Finding a cheap apartment can be really tough. I have moved around a lot and stayed in several major cities and I’ve always been amazed when I meet someone who pays a lot less rent than I did.
These are our very best tips on how to find a cheap apartment and how to negotiate the rent down.
Get ready for some unusual thinking and creative ways to cut the rent in the most expensive cities!
1) Look for rent-controlled apartments
This first tip requires you to be in the local area already. Once you get to know the different neighborhoods you one to live and you can start looking for rent-controlled apartments.
A rent-controlled apartment building is a unit where the rent is controlled and everybody has agreed on how much the rent can go up over a period of time.
This will typically mean that the prices here are significantly lower than among the surrounding blocks.
Start asking around in the neighborhood or look for buildings that are built between 1950 and 1980. Here are you will have a higher chance of finding a cheap apartment space. Talk to your neighbors and the locals you meet around the corner and try your best to find one of those great deals!
2) (Re)negotiate a couple of days after moving in
If you call the landlord only a couple of days after you moved in he or she will often be willing to negotiate in order to keep the contract.
Don’t go overboard here.
This tip is best if you are already in the process of moving and you didn’t manage to negotiate during the signing of the contract.
If you just took the deal and didn’t negotiate at all this might be the best time to do so. You might have a clause in the contract that lets you get out of the lease during the first 30 days or so. Be sure to use this to your advantage because the landlord will probably be able to stretch a bit to avoid finding a new tenant.
Here are some things you can consider in order to have some leverage when you talk numbers:
- Are the appliances as promised?
- Is there any noise from the road/neighbors?
- Are there any signs of mold?
- How well does the heating work?
- How long is the waiting line for the washer/dryer?
Find out what means something to you and make sure you get a reduction on the rent if something doesn’t add up to the contract.
3) Get an extra bedroom (and rent it out!)
It might seem counterintuitive at first to rent a bigger place an order to save money. But here’s the deal.
The added cost of getting an extra bedroom in your apartment is almost always a lot of lower than the added income you can get per month from renting it out.
This can be a very clever way to lower your own rent per month. You’re might even be able to have a good friend staying with you or you can have a total stranger if you prefer not to be social when you are home.
This tip works especially good for expensive areas like Manhattan and San Francisco. In these areas, people will give their left arm in order to find a space to live. This means that you can always count on an extra room being rented out 100% of the time.
You can also try actively to find one or two roommates beforehand in order to share a bigger apartment. This will save all of you a lot of dollars each month.
4) Move two months prior to semester start
September and January are the busiest months for landlords. Everybody wants to move in and out just as the new semester starts at the universities and schools.
This also means that it’s harder to find a tenant in March and October then it is in January and September. You can totally use this to your advantage.
You will not compete against as many other hopeful tenants if you to choose to make the move off-season.
You might not be able to find as many vacant apartments but you will definitely be able to get considered when you apply for one. It’s all just math to the landlord. If he/she can avoid ending up with an empty apartment for a couple of months he/she will be able to give you a little discount in order to close the deal now.
During these times you will also be able to save on a lot of other things in relation to moving.
They will probably need work during the off-season and it’s better for them to get the job (with a discount) that not having anything to do.
5) Meet in person for a good first impression
Try to arrange an in-person meeting with the landlord.
When you meet the person face-to-face you have the opportunity to give a very good first impression. Let them know that you are the absolute ideal tenant for them.
If they feel like they won’t have any trouble with you whatsoever, they will be much more likely to let you negotiate the rent down a bit.
This will not be possible if you contact them by email or phone. You need to take the time to convince them to meet in person. Call them and let them know that you are very interested and you can move quickly.
You just need to see the apartment beforehand. After the tour of the space, you should try to get a good chit chat going with the person in order to establish a connection.
Just before you leave you should try to negotiate the price. This will give you as much time as possible to leave a good impression first. Let the other party know that you are very committed to this area. In fact, you are sure you will stay here for at least a couple of years.
This is exactly what the landlord wants to hear.
6) Sign for several years
You found the space you like and you know you’re going to live in this area for quite a while. So why not commit to renting the space for a couple of years?
By signing a multi-year lease the landlord will most likely be able to lower your monthly rent.
This is always a great option for a landlord because it will make his/her job much easier as he/she won’t have to find a new tenant anytime soon.
I have rented out several rooms in our house for the last 10 years and I love it when I get the impression that people will stay here for a couple of years.
This is a great option if you know you will study in the same city for a couple of years. You might even be able to convince the landlord that you may rent out your space to a friend for 3-6 months (that will enable you to take a semester abroad).
If you trust the person, you can also agree to pay a couple of extra months in advance in order to get the rent down.
7) Low rent in exchange for manual work
Call the landlord and ask if there’s anything you can do in order to lower the rent.
If you’re lucky, the person will be open to letting you help out with some practical stuff. He might even be actively looking for someone to help him out.
Here are some things you help with in return for lower rent:
- Mowing the lawn
- Remove garbage
- Remove weed
- Cleaning the washer/dryer room
- Cleaning the stairs
- Clearing snow
- Collecting leaves
- Paint a fence
- Maintain the internet connection
- Etc. (bring your best skills into play!)
You just need to get creative here.
Talk to the landlord or the manager and find out what tasks they would like to get off their hands.
8) Use a (local) relocation agent
If you don’t know anyone in the city you are heading for you should consider using a local relocation agency.
It might cost you some extra bucks now but if you are going to stay in the apartment for a year or two it could end up saving you a lot of money. And who knows, maybe you’re going to stay there for 5 or 10 years and then it will save you a ton of money.
As I mentioned earlier, $200 saved on monthly rent adds up to more than $10,000 over a period of 5 years!
I have worked with a local relocation agency for a while and I know how much money they saved for their customers. If I had known this information previously (when I moved to a big city) I might have made use of it!
These guys are specialists in the local area and they will know exactly where and how to get the best deals. Their salary depends on them being able to get a good deal for you.
In a long-term perspective, it will probably be worth it!
If you find a good local relocation agent you might be able to get a “no cure no pay” deal. This means that you only have to pay the agent if he or she managed to get you a good deal.
This is a great option if you are not a good negotiator yourself. There are people who do this professionally and they love to bargain. On top of that, he/she will typically have a good network of landlords to contact.
You just need to decide how much you are willing to pay in rent for the apartment.
Name this prize to the relocation agency and agree on a fee based on how much lower they can manage to get the rent.
This is typically a good idea for crazy areas like in Manhattan and San Francisco. It’s very tough to get into these areas without having to pay a big load of money. You will find a lot of relocation agencies in these areas and they can often save you a lot of money. They will also be able to help you out with other stuff than finding the apartment.
9) Commit yourself to talk to at least ten landlords
You shouldn’t expect to be lucky on the first or second try.
Decide in your mind that you will talk to at least ten different landlords before you sign a deal. This way you will know that you have the best deal you can find.
People will often tell you to sign a deal immediately in order to get the space. But don’t go with the first and best option because it might not be the cheapest one. If you commit to talking to at least 10 people you will have a much better knowledge of the price range in this local area.
See it as a challenge.
Most people don’t like to talk to strangers. But if you take up the challenge there are a lot of money to be saved just from this very simple tip.
10) Start (very) small
Most people can live in a smaller place than they think.
Maybe now is a good time to try out a studio apartment. When we are talking expensive cities, the rent prices for studio apartments is a lot lower than the one-bedroom apartment.
This way you can often cut a few hundred dollars off the monthly rent. It’s totally worth it because it will be more than 10,000 dollars over a period of five years. (Equivalent to the time many people live in the same apartment while they study.)
Here you can see rent prices for studio apartments. We have calculated the average monthly rent for over 50 different American cities.
We have put together a long list of helpful tips on how to decorate a studio apartment for cheap. You will be amazed to see how much you can get it out of a few hundred square feet.
How to ask for lower rent (95% never do!)
As I mentioned above, I have been renting out rooms in our house for more than 10 years.
You will be surprised to know how few people ever asked me for lower rent.
This is crazy when you think about it. Prices are always negotiable and you just need to ask.
As soon as you ask the landlord you will get a feeling (from the tone of the voice) whether this can be done. If the answer is a prompt “No!” you should just move on.
But if the person lingers the bit with the answer you might be able to convince him to give you a discount. This will be the best time to try the tactics above.
You need some leverage here.
You can’t expect the other part to just give you a discount without you offering anything in advance. Be well prepared and know which of the tips above you are going for.
You must have the other party believe that you will be the absolute best tenant out there. There’s no way he/she could find a better fit than you. During the tour of the premise, you must read the other person and find out what makes him/her tick.
Let him/her know how long you intend to stay and how long you have stayed in your previous apartment. Landlords are always looking for people who intend to stay for several years. That just makes their job easier.
Let’s take a look at some things a landlord looks for in a tenant.
7 things landlords look for in tenants
It’s important to know what the landlord looks for in order to get what you want.
Being a landlord myself, I have a pretty good idea about what we look for when we are searching for a new tenant.
Here are some of the things your landlord will be looking for in you. These are great things to mention during your conversation. But don’t force it, just be natural and try to include some of this information about yourself.
A landlord will look for:
- Tenants who plan on staying long-term (2 years or more)
You can emphasize this by mentioning why you are moving. Maybe you are starting a new job or at a new school which will require you to live in the area for several years.
- Tenants who don’t party
Let him/her know that you intend to use the weekend for studies (if you do) or that you might not be at the apartment during the weekend. Maybe you will have study groups or work late. In that case, be sure to mention it.
Tip: Don’t mention any girlfriend or boyfriend you may visit because this will let the landlord fear that you will move out to stay with him/her.
- Tenants who don’t like to keep pets (and is a non-smoker – obviously)
- Tenants who are structured
This is to make sure that you can manage to pay rent on time. Every time.
Nothing is more frustrating than having to prompt another person to pay you money.
- Tenants with a bit of experience
Don’t leave the impression that you are living with your parents at the moment.
Nobody wants a tenant who doesn’t even know how to change a lightbulb!
Let them know how long you stayed in the last apartment and how happy you are about the fact that you are able to rent this space for a long period.
Benefits you can negotiate on top of the rent
Maybe you cannot do anything about the rent. Or maybe you already negotiated the rent down as much as possible.
Here are some other things you can negotiate for (that won’t cost the landlord anything).
- A parking spot for your car
- New appliances
- A thermostat for the heating
- A dishwasher
- Free access to washer/dryer
- Faster internet connection
If you are already staying in the apartment it doesn’t hurt to ask the landlord whether he/she can meet some of these wishes.
The landlord knows (as well as you and I) that a happy tenant is a tenant that will stay for a long time. This is exactly what the landlord wants because it makes his job a lot easier.
Once in a while, the monthly rent will go up a little bit. This is normal and typically a part of the contract. This is a good time to try to negotiate some added benefits on your part. The landlord knows that this sometimes will cause the tenants to move out and he/she will be open to offering something in return.
Especially if it doesn’t cost him/her extra money to do so.
Can you negotiate the price of monthly rent?
Yes. Normally you can negotiate the price. Unless you are looking for an apartment in one of the most expensive cities. In these cities, you will have to move quickly and take what you can get.
Can you negotiate a rent deposit?
Yes. There are no rules against negotiating the terms of deposits for apartments. You can negotiate this as a part of the contract. You can also negotiate how many months notice you need to give when moving out.
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Morten is the founder of GoDownsize. He has filmed and interviewed people living in tiny houses and RVs since 2011. He grew up on the coast where his dad took him boating from a young age. He has completely rebuilt two RVs in which he travels with his family for months at the time. Read more about Morten here.