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Charge it! Credit cards aid apartment rentals.

Since moving to a new apartment involves large cash payments for security and rent, many tenants never move unless they are forced to do so. On the other hand tenants from out-of-state run into other problems. It can take close to a month for a check to clear on the out-of-state bank while it can take more than a month to open a new account in New York.

All of this creates problems for property owners and rental agents who want to rent their apartments but must ensure checks don't bounce and the tenants are good credit risks.

Some real estate brokers have found the perfect solution in the form of credit cards. Nancy Packes, president of Feathered Nest, has been using credit cards for rent, security and commissions for two years.

Packes said she pioneered using American Express and accepts Visa as well.

"It works out very well," she said. "I haven't used MasterCard yet because the Visa gives us real flexibility."

In the beginning, she said she was advertising it wildly and none of the other brokers seemed to have noticed. While she does not list the cards any longer in her newspapers ads, they are mentioned on her fee agreements.

"Very few people use it because everyone is up to their ears in debt," she said. "Typically, it is used to secure funds immediately rather than for the financing aspect of it."

The primary users, she added, are those whose money is in another state.

Astoria, Queens based Horizon Realty accepts both MasterCard and Visa for their fees and owner's security deposits and first rental amounts.

Horizon Realty used to take American Express but broker Michael Demkiw said they found not enough tenants used it and the credit card company took too long to send the money by check through the mail. With the other credit cards, he said, as soon as the credit card slip is deposited to the bank, the money is transferred to Horizon's escrow account.

Demkiw said they decided to open a Visa account to streamline the rental process realizing at the same time it would give the tenant time to pay the bills.

"It's a lot quicker to close the deal," he added.

"We can do deals on Saturdays and Sundays when the banks are closed because the credit card companies verify the credit card and give us an authorization number," he explained.

The credit card holders are better credit risks, Demkiw feels, and a credit report that is often made for owners can verify the payment history.

"It shows they pay on time," Demkiw explained. "The owners like to see that because they feel they are more stable than a person who has no credit history."

Demkiw has observed that most of the tenants who use the cards are professionals such as lawyers, doctors and stockbrokers.

"It's a very good idea and something that I had in mind to look into," said Joel Herskowitz, general manager of J.I. Sopher & Co. "I;m not sure why we haven't gone in that direction yet."

The use of credit cards also opens the possibility of taking rental payments directly by credit card. Some see this as a way of avoiding the court system in collecting rent payments.

Milbrook Properties President Rubin Pikus, who owns and operates properties in the Bronx and Manhattan, said while he did not take credit cards for rental payments now, it appeared to be a good idea and something he would look into.

If the tenants did not pay their bills, he noted, it would be the credit card companies going after the tenants and not him. Even paying a small percentage to the credit card companies "would be cheaper than going to court," he added.

Community Housing and Improvement Program (CHIP) Executive Director Dan Margulies said he would hesitate to recommend it to owners.

While taking a one-time fee on a credit card might be worthwhile, he explained, rent accumulating month after month together with interest might be more likely to begin a financial problem for the tenants.

"People would bury themselves very quickly, he said.

"MasterCard and Visa may prolong the inevitable but it is more likely to precipitate it," Margulies explained. If the tenants run their debt up too high by carding the rent and run into trouble with MasterCard and Visa, not only will they be taking the tenant to court, but inevitably the owner will too.

John J. Gilbert III, president of the Rent Stabilization Association noted that an owner would have to pay for the service with the fees.

"An upside," he said is that the credit card company, acting as collecting agent, would be providing a guarantee of payment as long as the credit card remained in good use and the charges didn't run up over the card maximum."

Gilbert thought the larger property owners with economy of scale could use this. "I don't know why it hasn't been done yet but it deserves some exploration," he said.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 21, 1992
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