Published on February 11, 2021

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Ten years into living in Manhattan—first in the dorms at New York University, now in my new two-bedroom apartment in Nolita—I’ve learned being “good at real estate” (aka negotiating your rent down) is the grown-up version of being good at lacrosse—you’re in high social demand. Anywhere else in the country, asking someone how much they pay would be rude. In New York people share it with guests as if they were showing off a new painting on the wall. Deals don’t fall from trees, though. I’ve found the secret to getting the number to drop with a bit of research. Read on for my playbook tips.

Don’t Haggle in Person

Contrary to what you might see on television, standing in the empty space is not the time to start disputing numbers. Often the agent letting you in to see the listing isn’t even a broker, and they need to relay comments back to the landlord for approval anyway. Also, you want anything regarding cost in writing. Use the opportunity to photograph every single surface possible instead. Does the bedroom include a closet? How wide is the sink basin? Is the bathroom vanity deep enough to hold a toothbrush or two?

Find the Flaws

If you think you’re getting an apartment without a single foible, congratulations on being the only one in the world. For the rest of us, maybe the place is spacious and gets lots of natural light, but it’s directly above a bar that’s loud on weekends. For me, my two-bedroom is on the seventh floor. (Grocery runs are my new workouts.) Note the acceptable but annoying shortcomings so they can be used as leverage later.

Go Back Online

Here comes the tedious part. Return to the listing page and scroll to the past rentals history. The majority of residential buildings consist of, at most, 25 to 30 units. Look for similar ones to yours and compare prices and design quirks. In my case, there was a unit with a comparable floor plan a few levels down leased just a month earlier for $400 less. Bingo.

Email an Offer

It’s time to start the chess match. You want to lowball, but not so much that your emails don’t get answered. Make it clear to the real-estate agent that you are filing an application but also following up on the price, because you noticed a similar apartment in the building had recently sold for less. My logic: If X is seven flights up for $1,800, but Z is the same size and merely two flights up for $1,550, than Y shouldn’t I be, at the very least, paying that number?

Create a Backup Plan

There’s a good chance the agent will respond with a wishy-washy reason why the unit is worth the original price. Be prepared to follow up with other reasons why it’s in everyone’s best interests to have you move in at the lower rate. In my case, I signed a slightly longer contract and offered to pay a few months up front to help ease cash-flow concerns—something most owners are struggling with because of the pandemic. The owners quickly agreed and the contract was signed the next day. Everyone wins.

The reality is a tenant paying slightly less is still better than an empty spot generating no money at all. For those looking to move, now is the best chance to jump on a new home—and test out these tactics. 

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