The rental process in New York City typically happens very fast. Landlords want to turn over apartments quickly, so after you see the place and sign a lease, you have to be prepared to move in just a few weeks later. It can be a stressful experience, one that doesn’t always fit your timeline.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if you could hunt for an apartment and have the flexibility to move in a couple of months later—so you could time a move for after graduation, or when you start a new job, or after another major milestone? On rare occasions, landlords will agree to give you that extra time—for example, when an apartment needs work before it can be occupied again, but it’s not standard procedure.
However, because there’s a glut of vacant NYC apartments, way more than what appears on the market (the so-called “shadow inventory”), signing a lease now and moving in later than the usual few weeks is becoming more acceptable. In fact, “pre-leasing” is something that is being is offering as a perk for some units at two Manhattan buildings. Brokers say they are getting more requests for delayed move-ins—and landlords are agreeing to them. It’s a concession you should know about when looking for rentals in the current market cycle—which favors renters.
Signing a lease 50 to even 90 days out
Broker Alyssa Brody and digital marketing guru Erica Sachse, founders of Development Marketing Team, are working with select units at One Union Square South and 2 Cooper Square, where some renters put down deposits on apartments 60 or 90 days in advance of a move in. DMT has done five such deals there in recent weeks.
Currently at One Union Square, two apartments are available for July 10th and July 15th—just over 50 days out—a longer lead time than usual for a NYC rental apartment. Another apartment, a two bedroom, will soon be released with an August move in.
Increased interest in delayed move ins started as leasing activity began to heat up in NYC over the past few weeks, Brody says. That’s when DMT began receiving a flurry of inquiries from renters for September move ins. Companies are making plans to bring employees back into the office as the city prepares for a July 1st reopening and New York City public schools appear on track to opening in person in the fall.
“People are getting nervous about not finding an apartment,” she says.
Locking in a discount
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Tracking availability is something that large landlords do as a matter of course. Brody points out renewal notices go out 90 to 120 days in advance so “we have the opportunity to know what is coming to market,” she says.
Plus, timing is not the only advantage of leasing an apartment ahead of time.
“A renter can get a May discount with an August move-in date,” she says. “It creates certainty for owners and for renters, it locks in value,” giving renters the opportunity to get larger concessions like multiple free months.
That’s because brokers are saying owners are starting to pull back on the concessions they are offering. While that may be the case anecdotally, it’s not showing up in the data just yet—April rentals actually showed a spike in concessions. Still, brokers say you can expect even fewer concessions to be offered in the future.
“The discounts we saw in January and February, like three months on the first year and two months on the second” have disappeared, says Douglas Wagner, director of brokerage service at BOND New York. The concessions that are available now are not as generous, he says.
He’s getting pre-leasing requests from people who left NYC and want to return and has done some deals recently where renters won’t move in until 45 to 50 days from signing the lease.
Pre-leasing is happening in new rental buildings, where Wagner says it’s a better fit. More than ever before, he says, “It’s hard to show occupied apartments. You don’t know if everyone is vaccinated. Tenants are home, doing school and working from home. The last thing they need is people coming through to look at the apartment.”
A developer sees this happening at both occupied and new rentals.
“Typically, this policy is encouraged by landlords only if a unit is currently occupied, as they wouldn’t want to hold a vacant unit offline for several weeks, especially in today’s marketplace where [rental activity] has returned to pre-pandemic levels and vacancy is dropping along with concessions,” says David Maundrell III, executive vice president of new development at The Corcoran Group.
However, he says pre-leasing is happening in Long Island City at recently launched new developments, where there are hundreds of units released at the same time.
He expects interest in pre-leasing to pick up in June when students look to secure August leases.
“In markets that do have a strong student demographic like downtown Brooklyn, Midtown West, or Long Island City, traditionally June—August are their strongest leasing months as students settle in for the new academic year,” Maundrell says.
Taking advantage of virtual tours
As a result of the pandemic, which ushered in a new comfort level with technology for many, owners don’t necessarily need to show renters the apartment in person anymore, making pre-leasing a potential strategy for both new and occupied rentals.
Renters have grown more comfortable using a combination of floor plans and virtual tours to get a sense of an apartment. DMT used that strategy to market occupied apartments without showing them in person. They were able to give tours of apartments with similar layouts on another floor.
Keep in mind that in NYC, renters always need to do their homework if they're not seeing the actual apartment in person and be wary of any bait-and-switch maneuvers.
One major drawback
There's one potential drawback to for owners and renters who want to lease apartments in advance: Much depends on one very important but unmotivated participant—the departing tenant.
“A lot of tenants don’t know they’re leaving three months out,” says Phil Horigan, the founder and owner of Leasebreak, a listings web site for short-term rentals and sublets. As such, he says he’s a little cynical that this can be used widely. “If you’re a tenant, why would you let a landlord know that? You certainly don’t want people coming through your apartment” that far out, he says.
A strategy for apartment hunters
If you need extra time before starting your lease but want to lock in your apartment now, Brody advises renters to first hone in on the big building that you want to be in—don't get your heart set on a particular apartment or layout—your flexibility helps too. And then just spell out what you are looking for. You may luck out at one of the many large NYC rental buildings that has more availability than what is showing up online and can work with your timeline. Isn’t that a nice change of pace?
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