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The Best Things In Life Are Free

In this slumping rental market, brokers are giving out freebies like candy. One man's quest for the perfect perk.


It is that rare, historic moment when New York tenants, rather than landlords, have the upper hand. Encouraged by the wintry market, and despite rising purchase prices, rental brokers and leasing agents have been reduced to actual wooing of customers, offering gifts and incentives to sign leases. And—being a man who is hardly immune to the phrase “a little something extra”—I sensed a gravy train pulling into the station, and packed my bags in seconds. Even though I am not looking for an apartment, I needed to know just what these gifts and incentives are. Then I needed to know if I could get better gifts and incentives.

I started in the airy East Williamsburg storefront office of Select Real Estate. Having read that Select gives each new lease-signer a Huffy mountain bike, I was intrigued to see two Huffys mounted to the wall near the entryway. I met a waifish, sexy broker named Melissa, and said—as I did to all the brokers in this story—that I was looking for an apartment in the $2,600 range. I expressed Huffy-based excitement to Melissa, who asked me, “Does a bike make all the difference?” My mouth quivered with desire. I could taste the Huffy.

The following day, I looked at more apartments with two agents from other firms—a tiny, warm, Argentine broker from Dwelling Quest named Araceli, and a gorgeous, no-nonsense woman named Shira from Citi Habitats. I told both of them about the Huffy. I added that I often end up in apartments for slightly random reasons, adding that I think I chose my current home because the owner told me she would perform as a yoga clown at my niece’s birthday party. “Really? That’s amazing!” Shira said. I delivered the bombshell: “I’m always looking for the yoga clown in life.” Shira smiled.

She told me that if I rented through Citi Habitats, I might be eligible for two months of concierge service. “I love the gifties. I love the perky pies,” I enthused, suddenly sounding like some alcoholic, bottom-feeding Muppet. Araceli, on the other hand, told me that she would not be charging her broker’s fee if I rented through her and that Dwelling Quest “might” have a DVD player to give me.

I then visited eight buildings on my own, sometimes calling ahead, sometimes just walking in. Throughout, I tried to announce and celebrate my passion for swag. I told a leasing agent at the Aston, on the corner of 27th and Sixth, “Finding an apartment is like a romance. I want to be caressed,” whereupon she stared off into the middle ground, as if receiving instructions from outer space.

I also tried, during my building visits, to play up the Huffy. A smiley, Waspy broker at the Magellan on West 33rd Street told me, “In case a Huffy is not the brand of bike you’re looking for, we offer you a $500 American Express gift check,” and wrote “$500 gift cheque” on my floor plans. A stylishly dressed agent at 600 Washington quipped, “I usually give people a puppy.” (When I told him about the yoga clown, he asked gravely, “Are you asking me to do that for you?” and then offered me cheese and crackers. “Is this in lieu of the yoga clown?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It’s just what I was eating.”)

Back at home, I did more research online and discovered that Douglas Elliman will sometimes get your phone, cable, or electricity running before you move into an apartment you rent through them. Relishing this idea—but wanting, as ever, more—I called Elliman and asked if the service was “transferable,” as there was “another service I’d like done.” I specified, “I’d like to have a cleansing ritual performed.” The young man, confused, said to call back in a half-hour; when I did, I was rerouted and told, “I don’t think that’s a service we could provide.” This dismayed me. So I was all the more overjoyed when, at the Nicole, a beautiful building at 55th Street and Ninth Avenue, I was not only promised a $1,000 check if I signed a lease before March 1—I was also given a roll of LifeSavers whose wrapper read nicole and whose “ingredients” were things like “24-hour doorman” and “extraordinary city & river views.”

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