Imagine smuggling 10 live cobras in a bodily orifice. Now take that level of difficulty, push it forward, and you’ll know what it means to deal with local landlords. Negotiating rent in Singapore is a mammoth task; with our severe space shortage, tenants have less bargaining power than a Serbian warlord at a UN council. Still, if you have student loans or medical bills, you may have no choice. So for those of you who with nothing to lose, here’s a few simple tricks. No guarantees, but they’re all worth a shot:
Negotiating for rent can happen when you’re a new tenant, or when you’re an existing tenant. Between the two, you have the best chances if you’re new.
When establishing your rent for the first time, remember the price will go up every three to four years. If you’re a new tenant and you’re staying long, it’s important to set that baseline low. For existing tenants, you probably can’t lower the rent, but you can stall a raise in the rent. Either way, here are some methods that both types of tenants can use:
- Negotiate toward the end of the lease
- Lower your landlord’s maintenance
- Check and match the neighbours
- Use the lease as a bargaining tool
- Ask to defer rent hikes
1. Negotiate Toward the End of the Lease
The landlord’s greatest terror is an empty apartment. In many cases, landlords rely on rental to cover or subsidise their mortgage. Even if you’re dealing with a property agent, remember their quotas come toward the end of the month.
You want to use this urgency to back your negotiation. Wait until your lease is almost ending (or near the start date, if you’re a fresh tenant). When your landlord calls and asks if you’re renewing, don’t give a committed answer. Say you’re not sure, you need to check your finances, etc.
Singaporean landlords get aggressive and pushy; they may even threaten to get a new tenant if you don’t answer soon enough. Don’t budge. When they get really desperate, say you can “give a definite answer right now, if you accept XYZ conditions”. Remember that in any negotiation, most of the changes and compromises happen close to the deadline.
2. Lower Your Landlord’s Maintenance
Offer to help with the apartment or house maintenance. If your landlord doesn’t need to hire a gardener or painter, for example, he might be willing to lower your rent.
When I was studying abroad, I spent a whole weekend painting over bad grouting (that gap between tiles). I lost a Saturday working on toilet tiles, but the landlord was so happy he didn’t raise my rent. Over the course of five months, I was more than compensated for that bit of work.
If there are other tenants, some landlords will lower your rent if you’re happy to do light cooking and cleaning. This should be a last resort, but mention it if you’re desperate. And I insist that cup noodles count as cooking.
3. Check and Match the Neighbours
In Singapore, landlords determine their rent by checking surrounding property. It makes sense that, as a tenant, you should do the same.
If your neighbour’s rent hasn’t changed but yours is going up, you’ve just drawn an ace. Citing surrounding rent is probably the most valid argument you can make. But if turns out that their rent is higher than yours, you can at least pick the “low average” for the area.
Even if you’re not negotiating your rent, it pays to check on this every month or so. Movements in price will give you a realistic estimate; and you’ll need that when the lease is up.
4. Use the Lease as a Bargaining Tool
You can use the length of the lease, along with your payment dates, as a bargaining tool. Most landlords will consider reduced rent if you can make a long term commitment (about two years). Some alternatives to offer your landlord include:
- Paying the monthly rent sooner (e.g. on the 27th instead of on the 1st)
- Putting down a longer (three or four months) advance
- Lengthening the advance notice required for you to leave
Be creative with this. Most landlords look for guarantees and security; if you can assure them you won’t be disruptive, they may be inclined to lower your rent.
5. Ask to Defer Rent Hikes
Most landlords would rather keep an existing tenant than get a new one; it means less paperwork, and no period of vacancy. So if you promise to stay on, you can sometimes stall a rent hike.
Agree on the landlord’s new rate, but on condition that it’s implemented later. Ask for an extra month or two to prepare your own finances; but give assurance that you’ll renew the lease. If you’re a new tenant, you can try asking for lower rent in your first two months, with a promise to switch to an agreed-upon rate later.
This method is ideal if you’re waiting on a new job. Alternatively, use the extra time to diminish high interest debts.
Have you ever negotiated your rent successfully? Comment and let us know about it!