Tips to Know Before Meeting Your Broker in 2014: Keep the Faith

Posted on November 16, 2013 9:20 am

This post is the final entry in our series on Tips to Know Before Meeting Your Broker in 2014.  The series is based on our experiences shadowing several rental brokers in New York in late 2013.  We learned a lot about the best – and worst – ways to work with brokers.  

Bonus Tip: Keep the Faith!

True, many of the broker/client meetings we observed ended in frustration, usually because clients failed to follow one or more of the other five tips. But when the right expert meets an informed and savvy client, success happens…sometimes in as little as three hours.

“I used to sell concepts. Now I sell apartments.” This is how David Webb, a former high school English teacher who now works as an agent for Sommerlyn Associates, described his job to me. When I met Webb at R&R Coffee in the Financial District, he was sporting a beard—a necessity for a part he’s currently playing in an off- off- Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. He spoke with a gentle Southern accent; indeed, “gentle” would be a good descriptor of Webb’s entire approach. In the hours we spent shadowing him, what struck us most was that he did not seem to be actively “selling” apartments at all. And yet his clients, Elliott and Korinne, a couple looking to rent their first apartment together, were brimming with praise at the end of the appointment: “We’re very satisfied with what we’ve seen so far,” said Elliott. Korinne agreed: “This was very productive. It was just what we wanted.”

Korinne and Elliott are recent college graduates, both working in SoHo. He was living in East Harlem and hoping to trim down on his commute time. She was living with roommates in Midtown East. She told me that during the search for that apartment, two years ago, she and her roommates didn’t want to use a broker. But the apartment they found through Craigslist was attached to one, so in the end they paid a fee anyway, they just didn’t get any service for it. This time, with both she and Elliott busy with work, she decided to do things differently. A friend referred them to Webb.

Before we all met, Webb spoke with Elliott on the phone. He learned that the couple was searching for either a one-bedroom or a studio, with a budget of $2,500. Their preference was for Murray Hill or Kips Bay, but, as Elliott put it, “We’d live anywhere if the apartment’s right.” He also told Webb that they strongly preferred looking at Owner Pays (OP) apartments (apartments where the landlord or management company, not the tenant, pays the broker’s fee).

After hearing their preferences, Webb asked if they’d consider the Financial District. Why? OP apartments in Murray Hill and Kips Bay are a rarity. FiDi, with its amenity-rich high rises, is packed with them. Though they hadn’t considered FiDi, they were open to it, and Webb arranged for us all to meet there on a brisk Saturday morning in late November.

Over the course of three hours, Webb showed Korinne and Elliott nine apartments. He’d planned a tour that would expose them to the range of options available in FiDi, a strategy that would also help him gauge their tastes quickly. Our first stop was an older building, a bit tired looking, its hallways wallpapered with a faded floral pattern. Inside the apartments, the kitchens and bathrooms lacked the “wow” factor—think granite countertops and marble floors—for which FiDi’s high rises are known. The perk? Tons of square footage. For $2500, they could live in a true 1-bedroom with a spacious living room, a full kitchen, and a loft space. Korinne and Elliott seemed excited. They liked that the building had some character and that the apartments weren’t too “cookie cutter.”

But once they got a look at the next building, 45 Wall Street, a high rise with a grand marble and wood-paneled entryway, the first building slipped quickly out of contention. It was a question of amenities versus space: in an older building, $2500 could get them a spacious 1-bedroom; in a high rise, that same budget would get them a 500-square foot studio. (Which, it’s worth mentioning, is quite large for a studio.) But it would also get them top-notch renovations and appliances, plus access to the building’s gorgeous fitness center and roof deck. What’s more, both of the large high rise buildings we looked at were offering strong incentives: the building on Wall Street’s November incentives included both one month free and a 1-month OP to reduce the broker’s fee. The next building we viewed, 90 Washington Street, was advertising a choice of a 1-month OP or 1 month free.

As the morning’s apartment tour wound to a close, Korinne and Elliott told Webb that they loved two units, one in 45 Wall Street and one in 90 Washington Street, and would be in touch when they decided which one they preferred.

On Monday morning, Elliott called to let Webb know they were ready to submit an application for a unit in 90 Washington. The unit’s start date was technically December 1st, but Webb was able to negotiate with the management company to push it back by two weeks, effectively saving the couple over a thousand dollars. He also negotiated the monthly rent down $40. And because of the building’s incentives, they ended up paying Webb a greatly reduced fee. Two years ago, Korinne chose to go it alone, but ended up paying a broker 15% for essentially no service; this time around, working with a broker, her entire apartment search, from first meeting to signed lease, lasted 48 hours, and she and Elliott paid just a 5% effective fee.

When Webb told me the good news, we thought back to a conversation we’d had on Saturday afternoon, after Korinne and Elliott left. We had asked him if he was worried that he’d made the process too painless. Was it possible, we wondered, that the couple might not realize the true value of the apartments he’d found them, or of his service, because their experience had consisted of a breezy three-hour jaunt? What if the ease of viewing these apartments made the couple second-guess themselves, made them wonder if they were settling, if with more digging and effort they could find something better? Webb said he understood what we meant, but he had a good feeling about these clients, so he wasn’t too concerned. “One of the best compliments I get is ‘You make it so easy!’” he told me. “But I just make it look easy.”


We hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and found them useful.  Make sure you review the whole list before you work with your broker!  And don’t forget to let us know if we missed anything.

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