image of williamsburg falling rents in luxury buildings

Williamsburg rents are falling as the L shutdown approaches, especially in high-end buildings. (Wendy Connett/Getty Images)

The L train shutdown is only eight months away, and more signs of its impact on rents are appearing in Williamsburg. Any new leases of a year or longer now will overlap with the closure of this major subway line, and the recently announced “pre-shutdown shutdown,” which will begin the weekend of Aug. 11 and 12, will disrupt service between Brooklyn and Manhattan for 15 weekends before the actual shutdown takes effect.

Meanwhile, landlords in Williamsburg, especially those with units near the L train, are listing their apartments for lower prices — the result of price cuts, concessions, and a weakening market. Inventory has already increased by 25 percent since last year, as renters begin to flee the neighborhood. Meanwhile, rents in the North Brooklyn submarket have declined to 2015 levels, and there are new signals that the market in Williamsburg in particular is trending downward.

Almost half, or 48 percent, of apartments in Williamsburg that were previously listed on StreetEasy are now renting for lower prices than two years ago, with an average reduction of $250. Before the shutdown announcement, fewer than one quarter of Williamsburg apartments were listed at a lower price than when they previously came on the market.

All this means that renters who can cope with at least 15 months of inconvenient travel to Manhattan will likely find good deals in Williamsburg. Landlords are aggressively slashing rents and offering generous incentives to lure tenants: 27 percent of Williamsburg rentals are now offering a discount from the monthly asking rent, and 18 percent are offering concessions in the form of a month or more of free rent. These figures are only likely to increase as inventory grows and the L shutdown moves closer.

Rentals List for Lower Prices Near L Train Stops

Since the announcement of the L shutdown in June 2016, the share of apartments that relisted at a lower rent in Williamsburg rose from 22 percent to 48 percent. In June 2018, almost 500 units relisted on StreetEasy, with almost half of them renting at a lower price.

Of the apartments that have relisted at a lower rent, three fourths (76 percent) dropped by at least $100, and half (48 percent) by at least $200, with an average drop of $250.

The exodus of renters from Williamsburg as the shutdown approaches is one of the reasons for these rent declines. The buildings that have at least 10 repeated rentals with falling rents in the past two years all rely on the L train for access to Manhattan. The rental building 395 Leonard St. has had the most units turn over on StreetEasy at a lower rent in the last two years, with average rent drop of $170. Of the buildings that have reappeared on the rentals market most frequently at a lower rent, 44 Berry St. has seen the most savings for renters, with an average price drop of $448 per unit.

Concessions Increase Along L Train Stops, Discounts Increase Everywhere

While lower rents are attracting renters to live in (or stay in) Williamsburg, landlords have to compete with each other in a market that has 25 percent more inventory than it did last year. In June 2018, almost a third of listed apartments across Williamsburg received a price cut, the highest rate of any Brooklyn neighborhood. Of all rentals in Williamsburg, 18 percent offered concessions, compared to 13 percent boroughwide.

The buildings offering concessions this year that did not offer them last year are concentrated in areas that rely on the L train (and are a half mile or more from the J, M, and Z line). In general, concessions are mostly applied to new buildings, but in Williamsburg, they’re now appearing in old and new buildings alike. For example, the Edge, a new development in the vicinity the Bedford Avenue L stop, this summer began offering one month free and no broker’s fee. But older buildings, like 65 Richardson St., near the Lorimer stop, and 345 Humboldt St., near the Grand Street stop, have also offered concessions this year.

Others, like Level, at 2 N. 6th Place, have increased their concessions from one or two months free on select units in January to three months free on all units at the time of publication. Landlords are using these concessions to try to keep renters in Williamsburg during the shutdown, and tenants with leases coming up for renewal are well-positioned to ask for them if landlords haven’t offered.

Williamsburg Renters Have Power to Negotiate

The full L shutdown is still eight months away, and good deals will continue to appear in the Williamsburg rentals market. With a crucial transit link out of service for at least 15 months, not including the “pre-shutdown,” buildings along the Bedford and Lorimer stops are competing hard for tenants — and not just with amenities like yoga rooms and roof decks, but with lower rents and concessions. The L shutdown will change Williamsburg’s accessibility from Manhattan, of course, but it won’t change the vibrant nightlife, restaurants, parks, and high-end developments that have drawn many residents to the neighborhood. Renters looking to explore the area or to renew a lease there are now in a strong negotiating position.

How We Did It

We calculated the share of apartments listed for a lower rent than the last two years from StreetEasy’s data on repeat rentals from valid and verified listings between June 2016 and June 2018 in Williamsburg. 

Nearest subway data comes from StreetEasy’s internal rentals database, using information from Google Maps.

We developed an algorithm to search listings descriptions in StreetEasy’s rentals database for phrases indicating that a unit was offering a concession in the form of a free period of rent. We did not include nontraditional concessions such as Netflix packages and discounted amenities. We also did not include the waiving of broker’s fees as a concession.

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