Her unmistakable English accent sounded pleasant at first but was quickly grating on my already fragile nerves. She had somehow come across what I thought was a buried ad. It was at least two years old and an obvious mistake. I apologized, “My bad. I’ll take it down. I don’t have any true one bedrooms in the West Village for $1700. In fact, I never expect to have one again. Goodbye.” There was very little to discuss or debate, as it’s impossible to even pitch another place. They simply don’t exist. You can’t run a bait and switch when there is nothing to switch to. I can work with $2,600, but $1,700 is a lost cause, unless I get licensed in Jersey.
Apparently, this was not her first conversation with a rental agent. In fact, her company had already hired a relocation firm. But according to her they were a miserable lot and unable to materialize this apartment of hers. Slackers for not building her one, they had stopped returning her calls. You know you have serious troubles when a real estate agent won’t call you back. Being a savvy Londoner, where “flats” are also quite expensive, she was unwilling to accept that what she wanted was not available for what she was prepared to pay. After all, she had seen plenty of places online that looked great. I, of course, tried explaining to her that not everything on the Internet is completely true and that sadly there is no Santa Clause, at least here in the states. This didn’t seem to help, as she went into a tirade about false advertising and how this sort of thing would never happen in England where they apparently have the whole Internet thing well under control. I tried to change the subject and asked what she did for a living. She worked in advertising, naturally. Ah, the very industry that prides itself on making cheeseburgers look sexy.
Where would we be without a little false advertising? Anarchy is my hunch. It’s an overstated point, but we’re bombarded with bullshit everyday. Picture Times Square with only honest advertisements: Come see this mediocre and forgettable Broadway play! Even in this underwear, you’ll still look a little chunky. Drive this gas guzzling SUV and still look small. Drop 20 pounds. Two months later, try again! Sure a few people died for these diamonds, but it’s more important that people know you are rich!
And yet, it’s the lowly rental agent causing most of societies woes and prompting City Hall to action. A few weeks ago, The Daily News reported that the City Council had discovered a third of no-fee apartment ads on sites like Craigslist are actually fake. No shit, really? Does this also mean that I’m not actually chatting with Jessica Alba? And the crap I’ve been rubbing on my head won’t grow my hair back? That’s an outrage. I suppose the City Council will next uncover the shady practice of lying about your weight and age on dating sites. Can you imagine?
The practice of purposely misleading the consumer seems pretty standard to me and not at all out of the ordinary. So what’s all the fuss about? Advertisers as a whole have perfected the art of underestimating the general public and cashing in on our naive predilections and unconscious desires. Isn’t the whole goal of marketing to convince us that we are in desperate need of some completely useless stuff? And that purses, cars, creams and lotions all have the power to dramatically enhance and alter our lives? So why can’t I say Gramercy when it’s really Murray Hill? 550 square feet, or 650 square feet? Is there really a difference? And, yes, the ad said $2,400, but the market moves and today its $2,700. What’s the problem?
At least the renter does in fact need a place. No one is out there subtly persuading anyone to move. In fact, that’s the whole point behind the misleading ad. They aren’t moving because they’d like to. They didn’t see my ad and then say to themselves, “You know what, I think I’ll move into this place. Look at that picture!” They move because they have to. And chances are the uninitiated, overworked or just plain lazy will hire an agent to help them. Hell, most people hire 10. I just want to be in the mix. The ad is not to rent that particular apartment—it’s to lure in clients.
The frustration is justifiable, and none of this is meant to defend the jackass out there posting no-fee ads when he or she fully intends to charge a hefty fee. I have never understood that particular practice. I have a hard enough time renting the real apartments with only the location, size and price slightly altered. A week into the search, most renters are already a little pissed off and guarded. How the hell anyone explains to them at that point that their no-fee apartment will actually cost a few thousand dollars is beyond me.