Looking For An Apartment During COVID-19
My girlfriend and I have been looking to move out of my parents’ house for over a year now and were sad at the lack of affordable apartments in our New York metropolitan area.
Then covid-19 happened and people lost their jobs and couldn’t pay rent.
So apartments became available with rent that appeared to be lower priced than normal as landlords tried to fill vacancies.
One night when we REALLY wanted to get out of my parents’ house, on a whim, we went on the Zillow app and found a 300 square foot studio apartment.
It had a view of the water, was in the upper middle class to upper class part of town, asking for $1200 a month in rent.
Utilities were included in that price.
And we would have our own bathroom and kitchen.
We were mind blown.
We felt like we had just found the UNICORN of the apartment renting world in the NY metropolitan area.
We knew that the asking price was below what that area normally charged for something of that size and quality ($1500 and up).
Touring The Space During Covid-19
What was it like to get a showing of the space during Covid-19?
I didn’t know what to expect.
I saw that the studio apartment was on the market for 11 days and reached out on Zillow via email to the realtor/listing agent to make sure it was still on the market.
Mentally, I knew that if the space matched the pictures, and the vibe was good, I was prepared financially to make the deal happen in that very instant.
By the next morning, I didn’t hear back from him so I went to the space and called the realtor.
“Hey, I would like a tour of the apartment,” I said over the phone.
“Is it just for you?” he asked.
“No, it’ll be for me and my girlfriend,” I replied.
“Are you sure about that?” he seemed hesitant to show me the space. “It’ll be kinda small for two people.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I told him.
Little did he know we were minimalish and didn’t have much stuff, so a 300 square foot apartment was an amazing size for the price, etc.
“I’m a local and I’m in front of the building right now,” I pressed.
I made sure to mention the whole “I’m a local” statement because for whatever reason, I’ve noticed that when you say “I’m a local,” it lowers their mental fear of you being an “out-of-towner” who doesn’t know anything about the space or location and will just mess up the deal, etc.
“Oh okay.” Silence on the phone from him.
Then, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes,” he replied. “I’ll be coming on an electric bike.”
“Oh, that’s awesome,” I replied. “Better for the environment.”
“Well, it’s honestly because we’re packing the car right now. We’re getting ready to go to Florida.”
In my mind, I couldn’t help but think, during covid?!
But then again, Covid-19 has shown to have a slower rate of infection in hot, humid weather, so Florida might have been a better choice than staying in New York for the next two weeks.
I waited, then he came in shorts and a t-shirt on his electric bike, wearing a mask.
I was wearing my mask too.
So that was one thing different while touring this apartment.
Whereas a normal deal might happen when people aren’t wearing masks, this one happened while we were wearing masks.
“I’ll make it quick,” I told him. “I know you’re trying to get ready to go to Florida with your family.”
“No rush,” he told me.
He showed me the space and it was like my other time touring an apartment.
So besides us wearing masks, I don’t think anything else was different during the showing.
The Case For Physically Touring The Space, Even During Covid-19
I heard from one of my other realtor friends that in some areas of New York, some real estate showings have to be done virtually.
The realtor or the landlord or owner would go around the property and show you the space with their smartphone.
I didn’t want someone to give me a virtual walk-through because I wanted to smell the place, I wanted to feel it, to sense the juju and vibes.
After my less-than-stellar experience living in the cheapest apartment in Seattle, I wanted something nicer but still affordable.
I try not to rent a place with carpet because I am scarred from my cheap Seattle apartment where the carpet smelled like dog barf, dog spit, dog butt, and cigarettes and weed, despite rules saying “no dogs” and “no smoking.”
Also, one of the reasons why I wanted to physically tour the space is because it might look great but give off bad vibes or energy, in which case I wouldn’t consider it.
But this apartment had sunlight windows, views of the water, private bathroom and kitchen, walking distance to everything, and was in a safe and secluded upper middle class to wealthy upper class neighborhood.
In other words, it was a good deal.
Making The Deal Happen During Covid-19
“Why did the previous tenant leave?” I asked the realtor.
“Because he lost his his job to covid,” said the realtor.
I suspected this might have been the case before I got there.
So I took an educated guess that the landlord might also be pressed for rent to make property tax payments or any other mortgage payments during this time of lower vacancy.
My dad taught me to also be prepared to make a deal happen so I came guns blazing, “I’m prepared to make this deal happen right now,” I told him.
The realtor’s eyes widened but he quickly tried to hide it.
“My girlfriend and I both have stable jobs and income because we own our business, which is an essential business during covid-19. Can you email me the lease for me to look over?”
“Okay,” he scrolled through his emails and sent me the documents.
“I’m going to need some time to look over the documents but in the meantime, I don’t want you to show this space to anyone else and I want you to keep it just for me.”
I haven’t been doing business very long but from what I’ve gleaned, it was usually best to be as direct as possible and state exactly what you want and what you need done.
So I was being very direct with him and didn’t want to waste time beating around the bush.
Then his phone rang.
“Pardon me while I take this,” he said as he went to a corner.
I overheard him telling the person on the phone that the apartment was just taken.
So I think my being direct worked and just helped me lock in a good apartment before the next person got it.
“Is the landlord going to do a background check?” I asked him because when I got my apartment in Seattle, they had to do a background check and credit score check.
“No, no background checks or credit score checks,” he replied.
I couldn’t help but wonder how the landlord has gotten by all these years without doing these things to make sure their tenants were good folk?
Because I didn’t have to wait for background checks or credit score checks, fast forward two days and we had given two checks to the landlord and one to the broker and signed the lease.
$1200 for the first month’s rent.
$1200 for security deposit.
$1200 for broker fee.
The Gambles I Took To Seal The Deal And What You Can Use To Seal The Deal Too
I don’t know if “gamble” is the right word, it might be “educated guesses” as to the financial situation of the landlord and their needs.
They needed someone:
- with stable and reliable income
- of sound moral character who will keep their space clean
I made sure to hype those qualities up as much as possible during my showing with the realtor.
Saying statements like:
- I’m a local
- I know the area
- I own a local successful business
- My income is stable and reliable
- I can afford the rent (this is being super redundant, because obviously you can afford the rent if you’re looking to get the apartment. But during covid-19, nothing was certain, so I wanted to make it clear in the realtor’s mind that I was a stable and reliable candidate for this apartment)
- We’re minimalists so we don’t have much stuff. We’ll be fine.
Some Advice On Getting The Apartment You Want During Covid-19
During and after saying those statements from above, if you’re in the group of people who are still making the same level of income during covid-19 and you’re looking to move into that apartment you’ve always wanted, my pieces of advice:
Ask for the lease and rental agreement, etc. emailed to you so you can read it before you decide on the apartment.
I think it wouldn’t be the best judgement to rush into paying the security deposit and locking yourself in to the apartment when you haven’t read the lease yet.
Who knows, maybe the landlord or realtor try to sneak in something shady in the lease that would negatively harm you and your interests, etc.
A random one that comes to mind might be for example if they say something like, “You have to pay us $100 in cash every time you bring a friend over.”
That’s completely bogus and I just made that up, but I hope you get the point?
Luckily my lease was 1 page so I read it in 5 minutes and agreed to the deal.
Have the checks and money to make the deal happen that moment
Humans have this really interesting quirk where if you put money in front of them, they’ll be blinded by short-term immediate monetary gain that they might actually say yes to whatever it is you’re offering money for.
In this case, I offered to pay the security deposit, first month’s rent, and broker’s fee, instantly, given that I had gone over the lease and decided it was okay.
This also makes sure you get the space you want before another person comes in and takes in literally right after you leave (as was almost the case with mine).
It probably also doesn’t hurt to try and ask them to not show or give the space to anyone else while you quickly go over the lease to make sure all is good.
Be upfront with the realtor/landlord
I told the realtor straight up, “If I don’t like the lease, I will let you know and I will cancel this deal.”
I didn’t have time to beat around the bush because ain’t nobody got time for that.
And I think he respected my decision enough to not show the space to anyone else (not to mention I was probably one of the more qualified candidates to apply/look at the space).
Also he was trying to go to Florida with his family and literally had a plane to catch, so time was of the essence and making a quick simple deal never hurt nobody.
With Covid-19 and a lot of people losing their jobs and not being able to pay the bills,
more apartments might come on the market with a cheaper rent than normal as landlords are pressed for money to make property tax or mortgage payments.
I think now is a great time to move into that apartment you’ve always wanted, in the part of town you’ve always wanted.
Given if you have stable income.
You have the leverage in the negotiation because the landlord wants your money.
So by making educated guesses,
dropping certain sentences to calm their fears,
and mentioning how you can make the deal happen IMMEDIATELY,
you have time (albeit don’t take too long),
to really think about it,
go over the details,
and make sure you’re getting the best deal possible with your apartment during Covid-19.
- Zillow website to look for apartments
- The Zillow app works too (that’s where we found out apartment)