I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Al Zacharia, apartment broker extraordinaire

When I moved here, I didn’t know anything about the area. I only knew that I wanted to live in a nice but affordable apartment in Westchester. I didn’t live here yet, so I had to arrange everything remotely with only a couple of weekends to visit and find an apartment.

I combed through Craigslist and booked a bunch of showings for the same weekend. I didn’t have much money and didn’t see the point of paying a broker’s fee, so I booked mostly no-fee showings. There was only one fee-based broker that I was planning to see last, simply because they had spammed Craigslist with a bunch of their listings.

Every non-broker apartment was awful.

Then Tiff and I sat down in Al Zacharia’s office. He had a very thick accent and we had difficulty communicating. We had to answer every question 3 times, and he artfully dodged most of ours. I didn’t even know which town I wanted to live in — I just wanted something nice, and they had apartments in every town along the Long Island Sound. But Al figured out what I wanted. Within the first minute:

“You want nice? Yes? You want Larchmont. Come, I’ll show you.”

He showed us two apartments in one building. That’s all he wanted to show us. And the first one was great. Perfect location, perfect town, and the best building in town. From meeting him to parting ways, I don’t even think 30 minutes passed. I took that apartment, and had to pay him a $1600 fee for this service.

I resented paying that fee until this week.

Now that we’re looking to move, we’re aggressively looking at apartments again. This time, we’re already local, so we can go down to our new neighborhood almost every evening for showings. (And we have.) We’ve seen a couple of no-fee listings, and they’re terrible so far. Almost everything we’re seeing is from fee-based brokers. But they’re all much more expensive, wanting higher percentages of higher rents — we’d be lucky to pay only $1600 for their fees.

After seeing one or two that we request from listings, all of the brokers show us their leftover inventory, wasting our time and theirs, despite failing to match at least some of our major criteria. Some brokers are better than others at avoiding this, but most are pretty bad. We’ve now seen almost 20 apartments, and only a couple were even remotely worth considering.

We finally understand the value of Al Zacharia. One building, one day, exactly what we wanted.

I wasn’t just paying him for 30 minutes of his time — I was saving weeks of mine.