How to Negotiate Rent

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“Toronto Rents are Down a Whopping 20% Since Last Year” 

“San Francisco’s 35% Plunge in Rents Shows Effects of Tech Fleeing City”

“Manhattan Rents Drop To 10-Year Lows”

One of the (very few) bright spots of the pandemic is the precipitous fall of rents in big cities—places where rents were once thought to be on a never-ending trajectory to the moon!

But with tourism shut off, office workers logging in from home, and zero immigration, vacancies have skyrocketed, and rents have plummeted.

Well, you know what that means. Time to take advantage!

You may have noticed that we, at Millennial Revolution, are a tad rebellious. So, when covid-19 sparked a mass exodus from the major cities to the suburbs and cottage country, we went in the opposite direction.

As Warren Buffet likes to say: “be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy”.

By being greedy while everyone was fleeing we managed to average $1641/month in rent in a city that normally averages $2300/month.

And not only that, by being trustworthy tenants, we’ve also secured great landlord references and multiple offers to return to previous sublets/Airbnbs to boot.

Here are some tips and tricks we used to find rental deals:

Airbnb:

We’ve been living off Airbnb on a month-to-month basis, and as a result have been able to jump on some crazy good deals, including this 1+1 bedroom condo in Toronto for $1185.82 CAD($926 USD)/month:

But before I go on, let me mention some downsides to Airbnb, so you don’t get blindsided. The two biggest downsides we’ve found, having lived off of Airbnb for the past five years are:

1) Host Cancellations

Sometimes hosts cancel on you because their situation changes, or they get sick and they need to stay at their place. This leaves you in the lurch, scrambling to find an alternative, sometimes a week before check-in. If it’s close to your check-in date (a week or less), Airbnb will give you a credit worth 10% of the original booking to cover the inconvenience. However, we’ve never had problems finding a replacement and in the past 5 years, and in the 100s of Airbnb’s we’ve stayed in we’ve only had to do find alternatives a grand total of 4 times.

2) Lack of cooking utensils/household items

The other downside is that there may be household items that are missing, like kitchen condiments, cleaning supplies, or a limited number of pots or utensils. This may be avoided if you look for a place where the host lives there part time, but it’s a crap shoot.

For us the pros of having a place, with laundry and kitchen, all utilities and wifi included, that feels more like a home rather than a hotel, plus the safety factor of Airbnb holding your money in escrow, and the convenience of having a fully furnished rental outweigh the cons.

So, if you’re okay with those drawbacks, here’s how you go about finding the best deals on Airbnb:

1. Look for Lack of Camera Skills

I love hosts who can’t take good pictures, either because of a lack of skill or impatience. Why? Because that’s how you find gems that other people miss.

Host’s picture with clutter and bad lighting. They forgot to even mention that it has a balcony
The place was much better than in the Airbnb pictures. For $1350/month, it was a steal. Even though the furniture is old fashioned, the condo building itself was modern. Also, the unit had great lighting because of the floor to ceiling glass doors and wide windows. This was not obvious from the host’s pictures.
There’s a nice balcony which wasn’t even mentioned.

The place could be a nice unit in a good area, but the host doesn’t know how to show the place in the best light. Or they’re simply busy or new to Airbnb and haven’t gotten the hang of it yet.

If you see that place looks decent (good layout) but has weird camera angels (picture not rotated, bad lighting, has some clutter), research more to see if it’s a good area and use Google Maps to find the building.

How?

Airbnb doesn’t give you the address until you book, but you can in touch with the host with the “contact host” button.

Send them a message and tell them you’re interested in their place but want to scout out the transportation options nearby. Ask them about the closest intersection and use that info plus the description of the place to find the house or building on google maps.

This will tell you whether the place is a dump or whether it’s actually a nice new building, but the host just isn’t great at taking photos. The bad aesthetics will scare off other potential guests and let you find diamonds in the rough.

Conversely, you can also use this strategy to weed out places that look nice in the picture, but is in a bad area or a crappy building.

2. Get Weekly and Monthly Rates Rather than Daily

Most Airbnb hosts give weekly and monthly discounts of 25% or more. This is why it’s cheaper to book for an entire month (at least 28 days, sometimes 30) even if you only need the place for 3 weeks. Or booking for 7 days even if you only need it for 5 or 6. Take advantage of these longer-term rates and simply check-out early if you need to.

Here’s an example of a place that costs $2365 for 21 nights but only $1858 for 28 nights due to the 40% off monthly discount:

March 1- 22:

March 1- 29:

3. Don’t Let “No Reviews” Scare you

Don’t let places with no reviews scare you. When we first started out on Airbnb, we nervously excluded those places. That was a big mistake.

We later found out hosts who are new to Airbnb, actually try harder and are more eager to please. They are also more open to give you a discount in order to get that first good review. Plus, you also have less competition, because other people may not want to take the risk of a place with no reviews.

And in the event that it doesn’t work out, you can always reach out to Airbnb support to switch places. In the past 5 years, we only had to do this once and Airbnb gave us a refund and we used it to find a new place.

In our experience, the places with no reviews work out more often than not and new hosts work harder to gain your trust.

4. Price Match with Other Sites

Once you find an Airbnb that you like, see if the same place is listed on other sites like:

VRBO
Booking.com
Agoda.com (if you’re in Asia)
Facebook Marketplace
Craigslist
Kijiji

I saved $200 when I booked found our Taiwanese Airbnb on agoda.com. And recently, I found a 3 bed 2 bath cottage with hot tub and sauna that was listed for $2300/week on Airbnb, but only $1600/week on VRBO, and then $950/week on the owner’s website.

Cottage listed for $2300 on Airbnb
Same cottage listed for $1600 on VRBO
Same cottage listed for only $950/week on the owner’s site

I reached out to the Airbnb host and asked them to match the price on their website and they agreed. Sadly, I ended up having to cancel it due to the pandemic but luckily, they had a flexible cancellation policy, so I got my 100% of my money back 2 weeks before check-in date. That’s why it’s a good idea to always check the listing’s cancellation policy (flexible, moderate, strict, long term) before booking. For long term, the first 30 days isn’t refundable, so if want to go month-to-month, it’s not refundable. However, Airbnb has an extenuating circumstances policy which is helpful if you or a loved one gets sick and can’t go. When we had to cancel our Australia Airbnb booking after we found out about Wanderer’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, Airbnb refunded us.

5. Offer to Book for Longer

If you want to get a discount from the host, reach out via the “contact host” button and offer to book for longer. I found a 4-bedroom Airbnb in Portugal listed for $4800/month that I negotiate down to $3400/month by offering to stay for 2 months or more. I also mentioned that my friends who were coming with me, are all in our mid to late 30s with high Airbnb reviews. Airbnb hosts love it when you can show you’re responsible adults and professionals who won’t leave footprints on their ceiling, smoke weed in their home, or throw all their cutlery out and steal their TV (true story).

If you find a host with holes in their calendar (eg. You want March 1 to March 30, and their calendar is free until April 6), likely they won’t have an easy time filling out that gap in between. Here’s where you ride in and save the day by offering their price but for a longer stay. For example. If you want to pay only $1500/month, but their listing is $1700/month, ask them if they’re willing to let you stay for 34 days instead of 30. This gives brings the average daily cost down to $1700/34= 50, which is $1500 for 30 days. This won’t be helpful for everyone but if you’re nomadic like us and can move around easily, this reduces the days and cost of your next Airbnb.

If they have trouble figuring out how to update the cost in the Airbnb app (it can get a bit confusing to calculate since the monthly discount wouldn’t apply to your extra days, extra Airbnb fees etc), you can pay their price up front, then use the “Request Money” function in the Resolution Center to have them give you a refund. I did this with a host recently when I asked whether he would accept $1600/month for 30 days instead of $1700. He came back with $1700 for 34 days since he had no guests after me. That ended up working out even better because it worked out to be only $50/day, or $1500/month. I then booked for 34 days for $1927 and he refunded me $227 on the day I checked in. Going forward, I only booked for 28 days instead of 30 days for Airbnbs in the following months.

6. Flaunt Your Reviews

Trust is the currency on Airbnb and great reviews are worth their weight in gold.

If you’re just starting out with Airbnb, you may not have as much negotiating power as other experienced guests. That’s ok. You’ll build up your reviews overtime. Some places have “instant book”, where you don’t need the host’s approval and it will automatically approve you. Once you have a handful of great reviews under your belt, you can up your Airbnb game.

Having lived all over the world in the past 5 years, our 111 positive reviews gives us instant pre-approvals from hosts all the time. If you’re negotiating with a host, mention your great reviews to give them peace of mind. If you’re in the 30+ age bracket that helps too. Airbnb is one of the few places where agism works in your favour. Older = more trustworthy.

7. Find Last Minute Deals

Depending on how popular the city is, you might be able to score a last-minute deal. Hosts don’t want the place to sit empty so they’ll take what they can last minute. This won’t work for popular places though, so during high season, book as early as you can (at least a month in advance, maybe two). But in low season, contact the host, mention your great reviews, and ask for a last-minute discount. Offer to book for longer if you can and mention other places that are comparable, but you prefer their place if they can give you a discount.

If you want to book for a longer period of time (3-6 months), you can also check out Facebook marketplace, Kijiji, or craigslist for sublets. However, since there’s no 3rd party to handle payment, you could be the victim of rental scams, so I would only use those platforms if you’re in the city already and can vet the place and landlord by actually going there. Airbnb takes away the risk and hassle so you can book places ahead of time even if you’re not in the city. If we want to book places for 3 months (like in Thailand for example), we’ll get an Airbnb for the first month to avoid getting scammed, and then scout out options on the ground for the remaining months.

Okay, this article turned out to be way longer than I thought, so I’ll be splitting into parts 1 and part 2. Next time, I’ll tell you the strategy I used to extend my current sublet and save $300/month.

Want to try Airbnb? Get up to $75 CAD/$60 USD off on your first stay with our referral link.

What do you think? Do you have any tips and tricks you used to negotiate a lower rent?


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13 thoughts on “How to Negotiate Rent”

    1. I generally agree with what your conclusion but you need to be careful about simplifying and generalizing. Yes, rents have gone down temporarily but have the fundamentals of housing in North America changed so much that they will stay down long term. Likely not. Immigration was not zero, but it was down 30-35% which is significant but not zero. People are social creatures and want to be near other people and crave social interaction. Likely the short term trend of moving from the city is just that short term. A significant cohort of our population cannot work from home. Access to health care, post secondary education and government programs are centred in our urban centres. Lower rents are a short term trend that will reverse as the pandemic recedes. It may take a couple years but rents will increase again. This is the fundamentals of housing.

  1. One thing to consider regarding your article is the DURATION and character of your occupation. What you really are booking is a “holiday” rental. If you are looking to rent an apartment, in terms of what most people think that renting is (ie. for a longer term), at least in Ontario different laws apply. You’re in the Airbnb world. In the regular rental world, for most apartments, especially in cities with low vacancy rates, there won’t be much negotiating. And there are many rules regarding rent that a Landlord needs to be mindful of. There are, for instance, special rules regarding discounts in Ontario. I expect a number of airbnb “Landlords” may run afoul of rental laws when they find that they are actually residential landlords within the meaning of the Residential Tenancies Act. This advice pertains to Ontario Canada and may not apply to other jurisdictions which will have its own set of rental laws.

  2. As a long-term, multi-property Airbnb host I agree with everything said. You can reduce the likelihood of host cancellations by booking with hosts who treat STRs as a business. I will only cancel if the apartment becomes uninhabitable; this happened to me once and I put the guest up in a local hotel while we got the place fixed. I lost money on the booking, but it’s what you do if you are running a business professionally

    BTW, real estate experts say that rental rates are usually a leading metric that property prices follow; not that that’s a concern for those who follow Millennial Revolution!

  3. These are great tips. I am usually turned off by poor picture angles, but now I will try to pay more attention to them. For our Europe trip last summer (that got cancelled for COVID), I did find a couple of the Airbnbs on booking.com for roughly the same price. I went with booking.com because the cancellation terms were better and I didn’t need to pay up front. But I didn’t think about messaging the host directly through Airbnb and asking to match the price or provide a more lenient cancellation policy. Good to know for next time…whenever that is!

  4. Interestingly, substantially more than 0 hotels in NZ come set up for cooking. When I was a kid and my parents took us to Florida sometimes there were “efficiency” apartments and this is like that. It’s definitely one reason I prefer airbnb over hotels for longer-term stays. Also $.

    I’m all about going to places/times that aren’t popular with people, though really I’m happy to not have been in Toronto in 2020 and fortunate to not have had family member health issues (renewed best wishes for Wanderer’s dad). Still, I don’t think there were that many better alternatives for you. Taiwan would likely have been good last year if there was no family health emergency, especially since you already know you like it there, but how do you know in advance.

  5. Living month to month through AirBnB isn’t the most talked about subject in the realm of finance. I remember when I booked an entire month through AirBnB and the hosts actually had really interesting stories.

    One was from Saudi Arabia and specifically booked her place just so her child can be born in the United States. That was really interesting.

    The option to rent out without a formal lease agreement can be a positive upside to renting through Airbnb as well. Most hosts are more than accommodating for long term AirBnBers anyway.

  6. We love Airbnb as we have been using them for the past 2.5 years to travel the world.

    These are great tips (love the one about light) and here are a few more you can consider as they have been helping us slashing our Airbnb rate (sometime by more than 50%) as well as reducing bad surprises at check-in time:

    To get a better deal:
    – Booking outside of the historical/touristy downtown area
    – Looking for weakness in the listing (usually through reviews or google street view assessment of the area) as leverage to ask for a better deal
    – Booking last minute and looking at Airbnbs that have lot of vacancies to increase our chance to get a deal as such host would be desperate to find clientele
    – …

    To get fewer bad surprises upon check-in:
    – Asking for internet speed as part of the initial conversation
    – Asking to confirm to kitchen utensils (we love to cook and hate a good looking kitchen which isn’t functional)
    – …

    For the full list, including an awesome template we use to bulk email several Airbnb listings within minutes, you can refer to our post on this topic: https://www.nomadnumbers.com/top-tips-save-money-airbnb-guide/

  7. Thanks so much for these great tips.

    I’ve hosted my place on Airbnb while I was travelling and used booking.com for booking private homes in Europe. Sometimes I’ll find the same property on both sites but Airbnb will be more expensive for both the host & traveller because they take more in charges.

    I noticed a lot of co-living spaces created by property developers that have sprung up in the larger cities. Has anyone tried to negotiate rent on those places?

  8. Thank you so much for the information. Very useful! We are hoping to start digital nomad life next winter, probably will start from Florida first. I was just wondering how to find a place. This post came at the right time!

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