Everything is negotiable in real estate -- even when it comes to renting a place to live.
Most people don't realize that landlords are sometimes willing to bargain. That's particularly true of Mom and Pop property owners who have only one or two houses to rent. But even property managers at huge apartment complexes and skyscraper high-rises can be talked into cutting the rent a bit.
No one keeps statistics on how many renters actually go back and forth with their landlords about how much they'll have to pay every month. Nor does anyone know how much people usually save. But the folks at apartmentlist.com, a national apartment search engine, say that negotiating a savings of $200 a month -- that's $2,400 a year! -- isn't unheard of.
It's not always about money, though, at least not directly. And especially at a large complex where rents are set it stone.
Perhaps you can bargain for a free parking space, or place for your boat or RV. Or maybe the landlord might be willing to throw in free storage. How about asking the landlord to paint your unit, upgrade your appliances or pay for a gym membership, if your building is without such facilities? Remember, everything is negotiable, even the length of your lease.
If you think negotiating your rent is underhanded or even sordid, think again. "Negotiation on rent, or anything else in life, doesn't have to be sleazy if you handle it like a decent human being," says ApartmentList. "It's simply a conversation to work out a newly improved situation for both rent and landlord, and there's nothing to feel bad about."
Timing, of course, is everything. And the best time to ask your landlord to trim the rent is when you're about to extend your lease for another year. When you know you want to stay, your landlord might be willing to cut you a deal if he doesn't have to repaint the place, clean it up and look for another tenant.
It's expensive to find new tenants; the possibility of lost revenue, should the landlord not find someone to replace you right away, can be a powerful bargaining point on your side of the table.
Most leases require that tenants give their landlords at least 30 days written notice when they plan to leave. But if your lease has no such clause, a good time to try to strike a deal is just before the end of the month. This places added pressure on landlords, because the chances of finding another tenant quickly enough to not miss a month's rent are slim.
The dead of winter is also a good time to bargain. "This is the most difficult season for landlords to find renters, and you'll hold more bargaining power," says Andrew Woo, director of data science at the apartment site.
Woo suggests that before you sit down with your landlord, do some research. Find out what similar properties in the vicinity are renting for and what amenities they offer.
Another ploy: If you have the cash, offer to pay an entire year's rent in advance in exchange for a lower rent. Or maybe your landlord will be willing to cut you a deal if you pay just a few months' rent ahead of time.
Another possible bartering point is to offer to help out around the property. Maybe you can work in the office one day a week, or, if you have a particular trade, help the maintenance man. The idea here is to use whatever you have to trade for a better deal.
You also might be able to save a few bucks by offering to move to a less desirable unit, say one next to the trash dumpster, the noisy elevator or lobby, or even a smaller room or apartment that's difficult to lease. Every property has at least one unit that is a red herring.
Also, consider working with the landlord so that your new lease ends in the summer -- maybe signing a six-month or even an 18-month contract. Summer, ApartmentList points out, is when school's out, the weather's better and schedules are more flexible -- giving your landlord an easier time filling your unit after you do vacate.
When you have a good idea of what you want and may be willing to give up to get it, ask your landlord for a face-to-face meeting. Don't try to do this by email. Have your resources with you, including prices from other places, and your rental record that shows you always pay on time, if not early.
Finally, present your argument in a way that shows how it benefits your landlord as well as you.
"If you can pinpoint exactly how a new situation will be beneficial to both of you," says Woo, "it lessens any possible tension and is more likely to be successful."