Cheap rent: How to negotiate with your landlord to pay hundreds of dollars less this month

Cheap rent: How to negotiate with your landlord to pay hundreds of dollars less this month
Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

Paying rent in real life is way harder than it is on TV. 

The New York City apartments on Friends or Sex and the City, for example, are unrealistic: There's no way Joey, an unemployed actor, could afford rent in SoHo, one of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country.

The numbers just don't add up.

Fact is, it's getting even harder to live like our television peers. 

Rent has gotten a lot more costly over the years. Median rents are hitting historical highs with roughly 90% of one-bedrooms in New York and San Francisco going for more than $1,000 a month. 

Today rents in cities that were once affordable are today growing the fastest

Last month, the New York Post even reported a spike in millennials selling off prized family heirlooms to cover rent. 

If you're sick of paying rent, but are still too broke to buy a home, don't fret: Here are three ways you can save hundreds of dollars on your rent each month. 

If your rent seems high, the first thing you should do is read up on local tenant laws.
Source: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Help your landlord so they help you.

People often forget to — or don't even try to — negotiate their rent, for fear of upsetting the landlord. But there's a polite, smart approach: Always stay aware of your landlord's perspective.

"The most important thing to realize is that it's a business for the landlord. Some people might be passionate, but most people are dispassionate," said Elizabeth Colegrove, a landlord who owns 8 properties and and runs a site with resources for other landlords, The Reluctant Landlord

If you're one of many people applying to live in a house, Colegrove said, you'll have to work extra hard to sell yourself. And even if you have less competition, you will always want to sweeten the deal on your own end.

A little diplomacy goes a long way.
Source: gifhell/Giphy

One way to do so is by offering to forego any perks you don't think you'll need.

Colegrove suggested that if you have a dog, for instance, you probably don't care if you have brand new carpeting — a common renovation that can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the size of a home. Then you can make the case for getting a proportionate discount.

If you're handy, you can also offer to make some improvements yourself in exchange for slightly cheaper rent. Anecdotally, at least, such offers are not uncommon — and you'll be able to make the space your own, by, say painting a room.

Estimated savings: Installing a new carpet in a small studio or single room (about 260 square feet) costs roughly $1,500, or about $125 a month. 

Get a feel for the market.

Another way to negotiate lower rent, particularly in less competitive neighborhoods, is to prove you could live somewhere comparable for less money.

"When you're negotiating, you need to know how dynamic the market is," Colegrove said.

Start by figuring out what other apartments nearby are leasing for: If your landlord won't provide a rental history, some municipalities will let you request one through your local housing authority

You can also comparison shop on rental sites like Trulia and Streeteasy to find evidence that there are cheaper-but-similar listings in the area. 

When comparison shopping, keep an eye out for special incentives that comparable listings are offering: One recent study found that more than 20% of New York City listings, for example, came with "deal sweeteners" such as a move-in bonuses, free parking, or reduced broker fees. 

If your apartment is bonus-free, you might still be score a concession or incentives by politely pointing out a competing option to your landlord. Always have proof — and don't be obnoxious about it.

 Research about negotiation tactics shows it is often better to avoid antagonistic language like "accept" or "reject" — and to instead use inclusive pronouns like "we" and "us" as you describe collaborative behavior. So instead of saying "Can you give me a better price?" for example, try "Can we work together to find an arrangement that helps us both?"

Incidentally, seeming knowledgeable about the market while being flexible — and a bit vague — about how much you're willing to pay or accept in perks could actually end up saving you even more money than aggressively pursuing a specific discount. 

Another study found that salespeople were willing to offer customers discounts that were 2% higher when they had trouble determining the customers' price sensitivity — and how much they valued extra perks. 

Negotiating a 2% discount on $1,200-a-month apartment (the national median rent for a one-bedroom) would save you $24 a month.

Negotiate a longer lease. 

Renters are up against tough odds. According to the latest Census figures, vacancy rates remain near a 20-year low — meaning there simply aren't enough units to go around. 

That's unlikely to change anytime soon, says Mark Uh, a data scientist at real-estate firm Trulia: "In order for rents to decline in any meaningful way, there'd have to be a slight economic downturn, or a large wave of construction."

To meet renter demand, construction in large cities like San FranciscoNew York and Chicago is, in fact, on the rise. But it will take awhile before those new buildings are completed and even longer before the rent prices on the completed units decrease. 

In the meantime, negotiating a longer lease might be your best shot at saving a decent sum.

The verdict is mixed on whether most landlords are willing to agree to cheaper rent for a longer period of time, though it never hurts to ask. 

The upside for you is that agreeing to a two-year lease will make it harder for your landlord to increase your rent after the first year: Always read up on local tenant laws and the specifics of the lease before signing, since many jurisdictions already have limits on how much rent can increase in a given time.

Average yearly rent increases were 8% in 2015 meaning that locking in a rental price for two years could save you a fair bit of money.

Assuming that you're paying $1,200 a month, avoiding that increase saves you about $96 on every rent check.

The verdict

There are obviously lots of other factors to consider when you're looking at an apartment or house, besides the actual price. 

For instance, you may find that moving farther away from your city's center might save you some money on rent. But there are tradeoffs — and not just regarding your social life. Studies have shown that longer commute times can increase your risk for anxiety, divorce and obesity.

Regardless of your priorities, if you can pull off concessions from your landlord using the three strategies above, you'd net a total savings of about $245 a month.

That's a healthy contribution to any savings or investment account or — failing that — your weekly beer budget.