We’re experiencing “pandemic pricing” in many housing markets, and for renters that can mean saving hundreds of dollars a year. Here’s exactly where and how to find deals. 

By Catey Hill
August 05, 2020
Rents are falling in many cities, which means deals for those looking to move.

Renters, if you’ve been looking to move, or need to move for financial reasons, this year may be the time to do it—at least for some of you.

Across the nation, rent prices have fallen 0.3% since the pandemic began, and “while this dip may seem modest, it is occurring at a time of year when rent growth is normally at its fastest,” writes apartment listing site Apartment List, which pulled data from millions of rental listings. 

Data from Zillow on typical rentals shows that prices aren’t falling in every city, but they are decreasing in some of the more expensive markets like San Francisco and New York. “Pandemic pricing continues to affect the top markets,” writes apartment listing site Zumper. Rent reductions are also showing up in cities that rely on industries like tourism—such as Orlando—which have been battered by the pandemic. 

“With a significant share of households now facing financial hardship, landlords have begun to lower rent in order to attract qualified renters to fill their vacancies,” Apartment List concludes in its report.

Where you can find deals:
Many large and pricier cities have seen rent prices drop: Apartment List showed that the median two-bedroom in San Francisco has fallen 3.3% since March, New York by 2.8%, San Jose by 2.2%, Orlando by 2.1% and Miami by 2.0%. Other markets where rent has fallen, but by a smaller percentage, include Washington D.C., Austin, Charlotte, Boston and Houston.

Though these percentages may not seem like much, think about it this way: “You could end up living in a rental for a lot longer than you expect with the deal you negotiate now,” says certified financial planner Bobbi Rebell, who is a personal finance expert at Tally. “So the lower you can keep your original price, the better the payoff will be down the road.”

Where you won’t find as many deals:
“While most renters have the upper hand right now, this might not be the case everywhere,” says Rebell. Indeed, many smaller cities are actually seeing rents increase. Zumper notes that Henderson, NV; Tulsa, OK; Sacramento, CA; Memphis, TN; and Durham, NC, among others, have all seen rent rise.

That means if you want a deal, you need to “know what is going on in your market,” Rebell explains. “Are there city and state bans on evictions and rent freezes? How have rent prices been trending in the last six months? How many vacancies are there in the building or neighborhood?”

How to score the deal:
But even if you live in a smaller city, you may still be able to find deals. With unemployment hovering around 11%, many renters are going to be moving into more affordable spots, which leaves landlords with open apartments and fewer people vying to get in. Here’s how to score a deal on rent:

  • Ask. “The most important thing is to ask,” says Rebell. “Too often we assume rent is a firm price. But right now, it is a renter’s market and everything is negotiable.” Certified financial planner Kevin Mahoney, the founder of financial advising firm Illumint in Washington, D.C., says that when you ask you should—like in many other negotiations—try to figure out what your landlord needs and what you need, and to work together from there. Here are some rent negotiating tips.
  • Be patient. “Time is on your side. Don’t seem overanxious. More renters are moving out than moving in, so you have the upper hand,” explains Rebell, who is also the host of the “Financial Grownup” podcast and co-host of the “Money with Friends” podcast.
  • Offer to prepay rent. “This can give a landlord more security, especially now when there is a lot of concern about whether a tenant will be able to pay their rent,” Rebell explains. 
  • Agree to a longer lease. “Landlords don’t make money if an apartment is empty. If they know it will be occupied for a longer time period, they don’t have to worry about finding a new, qualified tenant,” Rebell says.  “They also don’t have to worry about losing a month (or more!) in rent during a tenant transition.”
  • Show them you’re good for it. “Amid rent freezes and rent strikes, landlords will be overly cautious about the new tenants that they take on right now. So it will be in your best interest to come to the negotiation table with your past rental history, credit score, and other important financial information to show that you’re able to make rent each month,” Rebell explains.
  • If they won’t budge on rent, look to negotiate other things, says Mahoney. Could they lower the security deposit, the pet deposit or budget on something else? Those other items can sometimes be as much as a rent deduction, he adds.