Negotiate the Rent on a No Fee Apartment

If you're moving to New York City for the first time and looking for a no fee apartment, chances are the prices are a bit higher than you're used to. This is especially true if you're dead set on living in Manhattan, which has some of the highest rents in America, and the world. (Don't worry… we more than make up for the high prices with excellent public transportation—no car payments, insurance, or gas money to worry about!—higher-than-average salaries and overall NYC excellent-ness.)

While we cannot guarantee that every apartment is negotiable (many, and at times most, are not), there are cases where you can get a lower rent. As in every other sort of business transaction, there is often room for rent negotiation for NY apartments, even in the city's most sought-after neighborhoods.


First Things First: Know the Market

One of the most obvious foundations to successful rent negotiations is knowing the market. Just a little bit of online research (such as here on Urban Edge) can often tell you such valuable pieces of information as the price of similar units, in the same or similar neighborhoods; the price your landlord is charging for the same-sized apartment in a nearby building, or in another part of town; and sometimes how long a specific apartment has been empty before you came along. For obvious reasons, all of the above can give you a good indication of your future landlord's willingness to negotiate the rent.

Another factor can be the number of brand new buildings in a neighborhood that are doing their initial lease-up. One new building in a large neighborhood may not mean as much, but several large towers (all with 300+ units to fill at the same time) can mean temporarily lower rents as the market is flooded with similar units in the area. However, a temporary glut of brand new, gleaming luxury buildings doesn't necessarily equate to lower rents in older, walk-up buildings. They are serving, in most cases, two different markets.

Keep in mind that, aside from some down markets here and there, the vacancy rate for apartments in Manhattan is generally around 1-2%.  Compare that to a nationwide average of 10%, and you can see that frequently the property managers and owners have the upper hand.  In the outerboroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, etc.) as well as part of northern New Jersey and Westchester, the vacancy rates do tend to be a little higher, but can vary wildly depending on the neighborhood. Extremely popular areas such as Brooklyn Heights, Hoboken, Long Island City, etc. often have markets just as tight as Manhattan.


Making Rent Negotiation a Win-Win Situation

The key to any successful negotiation is ensuring that both parties are getting something from the deal. For example, landlords would much rather sign a qualified tenant to a two-year lease than a one-year lease, thus ensuring that he or she won’t have to find yet another renter only twelve months from now. In fact, some landlords prefer the two-year lease so much that we've seen them give tenants the 24th month for free (the same offer can often be negotiated when it comes time to resign your lease, by the way).

Other win-win NY apartment rent negotiation techniques we've seen work in the past include offering a larger security deposit (say, the equivalent of two-months' rent instead of the usual one-month) in exchange for a lower rent;  a willingness, if the timing is right, to move in—and start paying rent—immediately, in mid-month, rather than waiting until the first of the next month; or offering to sign, say, an 18-month lease in the winter, so your tenancy will end in the summer, during the prime moving months when it will be easier for the landlord to re-rent the apartment.


Rent Negotiation: Just Ask 

If you want to negotiate a lower rent on a no fee apartment, you should almost never use a broker. Remember, even if you're not paying a fee, the landlord is (brokers don't work for free) and so is much less likely to be in a negotiating mood.

A possible exception would be if the broker has an exclusive on a listing (especially if you are paying the fee), and has worked with the owner for a long time. In that case, the broker may have a closer relationship with the owner, and can get you a better deal.  However, keep this in mind: if the broker gets you $100/month off the rent ($1200 for the year), and the broker fee is more than that, did you really save any money?  Not if there was another apartment on the market that you could have gotten directly from the owner or property manager.

Perhaps even more important: if you're dealing directly with the landlord, you have the opportunity to sell yourself as a model tenant—dress nicely, be polite, have all of your paperwork organized and at hand. You want to appear to be someone who will pay on time and not cause any trouble, both of which any landlord may be willing to "pay" for in the form of a lower rent.

This is especially true in the case of small property owners, because while large building managers and landlords tend to focus almost exclusively on credit scores and the like, the smaller owners are also often interested if you're the right "fit" for the building, and may be willing to lower the rent a bit to get a good neighbor (many small owners live right in the building).

In other cases, the smaller owners are not "professional" landlords, e.g. they have a separate career (or are retired), and own a building or two as an investment.  In those cases, they may be handling everything themselves, on top of their full-time jobs, and will be looking for tenants who not only can pay the rent, but will cause them the least amount of "hassles."


When Should I Negotiate the Rent?

While some people recommend putting an offer in with your application, there can be some pitfalls with that. For example, if the landlord has numerous applications, all other things being equal (income, credit, the impression you create), the owner will most likely give the apartment to the tenant who isn't asking for a lower rent.

Ask if the landlord has, or is accepting, other applications.  You may not always get a straight answer, but if they tell you you're the only one (at that moment), you may try giving them an offer with the application, if you wish.

If there are multiple applications, it might be wise to wait until you're approved.  At that point, the landlord wants you in the apartment, and if they are amenable to an offer, they may accept it just to close the deal.  However, keep in mind that because they have multiple applications, there's a chance another similarly qualified applicant is waiting to take your place. Use your judgement, and if you really want the apartment and the landlord gives you a lot of pushback, you're probably better to drop the negotiating and take it as offered.

An exception to this would be if you are offering something other applicants may not be, e.g. to move in immediately and start paying rent (vs. the first of the next month). In that case, placing the offer to do this in exchange for a lower rent (or free month later) with your application, may give you the edge you need in getting approved over the other candidates.

We do not recommend that you try to negotiate at the lease signing.  Unless you sense the landlord is anxious to get you in the apartment, at this point the leases have been prepared, and the landlord won't want to redo them, and may not appreciate you trying to change the terms at the last minute.  Even if you get what you want, you are starting your relationship with the landlord on a bad note.

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