Tenant tips: How to up your negotiation game when renting in Singapore

Tenant tips: How to up your negotiation game when renting in Singapore


If there is anything that you should take home from this guide it’s this: renting prices are always negotiable and nothing is set in stone. What is more, negotiation margins can be rather large, making it worth investing some time in getting negotiation-savvy.

Negotiation is a powerful tool to help tenants come to an agreement with their landlords

We’d like to share with you something that recently happened to one of our writers (this one, to be precise). While I work at homats.com, I am also a tenant, and not long ago my landlord called me up and requested whether he could send a prospective tenant over to check out my room. Seeing that my lease was to end in about 2 months, I had foreseen this turn of events and even tidied up a bit so as to have the room leave a good impression on the prospective tenant.

So then this went down...

As I showed the prospective tenant (let’s call him Bob) my room, I mentioned in passing that it was after all a pretty sweet deal: a relatively spacious room in a landed property, fully furnished, utilities included, private bathroom, 2 pax—and all that for the price of S$1100/month!

After 9 seconds of silently staring at each other….

It dawned on me what had just gone down. I had just unwittingly given away my landlord’s game and laid out his cards wide open on the table for Bob to see—it turned out that this prospective tenant was offered the room for the higher price of S$1400/month, excluding utilities.

It appears that in the game of rental negotiations, there is no shame, no limits, and no consolidation price. You will in all likelihood not be as lucky as Bob to run into a fool like me, and will have to navigate this maze of uncertainty yourself. This guide aims to provide you with a toolbox of negotiation skills, so that you may avoid getting duped and will be able to get your rental terms at the right price.

In a previous post we have already outlined the pros and cons of getting a Tenant’s Agent to help you out in your house hunt. All we wish to say on the topic here is that a capable, professional and knowledgeable agent can also really help you through negotiating rental rates. If you still decide to go down the negotiations path yourself, then heads up! This guide is for you:

Step 1 – Do your homework on rental prices

Whether faced by a landlord’s agent or the actual landlord, your negotiation counterpart will in all likelihood know very well what the rental property market trends are, and by extension around what value the market rate for the room is at the time of negotiations

To level the playing field, you should too. There are a variety of ways to go about this. If you are willing to put quite a bit of time into this endeavour, consider making a visit to the building or area prior to your viewing, and ask the neighbouring tenants what rates they are paying. This should give you some idea of the going rate.

More of an armchair-researcher? The internet can get you far too. The most straightforward way to go about it is to look at similar listings in the same building or neighbourhood, and to cross-reference the pricing with the one being offered to you. The downside of this method is that all price listings on the net are pre-negotiated rates (i.e. the rates listed online themselves are still open to negotiation), leading the information to be biased towards the higher price range.  

Step 2 – Bargaining position

If you have done your homework you are now armed with a good understanding of both your prospective home’s market value and the neighbourhood’s market trends. While the price trends differ from district to district, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, and especially development to development, the overall state of affairs (at the time of this blogpost’s writing) is such that rent prices have been going down, and with a steady supply of HDB flats and private developments in the pipeline, the market is essentially a Tenant’s Market. This means that your bargaining position is good.

When the rental market is in an upward swing and landlords find their property hotly contested for, they will have the power to play tenants out against each other and request higher renting fees. If however, the rental market is sluggish and property runs the risk of being vacant, landlords will have to be more accommodating and settle for lower renting fees.

Your homework will hopefully demonstrate what the state of the rental market is like, whether the unit in question is popular, and by extension whether your bargaining position is good or not. This way, no landlord or agent will be able to unscrupulously lease you a S$1100/month room for S$1400/month. And while the right negotiation marges are probably still a bit uncertain, you will have a general idea of what to pay and what not to pay for your next place.   

Step 3 – Playing hard-to-get

Between truth and lies, right and wrong, fibs, facts and fiction lie vast plains of ambiguity – and it is here that you shall be negotiating your renting price. Homework and an analysis of your bargaining position can only bring you so far. At some point you shall have to take the jump and join in the game of negotiation

Do not give away how much you want the unit or how much you are really willing to pay for it. While the landlord’s advantage lies in that you do not know how low a price s/he would go for, yours lies in that the landlord does not know for how much you’ll still take it.

Step 4 – But not too hard

Arrange for a screening of the property and engage the landlord or his agent in conversation. While checking whether everything in the room is as it should be, talk about your job, your past renting experiences, and your plans for the future. Put the landlord or agent at ease, and show that you are an easygoing, reliable tenant who takes care of the property and will not make for much trouble. Contrary to popular belief, landlords agents and tenants can at times get along really well!

And remember, you did your homework for a reason. Is the unit priced above the going rate, then raise this issue, and show that you know the marges and are on top of your game. This will discourage any landlord or agent to opt for exorbitant rates, making the negotiation experience simpler and fairer.

Step 5 – the moment of truth

Appear Interested, but not too interested. Mention how much you like the apartment, but slip in there that you have a few other options too. If everything went well so far, the landlord or agent now has an impression of you as a serious, reliable candidate who would be willing to commit, yet may require a little push (in the form of a discount perhaps) – and you will most willingly allow them to give it to you.  

As the screening is coming to an end, you should move from small talk to “big” talk. Yes money talk! Express that you are really happy with the apartment, yet the price is a little steep and you are wondering if there are some means by which the cost of the place can be brought down to better suit your budgetary constraints. And if you are comfortable enough, share why you would really love for the rent to be just a teeny tiny bit lower. Student debt, financial responsibilities to family, or thinking of having children, to name just a few, are excellent reasons.

Step 6 – play around

It is not all about money. During negotiations you play around with utilities and furniture too. Instead of asking for a lower price, you can request whether the utilities can be included, or whether furniture can be provided. Especially, the latter is often overlooked but it is to a great extent in the interest of the landlord to provide furniture; the unit can be marketed at a higher rate, and the furniture will still be there for the next tenant.  

Step 7 – That ace up your sleeve

Unless you got a fantastic deal right away, take some time to mull it over at home. This does not only give you some time to genuinely think it over, but it also puts you in the position to deal your last cards of the game. Carefully assess what the lower bound price of the landlord is and set your rental price around that estimation. Call up the agent and tell him you are keenly interested, yet still a bit concerned about the steep price. Then work your way to the previously thought-of rate. If then, the agent concedes and you get within an acceptable range of the price you had in mind, it is time to seal that deal.

The negotiation master – kind of 

All in all, doing your homework is about half the work, and it prohibits you from getting nasty surprises. More so, it gives you some authority on which you can built a negotiation “Oh, utilities are not included? That is strange because I talked to the neighbour and while he is paying a similar price, his utilities are all taken care of!”.

While we won’t all turn into top-notch salesmen or world-class negotiator overnight, we can fake it quite a bit, maybe even so far that it gets us the right price for our next home!

Ready to find the home you’ll love? Go to homates.com



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