“My advice is to come in with a package that shows who you are,” Mr. Brown said. “Have your financials ready, and a reference from your prior landlord, but also add a bio about yourself and your family,. You want to make that deeper connection.” It’s also worth making a phone call to ask if the landlord has preferences on move-in dates and ideal lease length. If you demonstrate eagerness to work with his or her needs, it could buy you more wiggle room on rent price.
Even if your landlord is a large company, you still want to be polite. “If you call up and threaten, the landlord’s immediate reaction will be to threaten back, and that’s a lose-lose situation,” Mr. Brown said.
“Landlords would almost always rather give you a few months free than reduce your actual rent,” Ms. Donoghue said. Offering concessions — like a rent-free period — allows landlords to keep their so-called “face rent” high and stable, which affects what they can charge in the future as well as how much their property is worth if they refinance it.
The good news is that many landlords are handing out concessions like candy these days. “In July, 30.4 percent of all rental listings had concessions, which is huge,” Ms. Young said. “In Washington, D.C., it was 57.5 percent of listings.” And 90 percent of the concessions she has seen have involved free rent. “So you may not see rent go down, but you will be able to get a few months off.”
The bad news is that if you’re hoping to stay in an apartment for longer than two years, a few months free won’t save you tons of money in the long term. “If you’re planning to be there for four or five years, you’re better off asking for a lower rent,” Mr. Brown said. “I recommend trying to split the difference. You could say; ‘I understand that you don’t want to lower my rent to the number I’ve asked for. Why don’t we lower it a little bit and do one month free?’”
If your landlord isn’t budging on any discounts or concessions, consider asking for other breaks. “Now is the time to ask for new appliances, or upgrades in the bathroom,” Ms. Wu said. “Anything to make your home more comfortable is fair game, since you’re probably spending a lot more time in it right now.”
The coronavirus isn’t going away anytime soon, and many markets suffering from the economic fallout will take a long time to recover — and may get worse before they do.