Keep Your Cool: 5 Tips for Surviving the NYC Summer Rental Market

To those who follow us here at Luxury Rentals Manhattan, all this talk about the resurgence of the Manhattan rental market may seem like beating on the same old drum. After all, we’ve predicted the eventual perk-up of the real estate market in all its stages, from the barely-glimmering pulse of life to its gargling infancy, from the rental market’s irritable adolescence to its full-fledged ripening. And there’s been no surer sign of the NYC rental market’s full comeback than May’s most notable statistics: prices hiking roughly .68%, vacancies dropping to .69%, and the return of the grueling competitive sport known as rental bidding wars. With all our warnings of fewer landlord concessions and high demand, a renter scouring NYC apartment listings might be feeling a bit in the doldrums at his or her prospects of securing a dream apartment. But at the Luxury Rentals Manhattan blog our goal is not to terrify, but to help. There’s no need for doom and gloom just yet: here are five useful pieces of advice for NYC newcomers tackling the competitive Manhattan summer rental scene.

1. Don’t let your expectations lock you in a corner.

We all have our price points, our budgets, our required amenities, and our lines drawn in the sand. Some of us require nothing less than two-bedroom apartments, while someone else favors only Battery Park City apartment listings. And while it is important to set down guidelines for what you’re looking for, remember to keep your notes as just that -- guidelines. The New York Post illustrates this useful tip with a telling tale of a couple that hoped to secure a nice studio in downtown Manhattan for $2,600 a month. After viewing several unsatisfying apartments they realized their price point was too low for what they wanted, and found a better apartment after reconsidering their max budget. The take-away of this story? Define your expectations, but keep them flexible.

2. Do your homework.

Neighborhood listings shift and sway with changing trends, meaning that the places with apartment listings that best suit you may also change. Murray Hill in midtown used to be the top spot for postgrads searching for an apartment thanks to wide one-bedroom apartments that could be shared between pals -- until recently. With city officials cracking down on the fire code violations of temporary walls, brokers are advising renters to reconsider shares in favor of real two-bedrooms. The best places to find affordable two-bedrooms? According to Jay Heydt of Citi Habitats, apartment listings in the Financial District and listings in Harlem are better bets than Murray Hill, as are small pockets of the Upper East Side such as the tight-knit Yorkville. If you don’t know your stuff, you might spend precious time looking for apartments in places less suitable than you think.

3. Forget the freebies.

Just two years ago landlords were offering plum incentives to get reluctant renters to seal the deal, including months of free rent and no broker fees. But with the market turning tide in favor of landlords, many of those incentives have shriveled and vanished in the summer heat. As we’ve previously reported, Citi Habitats calculates a 50% drop in landlord concessions, from 60% of all rental deals in 2009 to just 8% in May 2011. With the return of the bidding war, the hot summer real estate market means fewer deals for renters, who likely have to shell out brokers’ fees, deposits, and -- in some cases -- higher rents this summer. But there’s a silver lining in this gray cloud: No-fee Manhattan apartments can still be found, and concessions are still available in many new apartment buildings, where sold-out units look good for owners and landlords -- and thus, may work out for you.

4. Be prepared.

In the competitive nature of this summer’s NYC rental market, timing is everything. Apartments are getting snapped up quickly by college graduates and new arrivals drawn to the strong Manhattan job market, meaning that the process of renting takes on a much faster pace. When you find your dream apartment you need to be able to snatch it up quickly before someone else does -- and that means having all your paperwork and guarantors ready in advance. Many agents recommend these documents should be primed and raring to go: W2s, government IDs, letters of employment, 3-6 months’ rent, letters of references from former landlords, and bank statements. Keep in mind that many landlords require 40 times the rent as income, a guideline that often trips up young renters fresh out of college.

Is your head spinning? It shouldn’t be. While you’re busy researching Manhattan neighborhoods, scaling your expectations and filling out paperwork, keep in mind the most important tip of all:

5. There’s a light at the end of the rental tunnel.

The search for a New York City apartment may be short or long, easy or tough -- but the search will always end, and often happily. Somewhere in the scores of Manhattan apartment listings is an apartment for you. Skeptical? The New York Post relates the story of three friends who spent months searching for a place, even making offers on two apartments that fell through. But they kept their options open, didn’t give up, and secured an apartment better than the two they lost. So be patient, follow these five tips, and eventually you will find a Manhattan apartment that suits your needs.