Looking for a lease? Learn how to haggle

By James VandeBerg

What you see doesn’t always have to be what you’ll get. When apartment vacancies outnumber demand, it is possible to get landlords to lower their advertised prices by engaging in some old-fashioned haggling. Negotiating a lower rent becomes possible when landlords begin to worry they will not lease out a certain unit for the upcoming school year, said Esther Patt, coordinator of the University’s Tenant Union.

What you see doesn’t always have to be what you’ll get.

When apartment vacancies outnumber demand, it is possible to get landlords to lower their advertised prices by engaging in some old-fashioned haggling.

Negotiating a lower rent becomes possible when landlords begin to worry they will not lease out a certain unit for the upcoming school year, said Esther Patt, coordinator of the University’s Tenant Union.

Other deals that can sometimes be worked out are non-standard lease durations. Renters can sometimes negotiate a lease for a single semester or for nine months instead of the standard 12, Patt said. This is not always easy, though.

“The hardest thing to bargain for is a fall-only lease,” Patt said. “In the last four years, landlords haven’t agreed to them until August.” Landlords do not want to commit to a semester-only lease until it becomes completely clear that they will not lease a unit for a full year, she said.

Rent and lease durations are not the only terms that can be negotiated. Tenants can sometimes get landlords to provide repairs, new furniture or appliances or new carpet, Patt said. Students must ensure these items are clearly written into the lease, she added.

“I got everything new in my apartment … paint, new mattress and furniture,” said Jessie Bower, junior in LAS.

“I signed really late in the summer, and I was looking at a small double for myself, so I leased it out as a one-bedroom and got the cost lowered,” she said.

When landlords reach the point where they are willing to negotiate depends largely on the size of the apartment. Many three- and four-bedroom apartments are leased for the upcoming year in the fall, Patt said, and landlords may be willing to haggle on rent for these apartments toward the end of the spring.

It can be more difficult to talk the price down on a one- or two-bedroom apartment, however.

“One-bedrooms tend to lease through the summer, and there are a lot of potential tenants who don’t start shopping until later for them. Landlords aren’t worried about vacancies in those now,” Patt said.

So, if you have found the four-bedroom apartment of your dreams that is still vacant for next year, how can you go about getting what you want?

The tricky, but important, first part is figuring out how many units a landlord has left.

“They’re not stupid. They usually aren’t willing to disclose that information,” Patt said.

She suggests going to a landlord’s Web site to see if they give any hints. Beyond that, apartment hunters can also call and ask how many apartments are left on a given floor of a building. This question often gets landlords to slip the number of vacancies left, Patt said.

If it looks like there a few units left, it might be time to start haggling. The first step, Patt said, is to appear reluctant to commit.

“If you make it clear you’re going to take the place, you throw your bargaining power out the window,” she said.

The best approach is to act like you like a place, except for one little thing, such as the price or the furniture. Asking if there is anything else available in the building also sometimes helps, Patt said.

“It’s much better to indicate general dissatisfaction with a place in order to get what you want,” she said.

For Bower, this strategy turned out well.

“I told them the place looked gross, so I said I liked the space, but that it needed a lot of work,” she said.

The key, Patt says, is to not act desperate and make the landlord work to get you as a customer.

“Finding the perfect apartment is rare, so this isn’t unusual behavior,” she said. “And besides, this isn’t high-powered negotiation, they’re used to it.”