It’s no secret that the New York City rental market is complicated, with thousands of listings ranging from walkups to high-rises. When you need a place to live in NYC, an apartment broker can help you navigate that matrix of madness. But is hiring one worth it? StreetEasy has answers to all your burning broker questions.

What Is an Apartment Broker?

What exactly is a broker, anyway? A rental broker is a licensed real estate professional who handles the logistics of renting apartments. In New York state, brokers must pass an exam and meet certain educational requirements to earn their license. A broker works on your behalf to find you the right place at the right price.

“A good rental broker will understand what you are looking for and know which buildings might be a good match for you,” says Becki Danchik of Warburg Realty. “They will be able to weed out listings that do not suit your needs. Nobody wants to have renter’s remorse. You should feel great about the place you’re calling home, and working with a broker can help make that a reality.”

Brokers vs. Property Management Companies

For any given rental listing, it’s not always clear who’s behind the tenant-search process. Even walking down the street, you might see “For Rent” signs instructing you to call a broker or contact property managers directly. So, what’s the difference?

Property management companies rent apartments only in their specific buildings. Think of a management rep as a kind of in-house broker — their goal is to find ideal tenants for their property’s apartments.

Brokers, on the other hand, work for the apartment hunter: you. Their job is to find you a suitable apartment, regardless of what building it’s in. Brokers can have access to rentals in various buildings and neighborhoods, so their inventory will be larger. They act as a middleman between renters and landlords.

Brokers are not essential for rental buildings that have in-house leasing offices. But they can be invaluable if you want to cast a wide net with someone who intimately knows a particular area. “Brokers generally have information that would not necessarily be available to the public,” says Ellen Sykes of Warburg Realty. “They often have the inside track on landlords, their practices, and how their leases work.” A broker can also be more aggressive than you might be about asking for rent concessions and adjusting lease terms.

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The NYC rental market is complicated. A broker can help you navigate it. (Busà Photography/Getty Images)

The Cost of Hiring an Apartment Broker

Renting an apartment in NYC can be pricey, whether you use a broker or not. But there are laws in place that limit some fees. For example, there is a law limiting application fees: They cannot exceed a nominal $20, per the Statewidtenants’ e Housing Security and Tenant Protection Act of 2019. The same law states that advance payments and security deposits may not exceed one month’s rent.

If you hire a broker and you successfully rent an apartment together, he or she will earn an agreed-upon commission on the deal. That commission, or fee, will also generally be one month’s rent. It’s paid by you, the renter. (In some cases, it may be 10% to 15% of the annual rent instead.)

Some brokers, referred to as listing brokers, offer no-fee apartments. Learn more about no-fee apartments.

Avoid Getting Scammed by Apartment Brokers

A good apartment broker can save you time, effort, and money. But there are always a few bad apples, and it’s smart to be on the lookout for a few red flags. Be wary of a broker if:

  • Their Listings All Look Identical. Be sure to check out all the listings on a broker’s site, not just the ones you’re interested in. If the photos for all the places look the same, that probably means the actual apartments look very different.
  • They Claim, “That One Is Rented, But Here’s Another.” An unscrupulous broker might list a too-good-be-true apartment to get your attention, only to claim it’s just been rented. Then they will try to show you other (lesser) listings. It’s a classic bait-and-switch.
  • They Make You Feel Rushed or Pressured. While brokers certainly want to close a deal, you shouldn’t be forced to have cash on hand or sign something immediately. Good brokers will take the time to vet listings and walk you through the application process, so you feel comfortable.

Whether you’re looking to rent or to buy, find your next NYC apartment on StreetEasy.