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Looking to rent an apartment or buy a car? Here's how to negotiate the price

Negotiate like a pro with these tips.
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

I first learned about negotiating when I watched "Clueless" for the first time. Cher Horowitz, played by Alicia Silverstone, preps her scary lawyer father for what is going to be a dismal report card. Before her dad can even lay his eyes on her bad marks, Silverstone assures him that she’s working on getting those grades swiped up for higher ones.

“It’s just a jumping off point for negotiations,” she explains of the grades on her report card.

“Very good,” her dad replies.

I was stunned. Even though it was written satirically and most high school math teachers aren’t going to get into a back-and-forth with you if you’re looking for a better GPA (mine were not), I realized that many things were actually always on the table for negotiation, even if you couldn’t tell right away.

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Most price tags are negotiable. Buying a car, renting an apartment, buying a house, purchasing something off Craigslist — all of these things can be negotiated. In fact, the seller probably expects the price to be negotiated. Does that mean you can walk into a grocery store and offer $50 for $100 worth of groceries? Unlikely. Think about supply and demand, and then use this handy tip sheet to determine when and where you can successfully negotiate:

An item on Craigslist

The other day, I needed to buy a clothing rack to put in my closet. Craigslist showed me 125 people looking to sell their racks, ranging in price from $10-200. I didn’t want to spend more than $25 but I wanted to make a note of how many were available. Supply high, demand low! Great. I searched for the one I wanted but didn’t see any of its kind available for less than $40, which was more than I wanted to pay by half. But one of the racks listed for $50 had been on the site for 16 days. The other two similar racks were cheaper and listed for $40 but had been on the site for just a day or two, which meant it was less likely I’d be able to successfully negotiate. I texted the 16-day-old clothing rack owner and asked if it was still available and if I could see more photos. He got back to me immediately and sent photos. I thanked him and then waited an hour. It’s a mental tactic, yes, but it can often work! They’re stoked to finally be making the sale but then you disappear briefly. So close! Will this thing ever sell? After an hour, I offered $25 for it if I came to pick it up that day. He immediately agreed.

Lessons learned:

  1. Be available to take the item ASAP. Sellers want things gone.
  2. Do your research on what else is available.
  3. Read the clues about the mindset of the seller based on how long the post has been on the site. Long time, still available? More likely to get a good deal.

A car

The sticker price on a car is truly a jumping off point for negotiations. Cars are harder to negotiate because car salespeople negotiate prices all day long, every day. They’ve had more practice than you so they will be better at it, and better prepared for it, than you. Just accept this now! But the most important thing to remember is that research is your biggest weapon. Know what the car is worth by looking it up on Kelley Blue Book. If it’s a used car, make sure you look at the mileage on the car as it will significantly impact the value of the car. Ask for an accident history report. New or used car, you should go into buying with a financing option from a bank. Often the car dealership can give you a finance rate but your bank may be able to give you a better one. If you go in prepared, it’s possible that the dealership may be able to beat the bank’s price. Biggest tip of all? Don’t go in with the attitude that you need to drive a car off the lot today. If the seller thinks there’s a chance you’re going to walk without a car, they’ll make it their business to try to get you a better deal.

Lessons learned:

  1. Do your research!
  2. Get finances together ahead of time
  3. Don’t be afraid to walk away from a deal that’s not working for you.

Renting An Apartment

Depending on where you live, negotiating on rent may be difficult, but it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Similarly to haggling on Craigslist, it’s all about supply and demand. Listing sites like Zillow and Trulia can be your best friend because they will show you how long an apartment has been on the market. Again, the longer something has been on the market, the easier it will be for your to negotiate a better deal. Think about how long you’d be willing to stay in the apartment. A longer lease may be ripe for a better deal. Your landlord or building manager may be looking for a low-maintenance tenant willing to sign a two-year lease which would give them less work to do next year during regular turnover. It’s worth asking!

Lessons learned:

  1. Watch the dates. The longer something has been on the market, the easier it will be for you to negotiate the price down.
  2. Look every day, because apartments come and go in the blink of an eye.
  3. Offer to give something to get something, i.e., agreeing to sign a longer lease.

Happy negotiating!