NEW YORK -- As vacant apartments pile up in big cities, real estate agents are increasingly turning to TikTok to match twenty-somethings with rentals that are a steal by pre-pandemic standards.
City dwellers - or those aspiring to be one - often flock to sites such as StreetEasy, Zillow, Compass, Trulia and Craigslist for apartment listings. But some say they are finding apartments on TikTok, the addictive video-sharing app, where brokers can offer a more thorough viewing and prospective tenants can virtually tour multiple places in just a few minutes.
The timing is prime. With thousands of people leaving big cities, rents have fallen sharply during the pandemic. That's where TikTok comes in.
"Video is just this explosive way to help people - even people that are thinking of moving here - and just make them feel comfortable with the process," said Cash Jordan, a broker at Union Square Property Management.
TikTok has an edge over real estate sites with its commenting feature, which can create a community and conversations around the listings. Jordan has accrued more than 540,000 followers on the app over the past year, and he said the response to his videos has been "phenomenal."
Apartment hunters in New York City are hopping on the deals: December 2020 was the busiest December in 12 years for the New York rental market, said Alexander Zakharin, managing director at GZB Realty.
Zakharin, who has more than 78,000 TikTok followers, said a large chunk of his clients are people in their 20s who are living with their parents during the pandemic and looking to move out.
The process of moving to a new apartment in a big city is often riddled with onerous fees, especially in New York City. But now, many building owners are offering incentives such as paying broker fees or a month or two of free rent just to get tenants in the door.
Maddie Hiatt, a 25-year-old social media editor, found her apartment near New York's Herald Square while scrolling on TikTok. Hiatt said the process helped her find high-quality apartments that lined up with what she was looking for.
TikTok provides users with a more organic discovery experience, as the app's algorithm populates videos that are tailored to the user's preferences and interests - informed by how the user engages with content on the platform.
Hiatt worked with Claudia Degteva, a GZB listing manager who said she's been closing deals mostly from TikTok since August. Her colleague Abigail Dorsey, too, said she gets "enough engagement from TikTok to work full-time."
Chicagoans are also finding apartments on TikTok. Michael Scavo, founder and managing broker of ChiPads, a luxury apartment agency in Chicago, said his company is averaging 15 to 20 leases per month from TikTok.
"TikTok puts the content directly in front of the consumer, as opposed to other platforms like Instagram or Zillow where they depend on the consumer to find the content on their own," Scavo said.
Dylan Haria, a 22-year-old financial analyst at Accenture, found his current apartment in Chicago through Scavo's TikTok account. "I honestly had no idea TikTok could even be used for that," he said. But Haria happened to come across one of Scavo's videos and decided to take a chance.
"His page is full of videos of buildings around Chicago, so it made me feel more comfortable reaching out," he said. "TikTok is great because it showcases more than a stagnant photo."
Some established rental brands are catching on.
StreetEasy has a TikTok account of its own, but most of the apartments featured in their videos are pie-in-the-sky listings that are available for sale, not for rent, including the $9.2 million Pfizer Mansion in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, and a $5.2 million duplex in the West Village.
The trend shows that the real estate industry at large is capitalizing on the opportunity to adapt to the changes the pandemic has forced on the industry, and some of these changes might create a shift that outlasts the pandemic, making a traditionally antiquated process more accessible.
"We are finally getting to the core of a business principal that the real estate industry has ignored for decades," Zakharin said. "It is 100% about customer service and finding new ways to provide it."
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