New York City's rental market is bouncing back, but tenants are still signing leases on apartments sight-unseen
Since the pandemic, the number of available rentals in New York City has plummeted. As landlords took units off the market and existing tenants decided to renew, the number of available units dropped 52% through March. On May 19, StreetEasy reported on "early signs of a rebound," with rental inventory returning to late-February levels. In-person tours are still banned — prospective renters have to sign leases based on virtual walkthroughs. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Apartment hunting in New York City has always been a struggle. But when the coronavirus locked the city down, realtors and renters alike had to adapt to a new reality. In early April, Governor Andrew Cuomo reclassified real estate as essential businesses after an appeal by the New York State Association of Realtors. The state soon clarified, though, that all showings had to be done virtually. Ari Harkov, a realtor with Halstead Real Estate, told Business Insider most of the buildings he worked with weren't allowing non-residents past the lobby, anyway. He and other realtors are using Facetime, Zoom, YouTube, even Instagram, to conduct virtual walkthroughs. Some are offering highly detailed 3-D tours and moving applications, payments, and lease signings online, according to Curbed. The number of walkthrough videos added to listings on StreetEasy increased 330% in March, the site reported, and views of virtual tours have shot up 800%.
Compared to buyers, "more tenants are open to considering a sight-unseen rental commitment or a rental commitment from a video," Harkov said. But it's no replacement for the real thing. "Real estate remains an in-person business," he added. Harkov says his sales are down 85%. In the rental market, though, it's been the inventory that disappeared. In late March, many renters decided to renew rather than move during a pandemic. Some landlords kept their properties off the market altogether. StreetEasy reported there were 52% fewer rentals available in the second half of March than the first half. For the week ending March 29, there were only 1,500 apartments on the market. As the new normal sets in — and more people opt to leave New York — that's changing. On May 19, StreetEasy economist Nancy Wu reported on the "early signs of a rebound" in the number of New York City rentals. By the end of April, Wu said, new inventory had surpassed late-February levels, "and has continued to increase every week in May." In the week ending May 10, there were nearly 5,000 new apartments listed across the five boroughs. "Renters looking for a new apartment have increasingly more options to choose from," Wu said.
Rahul Singla has been trying to find a new apartment since March. He currently lives in a prewar one-bedroom loft in the West Village and is hoping to find a similar setup nearby. Singla wanted to stay in his place until after the pandemic subsided, but his landlord is moving back into the unit in June. Facing a ticking clock, he's making peace with moving into a place he's never actually visited. "There are very limited postings on StreetEasy and almost no possibility to have a physical look," he said. "Agents are trying to do their best to give FaceTime or 3D tours. That helps, but it can't substitute for a physical look." Governor Cuomo has said real estate businesses would be part of phase two of New York State's reopening plan. While upstate New York could be approaching that threshold soon, it may be weeks, or even months, before downstate is ready for in-person viewings. Demand may shrink more by then, as students, interns, and new hires are telecommuting rather than moving into the city. SEE ALSO: 9 ways to renegotiate your rent to a lower price, according to experts Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Take a look inside a $28.5 million NYC apartment on Billionaires' Row
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