Brokers helping hard-up apartment hunters gang up on the market
Several months ago, Morgan Turkewitz, a broker at Citi Habitats, received an unusual request from two college friends hoping to share an apartment in Manhattan: the pair wanted to take a look at listings and sign a lease all in a single day.
The college friends — one grew up in Kentucky, the other in New Jersey — arrived in the city one morning, and toured buildings in the East Village, Murray Hill, and Gramercy Park, all popular destinations for recent graduates.
By the afternoon, they’d narrowed their list down to a pair of one-bedrooms in a walkup near Gramercy Park, including one with a subdivided living room suitable for two roommates.
Though they settled for the conventional one-bedroom, which had formerly been occupied by a couple, “they did the same type of conversion,” said Turkewitz.
Like many brokers who handle listings in desirable Manhattan neighborhoods, Turkewitz frequently works with groups of young adults looking to live together.
Most are friends, or friends of friends, but the occasional client has tried to find a roommate online. “I did have a client that wanted to move to the city and was trying to go the Craigslist route,” said Turkewitz. “It wasn’t working out.”
Recent college graduates aren’t the only ones looking to share with friends or strangers. Turkewitz is currently helping two women, ages 27 and 28, search for an apartment; one is still living at home, and the other is sharing an apartment in Midtown West with two friends from high school.
The trend is visible online, where roommate-matching sites have proliferated. In the New York section of Roommates.com, a service not unlike online dating, a handful of candidates are in their 30s. Some are even middle aged.
A 52-year-old, for instance, is seeking a roommate willing to pay $1,200 a month to share an apartment on Manhattan’s East Side (a subscription to the service is required to view the apartment’s exact location and other information).
As a result, it’s not uncommon to find apartments being shared by members of different generations. Several months ago, Apartments.com, a listing service for rentals across the country, launched its fourth annual Roommate of the Year competition, which awards a cash prize of $10,000 and a year of free rent to a model roommate.
One of the finalists is Matt Cooper, a 23-year-old sharing a Brooklyn apartment with a 65-year-old transplant from Louisiana. “Matt is less like a roommate to [the 65-year-old], and more like family,” according to a synopsis of his video entry.
Of course, where brokers face challenges is in guiding pairs of roommates, particularly younger ones with less apartment-hunting experience, through the leasing process from start to finish. A roommate herself, with a new apartment in Gramercy Park, Turkewitz has devised a system to ensure that apartment hunting is fast and relatively drama-free.
“I talk to roommates first to make sure they’re on the same page,” she said. And she makes sure each pair is able to tour units together. “The way the market is right now, apartments are renting so quickly,” she explained. “If one roommate is available in the morning and another at noon, a few hours later the apartment could be gone.”
To stay ahead of the curve, she sometimes advises roommates to prepare applications for units they’ve fallen in love with through marketing materials alone. A pair of college friends, for instance, was wowed by photos of a unit in a building near Gramercy Park, and made an appointment to take a look.
“They couldn’t see the apartment until 12:30, and I wasn’t sure if it would still be available,” Turkewitz said.
So she met the roommates at a nearby Starbucks to fill out paperwork. When the young women visited the unit, deposit in hand, another prospective renter arrived, without having filled out an application in advance. The roommates had a leg up, and managed to secure the apartment.
Dorit Avidar, founder of the Brooklyn-based agency Avidar Realty, recently worked with a group of three recent graduates in urgent need of an apartment.
The roommates were planning on renewing a lease at a three-bedroom on the Lower East Side, on Broome Street just below Delancey. When their landlord raised the rent from $3,100 a month to $4,100, the college friends tried to negotiate.
But the landlord was confident that someone would snap up the apartment for at least $4,000 in less than a day.
“We gave up and decided to start looking, all three of us together, at other places in Manhattan,” said one of the roommates, Alex Barnes, a media planner who works out of an office in the Flatiron District. “To our surprise, there was literally nothing else in our budget in any desirable Manhattan neighborhood.”
So Barnes and his friends began searching in Brooklyn with help from Avidar, after finding a couple of her listings on Craigslist.
After becoming a broker in 1996, Avidar worked in Manhattan before decamping for Brooklyn shortly after 9/11 and launching her own firm and website, onemonthfees.com.
In the years since, she’s worked with a number of recent graduates, ensuring that they sign leases in safe neighborhoods across Brooklyn. “When I work with young people, I treat them like they’re part of my own family,” she said.
Dealing with roommates poses few challenges for Avidar, so long as they’re organized and take the process seriously.
Like Turkewitz, she advises clients to get all their paperwork ready in advance. “My thing is always just to have them come prepared,” Avidar explained. “There’s a lot of competition out there.”
For the most part, roommates come to her in agreement on ideal neighborhoods and amenities. But preferences can change along the way.
At one point during Barnes’ apartment hunting process, one of the roommates broke away from the group, deciding she wanted to remain in Manhattan. “She refused to ‘cross the moat,’” Barnes joked.
The two remaining roommates checked out several apartments in Park Slope that Barnes found “semi moderately affordable.” The pair settled on a full-floor two bedroom in a pre-war building on 13th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, a couple blocks from Prospect Park and a short walk from the F and G trains.
“We’re very happy and love the Slope,” said Barnes. “Of course, what happened on the Lower East Side will very likely happen on the Slope inevitably. So in 2014, to Sheepshead Bay we go!”
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