This post is by Catey Hill of Zillow.com.
While many people fear negotiating with landlords, car dealers or salesmen, finding the courage to negotiate up front can save time, money and a lot of hassle down the road. For most people, housing is the largest monthly bill they pay, whether that’s paying all of the monthly costs of their mortgages or the competitive prices of monthly rent. Like home purchases, rental agreements should be carefully reviewed and negotiated prior to signing the final lease to benefit the renter.
Here are five things you should consider negotiating before signing a lease.
1. Monthly rent
Negotiate rents unless the prices are fair or the properties are in competitive markets. Knocking just $50 per month off the rent can save you $600 a year.
Before negotiating, check out comparable rents in the area so you understand how much bargaining power you might have. Tell the landlord that you really like the apartment but think the price is too high. Then quote the landlord a lower price than he or she would generally accept. The landlord will likely counter with higher numbers, which will be less than the original rents. Then you and the landlord can compromise on rent prices in the middle.
If the landlord won’t budge on the monthly rent amount, consider asking him to pick up the tab for one of the utilities or throw in a new appliance/fixture (if the appliances/fixtures in the apartment are dated) or a parking spot (often there are extra spots that renters can get by asking). Oftentimes, you can get the rent lowered by signing a longer lease for, say, two years rather than one.
2. Deposits and Other Fees
Most landlords require a security deposit to protect themselves against damages on their properties. If you have pets, the landlord may require a pet deposit or monthly pet rent. Both of these deposit amounts may be negotiable, so ask for lower deposits using the same negotiation strategy explained above. If the landlord doesn’t seem amenable to altering the pet deposit amount, ask if the landlord might be willing to reconsider after meeting the renter’s pet. If the landlord still doesn’t want to alter the security deposit amount, ask if the landlord would reconsider if he talked to your past landlords. If the landlord still won’t budge on the pet deposit amount, ask whether it can be paid in monthly installments over a set amount of time – such as three months – rather than in one lump sum on the move-in date.
The landlord may also impose fees for things such as late rent payments, bounced checks, early termination of the lease and more. Look through the lease and see what these fees are and whether they seem reasonable; if not, talk to the landlord about lowering them. It’s also important to look at the timing of fees; if a landlord imposes a late fee when you pay rent a day or two late, for example, you may want to ask for that time period to be extended.
3. Customizing the apartment
Many leases state that a renter cannot alter the home by painting the walls, putting up moldings or adding a tile backsplash. Often, renters can get landlords to acquiesce on home alterations, especially if they agree to put a clause in the lease stating they can make alterations to the apartment with prior consent from the landlord and/or will return the apartment back to its original condition upon move-out. This is especially true of painting the walls, but landlords may also be amenable to more substantial changes provided you can show that it would help the look and feel of the home. Just remember, don’t make too many costly improvements; you don’t own the unit and can’t recoup the costs.
Look at the lease and see what’s written about how much notice the landlord has to give a tenant before entering the apartment. Many tenants want a few days’ notice before a landlord comes into their place, but most leases don’t dictate that the landlord has to give notice. Often a lease will read “reasonable” notice, which in many cases means 24 hours, while some landlords will come in with barely any notice. This rule, though it may not seem important right now, may be especially important when a landlord must show the apartment to prospective tenants. (Note that landlords are typically allowed to enter an apartment without any notice in the event of an emergency.)
5. Other Policies
It’s important to read your entire leases and look for any strange policies before signing anything. Some of the more common policies that landlords slip into leases are those related to subletting and using an apartment to run a business (both of which many landlords prohibit) and rules around guests. If subletting or running a business is important to renters, they should try to negotiate these terms with the landlords. If landlords limit the number of guests renters can have and renters think they will have more than the allotted number occasionally, this can likely be negotiated.
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