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Be Aware of the Bait-and-Switch

Finding the perfect apartment in New York City is difficult enough without agents and brokers dangling imaginary goodies in front of your face.

If you’re a veteran renter in New York City, you’re probably familiar with a tactic known as the bait-and-switch. Most people fall victim to it at one point or another, but here are some tips to put you on the lookout.

What is the bait-and-switch?

Since good NYC rental inventory is low and competition for clients is fierce, some less-than-ethical agents will do something called the bait-and-switch.

It works like this: An agent will post an attractive apartment online. You fall in love with it and contact the agent and express that you want to see it.

You will make plans to meet the agent at the address of the listing. However, when you get there, the agent will tell you “it’s too late, it’s already been rented, but there are other apartments nearby that might interest you.”

While this scenario could be true and the apartment was just rented, it’s more likely that the agent pulled a fast one. Unsuspecting renters — those new to the NYC rental game — will not understand, but they just got baited-and-switched.

How to start sleuthing

In order to prevent being “taken” by the bait-and-switch, here are some tips.

First, Google the agent and the name of the brokerage. In the search results, do you see evidence of a quality agent? Does the site appear to be up-to-date, or is it filled with broken links from 2005? If the agent does not list a brokerage, that’s also not such a great sign. If he’s associated with major brokerage, he’s more likely to be legitimate. Check to see if he’s got other listings on StreetEasy and review what you find. Do they all look the same? Bad sign. Do they all have the same address? Also bad sign.

Look at the listing’s time on market. If the listing looks like it’s a good find, but has been sitting on the market for more than six weeks, that’s probably a sign that something’s fishy.

Ask the right questions

Before you take time out of your busy schedule to go see an apartment, make sure you’ve asked your broker some pointed questions.

“How many others have you shown this listing to?”

“Why is the listing still on the market?”

“Can I see the floor plan for this two-bedroom?” (Hint: It could be a railroad apartment)

“Is the subway really only a 15-minute walk?”

Once the broker sends you a floor plan, that will give you a clear image of the layout. Learn to read between the lines, and force your broker to be brutally honest from the get-go.

Be discerning with online ads

Agents love to embellish the truth. A good rule of thumb is, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Are there photos included with the listing? Good sign. Are the photos only of one room from 13 different angles? Bad sign. It’s always a good idea to Google the listed address, so you can see for yourself where it is on the map. Agents love to say “In the heart of Chelsea” when in fact that could mean “deepest darkest Hell’s Kitchen.” If there is no address listed, run for cover.

Have your paperwork

Nabbing your perfect place usually comes down to a foot race and who has prepared the best. You don’t want to lose out because you forgot to print out your recent bank statements because it’s safe to assume that others will be ready with checkbook in hand to fork over a deposit. So come to each appointment with all your lease application documents in-hand.

Stay positive

Let’s say you followed all this advice, and you still showed up to an apartment that looked nothing like the one advertised or discussed. Bad luck, you were hoodwinked by the bait-and-switch. The important thing now is to keep the faith. Your broker will probably try to tell you that the other, (fictional), apartment is off the market, and that the vastly inferior place before you is your best option. Don’t listen. There is the right apartment out there for everyone. It may take some time to find it, but the slog will be worthwhile in the end. In the meantime, you might want to consider moving on to a more honest agent.

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