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How to negotiate a lower rent and avoid rental fees

It's not as hard as you think

A stylish 600-square-foot studio in Philadelphia.
A stylish 600-square-foot studio in Philadelphia.
Photography by Heidi’s Bridge

A version of this article was originally published on Curbed NY.

When the rental market gets tough, the tough need to learn how to negotiate. After all, you'll never know how low the landlord will go unless you try to bargain—in a respectful, pleasant, non-aggressive way, of course.

It's worth the hassle, even if you're a perennial conflict-avoider; you can end up saving hundreds of dollars over the course of a lease (as much as 20 percent, by some accounts), or get other perks thrown in (utilities, or a longer lease) as a result of the negotiation process.

Here are 10 tips to help you save money on your monthly rent and avoid unnecessary fees when apartment-hunting.

1. Time your apartment search right

To start off, make sure to avoid the summertime, specifically from May to October, since it's when the most people are on the hunt, and landlords are a lot less likely to chop $100 off your monthly rent if they have tons of other applicants beating down their doors. When you're the only interested party for miles, you have a lot more leverage.

2. Be an ideal applicant

According to one broker, it’s very helpful if you are a picture-perfect applicant. Have all your paperwork prepared from the get-go, boast a blemish-free credit record, exceed the minimum income requirements set by the landlord or management company, show a record of past rent payments paid on time, and be primed to produce letters of reference from past landlords at a moment's notice to prove that you really are the exceptional little angel down in renters' hell.

3. Be prepared to move immediately

A landlord hates to see an apartment sit empty, so if you're willing to bust a move and, well, move as soon as possible, it's more likely that the proverbial ball will be at least partially in your court.

4. Do your research

Find out how long the apartment of your dreams has been on the market, and if there have been reductions already, using a rental site like Zillow or Trulia. If it's been empty for a while, more power to you. Grill your broker, other tenants, and even doormen (where applicable) about the history of that apartment and others like it in the building.

Listing databases can also help you track down similar apartments in the same neighborhood and what they go for. If you can produce compelling evidence that other apartments in the building or area with similar floorplans and amenities are renting for less, then that's one notch in your favor.

Apartments with higher rents also provide more leeway for price chops than cheaper ones, but landlords of smaller buildings and single apartments are more likely to budge than enormous management companies that run hundreds of units and have a blanket policy.

5. Show you are committed to sticking around

Offer to pay a large chunk of rent upfront, whether it's a whole six months or the first month, last month, and deposit all at once. You could ask for a long lease, like 15 to 18 months instead of the standard 12, because landlords would rather see a steady stream of income than have to find a new tenant sooner. You could also offer to make some easy upgrades or renovations to the apartment yourself in exchange for cutting the rent a bit.

6. Stay on top of the news

By following general real estate news, neighborhood blogs, and brokers' websites, you'll be able to tell where in the city brand-new buildings are opening up, and that's where the market will be a bit more flush with new units rather than saturated to the hilt. Along those lines, visit new buildings right away and be ready to apply fast, before there's time for landlords to gauge interest and hike the rent accordingly.

7. Know when to negotiate

Here's a handy infographic from that can help you figure out if the climate or timing is right to negotiate your lease. Don't forget, even if your first attempt to reduce the rent is futile, you can always renegotiate after you've lived there awhile, or when renewal time is approaching.

8. Don't be a jerk

RentShare's advice even includes the best way to broach the topic for those of you uncomfortable with the idea of putting an apartment you love on the line. Ask something non-threatening, like "Are you fixed on the price?"

9. Try to avoid broker fees

When it comes to other rental fees, things get a bit trickier. Avoiding a broker fee, which can be up to 15 percent of a year's rent, is possible by using websites like Craigslist and Naked Apartments (for the NYC area) that allow you to search for no-fee apartments.

The downside? Those might be less desirable places in less desirable neighborhoods, or the fee might even be somehow worked into a boosted monthly rent without you knowing. Many of those listings can also prove misleading, or disappointing when seen in person. In addition to the scores of other no-fee apartment rental websites out there, walk around the area where you want to live and try to contact the management of buildings you like directly (that info should be posted in the lobby somewhere, or even outside).

10. Predict, and bypass, other fees

Even if you manage to bypass a broker, there are often additional (though lower) costs that are mandatory, like the application fee and a credit check. One broker suggests bringing your own credit report (cheaply done via Experian, for one) to every open house or apartment viewing. Large management companies might still charge you to run their own check later, but smaller landlords could be happy to trust your printout.