So now that I’m a yuppie, I need a Yuppie House. My job is far away from all the trendy neighborhoods (unless you count San Dimas, which won’t be trendy for another couple thousand years) so the ultra-tiny, ultra-expensive IKEA studio is not an option. I’m going for more of an obscure, trendy houseplants and pretentious jazz in the living room type of thing anyway.
Apartment hunting is always a huge pain in the ass, no matter where you live; but of course, it’s always the worst pain in the ass wherever you happen to live, and L.A. is no exception. The rental scene is dominated by shady outfits who charge $85 for a list of addresses, which may or may not be cockroach-ridden dumps. If you cannot obtain any of the dumps on the list, you usually get your money back; but if you happen to not want to live in a cockroach-ridden dump you are fucked.
I haven’t given money to any of these places yet; the Caltech listings have turned up one likely prospect, and I’m crossing my fingers. But apparently, tons and tons of people buy into the deal. Talking to my prospective landlord, he mentioned that the last time he tried to rent the place, he listed it with one such agency; after a few days of near-constant response, he asked to be removed. Should this prospect fail, I may well be forced to buy in to the system; nearly all the classified ads in the paper are placed by such agencies, and it’s all kinds of frustrating.
The cost of advertising an apartment will be tacked on to the cost of the apartment one way or another, of course. And to elementary economists and crazy free-market cultists, it’s not important who appears to pay. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this model; not only is it annoying for prospective renters, who may be interested in properties listed by multiple agencies and get stuck paying multiple fees, it’s placing the burden of the up-front transactions costs on the people with the lowest cash flow.
If I’m living in a low-rent apartment (which I am) and struggling at the ends of every paycheck (which I’m not, but let’s pretend) then $85 is a large chunk of money. Faced with the prospect of paying it up front, possibly for no return, I’m likely to stay in my slum-shack. If it were spread out as $10 a month over a one-year lease, I could probably swing it – especially if my new apartment represented a substantial improvement over the old. A landlord, by contrast, will probably have enough capital that $85 is not a huge barrier.
I don’t believe a word I’m saying here, of course, but surely some economics student somewhere has studied this and written a thesis on it. I haven’t seen the burden of advertising placed on the renter in other areas; but then, I’ve never tried to rent in other areas. Is this just an L.A. thing? A thing that happens in tight housing markets? A thing that has evolved over time?
I’m too lazy to find out.