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I was blissfully unaware of the term “broker fee” until I landed in NYC and began looking for an apartment. I quickly realized that on top of exorbitant rental prices, hopeful house hunters must also pay a month’s rent or more to a broker for the privilege of living in Gotham. Considering rents are among the highest in the nation, extra fees are just cruel for someone trying to save up for an apartment.
For the uninitiated, a broker is basically a person who turns up — occasionally on time, but tardiness goes unpunished in the rental brokerage profession — to unlock the door of a prospective apartment and allow you to walk inside. Sometimes they even give you information about the place! Often, however, they simply wait outside, bored, while you show yourself around. They may take you to other locations — often not within your price range and fulfilling none of your requirements — before commanding a whopping fee if your application is approved. It’s extortion, but there are a couple of ways around it. In fact, in the past two years, I’ve rented three apartments and have managed to avoid that nasty fee every single time. Here’s how.
Moving to New York, I was skeptical of Craigslist and the people who used it. That was the old me — the new (York) me feels no shame in spamming every rental on Craigslist within my budget until I receive a response. My current renovated one-bedroom loft with a private courtyard in the West Village (such a find!) was a Craigslist score. Originally the flat was offered as a sublet; however, with a little negotiating I was able to take over the lease, which is much better for multiple reasons.
First, a sublet rarely requires a broker fee, because the current tenant is often managing the rental themselves. Second, requesting to have your name on the lease ensures that everything is legal and above board. It also deters the current tenant from overcharging you for the apartment and skimming a bit off the top for themselves, which is common.
You can filter your searches by location, price and whether you want the post to include an image. And obviously, you do need to be careful of scams. Craigslist is full of them, but as long as you’re not transferring money to strangers over the Internet without viewing the apartment, you should be OK.
While you won’t be able to choose your housemates, moving into a spare room in a share house is easier on so many levels — and you completely avoid paying any broker fee.
There are dozens of sites to help you find roomies. But you can start by searching on SpareRoom.com or Craigslist. It’s also worthwhile to check out Speed Roommating — a speed dating–inspired event to help you meet potential housemates in a safe environment. You need to reserve a space, which you can do online, and then just turn up to the event with a clear idea of your budget, where you want to live and the type of person you would like to share with.
Finally, Metro Roommates specializes in short-term leases and sublets, which can be helpful for testing out the waters in a particular neighborhood. Keep an eye out for (and avoid!) ads marked in red with “broker fee” on their listing page.
If you’re an expat, you’re in luck: Your fellow countrymen likely share available sublets and rooms available across Manhattan and Brooklyn to groups. For example, Australians gather on Facebook’s Australians in New York and Australians in NYC.
Once you’ve joined a group, post a quick paragraph outlining your budget, a little bit about yourself and where you’d like to live. You may like to highlight that you’re looking for a sublet without a broker fee or that you’re hoping to join a house as a roommate.
Finally, if all else fails, look on the “monthly sublets” section of Airbnb. While you should expect to pay a premium for these apartments, it’s a smart way to find short-term accommodation while you search for a permanent apartment that doesn’t charge a broker fee.
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