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'Shadow' Real Estate Inventory May Spell Good Deals For New York City Renters

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Despite a mass exodus during the pandemic, many apartment buildings are not listing all available apartments - but some renters are finding hidden gems, with a little bit of digging.

Alison Raisian, a marketing professional, recently moved into a new apartment with more space than her previous one, plus a rent savings of more than $200.

Her studio was $2,759 a month. Now, for a one bedroom, she pays $2,533 - in the same building.

"It took some digging to find that there are more apartments out there, even just in my own building." Raisian told CBS2's Dave Carlin.

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Four units there were listed online as available. But then, going floor by floor and talking to fellow residents and staff, she learned many more were empty.

"They were saying 6% vacancy publicly, but then it was speculated that it was 18%," Raisian said.

"I think there is a widespread acceptance among a lot of landlords now that the market has changed," said Erin Hudson, real estate reporter at The Real Deal.

People want a deal to stay in the city, and many are willing to bolt to faraway places, especially those working remotely in the pandemic.

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Hudson estimates - based on public loan documents - secret apartments push vacancy rates of many buildings to 25% and higher.

"For landlords it's bad for business for them if they have a half empty building. Nobody wants to advertise that," Hudson said. "If you live in a building where you realize there's not many people here, a lot of these apartments are vacant, it may make you feel emboldened to take a harder stance when negotiating renewing my lease."

"They'd rather negotiate those one month off and keep the price steady hoping that in a year from now they can have those higher prices locked in," Raisian said.

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Apartment seekers looking for deals are told once you identify a place, go and talk to the neighbors about what's really going on inside before you sign.

"I'm looking for a good deal. Maybe a roommate for now, but I'm not sure about that, because people could be crazy," said Veronica Mozee.

Mozee is newly arrived from Ft. Worth, Texas, and is without a job or a long term place to stay.

"I'm not looking for anything fancy," she said.

She says she will play hardball with property managers, brokers and supers, and while it has not yet paid off,  she believes in this apparent renters' market, it soon will.

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