As city real estate prices soar, Wall Street’s woes are behind one overlooked aspect of the rental rise: uncertain young bankers renting apartments rather than buying.

Finance workers have long driven the real estate market in New York. Before the financial crisis, that took the form of big condo and co-op sales, with young bankers taking fat cash bonuses and picking up mortgages for million-dollar first apartments.

But as Wall Street jobs dwindle, more young bankers are renting for longer than they ever expected, imperiled by tight lending, a pricey cash housing market and bonuses that are volatile or in stocks that they must hold on to for years.

“I’ve worked on Wall Street for five years and no one I know owns a place,” said Max K., 28, an associate at a small private investment firm.

He said he rents a $2600 studio in the East Village for reasons like the freedom to move anywhere, and because buying is too expensive. “The first thing is not wanting to be tied to a specific place because I don’t know where I’m going be in term of job, location and relationship in ten years,” he said, citing opportunities beyond New York, such as in Silicon Valley. “The second is if you do the math for places in Manhattan, it’s just really hard.”


His friend Paul, a financial analyst at a private equity firm, and Lloyd, who works at the stock exchange, agree that the numbers don’t add up. Lloyd, who pays $2750 on the Upper West Side, doesn’t want to be locked down.

Paul, who rents a $3200 one-bedroom in Hell’s Kitchen, says that building up a down payment for a million-dollar apartment is difficult even on a six-figure salary, especially when he doesn’t know what to expect for a bonus.

“Our bonuses are probably 60 or 70 percent of total compensation,” says Max. “And you have a sense, but your sense doesn’t mean anything if it’s far from it.”

It’s a different scene than before the crisis, when young bankers who were first-time buyers could easily find mortgages, according to real estate guru Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel.

“A young guy, a 30-year-old, in the old days they would go out and buy something,” Miller said. “But now their credit is not there, and the standards are just different now. They’ve had like one big bonus. They don’t have a track record more than a short period of time. Remember lenders are afraid of their own shadow at the moment.”

Average wages on Wall Street have yet to reach pre-crisis levels, and the number of jobs has decreased.

Bonuses have stayed steady in the six figures, but those bonus numbers also include deferred payments from stock options they are not allowed to sell for three years, which newer employees are less likely to have accumulated.

In 2005, the average Wall Street bonus, $149,800, was almost half the median sales price of a home in the city, then in the 300s. It is now less than a third.

The gentrification of rental neighborhoods like the East Village and Lower East Side mean bankers are among their peers in the former tenements and punk cooperatives now sandwiched between upscale brunch places and designer shops. The Ludlow, a modern apartment tower across from Katz’s Delicatessen, is all-rental, with one bedrooms starting at $3650 a month.

Bankers are also coming to Brooklyn, paying the $3-4000 rents in
neighborhoods like Cobble Hill, Williamsburg and DUMBO.

These banking millennials are feeling cautious about their financial futures and unsure about their career trajectories.

“I think 15 years ago, if you went to a good school and worked for Goldman, you were like, I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do but I’m going to be in New York,” Max said. “And now I think people have less certainty about their lives.”

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