As I’ve written in the past, there are several unique inefficiencies to the Manhattan apartment market. Many can’t be helped in the short term, owing to an endemically tight market.
One that can be helped is information asymmetry. Brokers consider the simple knowledge of an available apartment to be proprietary information. That’s absurd, and serves no one’s interests except the middleman.
Obviously, prospective renters would like to know more about an apartment before pursuing it. But landlords have no incentive for secrecy either — more (and more qualified) customers give them pricing power.
Most markets sweep middlemen and info asymmetries aside fairly quickly. The locus of economic value in this case is the apartment, not knowledge of its availability. That rent is being extracted for the latter is absurd.
Craigslist is the best source of apartment listings that I’ve found. Unfortunately, few of the listings offer a specific address, which serves middlemen at the expense of users. (Not to mention that neighborhoods are subject to…interpretation.)
If craigslist were simply to require a specific (geocodable) address, it would be a very helpful, pro-user, pro-transparency move.
Now, I don’t expect CL or anyone to make products choices for “activist” reasons. Rather, I think that a better consumer product is good for business. If users get more benefit from CL, the more likely they are to use it — which in turn attracts the brokers’ business.
I’ve asked Craig, and he graciously engaged. If you agree, let him know.
Update: StreetEasy seems to be doing exactly this, and has brokers on board.