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Negotiating Rent: What Breaks To Seek And How To Seek Them

Not to get all Godfather on you, but negotiating an offer one can't refuse can be a tricky business, especially when that one is your landlord and we're talking bargaining on rent or other fees and perks. Tricky, but far from impossible. Landlords are looking for reliable tenants and depending on the circumstances, if you give them that, they may very well be willing to be flexible in return (even if you don't possess the persuasive qualities of, say, a Vito Corleone).

First things first: If you're going to muster up the courage to rock the rental boat, it's probably a good idea to see if it's worth the effort. Supply and demand in the local rental market is usually the main driving force behind how accommodating a landlord is likely to be and when there are more tenants seeking spaces than spaces seeking tenants — the way the Chicago market is structured now according to Apartment People's Maurice Ortiz — the landlord has the upper hand.

Apartment hunting in the popular spring and summer months can also thwart your negotiating attempts, experts say, as that's when landlords can afford to be picky. If you can, try to save your search for the off season — November, December, January — when they're more likely to entertain offers below asking price, as well as other compromises. Consider the size and set-up of the building you're looking at, too: larger management companies generally operate under stricter blanket policies whereas smaller, independent buildings with fewer units might have more wiggle room for customized arrangements.

As is always the case with real estate interactions (and, let's face it, pretty much everything else), doing your homework is essential. Take a look at what else is out there — take notes while comparing apartments (this checklist might come in handy) ; snap cellphone photos at open houses; talk to friends; and utilize sites like Zillow and Trulia to get a sense of what similarly-sized apartments in the neighborhood you're interested in are renting for, making a note of what amenities seem to affect those numbers. See how long units have been sitting vacant. Study up on Chicago's rental ordinances to learn what rights you're legally entitled to as a tenant and what you can and can't ask of your landlord. Arming yourself with this kind of info gives you bargaining chips to play with.

A landlord is running a business and it'll make his or her life much easier if tenants can be counted on to get the rent in on time, keep the noise level to a minimum, and not trash the place with raging keggers every weekend. So presenting yourself as the sterling model of ideal tenantdom can go a long way. Play up your good credit history, steady employment, and spotless rental record with supporting documents whenever you can. Sporting a freshly pressed shirt and your best manners won't hurt either. The better foot you put forward, the more likely it is that a landlord might be open to you getting that foot in the negotiated door.

When actually broaching the subject of a potential negotiation, play it cool and confident. You don't want to come off as difficult or demanding because what landlord wants that? According to an article on RentShare.com, nonchalantly raising the possibility of negotiation within your standard list of questions ("And how set in stone is that rental price?") may get a more receptive response. If you do, now's your chance to put that homework and proof of your solid rental record to good use ("I've come across three other one-bedrooms of similar square footage in a three-block radius for $100 less [present well-researched other listing print-outs here], but I really love this building. Is there anyway you could match those prices?").

In a competitive market like Chicago's, it's entirely possible that despite your best efforts your landlord won't budge if you're a new tenant. But once you've proved yourself as responsible, he or she could very well change their tune: "If you are already living in the apartment and have been a stellar tenant it is absolutely worthwhile trying to negotiate your renewal rent," Ortiz says. "Because we are currently in a landlord market (less supply than demand), a landlord may be hesitant but it's still less than they would have to pay trying to find a new tenant."

Still striking out? Keep in mind rental asking price isn't the only negotiable. Your careful preparation and asking very nicely could land you a longer lease term; updated amenities; a break on utilities; or waived move-in, application, or pet fees (though those could be out of the landlord's control depending on who's managing the property).

In any case, don't assume what's advertised is the only thing that's possible. You'll never know unless you ask.
·Curbed University [Curbed Chicago]