According to the UK's National Landlords Association (NLA), landlords are still experiencing high levels of vacancies in their rental properties (as of March 2010, 52% of UK landlords experienced vacancies in the last year). While this is a UK-based group, the problems with securing tenants remains as much of a problem stateside. So as long as apartment inventory exceeds renters, you have the upper hand.
While normally I wouldn't suggest poking around on landlord association websites (yawn!), a little reconnaissance on sites like those could help prepare you for negotiations -- when you know what the other side is thinking.
The NLA suggests the following tips to help landlords avoid vacancies (and what this could mean to you as a potential renter is in bold):
- Price sensibly – it might be worth accepting a lower rent in order to secure a new tenant. (Deals! Deals! Deals! Don't simply accept the price of rent as quoted. Remember that vacancies do the landlord no good -- an empty apartment costs them in the long run. Now's the time to wheel and deal. Maybe you can receive a reduction in monthly rent or maybe they'd consider a reduction if you offer a couple months of paid rent up-front. The worst response you can get is: No.)
- Add finishing touches and incentives – make sure the house and garden are in a good state of repair and well-kept. Also consider 'added extras' to help entice your new tenant – what about garden furniture or wireless broadband? (Ask for incentives! Do the apartment's walls need a fresh paint? Is there a satellite dish on the roof that would allow the landlord to include cable and internet for no additional cost to your monthly rent?)
- Market well -- make sure you market your property effectively and in the best places. Make sure it is on the internet as this is where the majority of tenants search for their next property. Make sure photographs do your property justice. Would the photos make you want to live in it? (Really, who wants to live in a prospective apartment with garbage strewn around? Check out picture #3 in a slideshow for this New York apartment -- would it have killed someone to pick up the toilet paper from the bathroom floor? But what does this mean to you as a perspective renter? Don't fall in love with -- or rent! -- a place strictly from the pictures. Beware of wide-angle shots that make the space look bigger and other tomfoolery that can be done to enhance images.)
- Does the rent really need to go up? If you have good tenants, think very hard before choosing to put the rent up. In the current market, as long as the rent is covering mortgage repayments, you might want to think twice about rocking the boat. (Deals! Deals! Deals! If you're comfortably situated and your lease is up soon, try to see if your rent can remain the same without that pesky annual raise in rent. If you're feeling confident -- why not ask for a reduction in rent?)
Remember, renters, there are still good deals to be had and the party's not over yet.