Published June 28, 2013
When you’re looking for an apartment, you might be under the impression that the list price is the only price. In some cases, that’s true. But if you’re a bit savvier, you could end up negotiating your way into a great deal. Before you approach the landlord, however, make sure you’ve done your homework.
Determine your leverage
Are you in a tight or loose rental market? In tight markets — where there are more renters than available apartments — it’s unlikely a potential landlord will negotiate. Why? If three or four other people are willing to pay list price for the apartment, a landlord has little motivation to lower the price for you.
A good way to determine whether you’re in a tight rental market is to browse apartment listings for a few days. How many open units are in each building? How quickly do listings disappear? The longer the listings are on the market and the more listings per building, the looser the market. Another way to tell: Have you had any apartment showings canceled because the place was suddenly rented? If not, this again points to a looser market.
In loose markets, landlords will be anxious to rent their place, even at a rate lower than list price. After all, an empty unit is a money-sink for landlords. If you’re offering to fill the vacancy, the landlord might be happy to lower the price, especially if the choice is between renting to you or letting the apartment sit on the market a month longer.
Can you demonstrate that you are a responsible person? Even in a tight market you can have personal leverage. Landlords want security and predictability. In the long run, these things save a landlord a lot of money. If you can demonstrate that you have these qualities — the primary attributes landlords look for are a steady job and good credit — you may get a landlord to knock a bit off your rent or to make other concessions.
Can you show commitment to staying? If you’re planning on staying in the apartment for two or three years or longer, that’s a big benefit in a landlord’s eyes. When a landlord has to rent an apartment to a new tenant every year, he or she loses a lot in transaction costs (repainting, brokers fees, professional cleaning fees), as well as in the simple effort of finding a new tenant. So if you’re planning on staying a while, highlight this when discussing what makes you a great potential renter.
Negotiate from strength
After you have determined where your points of leverage are, it’s time to make your move. When approaching the landlord, the key is to be confident and calm. Avoid hyper-aggressiveness or a mouse-like timidity. A good way to strike the right balance and show confidence is to know your stuff. Know what an average apartment rents for in the neighborhood. Compare the amenities in the apartment to those available in nearby complexes. Have in mind a price you think is fair for your potential place, and have reasons why — whether it’s because the kitchen is too small, or it doesn’t provide parking, or it’s simply too expense relative to comparable places in the neighborhood. And emphasize your points of leverage — that you’ll be a responsible, long-term tenant.
When negotiating, ask for an even lower price than you’re hoping to pay. Do this for two reasons: First, you might end up getting it. Second, if the landlord is at all interested in bargaining, you’ll likely need to meet halfway between your initial offer and the list price. If you give a low (but not unreasonable) initial offer, meeting somewhere in the middle will be a win for you, and both you and the landlord will feel like you’ve made a good deal.
In the end, successful negotiating is all about knowing the market, doing research about the specific apartment in your sights and negotiating calmly and rationally. If you do all this, you have a good chance of paying lower monthly rent. Good luck!
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MyFirstApartment.com helps novice renters successfully navigate the first year of living on their own. The blog shares proven tips and tricks for everything from finding the perfect rental or roommate, to furnishing on a small budget or no budget, to dealing with landlords or roommate’s girlfriends.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.