A few weeks ago we were served with a letter from an agent letting us know that our lease is up and rent is increasing. We had just a couple of days to decide if we were staying at the higher price or if we’d pack our bags and try something new.
Honestly, I was annoyed. I get that rent usually increases every year. But I really doubted that it went up as much as they were asking us to pay. And we have been (in my opinion) delightful tenants. We didn’t complain when our dishwasher was broken for 2 months. We keep the place really clean. So this rent increase? Not something I was thrilled with.
For most of my adult life, I’ve lived in rent-controlled cities where you know what to expect with a rent increase. This is my first time living in a foreign country, where I didn’t really know the rules. We were communicating through what felt like a layer of 15 different rental agents, trying to make the case that this rent hike was not ok. And we kept hearing, “but you don’t really get to have an opinion on this.”
We were even told this by our agent, who is supposed to be on our side. Rude, people.
Our market research
One of the things I hate more than anything is being taken advantage of. So I text Jordan shortly after hearing our rent increase was final and told him that I was going to start looking for a new place to live. I lined up 10 viewings.
Yes, I can sometimes act a bit hasty, out of spite.
We went to all the showings, found things that were fine, but once we started to think about the time and cost of moving, our eagerness to move began to diverge. Was this increase a big enough hit to our bank account (and our egos) to make us move? For me, 100% yes. For Jordan, meh. He was wavering just a little.
After a full day of house hunting, Jordan suggested we cut out all of the agents and just invite the landlord over directly to talk to him. I was still a little miffed at the landlord for raising our rent, so I didn’t really feel like sitting down and talking to him.
But Jordan always knows how to bait me, so he then dropped, “You can put your negotiation skills to use and see if they work outside the workplace.”
Oh was that a challenge? Accepted.
The next day Jordan text him asking if he could stop by because we’d love to have a chat. He was in the neighborhood so 5 minutes later he was knocking on our door.
We invited him in, sat down, and I put my B.A.M.M framework to use. Here’s how I framed the conversation, with annotations for why I said what I did.
“Thank you so much for coming over today to chat with us. You know we’ve loved living here the past year. We asked you over today because we received the rent increase that you’ve asked for, and I’m having trouble understanding how this makes sense from a market perspective. [Not an emotional appeal, but a rational one.] I appreciate that you have a business to run and you have to make the best decisions for that business, and we also need to make the best decisions for our family. [This isn’t going to be a win/lose situation. How can we both make the best decisions for ourselves and still walk away feeling like we’ve “won”?] We decided to do some research and viewed some other apartments yesterday. $X is the going rate we’re seeing in the market [is he sweating knowing that we moved quickly and already booked showings with agents? That was my goal.] We looked at this first property and it is renting for $X and another comparable property is also renting for $X. [Specifics always help] While we would hate to leave, we aren’t prepared to pay over market for our housing. [my ask is that I’ve laid out what market it and we’re not budging past that.]”
Then, silence. If you’ve taken my negotiation course, you know how important silence is in a negotiation and if I’m honest, I think this silence just saved us thousands each year.
He took a few seconds and replied back, “Thank you for your honesty. Yes, it is a business and I need to make sure I’m doing what’s right for it. But I would hate to see you leave. How about we meet in the middle on the increase?”
This is the part I’m most proud of. Jordan and I both sat in silence and just stared at him. Yes, it was a little uncomfortable for a second, but that was OK. He proposed something that we weren’t ready to consider, but instead of shutting him down, we sat in silence and waited for him to continue.
And continue, he did.
“Well thinking about it as a business owner, it would cost a lot to replace you. And I don’t think the extra cost of replacing you is worth raising the rent. So we won’t raise the rent this year. Would you be OK with that? Keeping the same rent going forward?”
Oh yes, that would be just fine.
While I could end the story there, and you probably would like me to, there’s one area that I had for improvement. Yes, of course, I asked Jordan for an evaluation.
After we shook on the no rent increase he stayed for another 5-10 minutes. And rather than changing the topic to something neutral like the weather (English people love to talk about the weather), I started talking about rent again. WTF, Erica.
Luckily, this changed nothing. But my lesson learned is this: ask for what you want, make the deal, and move on. If all else fails, the weather is a decent segue.
Negotiating your salary is the same as negotiating anything else in life. Taking the lessons I’ve learned and mastered from workplace negotiation, I was able to bring it into my personal life and save a bundle.
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It’s not always easy to say no. But save your budget, your time, and your sanity by changing how you think about no and how you say it.