Rental Dementia: Miracle on Broker Street

Written by Brian Carter on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Posts.

In general, landlords are suspicious. They’ve been burned before. This is their livelihood and their largest investment.
They have every reason to be cautious and every opportunity to be selective. On the other hand, many renters are angry. They don’t like feeling ripped off and yet they’ll spend over 30 percent of their entire income on rent. They just want a nice place to live while they try to get ahead in the competitive frenzy of New York City. They need a safe and affordable home. The apartments are getting smaller. The rents keep climbing. They are frustrated. Finally, you have the rental agents. The agents are tired. Constantly caught between demanding landlords, aggravated renters, and difficult managers, they take the brunt of it from all sides. Running from building to building, chasing every phone call, arguing with stubborn landlords and pleading with delusional renters is an exhausting way to spend the day. The clients will lie. The landlords will change their minds. The guy who sits next to you will steal your customer. No one trusts anyone. The market is grim. The inventory is dying. The city is turning condo by the block, and the conflict is constant.

Now consider the miracle of finding and then renting an apartment in this environment. Somehow people still find places to live in this town, landlords still receive rent checks and agents survive another torturous month only to gear up again for the next. Moving trucks are well … moving. Everyone carries on and manages to survive. It’s incredible to me, and enough to bring a slacker agent to his knees in wonder and awe. It’s the end of the movie, roll credits and wait for the sequel. Another apartment was rented.

This is my one predication for the upcoming year: It will be hard. It is not very bright and it’s not very pretty. As a matter of fact, the situation in New York is completely absurd and I am seriously amazed that somehow this business of renting continues. Nor can I believe that I am still surviving as a rental agent. My God, it was supposed to be a temporary gig. Shit, that’s another miracle and I just now realized it. I’ve survived another grueling, sleepless, stressful, conflicted, frustrating and terrifying year as an agent. If I seem all over the place, forgive me. I only need one solid week of rest. One precious week of real estate free living, and the absence of what I could, should and will eventually have to do tomorrow and tomorrow and then again next week. And yet, I haven’t worked in two weeks.
Apparently it wasn’t enough.

I’m guessing though that it’s not only rental agents who feel this way. Anyone who worked their ass off last year in an attempt to glean some fun, excitement and meaning out of this slow ride to nowhere must be able to relate, because I’m about to do the whole thing all over again and I feel slightly unprepared. What exactly do I have to show for a solid year of work? What will another year of work get me, beyond survival?

It’s now been a week back in the game. I admit it, I’m rental delirious, and the New Year has just begun. I’m worried. I just saw a $2,900 a month studio. Who in their right mind would spend that much on such a small space? Maybe this will be my year, maybe I’ll bang out enough rentals and sales to leave this archaic business and get into marketing, go to work for Michael Shvo or chase down some other stress-free career. Maybe I’ll take the police exam, or write a novel about the renting escapades of New York City. Maybe I’ll go to work for a non-profit housing organization and use these “special skills” to benefit my fellow man and woman. I could always teach real estate for kids. You can’t start too early in this town.

The phone is ringing. It may be a busy January, and that’s a very good thing. I’m back to where I started, four years ago, on the verge of being broke. The rent seems endlessly due, and it’s a week late already. I’m in no position to turn away clients, which is the only luxury this job offers. Call me and test my resolve. Tell me you need a two bedroom in Soho for $1,200 and I’ll start making frantic phone calls. I’ll even co-broker it. I know it doesn’t exist, but I’ll try anyway. Tell me you need a three bedroom for $3,000. I won’t laugh, or make any sarcastic comments about living in your mom’s basement. I’ll take it all very seriously. I have to. It may be out there; it’s a big city. If it is, who am I to balk at your naive request?

The situation is unlikely to change. Prices will not come down. Landlords will do OK; renters will somehow manage. It’s the agents I’m most worried about.