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The truth about rental listings: is what you see really what you get?

Updated: Mar 7, 2023

Are rent prices on listings sites accurate?

Apartment listing websites have come a long way in the past decade. There are some super high-quality sites like StreetEasy, and Zillow. Then there’s the ever-enduring Craigslist as well! But one thing apartment listings sites still struggle with is preventing misleading or incorrect listings.

This post covers the more frequently occurring issues so you know what to look out for when searching for your next apartment.

Misleading rent price

The rent listed on sites like StreetEasy or is often higher than what renters end up actually paying.

The primary reason for this is that landlords will list at a higher price to test the market and see if there are any renters willing to pay a higher rent. However, the cost of this strategy is that it may take longer to rent the unit. As a result, the landlord is often open to negotiating the price down if they can’t secure a tenant for their high initial list price.

Some sites claim to show a “price history” of a unit where you can see what the apartment has rented for in the past. However, that data can also be misleading. In some cases, the price is self-reported by brokers or landlords. In this situation, they have a financial incentive to report a high rent, so the next tenant thinks that is the “true value” of the apartment.

In other cases, the listing site has a feature where the landlord or broker can select if the apartment was listed or not. The listing site will then close the listing at the advertised price. In this situation, the advertised price does not capture and rent concessions or negotiations that the landlord had with the tenant.

In both cases, the price history is an unreliable record of what renters are actually paying for an apartment.

Inaccurate rent on listings hurts renters

Knowing this information is essential for future renters because it can help negotiate a successful lease. If you go into the negotiation with faulty data, you have less chance of successfully negotiating a lower rent for yourself.

How to get accurate apartment rent data

You can use RentPeek to obtain accurate apartment rental prices. RentPeek utilizes renter submitted data to ensure that the data you see is as accurate as possible.

Misleading apartment size

Another common trick used by brokers and landlords in NYC is to misrepresent the size of the apartment in the listing. For example, a 1-bedroom apartment with a large living room may be listed as a 2-bedroom apartment because the broker assumes a temporary wall can be added for conversion.

Or sometimes an apartment will already have a temporary wall in place but it may not go all the way up to the ceiling due to zoning issues. However, the listing may still advertise this apartment as having two bedrooms instead of one with a flexible room.

This type of misrepresentation isn’t always clear from the listing but usually you can spot it if you look for two missing items: floorplan and square feet. Listings without a floor plan or square footage are more likely to have misrepresented apartment size.

For these listings, you should reach out to the listing agent and ask them if the number of bedrooms reflects true bedrooms or includes flex bedrooms as well.

How to spot apartment listing scams

Bait and switch listings

This last category is technically illegal but unfortunately that doesn’t always prevent it. Sometimes you might be browsing and you come across a deal that looks too good to be true. Maybe you’ve been looking at a 1 bed 1 bath in Chelsea and most of the apartments are between $5000 and $5500 per month. But suddenly you see one that looks just as nice for $3500 per month.

You reach out to the broker and they tell you that they’re “so sorry but that apartment actually just rented out and they forgot to take down the listing”. However, they offer to show you several similar apartments that they just so happen to have available. Sure enough, those apartments are worse quality than the initial listing. This is called a bait and switch and is an underhanded, illegal tactic that unfortunately still exists.

To best avoid listings like these, trust your initial instinct. If a listing looks too good to be true, it probably is. If the broker suggests other similar listings, it is usually best to avoid them and move on.

Inaccurate amenities

Another potential issue with apartment listings is that the amenities advertised may not be entirely accurate. For example, a listing may advertise a building with a gym, but the gym may not be open to tenants or may only be open for limited hours. Alternatively, a listing may advertise a washer and dryer in-unit, but the machines may be outdated or not functional.

To avoid these issues, it is important to ask specific questions about the amenities during the apartment viewing. You can also try to verify the information provided in the listing by researching the building or landlord online, or by checking reviews from previous tenants.

Photos can be deceptive

While photos can be a helpful tool for getting a sense of an apartment's layout and style, they can also be deceptive. For example, a listing may only show photos of the living room and bedroom, but not the bathroom or kitchen. Alternatively, the photos may be taken at angles that make the space look larger or more luxurious than it actually is.

To avoid being misled by photos, it is important to view the apartment in person before signing a lease. You can also ask the landlord or broker for additional photos or a video tour to get a more complete sense of the space.

Lack of transparency

Finally, some apartment listings may lack transparency when it comes to fees and additional costs. For example, a listing may not disclose that the landlord requires tenants to purchase renter's insurance or pay for utilities separately. Alternatively, the listing may not provide clear information about the move-in costs, such as security deposit and broker's fee.

To avoid surprises, it is important to ask the landlord or broker for a clear breakdown of all fees and costs associated with renting the apartment. You should also read the lease carefully to ensure that there are no hidden fees or costs.

Browse apartment listings with confidence

While apartment listing websites have improved significantly over the past decade, they still struggle to prevent misleading or incorrect listings. Renters need to be aware of the common issues when searching for an apartment, including misleading rent prices, misrepresented apartment size, bait and switch tactics, misleading amenities, deceptive photos and a lack of transparency.

By understanding these issues and knowing how to get accurate data, renters can increase their chances of finding the right apartment and negotiating a fair rent. It is important to do your due diligence and trust your instincts when searching for an apartment to avoid falling prey to underhanded tactics used by some brokers and landlords.

Find out your apartment's true rental price now with RentPeek.

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