Question: I’m sending an application to a broker along with a $150 fee. How do I know the apartment is not rented before I do so?

— Looking in Lenox Hill

Dear Looking:

Stop! Put away the checkbook, and tell that broker, “No thanks.”

First: What did the broker tell you that fee was for? An application fee? A credit check? To hold the apartment for you?

Second: Have you actually seen the place? Are you certain the broker even has the right to rent it to you? Keys alone do not a dealmaker make.

This isn’t passing the smell test for me. While upfront fees may be fairly common, $150 strikes me as excessive, especially if it’s not clear what you’re getting for your money.

If it’s just for a straight application fee and credit check, the broker shouldn’t be asking for more than $75-$100 (I think that’s a ripoff, too, but more in line with standard practices). A basic credit check doesn’t cost more than $25, and any real estate professional who has any volume probably has a subscription to credit agencies that will make an individual report even cheaper.

The credit check, by the way, takes just a few seconds and can be done on a smartphone while you’re standing there.

So what’s the other $125 going to? Lease forms? They can be downloaded free. Reference checks? That’s three phone calls at 10 minutes each or less — or an hourly rate equal to a Manhattan shrink’s (Does the broker provide tissues?). Compensating the broker for their time? So I guess 15 percent of a year’s rent isn’t enough now.

If the broker is telling you that $150 will secure the apartment for you, then you should be forking over a considerably larger deposit — with a check made out to the landlord or management company, not the broker.

And never pay cash. Never.

Don’t be a rube and fall for a rental scam. I just don’t like the sound of this deal: $150 upfront is way too much for way too little.

David Crook is a veteran journalist and author of The Complete Wall Street Journal Real-Estate Investing and Homeowner’s Guidebooks. Do you have a question about anything real estate-related in NYC? Write him at For verification purposes, please include your name and a phone number; neither will be published. Note: Nothing in this column should be considered professional legal advice. If you have a legal issue, consult an attorney.

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