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How NYC Real Estate is Different Than Rest of U.S.

If you weren’t born here and chances are you weren’t (according to a NYC report, more than a third of its residents were actually born in other countries), you were probably amazed at the diversity of housing types in NYC as compared to other parts of the U.S.

Because New York is such a vertical city, where people live in apartments in walkups and high rises, it is very different than the rest of the U.S.  While there are single-family houses on Staten Island, in the Bronx and Queens, much of the housing in those boroughs is in multifamily apartment buildings. In Brooklyn and Manhattan, stand-alone houses are rarer still. Many are joined to their neighbors (“row houses,” “townhouses,” and “brownstones”) and cost a pretty penny. But, the majority of residents in New York City — renters or buyers — live in apartments such as condos, co-ops or condops.

Density

Another difference about NYC real estate is the density of people and housing units. New York City has 27,000 residents per square mile. Because everyone’s housing is cheek-by-jowl with everyone else’s, there are no lockboxes here. In other parts of the country, real estate agents and brokers can securely leave keys to the house in a “lockbox,” which allows a buyer’s agent to access the keys and let their clients in to see the house. Here, a real estate agent is usually present at the showing of a property. The exception is that some rentals are KWDM (“Keys With Doorman”) allowing tenant brokers to pick up the key to a vacant apartment by showing a valid ID. Some rental agencies will also allow you to pick up the key to a listing at their office, but they have learned from experience that keys can get lost, so expect to leave a deposit — perhaps $50 and perhaps your driver’s license — to help you remember to be a good scout and return the keys.

Rentals

Speaking of rentals, another difference from the rest of the country is that most of the Big Apple is made up of renters. Some two-thirds of the housing stock here is rented, versus about one third in the rest of the U.S., according to the NYC Rent Guidelines Board. Throw in the fact that it’s a big city — with 8.5 million people (twice the size of Los Angeles) — and that’s a lot of potential rental customers.

To service those customers, there are tens of thousands of agents but, unlike many other places, no one standard Multiple Listing Service. Instead, there are MLSs that capture parts of New York City (the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island, for instance, is a good resource for much of Queens) but often home seekers come to StreetEasy or to individual brokerage websites to find out what kinds of homes are available. An important part of your job as an agent will be becoming skilled with using different websites so that you can see what your customers see, and gain expertise about the differences between what’s online and what’s on the market.

No NAR, But There is REBNY

While elsewhere, many real estate agents are members of the National Association of Realtors (NAR), in Manhattan, most real estate agents are not. To help brokers collaborate, there is one strong trade association in the five boroughs: REBNY, the Real Estate Board of New York. REBNY member firms share listings through the RLS (REBNY Listing Service) and work within a common framework as far as ethics, co-brokering, and general policy. If your firm is a REBNY member, you’ll be required to join, too. Whether you pay the annual dues — currently $250 a year for new members — or your brokerage picks up the tab is something that you’ll negotiate with your firm.

Condos and Co-ops

When you’re working with buyers, you’ll need to be familiar with ownership structures. Condos are common in many other parts of the country, but co-ops (where a corporation owns an entire building, and owners own shares in a corporation) generally are not. Another tricky situation that pops up in New York is a land lease, where a co-op rents, rather than owns, the land beneath its building. A land-lease situation can be tricky in terms of getting financing (a mortgage bank might not want to give you a 30-year loan on a property that has only 10 more years left on the lease of its underlying land.) Also, when a land-lease is renegotiated, it’s possible for the rent — which is passed on to the co-op owners in the form of maintenance — to jump drastically, so buyers have to be very, very careful to understand the risks of each particular situation.

Long Commute Times

Another difference between New York City and the rest of the country is the commute. According to City Controller Scott Stringer, New Yorkers are the only major-city workers who face average commute times of longer than an hour a day. Accordingly, access to transit is prized, and home hunters will often want access to major bus routes and subway stops.

It’s All About the Floor Plan

Finally, since New York City apartments can be so small, layout is crucial. You will see more floor plans here than anywhere else in the country, and will learn that the good or bad placement of a closet can be a big deal! When you draw the floor plan for one of your listings (or have a service draw it for you) make sure that the room sizes are accurate, that windows and structural details are placed correctly, and that it’s easy for customers to find attractive features like a dishwasher or a washer/dryer.

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StreetEasy Team

StreetEasy is New York City's leading real estate marketplace on mobile and the Web, providing accurate and comprehensive for-sale and for-rent listings from hundreds of real estate brokerages throughout New York City and the major NYC metropolitan area. The company launched in 2006 and was acquired by Zillow, Inc. in August 2013.