How to Get an Apartment Rented in New York

Ruth Shin
Ruth Shin

RENT

Apartments NYC

With well over ten thousand listings at any given time in New York, competition could get really stiff whether your a landlord, an agent, a management company, or a private homeowner. Even if you are running an exclusive listing, your apartment is still competing with dozens of comparable units all over the city, and maybe even in the same neighborhood or on the same street! So how can you get ahead of the game?

Get the Pricing Right

If you’re with a brokerage that offers the latest tools in valuation, you’re in luck. But most of us will have to rely on just good old-fashioned research and price comparison. If you’re a newer landlord, you’ll need to factor in your expenses for any work or renovation to the unit(s) and/or any loan payments to the bank, additional expenditure, plus add in a safety cushion. Remember that the lease term will also affect your outcome.

Look online for similar units, similar features/amenities, within the same neighborhood. Study both apartments currently on the market and those that have recently rented out. It will also be helpful to look at units within the same building that have rented up to a year previously. An important aspect to consider is how long these units have sat on the market at their prices.

If your research has led you to a lower number, bring it up with the landlord. As a landlord, if you’re not willing to bring down the price, you can get creative by offering other incentives such as a month of free rent, free wifi, to cover gas or electricity, a gym membership discount, or foot the broker’s fee for the applicant.

Figure Out Your Approval Criteria

If you’re a landlord or a private property owner, you’ll need to decide who is going to be a good tenant. You most likely want tenants who will pay on time every month and are not going to cause disturbances in the building. However, everyone has his/her own criteria. Some landlords don’t do any kind of official check at all, but simply go by their “gut”. This is left to the discretion of each property owner.

The standard norm in New York City is to assess their income using a formula that requires the potential tenant to earn at least 40 times the monthly rent. Remember to also evaluate what kind of income paperwork you’ll want to look at. Typically, these can be recent pay stubs, past tax returns or tax documents, past/current landlord references, letters of employment, and a copy of their photo ID to confirm identity.

Credit scores are a mixed bag and there can be a variety of acceptable score ranges with landlords accepting anything from the “Fair” range to only “Excellent”. Nevertheless, this is not a rule or law, and you can select any margin that you feel is appropriate for your needs.

If you’re unsure of how to pull up a potential renter’s credit report, there are plenty of resources online from sites like Experian to On-site.com.  Fees can range anywhere from about $15 to $50, but the cost goes over to the applicant. Once you receive the report, be sure to check the full history and report even if the score seems acceptable. Ask yourself some important questions on if you’d be accepting guarantors or extra rent upfront in the event that the applicant doesn’t make enough or has less than stellar credit.

If you’re an agent, this one is easy as you can just ask the landlord or management company what their criteria is for potential clients. However, there are plenty of agents and brokers who want to represent their brand as the highest caliber and will often try to bring the most or over-qualified tenants to make a good impression. This might be a good route if you’d like to strengthen your rapport with a landlord, but just as long as it doesn’t cause the listing to sit on the market for too long.

Advertising Your Listings

If you speak to experienced agents and brokers, they’ll tell you that consistency is key. Posting and regularly updating your ads on listing platforms will help you stay atop and stay fresh. Different sites have different ways of working, so play around with what works best. Some sites might require that you refresh or update your ads daily. For others, it may work every few days or once a week. If you’re ads are not acquiring any leads, change the photos or description. Maybe a price drop or other changes are in order.

Become a Specialist in the Neighborhood

Some agents may think that posting as many listings as possible all over the city will attract the attention of potential renters but more often than not concentrating on one or two select neighborhoods may yield better results. Have a variety of listings from the same area and/or building. However, if you have 20 units for rent in the same building, do not list all the units. Concentrate on a few choice apartments that represent the building and concentrate on the neighborhood; getting to know the streets, local businesses, and transportation so clients can see you as an expert after viewing your listings and after meeting you.

Take Showstopping Photos

The two biggest eye-catching features on your ad are going to be the price and the photos, even before the street or actual location is even noticed. Beautiful professional-level photography is your strongest bet for a click. Make sure your photos feature great lighting and are clean without any clutter or debris in the spaces.

If the unit is vacant and looks plain on its own, you might want to try light staging with small accents to liven up the space, or virtual staging software, which lets you play around with the composition and ambience presented in your photos. As a landlord or management company, if you have an entire building for rent, it will probably serve in your best interest to stage at least one unit.

Remember that you or your photographer should use a wide lens to more accurately capture the size of the rooms in the apartment, which smaller cameras and camera phones cannot do well. However, beware of making the apartment look too much larger than its actual size which can be misleading to potential renters and ultimately can lead to disappointment.

Use Choice Words

You may not feel like you have a lot of time to spew out beautiful poetry to describe your listing, but it will indelibly help you reach the right audience. Taking beautiful pictures and writing just a few short words about the apartment is going to sell your listing short. Some renters might even think your listing is a scam.

It’s not necessary to write about every single feature the unit has, but writing a few sentences about not only the apartment but the building, street and neighborhood as well. Be sure to mention important features like nearby transportation, highly-rated neighborhood restaurants or park, and if the building is pet-friendly. Pick out the features you think would appeal to renters the most, and highlight them in your description.

Build a Rapport

Once you receive leads and inquiries, you should respond to each person as soon as possible. Experienced industry professionals will tell you that you won’t hear back from every single person, even if they just emailed or texted you. However, the longer you wait to respond, the less likely you will hear from them again. You need to think of each person as a potential opportunity.

Starting the Conversation

In the event you start a conversation with a lead, politely offer them right away to show the apartment with times or dates in mind. Show that you are available, willing to assist them, and listening to them. This works in the favor of both agents and landlords. After that, you can start asking a few questions, such as their move-in date, who would be moving in, or if they have any pets.

For agents other key questions could be what their budget is and which neighborhoods or types of apartments appeal to them. If your lead is ready to move right away, you can inquire if they have their paperwork ready and have checked their credit score.  Help them understand their chances of being approved and the rental process. You may decide to do this before or after showing them the listing(s).

Show the Apartment

While daytime is preferred to show the space, many people have busy work schedules and daylight is not always possible. If your property shows best during the day, try to set up weekend times when more people have availability during the day. Things can get hectic, but as an agent it’s optimal to be the person showing for your actual lead. If not, get help from another agent that you trust will cater to the client’s needs. This is also a good time to discuss anything your client would like to negotiate with the apartment. Let me know what’s reasonable and manage their expectations.

Landlords cannot always be present at showings, but it’s a great opportunity to meet a potential tenant in person, so you can assess for yourself if the person is a good candidate. It will also give you an opportunity to show them what kind of landlord and person you are.

Strategies for Success

If your unit is sitting on the market for many weeks with little to no leads or no one wants the apartment after seeing it, you need to change what you’re doing. Sometimes, it makes sense to take the the unit off the market for a little while, so it can resurface as a fresh listing. Other times, the price may have to come down or the landlord may have to include incentives or be willing to make concessions with clients. This is an opportunity to get creative with incentives and also to give the landlord honest feedback with the unit. Maybe a wall needs to come down, or the appliances need to be changed. Look at other comparable units in the neighborhood and compare and contrast what is working for those listings and not yours.

For landlords or management companies who are waiting in limbo for their property to rent, maybe it’s time to call in extra help and recruit an agency or two to help out. To sweeten the deal, it’s best to offer to cover the broker’s fee so they can advertise it as a “no fee” apartment.

Process the Application

This is the part of the process where you need to collect paperwork and retrieve the applicant’s credit report. This can be a tedious step as there are times when you need to wait a few days to receive all the required pieces. If your potential renter already has everything prepared, this is a good sign that the person is conscientious and probably also the same with their finances. Most brokerages will take a deposit for the unit if the client has serious interest. Landlords may or may not choose to do this, as the security deposit is due at lease signing anyway.

If the person meets the criteria, you can give them the greenlight. In some cases, landlords may use their prerogative to deny the applicant if they don’t feel secure about the person. Agents should should try to use their position to mediate between the landlord and the client if they feel there’s been a misunderstanding.

Lease Signing

Landlords and management companies should have a lease with the lease terms clearly stated, details on the security deposit and any interest it accrues, details on utilities, installation of smoke detectors in the unit, and disclosure on lead-based paints. If the unit is rent-stabilized, you’ll need to include the 421-a lease rider. Any other stipulations discussed and agreed upon with the tenant beforehand should be included in additional riders.

Your tenant(s) should have brought the security deposit (if not previously collected), the first month’s rent, and any additional funds that may have been required. Normally two copies are presented. The tenant initials, signs, and dates the lease and then it is handed over to the landlord to sign and date. The second copy goes to the tenant.

Preparing the Apartment

If the landlord or management company has not already sent cleaning personnel to mop up any residual dirt or debris, has not painted the apartment, or made requested repairs, that will need to be done before the new tenant moves in. Agents can coordinate this beforehand to streamline the move-in process, including obtaining the keys for the tenant. Landlords and management companies need to make sure your new tenant lets you know the exact date they plan in moving, so you can make the necessary accommodations for that day.

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