One of the biggest questions foreigners face when they are looking for a place to live in New York City is whether to use a broker or not.
For a Brit, a broker about as relevant as a fax machine – a hangover from the time before the internet. Aren’t they just a glorified estate agent? Why pay someone 15% of your annual rental budget to browse realtors websites and Craigslist?
After all, compared to many cities – vast London or hard-to-negotiate Paris, for example – Manhattan and its neighbouring boroughs are accessible and relatively compact. With a good pair of shoes, some patience and luck, and a map, it can’t be that hard to find somewhere.
The opposing argument is that New York is a city that runs on its connectors and networks like no other place in the world. Jobs, friends, apartments, cars, cats and dogs are all found via someone who knows someone who knows someone. And that is all a broker is – a connector.
In the weeks before we arrived I visited Craigslist every day – and saw some cracking apartments at much lower costs compared to those that were listed on different realtor websites. I’ll do it my way, I thought. However, the company pay for our broker fees (as well as health insurance, pensions and freight). A colleague of H1B recommended a broker he’d used – and before we knew it the ball was rolling.
And I have to say – although it made me feel both unoriginal and strangely dirty – she absolutely came up with the goods and found us a beautiful one bed plus den floor-thru parlour level north Park Slope brownstone apartment (with windows in every room – unusual for a floor-thru – and a good kitchen).
Not that she was easy to work with. I’m sure there are many reasonable, calm and centred brokers in NYC but our chain-smoking, caffeine junkie was not one of them and had the unique ability to make us feel eye-twitchingly stressed within about 20 seconds of talking to her.
She demanded to see the most mind-boggling array of personal information: bank statements and credit history, OK yes we get that; but she also demanded we have $20k in the bank (sorry, the Golden Goose flew the coop) and wanted to know who paid for our wedding so we could hit them up for the extra cash. She continually wanted us to “go higher (you gotta go higher!!)” when we told her our budget – infuriating and slightly humiliating.
The main obstacle is the lack of a social security number (the main method of credit checking in the USA) so we had to provide the following:
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Reference from previous landlords
- We had to show we could pay 3 months rent + bond
- Passport and visa details
My tip when using a broker is to get one recommended and be very firm about your budget and expectations. Also the more groundwork you do in terms of knowing where you want to live – even down your to favourite buildings – the better.