Here's a who-knew: Fall is one of the best times to score a great deal on a new apartment. Yes, there are fewer units to choose from, but there's also much less competition for what's out there, thanks to families now locked into school schedules and their current address.
Renting an apartment has more in common with buying a car than a trip to the grocery store. The list price isn't necessarily what you have to pay. That means you may be able to negotiate your way to a better home at a better price – if you have a few bargaining chips.
Here are some to consider:
Price comparisons. If you can show lower rates at comparable buildings, you strengthen your case for a price break. Just remember – keep the conversation positive and polite.
You're a model tenant. Share your strong references and stable job history. If you're a graduate student or an up-and-coming career person who's rarely home (creating little noise or wear in the apartment), mention that.
Parking. If you don't have a car, but the apartment comes with a dedicated parking spot, offer to exchange it for something you do want – a price break, a unit with a better view, free gym perks or maybe a bigger storage unit.
Lengthier lease. If you know you're going to be there for a while, offer to sign a longer lease in return for lower monthly rent.
Exchange work for a discount. Nope, this won't work everywhere, but at smaller complexes you may be able to trade leaf-raking or snow-shoveling for a price break.
Referrals. If you have friends looking for a place to live, see if you can negotiate a finder's fee for every person you refer.
Prepay. If you have the money, ask what kind of deal you'd get by prepaying your rent a few months in advance.
Make sure you get any discounts or perks in writing before you sign the lease.
Don't overlook this must-have
As you negotiate your best deal, keep one non-negotiable in mind: Safety. Designer touches or a bargain price won't mean much if you don't feel safe. For a worry less, live more home-sweet-home, make sure it checks these boxes:
□ Can it pass the "after dark" test? Drive through the neighborhood at night. If it seems rowdier than it did during the day or you notice sketchy characters hanging around, take it off your short list. Also, check lighting around entry ways, parking lots and common areas like laundry rooms. Ask neighborhood businesses about crime in the area.
□ Is it secured? That means no one can get into the building without a key, code or a buzz-in from a resident.
□ Are the locks new? Sounds like an odd question, but to save money, some apartment managers rotate and reuse door locks when tenants move out. That means, if a former tenant or contractor has kept a key, they can just go down the line trying it in every lock until they find the one it fits. Then voila – they're in! Insist on brand-new locks, right out of the package before you move in. And make sure the doors they're going into are sturdy.
□ Does it have an onsite manager? Not only will that improve security, but you'll be able to get help quicker with any maintenance issues.
Once you've found your new nest, be sure to protect yourself and your belongings with renter insurance for about 55 cents a day. More than half of renters don't – often because they believe one of these six myths – and they wish they'd bought it before a fire, break-in or car prowl.