Much has been made of the current buyer's market in real estate. But rentals are also on sale, and tenants paying the same rent as one year ago might be paying too much.
The factors driving the downturn in home sales -- joblessness, overbuilding and a plunge in consumer confidence -- have torpedoed the rental market.
As a result, some tenants are finding they can shave hundreds of dollars off their rent simply by asking their landlord for a reduction.
"It's a market, and when there's an oversupply, then the buyers are in a position to influence the market, to make deals, to negotiate," says Ed Sacks, author of four books on tenant-landlord relations and contributing columnist to the Chicago Sun-Times.
The vacancy rate for multifamily apartments of 40 or more units has risen 1.2 percent in the last year, to 7.2 percent, according to a study by New York-based real estate research firm Reis.
As a result, the average rent asked for apartments nationwide has dropped by 0.6 percent, from $1,052 to $1,046 per month. That may not seem like much, but it's the largest-ever quarterly drop in the Reis study's 10-year history.
The key to prying concessions from often-reluctant landlords is preparation.
"The first thing is to know the market," Sacks says.
Rent reduction game planNot all markets are in freefall. The same Reis survey that paints a dire picture of the overall rental market shows rents in Houston, Oklahoma City and Tulsa, Okla., jumping between 3 percent and 4 percent in the last year.
“Know the scuttlebutt. If the landlord's in trouble, the landlord might be a little more willing to negotiate.”
Trying to cut your rent in such markets may be a nonstarter. So before charging into the landlord's office, it pays to do a little research into local rents.
"You've got to know the market prices, and those are fairly easy to determine these days off the Internet and the surviving classifieds in newspapers," Sacks says.
Once you know what's going on with the rental market in your area, it's time to do a little digging into your landlord's situation.
"Know what the landlord is advertising for units in the building," Sacks says. "If you can, find out from other renewing tenants what they're doing with other tenants. Know the scuttlebutt. If the landlord's in trouble, the landlord might be a little more willing to negotiate."
Once you've gathered this information, it's time to set up a meeting with your landlord. Good, loyal tenants can make a strong case for why their landlord should be willing to negotiate a new lease, Sacks says.
Sacks envisions a typical request as follows:
"I've been a good tenant. You know I pay my rent on time, you know I don't cause trouble. I'm not destructive of the unit, so I am a known quantity. You can rely upon me. You can trust me.
"And that has value, because, Landlord, when you rent to a new person, you don't know for sure. You don't know what their personality is like or their attitude, or their financial reliability and dependability. You know all those things with me, and that has value."