Manhattan’s real estate agents take up TikTok to find renters

The Manhattan skyline towers over New York harbour. New York real estate professionals are turning to the booming social media app to find tenants in a market where units are piling up amid near-record vacancies. — AFP

TikTok isn’t just a platform for dance videos and investment advice. It’s also a place to hawk Manhattan apartments.

New York real estate professionals are turning to the booming social media app to find tenants in a market where units are piling up amid near-record vacancies. For some, the 60-second videos have changed their jobs completely.

Madison Sutton, an agent at Highline Residential, had just 5,000 TikTok followers in October, when she decided to start taking the app more seriously. Today, she’s up to more than 90,000, and deals sourced from TikTok account for her entire business.

“It was just an immediate reaction,” Sutton said. “TikTok could give an accurate portrayal of the unit while keeping in mind overall convenience.”

Filling Manhattan apartments is especially tough these days, even as rents slide and landlords offer the biggest move-in incentives on record. The pandemic sent many city-dwellers fleeing for the suburbs, and newcomers are finding few reasons to settle down in New York’s costliest borough while nightlife venues are still dark and office towers remain mostly empty.

That’s made alternative marketing strategies like TikTok, which enable agents to connect with renters on their mobile phones, ever more essential.

Sutton said she fields about 45 calls a week from apartment-hunters who found her on TikTok, and she’s grown accustomed to conducting online tours for clients who might have come in person prior to the pandemic. She recently helped two roommates from Austin, Texas, find an apartment at Hudson Yards. They signed the lease without ever stepping foot inside the unit.

“They saw one of my TikToks of the unit, absolutely loved it,” said Sutton, who then gave them a full virtual tour.

Reaching clients

TikTok uses an algorithm to tailor a user’s “For You” page to their interests – apartments with exposed brick and no brokers’ fees, for instance. A person who has stopped scrolling to watch a video about something related to New York real estate in the past might be shown one of Sutton’s the next time.

That allows agents to reach an audience of potential clients who probably wouldn’t have seen their listings otherwise.

Alexander Zakharin, managing director at GZB Realty, has close to 80,000 TikTok followers, ranging from 18-year-olds “not legal to drink but legal to rent”, to parents whose kids point them in his direction. Contacts through TikTok now make up 75% of his business.

“If you do it right, the algorithm allows you to explode,” said Zakharin, who joined the platform roughly a year ago.

In February, he closed a deal on a US$11,000 (RM44,814)-a-month, two-bedroom apartment in Lincoln Square for a Russian influencer who found him on TikTok.

“There’s no doubt it has a benefit to the marketing process,” said Gary Malin, chief operating officer at brokerage Corcoran Group. “Anything that’s being consumed as much as TikTok is being consumed certainly helps expose property.”

But while TikTok can help show off apartments, leasing decisions for most people will come down to money, he said.

“Ultimately, what I think drives deals are the incentives and pricing that are being offered,” Malin said.

With people stuck at home spending more time on social media, the intimate and unvarnished videos on TikTok may draw an audience that hadn’t considered living in Manhattan before.

Sutton, who calls herself a “real estate influencer” on LinkedIn, recently helped a young professional find a place in Murray Hill. The client’s company had given her the option to relocate from Virginia, and she decided she wanted the New York experience – that “electric sense in the air that you can’t find anywhere else”, Sutton said.

“There’s a misconception that people aren’t coming back,” she said. “It’s the opposite.” – Bloomberg

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