In uber-competitive real estate markets such as New York and San Francisco, by the time an apartment hits a rental listing site, it’s already too late. If the unit appears to be an even halfway decent deal, with well-lit photos and a competently written description, prospective renters are likely to find themselves battling countless other applicants who are ready to throw down too much money to lock in a listing.
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Still, even as these markets have become increasingly hostile to normal folks looking for a decent deal, I’ve been able to help a number of friends find fantastic apartments in my hometown of New York—without having to battle battalions of other would-be renters.
The secret: Seek out the worst real estate listings. The ones with the poorly lit photos filled with random people in the background and hampers full of dirty laundry. The ones that appear to be written by semi-competent real estate agents who, rather than endlessly exaggerating the merits of a unit or its neighborhood, seem either ignorant or even apologetic. Tiny, fuzzy photos are a plus; and spelling errors are your best friend. What you want are places that could actually be nicer than their listings make them seem.
Then, use your mental filter and look past the dirty laundry and strange figures in the passageways. If what you are left with is a nice place in a nice location, it’s far less likely to be as overrun with competition as a lesser apartment with well-lit photos and a well-written description.
It’s absolutely natural to judge things based upon their presentation. The key is to understand that everybody else is doing the same thing, creating a highly imbalanced supply and demand equation. If you can find a nice place that is poorly presented, most folks will skip right past it, and you are wading into a pool with far less demand, and you are far more likely to get a good deal.
Case in point: I’ve lived in a lovely place in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn for several years. This is a neighborhood that, thanks to its hip status and blurry geographical definitions, has been especially prone to the syndrome of brokers applying the neighborhood label to any listing within a five-mile radius. As a lot of New Yorkers know, an apartment that claims to be in Williamsburg is just as likely to lie in the not-quite-as-gentrified Bushwick. But my place? Despite the fact that it actually is in Williamsburg, whoever wrote the listing thought it would be smart to brag that it lay “between Bushwick and Bed-Stuy”. While these are perfectly fine neighborhoods, they are also ones that have long been stigmatized by real estate agents looking to add prestige to their listings. As a result, I was able to scoop up my place without running into even a single other prospective resident.
Applying this same logic, it’s possible to hack real estate rental sites to find nice pads in even the most competitive markets.