Rent prices in the U.S. typically start to cool around wintertime, but this year demand has pushed costs higher. Asking rents for new leases rose a record 13.9% in November compared to a year ago, housing site RealPage notes. Prices last month were 0.6% higher than in October.
One reason for the spike: amenities. Demand is strong right now, "especially for the luxury product," Greg Willett, RealPage chief economist, told CNBC. "As the economy has recovered, we've done a better job in high-paying employment than we have in the lower-paying jobs."
An in-building gym could add 10% to your rent, for instance, while a garage adds 6%, according to Apartment Advisor. The analysis examined over 250,000 two-bedroom apartments listed for rent in metro areas nationwide to determine the average price impact of certain amenities.
Experts advise comparing added features in the buildings you're considering in order to keep a handle on costs. They can have a big effect on the end price — even if you don't use them.
"Apartment buildings with amenities absolutely drive up the cost of rent," says Adjina Dekidjiev, a broker for Warburg Realty. "The biggest impacts on price besides location are: a full-time doorman, private outdoor space, an in-unit washer and dryer, and a health club. Amenities are factored into rental pricing regardless of whether or not the tenant chooses to use them."
Once you find a place you're excited about, experts suggest taking a step back to research the local market. Look at prices on similar buildings and note how certain amenities may influence the price. Keep in mind that higher rent may be only part of the cost: An on-site fitness center may still require a paid membership, while a parking spot could entail a monthly fee. And that in-unit air conditioner or washer-dryer unit could spin your utility bills out of control.
Depending on what market you're in, however, it can be tough to cherry-pick and separate certain features, says Ori Goldman, CEO and co-founder of real estate tech start-up Loftey.
"What typically happens if you're an owner of a doorman building or building a new apartment, the reason it has a rooftop patio or elevator is because the owner is conscious of trying to get higher rents," he explains. "That's why they spend money to build a common space. The owner is not going to stop at an elevator, they're not going to stop at that laundry room. So, when I'm talking to customers, the way I think about it is it's not an 'elevator building' or 'parking garage building.' It's an amenity building. And that's when you will get materially higher prices."
Savvy renters can get specific about what they consider a priority, like proximity to particular schools or public transportation. "Some older buildings," says Compass broker Michael J. Franco, "have fewer amenities and lower rents but still offer partial, or full service."
If you're already locked into a lease or don't have many apartment options nearby, try asking for a longer term or offer to pay more rent upfront: "Landlords spend a lot of time chasing after late rent payments, so if you can save them the hassle of that, they may be willing to help you out a little bit on rent costs," Jeff Proctor, co-owner of money resource site DollarSprout.com, previously told Grow.
Keep an eye out for any local regulations on rent increases to anticipate how much more you could pay when your lease renews. In Oregon, for example, most hikes are capped at 7%, plus inflation. In many other parts of the country, landlords can raise rents at a much higher rate.
A rent calculator could show how fair your rate is versus similar places near you.
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