More Americans are renting their homes than at any time since 1965, according to the Pew Research Center. And government figures show that most of them will face a rent increase of 3 to 5 percent. But there's a recourse against ever-rising rents: negotiation. "Many renters may not even try to negotiate their rent," says Douglas Pope, co-founder of HotPads, a rental website. "Negotiating rent may seem like an intimidating process, but it can be worth the effort." For example, 61 percent of landlords polled by the real estate website Zillow said they would accept a lower rent payment if there wasn't much competition for a property.
So how do you negotiate a lower rent? Here's some advice from real estate websites, landlords, tenants and negotiation experts. These strategies can be useful whether you're renting a place that's new to you or have been there for a while.
Know the market: Using Zillow's local market reports, you can figure out how loose or tight the rental market is in your metropolitan area. Developers are building more apartment buildings than they have in 20 years, which should help in some areas. Also check how long the house or apartment you are interested in has been on the market to get a feel for how motivated the landlord is.
Gather comparables: Thanks to the internet, it's easy to find out how much similar homes are going for. If you plug the address, number of bedrooms and posted rent into a website called Rentometer, it will tell you whether the price is reasonable. Print or link to this and other materials to help you make your case.
Look for specials: If you live in a building offering a free month's rent to new tenants, ask for the same deal. It's easier for property managers to stomach a discount when one already exists. Alternatively, if you are interested in Building A, and Building B nearby is offering a discount, ask Building A to honor that same discount to secure you as a tenant.
Create a "renter's résumé": Property managers prefer tenants who are clean and quiet, hold steady jobs, and pay on time. Gather documentation such as a letter of reference from a previous landlord, pay stubs and your good credit score to do PR for yourself.
Give something to get something: Negotiators don't just ask; they also make offers. "The goal is to give them something you don't care about in exchange for something you do," explained Ramit Sethi, author of "I Will Teach You to Be Rich," in a blog post. Some examples:
- A longer lease: If you plan to stay put anyway, offer to sign a lease of more than one year.
- Pay in advance: Landlords spend time and money trying to extract payment from tenants who don't pay - or don't pay on time. If you are in a position to pay a few months of rent in advance, you could be very attractive to them.
- Give up something: Is there an amenity that you don't need? The obvious ones are parking spaces and storage rooms. Offer to forgo something like that so the landlord can sell it to somebody else.
Make improvements: A Maryland landlord who did not want to be named - for fear that future tenants would ask for rent reductions - says she has discounted rents for tenants who had carpentry or landscaping skills and offered to make improvements to the apartment she owns.
Point out inconveniences: If you have had to suffer through something such as loud construction or loud neighbors, that's another opening to ask for a discount. In this case, you are offering your loyalty, despite the inconveniences, in exchange for a rent reduction. A Northwest Washington apartment building gave a woman $200 off her rent because it had been fighting a losing battle with mice.
Practice your pitch: It's a great idea to try your argument out on friends before you make your case to the landlord. Also practice your responses to what they're likely to say.
Time it right: If you are renting a new place, you're more likely to get a discount at the end of the month, when property managers worry the property will remain vacant for another 30 days. If you are negotiating for discounted rent on your current home, do it about three months in advance, so the landlord knows you have plenty of time to find a new place if you can't come to an agreement.
Present your price: Ask for a reasonable but deeper discount than you are expecting because you want to leave room for your landlord to meet you in the middle. After you name your number, shut up! Embrace the awkward, pregnant pause and give your landlord the chance to fill it with a "yes."
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