In today's real estate market, it's foolish to rent-unless you absolutely don't have the means to make a down payment or have an unusually great rental deal. Rent money brings no returns, but when you buy, monthly payments accrue as equity, and financing charges are tax-deductible. And, of all possible investments, real estate retains or increases its value.
-Jeffrey Swart, 25, real estate broker
When Jeffrey Swart's corporate bosses promoted him and transferred him to New York three years ago, he hadn't contemplated real estate. In fact, the telecommunications sales manager was thrilled with the full-time job that brought him to the world's cultural capital, where he could pursue his part-time jobs and real passions: photography and music.
He loved his new office, but his lodging situation was horrible.
"Basically, I lived in a U-Haul-taking showers at friends' places, parking my truck in a lot and going to work-until I crammed myself into a U-Haul-sized closet in the East Village for $1750 a month. I was so naive; my real estate broker took me for a real estate ride, charging me $3500 just to get in there," he recalls.
"I kept looking for an affordable place big enough for my photo equipment and musical instruments. It was hell. Location wasn't as important as space. Eventually I found my great apartment through a newspaper ad. It's in Brooklyn, sort of between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the top floor of a three-story, with enough space for me, my stuff and my roommate and his stuff. We split the $1800-per-month rent."
After a year of marching to the corporate drumbeat, Swart felt he needed to tune into a new career. Real estate came to mind for several reasons.
"People always need places to live, so I figured it would be a steady job with flexible hours, so I could do photography and music, which are my main passions," he explains. "And, I remembered my struggle to find a place and my bad broker trip. I knew I could do better-providing a real service for people who need homes," he says.
Swart enrolled in a week-long real estate course, took the exams and got a license. For a $500 investment in tuition and fees, he had a new career. He joined Citi Habitats because of the firm's rentals record, and because it has numerous offices conveniently located throughout town. He sees three to five clients daily and earns $60,000 to $75,000 annually.
"The job's demanding, but I love it. It's given me so much freedom, and it's very satisfying to help people find homes. I work seven days a week-and if there were an eighth day, I'd work that, too. I work on commission, so the harder I work, the more I can earn. I do research and paperwork in the early morning, show apartments all over town until late evening. I've really learned the city. I know where all categories of rentals-ranging from cheap walkups to high-end high-rises-are available," he says.
"My next step is to move into sales. Sales commissions are much more lucrative for brokers. And, there's more client loyalty, too. I've already developed a good feel for matching clients to properties; now I'm learning all there is to know about financing and related details. I want to practice dealing with the purchase process on myself. I'll buy my own place, as soon as I can save enough for a down payment-hopefully in about two years, when my student loans are paid off. Long term, I'll invest in small- to mid-sized apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens. You get much more for your money outside Manhattan."
For Swart, real estate is a means to an end. Bottom line, it will support his preferred pursuits. Right now, he pursues real estate as an almost 24/7 engagement. He fits in his professional photo assignments, shooting bands and other artists, by appointment, or on slower work days-especially during winter months-he'll walk the city streets with his camera at the ready. Music is temporarily on the back burner, but he'll light that fire when the real estate returns really start kicking in.