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Nine ways to negotiate your rent

If you're facing a rent increase at your current apartment or the prospect of paying too much for a new place, why not try haggling? Here are a few tips and tricks to navigate the tricky business of rent negotiations. 

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    A 'for rent' sign is posted outside a home in Denver. Rent prices can seem non-negotiable, but there are ways to talk down the price.
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If you're a seasoned renter like myself, you've (perhaps literally) been around the block a few times when it comes to seemingly unfair rent prices. Maybe the end of your lease is approaching, and you've just been informed that your rent will go up if you decide to re-sign. Or maybe you're making a move to the other side of town, and the place you've got your heart set on is just a tad overpriced.

For most people, these are the unpleasant but inevitable facts of leasing an apartment. Sure, the rent might be unreasonable, but it's not like you can haggle with your landlord to get better price, right? Wrong. While it might seem like an urban legend to the average renter, rent negotiation is a real thing, and doing it right can potentially save you hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars per year.

If you're facing a rent increase at your current apartment or the prospect of paying too much for a new place, why not give it a shot? The worst that can happen is that your landlord says no, and they can never say yes if you don't ask.

We put together a few tips and tricks for how to effectively navigate this tricky situation:

Set up a timely, in-person meeting.

A face-to-face meeting is your best chance at getting what you want out of a rent negotiation.

It's a lot easier to dismiss someone outright in an email or phone call. If you want the best chance at successfully chipping away at your rental costs, set up an in-person meeting with your landlord (or a representative from your property management company) a few months before your lease is set to expire (for current tenants), or before you sign a new lease (for prospective tenants).

Timing is key here. If you're looking to bring down the rent price on your current apartment, you need to set up the meeting early enough for you to be able to find a new place if the negotiation doesn't work out, but not so early that your landlord has ample time to replace you with someone who will pay more. If you want to negotiate on lease for a new place, try setting up the meeting towards the end of the month, especially if the apartment in question is currently empty. Landlords are more likely to negotiate at the end of the month to prevent a unit from staying empty for an additional month.

Know your landlord.

How effective your rent negotiation will be depends largely on who owns your building. In general, an independent landlord who owns a one or two buildings and tends to them himself is going to be a lot more receptive to your concerns than a landlord who owns hundreds of buildings and conducts business through a property management company.

That's not to say it's impossible to get larger leasing companies to comply with your demands, but it's definitely more difficult than dealing with a single person. I've lived in apartments owned by both of these kinds of landlords, and I must say my experience with smaller-scale landlords has been overwhelmingly more positive than my experience with a leasing office.

For example, the house I lived in during college was owned by a wonderful man named Ben, who would respond to every maintenance request at the drop of a hat and didn't raise our rent when we signed on for another year. Compare that with the leasing office at my old apartment, which neglected to tell us until a week before we were set to resign that our rent was being raised $100, and refused to budge on this number or negotiate in the slightest. We had to meet with three different people in our futile quest, all of whom told us that the decision wasn't theirs to make.

So if you're in the market for a new place and want to make things easier on yourself in the long run, my advice is to ALWAYS go with a place owned by an independent landlord over a place run by property management company. Not only will they be more open to rent negotiations, they will also have a more vested interest in your happiness and the overall well-being of the apartment.

Research the real estate market in your area.

Before you head into the meeting, you need to do your research. Take some time to document the price of similar units in your neighborhood using online tools like Craigslist and Zillow to gauge an appropriate price range for your negotiations. If you ask for something too low, you'll probably get laughed out of the office, but if you're consistently finding similar apartments in your area for a lower price than what your landlord is asking, you've got a much stronger case.

Keep in mind that "similar" doesn't just mean same number of bedrooms and bathrooms. You need to consider other, less prominent features of your apartment such as:

  • square footage
  • kitchen size and quality
  • which floor its on (basement apartments are cheaper on average)
  • access to laundry facilities
  • proximity to public transportation
  • age of the building
  • apartment amenities like gyms, pools and doormen

Print out and organize all your findings and bring them to your meeting as bargaining chips.

Showcase your worth.

Make a list of everything that makes you a good tenant and come to the meeting prepared to discuss this with your landlord. Having good credit, always paying rent on time, referring friends to the building, and being quiet and courteous are all good things to mention. Landlords naturally appreciate tenants who have these qualities, especially since most have had nightmare tenants, and renting our your apartment to someone new could be a gamble they might not want to take if you're

Additionally, if you've taken on any household tasks--like gardening, minor fix-its and painting--that are usually the landlord's responsibility, calculate the monetary value of each project and present your landlord with these numbers. He or she might very well lower your rent in exchange for your continued work on the unit if they're made aware of just how much money your efforts have saved.

Offer to sign a longer lease.

The longer the lease, the longer your landlord can count on consistent monthly payments on your unit, so if you're planning on staying put for a while, offer to sign an 18-24 month lease instead of the standard 12 in exchange for a decrease in rent.

This tactic is especially effective if you're signing a lease during the winter off-season. According to an article from Rent.com, most Americans move between May and September and rent prices tend to go up in summer due to the influx of people looking for housing. On the flip side, rent prices are usually much lower between October and January, and landlords often cut deals during these months to fill vacancies. So if your current lease ends November, signing an 18-month lease would mean your unit would come up for renewal in May instead of November, which would make it possible for your landlord to advertise it to perspective tenants at an increased rate.

Look for wiggle room on utilities and amenities.

Maybe your landlord won't budge on the price of rent, but if you have air conditioning but never use it, or are really good at turning off the lights when you leave a room, see if they'll consider paying a utility that's not already included in as a compromise.

If that's not in the cards, take stock of the things around your apartment that need fixing and ask for a little revamp if you pay the rate they're asking. Maybe there's some old carpeting in your living room that could stand to be replaced, or cracked counter tops in the kitchen that could be swapped out with granite, or a bathroom that needs some TLC. Tell them you're willing to pay the increased price if they make it worth your while and they just might agree, especially because updating the apartment makes it more valuable in the long run.

Offer to publicly endorse them.

Yelp reviews are form of digital currency that can make or break your landlord or leasing office's chances at wooing potential tenants. In general, this tactic is best for big leasing companies because individual landlords are unlikely to have their own review pages on sites like Yelp.

If you offer to do things like write a glowing review and post it to Yelp, Google+ and Facebook, refer all your friends to their company or make a YouTube testimonial showcasing your love for your apartment and leasing company (seriously, this is a thing, my current property management company has an entire page on their website devoted to them), they might be more receptive to knocking down the price of your rent.

Lowball them.

Not too low, of course, but make sure your first pitch is a little bit under what you're actually aiming to pay. A negotiation requires input on both sides, so if you lead with your ultimate goal, your landlord is likely to fire back with a higher number--that's just bargaining 101. The lowball shouldn't be anything too ridiculous or they'll catch on to your game. It needs to be within the market range for your area and be a number that's not unreasonable for the place you want. Best case lowball scenario? Your landlord accepts it and you're paying LESS than you wanted.

Be nice!

You can be as prepared as possible, but if you try and negotiate with a sour or defensive attitude, chances are you won't leave with anything you want. Be respectful, gracious and courteous and present your case as professionally as possible. Remember that your landlord doesn't HAVE to do anything for you, so you need to make them feel like they WANT to help you out. Being as nice as possible can only help your case, just as being angry and entitled is a sure way to shut it down.

Would you ever try and negotiate your rent? 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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