My landlord rents her properties at $850 a month. But I pay $750.
Why? Shrewd negotiation, patience, and a lot of research got me a $100-a-month discount. But that isn’t the only way to save money on rent.
1. Shop around
The Internet has turned me into a hardcore comparison shopper, and apartments are no different. There are dozens of apartment rental sites listing dozens of properties in my hometown. It pays to check out several of these sites when you’re looking for a new pad. I mentioned a few sites you should use (and a few you shouldn’t) in The Best (and Worst) Apartment Rental Sites.
But don’t stop your search with your computer. I found my last apartment through a “For Rent” sign in the window. The place was $150 cheaper than anything else I found, and I never saw an online ad for it.
2. Move a few miles away
Location is everything in real estate. If you live in the most popular area, you’re going to pay the highest rent. But if you move a couple of miles (or sometimes even a few blocks) away, you can get a serious discount. For example, renters in my city (New Orleans) pay about $1,250 a month to live in studio apartments on a trendy street. I live four blocks away and pay $750 a month for a one-bedroom. I don’t get bragging rights, but I’m still within walking distance – and I’m saving $500 a month.
I start looking for a new apartment a month or two before I need one. If I find a place I like, I keep an eye on it. More often than not, private landlords lower their asking price if they don’t find a tenant within a week or two.
4. Sign a longer lease
You’re locked into your rent as long as you’re under a lease. If you sign a longer lease, you’ll be locked into the lower rate if the cost of rent goes up. Two years ago, my friend signed a three-year lease on his apartment. Last year, the landlord raised the rent $200 across the complex. By locking himself into a set rate for three years, my friend has saved $2,400 so far.
I am not a haggler, but when it comes to my single biggest expense, I negotiate. It doesn’t always work, but if you do your homework – and give the landlord a good reason – he may be willing to lower the rent. (Learn how to haggle here: The Simplest Way to Save on Everything.)
Start by researching the average rent in the area. If the landlord is charging more than everyone else, print out a few ads to prove it. Then convince the landlord that he should want you as a tenant. I ask for referral letters from my previous landlords, make copies of my bank statements, and pull my credit report. By showing the landlord that I’m a good tenant – and I know that he’s over-charging – I can negotiate a better rate.
6. Look for free perks
I always compare the cost of the rent with the amenities or the utilities that are sometimes included. For example, I recently looked at two duplexes. One went for $775 a month but didn’t include any utilities or a parking space. The other rented for $800 a month but included water, trash, Wi-Fi, and an off-street space.
Obviously, $775 is cheaper than $800. But when you consider the average water and trash bill in my area is $50 a month, and the average Internet cost is $45 a month, I’d actually save $95 a month by going with the more expensive rental.
7. Trade work for rent
If you have a skill a landlord needs, you might get a discount on your rent. My landlord rents a unit to a tenant who also serves as our maintenance guy. In exchange for doing the odd job, he gets $350 a month off his rent.
But you don’t have to be handy with tools. Landlords occasionally need people to maintain their website, design rental ads, or manage their properties. If you’ve got free time, offer to trade your services for a discount.
8. Turn a profit on your rental
A few of my neighbors have made a quick profit by renting out their place for the night to tourists. Granted, there are some serious downsides to the idea – like your place possibly getting trashed – but my neighbor made $300 in two nights. If you live in a popular city, you could stand to make a profit a few times a year. Just make sure you get your landlord’s approval – and ask for a security deposit before you open the door to strangers.
Angela Colley is a writer for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.