pool hours are changing? – but if the landlord can change key terms of the lease without your consent (or at least telling you) you’re at real risk. The landlord’s verbal assurances that they won’t use this power aren’t good enough here – make sure the lease includes restrictions on the landlord’s ability to unilaterally change material terms of the lease.

NOTE: This post is not intended to constitute, and does not constitute, legal advice and may not be used as such.

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Need help dealing with movers? We’ve got nine tips to help you out.

How about ideas for making your space look bigger? We have those as well.

Your Hot Boston Apartment Listings for the Week of June 13!

Each of the apartments below was featured in one of our Boston newsletters for the week of June 13. If you’re interested, follow up with the contact person in the listing; we have not confirmed since the time the newsletter was sent out that the apartments are available.

3 bedrooms, E. 5th St., City Point, $3,750 (posted 6/10)

2 bedrooms, 1723 Washington St., Shawmut, $3,600 (posted 6/10)

Studio, St. Alphonsus, Mission Hill, $2,200 (posted 6/10)

1 bedroom, Adams St., Dorchester, $2,000 (posted 6/13)

1 bedroom, Pond Avenue, Brookline, $2,100 (posted 6/13)

2 bedrooms, Summit Avenue, Brighton, $1,900 (posted 6/13)

Your Hot New York Apartment Listings for the Week of June 13!

Each of the apartments below was featured in one of our New York newsletters for the week of June 13. If you’re interested, follow up with the contact person in the listing; we have not confirmed since the time the newsletter was sent out that the apartments are available. Things move fast in New York!

2 bedrooms, Center Blvd, Long Island City (Queens), $5,520 (posted 6/10)

3 bedrooms, W. 54th St., Hell’s Kitchen, $6,650 (posted 6/10)

1 bedroom, E. 6th St., East Village, $2,100 (posted 6/10)

2 bedrooms,Center Blvd., Long Island City (Queens), $4,060 (posted 6/13)

2 bedrooms, Duane St., Tribeca, $7,795 (posted 6/13)

2 bedrooms, Huron St., Greenpoint (Brooklyn), $3,495 (posted 6/13)

9 Things to Know About Working With Movers

(Note: this piece appeared in abridged form at boston.com on May 27)

It’s summer, which means many people are moving. Doing it yourself is physically tough and can be expensive. Using movers often makes a lot of sense. But how do you make sure you’re using a good one?

Now *this* is a moving van!
Now *this* is a moving van!

Photo credit: Mike Mozart/CC BY 2.0

We’ve helped thousands of renter find new apartments in cities across the country. Along the way we’ve learned a lot about the moving process. With that in mind, here are our 9 things to know about choosing and working with movers.

NOTE: This post does not provide and is not intended to provide legal advice and it may not be used as such. We’re just trying to help!

(1) Look at publicly-available information. All interstate movers are required to be both licensed and registered with the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. That site will also have complaint reports for registered movers. If you don’t find your mover on that site, investigate. If the mover only does intrastate moves, it may not appear on the FMCSA website but it almost certainly will be regulated at the state level. Either way, confirm that the mover is licensed and registered somewhere.

Check out MovingScam.com and the DOT website. They’ll have good info on identifying scams and helpful suggestions for working with movers. Also, check with your local Better Business Bureau. If complaints appear, move on.

(2) Get an estimate. You need an estimate based on a walk-through. If the mover refuses to do so, or insists that you sign a contract (or make a deposit) before doing so, find someone else.

Why does this matter? Lots of reasons, but here’s an important one: interstate movers cannot require you to pay more than 110 percent of the price given in a non-binding estimate in order to get your property from them. This is called the 110 Percent Rule, and it prevents movers from holding your property for ransom. (Most states have a similar rule for intrastate movers). Expenses you incur over 110 percent of the non-binding estimate usually must be paid within 30 days. Note that there’s an exception from the federal 110 Percent Rule for services incurred after the estimate is signed.

(3) Pay attention to insurance. Check first that your mover is insured. Don’t work with one that isn’t. Second, federal law requires interstate movers to offer liability coverage for damage to your property. The baseline coverage for interstate movers is 60 cents per pound per item regardless of the value of the item. (This may be less for intrastate moves – for example, it’s 30 cents per pound in New York City.) The mover has to offer this at no cost. Movers must also offer additional coverage for a fee; this should protect you better, but make sure you understand its terms. Think before declining additional coverage – 60 cents per pound may not be enough to make you whole if something unexpected happens.

Also, some apartment buildings will require a certificate of insurance from your mover to cover damage to the building during the move. If you use a mover that can’t or won’t give that certificate you’ll need to deposit security with the building.

(4) Ask questions up front. What is the hourly rate? Is it per-person or for the whole team? If it’s per-person, how many people will be present? What other costs (e.g., fuel, waiting time, packing materials) will you incur, and at what rates? Make sure you know and get multiple quotes.

Consider whether you want to pack yourself or have the movers pack you up. If you can afford it you should have the movers pack; they’ll do a much better and faster job of it than you will.

(5) Look at the paperwork. In particular, look at the bill of lading, which details everything being moved, the origin and destination and the costs. It’s your receipt for the transaction – review it closely (including the fine print) and make sure it’s correct. And keep your copy on file!

Movers are required to provide you a copy of a pamphlet titled “Your Rights and Responsibilities When You Move”. Make sure you get it and read it.

(6) Supervise. Make sure you or someone you trust is there to watch the whole process.

(7) Storage. If you can’t move directly from your old place to your new place, or if some of your stuff won’t fit into your new place, you’ll need somewhere to put it during the transition. Many movers will offer to store your stuff temporarily. Check how much the space will cost, as well as the costs for moving into and out of the storage space. Also confirm that your property is insured while in storage, and check whether there have been any bedbug or vermin reports for that storage space.

When you’re moving out of storage into your new place, check the bill of lading for the move into your new place against the bill of lading for the move out of your old place. Make sure all your things arrive!

(8) Gratuity. It’s nice to tip for good service, but you’re not obligated to do so. Kindnesses like cold drinks on a hot day will go a long way. That said, don’t offer alcoholic beverages. It’s illegal as a matter of federal law for the movers to have alcohol in a commercial vehicle, and many moving companies will fire employees for having alcoholic beverages in the moving truck or van.

(9) What to do if you have a problem. Don’t panic. Try to work it out with your movers first. If you can’t, MoveRescue (800-832-1773) is a good place to start.

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Wondering how you’re going to cook in your small kitchen? We’ve got some ideas for you.

Or maybe you’re thinking of subletting? Here’s our six tips on how to do it best.

Your Hot New Apartment Listings for the Week of June 6!

Each of the apartments below was featured in one of our New York newsletters for the week of June 6. If you’re interested, follow up with the contact person in the listing; we have not confirmed since the time the newsletter was sent out that the apartments are available. Things move fast in New York!

2 bedrooms, W. 74th and Columbus, Upper West Side, $3,650 (posted 6/3)

1 bedroom, W. 83rd St., Upper West Side, $2,995 (posted 6/3)

Studio, E. 46th St, Midtown East, $2,500 (posted 6/3)

1 bedroom with private terrace, West Village, $4,395 (posted 6/6)

1 bedroom, Wall St., FiDi, $2,950 (posted 6/6)

1 bedroom loft, Lorimer St., Greenpoint (Brooklyn), $2,795 (posted 6/6)

Using RentHop to Find Your Next Place: A First-Hand Account

We believe RentHop is a great tool for finding and renting your next apartment. When the time came for me to find a new apartment in New York, it was obvious that I should use RentHop to find it. This is my first-hand account of my experience using our site to find an apartment. Spoiler: it worked!

Step 1: What do I need, and what do I want?

I needed a studio or one bedroom. My priorities were: finding an apartment with a rent concession (where the owner pays an inducement to the renter); completing the search quickly; keeping my rent low (no more than two-thirds of my previous rent); and keeping my commute under 30 minutes by mass transit. I also had some nice-to-haves – I wanted to remain on the east side of Manhattan if possible, to have a super on-site (or a doorman), and to have a dishwasher, gas range and full-size refrigerator. When I started I was still working out my move-in date.

2014-05-29 10.00.12
My life in boxes

Given my tight timeline I was willing to pay for a manager to guide my search. It was important, though, to offset that with a rent concession.

Step 2: Picking out apartments – and neighborhoods – that fit

I first used our Rental Heatmaps to find neighborhoods with a decent selection of studios and one-bedrooms in my price range. I looked for neighborhoods where the median rents for studios and one bedrooms were at or around my target. Neighborhoods where my target rent was at or near the 25th percentile for rent would have too few choices (sorry, SoHo and TriBeCa), while neighborhoods where my target rent was at or above the 75th percentile for rent were either too far (East Harlem, Fort Greene) or just not what I wanted (no offense intended, Upper East Side).

Of the several neighborhoods that fit on the Heatmaps I did some research and came up with four – Lower East Side, Gramercy, Murray Hill and Kips Bay. I then did two searches on RentHop for a studio or one bedroom in those four neighborhoods with my maximum rent, one with “reduced fee” and one with “no fee” checked in the filters. Sticking solely with apartments whose HopScores were above 85, I found several apartments that worked.

I read each of the apartment descriptions closely to confirm that it made sense. I then reached out to five managers with the same message – my name, contact info, expected move date and a request to be contacted back. (I didn’t tell any manager at this stage that I work with RentHop.

Step 3: Contacting managers

I got quick responses from three of the five managers whom I emailed. Of those three, one asked me to reconnect when I’d set my move-in date. Another agreed to meet me at the apartment about which I’d emailed – a studio in Gramercy – the following day. He also asked some questions so that he could pick out more apartments for me. He noted that landlords offering concessions often charge higher rents to make back the cost of the concession. (Apparently there’s no free lunch.)

The third asked that we meet at her offices. The goal was to pick several apartments that we could see quickly. She also gave me a list of documents I’d need to have so I could apply quickly.

Step 4: Seeing the places

I met the manager showing the Gramercy space on the afternoon of the third day, a Tuesday. We met on the steps to the building, where we spoke briefly and I completed the agency agreement (so that if I rented an apartment he showed me I’d pay his broker’s fee). We then looked at the apartment. I realized immediately that my priorities had to change – the apartment was way too small for me. It turned out that I hadn’t really understood what I needed in my new space until I saw some spaces. The manager had one other apartment in the Lower East Side that fit, but it had no concession, it was quite small and he couldn’t show it that day.

I met with the third manager and her partner at her offices on the morning of the fourth day, Wednesday. My original requirements weren’t right, so we widened the search. The managers felt strongly that there were apartments in Midtown East with good landlords that would fit my needs. I agreed to see some of those apartments along with some further south. The managers put together a list of six apartments for me to see, and we went to work. (We had only a few hours to see everything. There’s a lot going on at RentHop!)

We started in Midtown East and worked south. While we viewed apartments, she and her partner texted back and forth to answer my questions. Turned out that the Midtown East apartments were a great fit – the bus and subway were convenient and the apartments themselves were spacious, especially compared to what I’d already seen.

We saw all six apartments in short order, and I settled quickly on a second-floor studio in Midtown East in a doorman/elevator building with a concession. It didn’t have a dishwasher or full-size fridge, but I didn’t want to be too choosy. I gave my documents (which I’d already assembled thanks to her helpful list) to the manager, who prepared and sent the application that day.

My new home!
My new home!

Step 5: Negotiations

With the application submitted, the only things left to do were to wait – and negotiate the broker’s fee. The standard broker’s fee in New York is 15% of the first year’s annual rent. With the concession covering broker’s fee equal to 8.33% of the first year’s annual rent, we were left negotiating over the remaining 6.67%. With some skillful back and forth we ended up with a broker’s fee of 11%, which meant that I was only paying 2.67% of the first year’s annual rent out-of-pocket to the broker. Score!

While the manager and I negotiated the fee, the manager negotiated with the landlord. I was a solid candidate for the apartment. However, this landlord usually requires new tenants to move in within ten days of lease signing; I wouldn’t move in for over three weeks. The manager got the landlord to accept my application and agree to end-of-month move-in, a win that saved me over $1,000 in rent.

Step 6: Lease signing

On the morning of the sixth day I went with the third manager to the landlord’s offices to sign the lease. She patiently sat with me while I reviewed the entire lease in detail and worked through my questions with the leasing agent. The process took over an hour, but the lease was signed and I had a new apartment.

There you have it. In six days’ time I identified the apartments I wanted to work with, found several good managers, saw a bunch of apartments, found a great one and rented it. RentHop was an important part of the solution – along with being prepared, listening to the broker’s advice, and being decisive. It works!

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There are some important questions to ask when you’re looking at apartments. I’m glad I had this list!

Recently we wrote a blog post detailing how RentHop deals with “ghost listings”. Worth a read if you’re searching for a place.