DaMarius Edwards, 24, was in a financial bind when he signed up to help New Yorkers to find homes of their own. Working on his passion, producing beats and rapping, which he had moved to New York to pursue, wasn’t bringing in any income. He had to figure out how to make living in the city possible.
He’d been living in this city for a little over a year, after quitting his bank analyst job, where he said he wasn’t happy working, in Buffalo, New York.
His interest in real estate started when he looked at apartments as a favor to a friend who was living in Ohio. He met with brokers, took photos and videos of the apartments, and sent them to his friend.
Edwards made a connection with one of the brokers, Laneeka Vaughns, who convinced him to give real estate a shot. “She told me to take the real estate course,” Edwards said. Two days after their meeting, he picked the most basic course option. It was $89.
He studied almost nonstop for a few days to pass the licensing exam. “The first couple days, I put in like 18 hours straight,” Edwards said. “Just sitting at my desk, not leaving from it, not getting food.”
After about a month, Edwards obtained his license. And shortly after, his investment paid off.
While finding apartments for clients in during the one of the hottest months 2016 —August — Edwards said he was happy because he was able to pay his rent for the rest of the year. For every apartment he filled, he received 15 percent of the annual rent. If Edwards filled three $3,400 apartments — the average rent in Manhattan during August, according to Citi Habitats — per week, he made over $73,000 that month.
But while Edwards was able to pay his rent, he struggled to always help New Yorkers find homes they can pay their rent without struggling to pay for other bills and essentials like electricity and groceries.
He said enjoys helping people find apartments under $2,000 in the good parts of Manhattan. But that can be challenging. “It’s a rat race,” Edwards said.
Most real estate salespeople have access to the same listings and it’s up to them to work with the landlords and property managers to fill the vacancy, as quickly as possible.
While Edwards has no say over which tenants get approved, he doesn’t think the landlords and property managers who have the tenant’s fate in their hands, have any standard guidelines for the approval process.
“It’s all arbitrary,” Edwards said. “Sometimes they’ll just say, ‘This apartment is rented already.’”
Potential tenants provide the same materials — applications, tax documents, proof of income — but who gets approved for a particular apartment is hard to predict.
It’s hard for anyone looking for an apartment in New York City. The demand is high.
But those who make less money have it even harder, according to Edwards, who wants to level the playing field for New York renters. “I would make it fair by finding a way to match incomes with affordability,” Edwards said. “If someone it making $300,000, which is not atypical in New York, I don’t know how I would feel about renting them an apartment that is $2,000.”
For Edwards, the affordability of rents also speaks to the changing New York. “If you want New York to remain special and keep its character, you have to have some financial housing structure in place that’s going to support different kinds of people, who are coming in with different incomes.”