Have New Yorkers outgrown CraigsList? — The Apple, Peeled

Have New Yorkers outgrown CraigsList?

by Honeycrisp on April 20, 2010

The 101 on avoiding the traps of using CraigsList in your apartment search

CraigsList used to be the #1 destination for New Yorkers looking for apartment rental deals.  Nowadays, the venue has become a minefield of pitfalls to avoid, sending wannabe tenants to StreetEasy.  Here’s a bit of a breakdown of how this wondrous list of lists works in the world of NYC real estate.

  • Traffic galore: So many eyeballs land on CL, that it’s almost impossible to avoid the site from a broker’s standpoint.  The sheer amount of traffic that this community gets from apartment hunters is astonishing, with everyone looking to get a deal and find that hidden gem or diamond in the rough.  It’s no wonder that hundreds of ads are posted on the site daily, with frequent double and triple posts of the very same apartment.
  • Ring ring: Brokers clearly try to capitalize on this volume, with their primary goal of making the phone ring. (Note: apartment ads on CL costs the broker $5 – $10, so these are dollars clearly going towards getting business.) Unfortunately, many are trained to do only that: get the phone to ring no matter what.  This means often creating “Frankenstein apartments” for the desperate tenant to drool over: a picture of a bathroom from an UWS 2-bed, the kitchen of a Financial District studio and the roof-deck of a Gramercy condo, slap an attractive price on it and … voila!  The perfect apartment now exists.
  • Inflated Expectations: Clearly, brokers know that no one will call on a $5k 1-bed … the lower the price, the more calls they get.  Everyone is incentivized to advertise only their cheapest deals or else make them up. The result is an inflated sense of the number of “bargains” out there, and therefore a very skewed sense of what is realistic to expect.  So what happens when you call? “I’m sorry, this apartment is rented but I have another 1-bed you will just love.”
  • For rent by whom?: For those of you looking to go the “for rent by owner” route thinking you can avoid all shadiness, ask the voice on the other end if s/he is a broker.  If the answer is anything but “No”, there’s a significant likelihood that the answer is yes, as 50%+ of owner listings have an agent behind them.

So how do you determine whether an ad is real and an agent worthy?  Here is a question-driven litmus test to guide your way:

Question:  Where is the apartment located?

  • Bad Answer: It’s in West Chelsea
  • Worse answer: The landlord prohibits me from giving the exact address.
  • OK Answer: It’s located at on 5th Avenue, between Y and X.
  • Ideal Answer:  It’s at 625 Fifth Ave, Apt. 2C (agents often find it hard to share if it’s not their exclusive listing, though)

Question: Tell me more about the apartment: where is it facing? what is the bathroom like?

  • Bad Answer: What are you looking for?
  • Good Answer:  It’s facing north; the bathroom was renovated 3 years ago and has a stand-up shower (not tub), etc.

Question: What size bed can I fit in the bedroom?

  • Bad Answer: You have to just see the apartment; come to my office to register.
  • Good Answer: If you have a queen, that would work well. Frankly, a king just wouldn’t fit unless you eliminated all walking space.

Question: When is it available?

  • Bad Answer:  I’m not sure, let me check with the landlord and I’ll get back to you.
  • Worse Answer: When are you looking to move?
  • Good Answer:  The tenant’s lease expires in the middle of June and the apartment is available for occupancy on July 1.

If you do choose to conduct your own apartment search, do so with your eyes open and your expectations adjusted.  If it sounds too good to be true, chances are that it is.  Otherwise, go the broker route if you want to avoid these hassles altogether.

Have New Yorkers outgrown CraigsList?