It’s a good time to negotiate lower rent

Private Property South Africa
Karin Iten

More and more people are deciding to rent instead of buy as the housing market waivers. But what many aren’t aware of, is the negotiating power they have when looking for a rental property – not least because the latest tale the property bulls are flogging is the idea that a surge in demand from would-be first time buyers “forced” to rent will be great news for landlords.

According to FNB’s Residential Property barometer, this shows the activity in the property market on a scale of one to 10, for the first quarter of 2008, activity in the home buyers market sat at a mediocre level of around 4.96, while rental market activity was above average at 8.4.

But the reality is, while the number of potential renters has risen, so has the number of properties available. And because of the credit crunch and staggering inflation figures, landlords have much higher bond repayments to service each month – meaning they’re increasingly keen to find tenants to avoid expensive “void” periods. So here are some tips for would-be tenants hoping to slash their rental bill…

1. Know your market

Find out what similar properties in the area cost to rent. If you can find something better for close to the same amount, use this as a bargaining chip to negotiate lower rent. Just don’t bluff! Landlords usually check the going rate of properties in the area to ensure they’re offering competitive rates – so take the ad with the alternative offer along with you. Remember, cruising through the Junk Mail and other newspaper property inserts on the weekend is a very helpful way of showing you if a property’s very overpriced (i.e. much higher than the advertised rents of other properties) for what it’s offering.

If you’re looking at moving into a complex or block of flats, find out how many units are standing open. Like everything else in this world, the price put forward is often determined by supply/demand dynamics. Use a higher number of empty units to drive the price lower. Remember, if there are a lot of vacancies, it's a renter’s market and a perfect time to negotiate the bottom line.

2. Sell yourself

Every landlord wants consistent, decent, quiet tenants. So let them know you fit the bill. Tell them about your qualifications and anything else you think shows how responsible you are. Also hand over references from employers to show what an upstanding person you are. This will impress landlords and make them want you as tenants, putting you in a stronger position to start negotiating. But that’s not all. Think about how you prepare for a job interview – you dress up, play it cool (even if it’s the job of your dreams) and never discuss your salary expectations at the first meeting. Only once your prospective employee phones you back, do you negotiate how much you’ll be earning. And you should follow the exact same rules when negotiating your rent.

3. Consider signing a longer lease

Finding good tenants is very time consuming. For this reason, it’s something landlords try to avoid whenever possible. The spectre of a property standing empty, while a new tenant’s found, sends shivers down a landlord’s spine. So if you’re sure you want to stay in the area for a long time, then offer to sign a longer lease in return for a rent reduction and a guarantee that the rent won’t rise above inflation for the duration. Offer to stay for two or three years and most landlords will leap at the chance.

4. Find out how long the property’s been empty

You can use this to your advantage too. Find out how long the accommodation has been on the market. Every day the landlord doesn’t have a tenant, is a day he/she loses money. And remember, if you can move in immediately, let the landlord know – this might help you reduce the rental price even lower.

5. Throw in free labour

Offering to paint the flat can save you quite a bit of money. Not only can you negotiate with your landlord to cover the costs of the paint and all painting equipment, you should also negotiate a reduction on your rent to cover the time you spent doing this. Similarly, why not suggest tidying up and maintaining the garden in return for cheaper rent. Point out how much money you’ll save the landlord – not to mention the improvement to the property – and you stand a good chance of getting a rent reduction.

6. Just negotiate

One of the biggest mistakes renters make is not asking for enough. Too many people agree to pay the advertised rent. But in reality, and anyone who’s ever tried to sell a property will tell you this, homeowners rarely expect to get 100% of what they ask for. So, why not play this game too? Just don’t take it too far – offering 30% less is probably a little extreme. But, you should be able to get between 15%-20% off. The worst they can say is “forget it”, and you can always just raise your offer.


As published in issue 61 of

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