Jim asks and receives

Ramit Sethi · April 5th, 2006

An email from Jim English, our superstar intern at PBwiki:

So in general, I’ve never considered myself one of those “let me speak to your manager” type of people. However, having read some of your stuff, I’ve started to feel like certain “expenses” are really just going straight to the pockets of big businesses. ANYWAY. Here’s the crux of the story. So dealing with this new house purchase, I’ve had a couple issues with my apartment complex.

1) I needed to extend my lease by 1 month and
2) I had to get the apartment complex to sign on that I had actually lived there and been a good tenant.

Well, I knew that issue #1 might cost me some money, but I didn’t think too much. So I went into the office to speak with the “official concierge” who proceeded to tell me that I was in for a $400 dollar upcharge on ONE month (which equates to a 57% premium!) Anyway, I told her that I thought that was ludicrous, but I was willing to pay part of the fee ($100). She said that was impossible and so I told her that I would rather speak to the manager. Next day, I walked in, and I don’t know if the manager had been pre-warned, but as soon as I mentioned the rental situation, she said, “oh, no problem, we can extend your rent for a month and we’ll just keep the rent fee at the same price. We’ll just go in and change the books to look like you had a 7 month lease instead of a 6 month one”. =)

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Item #2: I had to have 2 forms signed which said I’d been a resident (part the credit assessment done by the bank). I filled out everything except for the apartment’s signature line and went in yesterday to the same concierge, told me that there is a $25 fee for “rent verification” a.k.a. a FREAKIN SIGNATURE! At that point, I was like, “So since I have two of the same form, is that $50?” And she replied, “No, just $25”. At that point, I felt like it might be negotiable. SO I went into the assistant manager’s office, talked to him for a few minutes, and walked out, rent verified, and NOT out of $25 bucks. =)

Total Savings: $425.

$425 for 5 minutes of sacking up….equals about $8500/hour. Unbeatable. With most negotiations (job offer, car price, rent deal, VC funding, whatever), you have no downside and only huge, huge upside. That’s my kind of bet.

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  1. Mateja

    It would’ve been nice if Jim had told us what happened while he was in the assistant manager’s office in #2. I have felt like my hands are tied many times when it comes to realty companies. I live in a college town where there is very high demand for apartments. Since it makes pure economic sense, they charge the usual ‘signing fee’, or ‘rustproofing’ or ‘finder’s fee’. They can make up whatever they want because there are a hundred people behind you waiting to sign the same lease. If you’re presented with a fee that you know is bogus, what leverage do you have to negotiate? I feel like Jim got lucky in this case.

  2. kieranyler

    I think the lesson is that there’s no harm in asking (or even demanding) that you be let out of ridiculous fees. Sometimes it won’t work, sometimes it will. I once got an entire $1800 broker’s fee back because the apartment building lacked some amenities the broker assured me it had. It took about an hour of arguing with the broker and middle management, but once I faxed letters to the CEO and COO of the brokerage, I finally found somebody with both the authority and the perspective to see it my way. Probably an hour invested, but $1500/hr isn’t too shabby either. Often, people will drop ridiculous fees just because you ask; other times you need some leverage (like Jim’s extra month of rent and presense ont he premises or my threat of a fraud lawsuit) to get them to realize their lives will be simpler if they go along with you.

    I’ve found this works best when you’re dealing with a pass-the-buck type of company where nobody feels really invested in the fee. When you deal directly with small contractors (movers are the worst!), you might be stuck with people who really have nothing better to do than fight you tooth and nail until it’s no longer worth your time.

  3. Anonymous

    Don’t you think you might annoy businesses with non-negotiable prices? I’d be.

  4. Mateja, let me just add my 2 cents on the assistant manager event. I walked in and asked if he could sign my application and skip over the app fee that his underling had referenced earlier. He agreed without much fuss.

    As for being lucky, I think that’s one of the things that makes this type of negotiating effective. Obviously, you’re not going to be successful every time you ask for a lower rate, but you’ll never get the reduction if you don’t ask. At least if you ask, there should be *some* percentage of success. Thanks for the comments!

  5. Kenneth

    I think I can offer a unique perspective on this event, since I am an assistant property manager for a large, NYSE-traded REIT.

    There are some fees that are negotiable, and some that are not. It boils down to supply/demand and legality. The fee for extending one extra month is typically non-negotiable, if only for the fact that if someone waves/lowers it for you, they have to lower it for everyone in the same situation or be presented with a potential lawsuit, as this practice violates federal Fair Housing laws. And “changing the books?” Wow, that’s quite illegal in itself, seeing as how you probably had a signed and dated lease documenting everything. That would be suicide on a Sarbanes-Oxley audit!

    I’m very glad they were able to save you money, but everyone should know that sometimes it’s simply not that easy, and it’s certainly not the fault of the “manager” in charge if they can’t reduce/waive your fee! We answer first and foremost to the law; no one wants to get sued in this litigation-happy country!

    With that in mind, charges / fees that don’t involve signing a piece of paper are certainly negotiable. 🙂

  6. I agree with Jim – Here is my experience – I have a high-deductible Medical Insurance (I advise that most of the people will be much better-off in the long-run with high deductible-cum-HSA Accounts, bust not many people are even ready to listen!) and Medical facility (a hospital) sent me a bill for x-ray for 492/- (unfortunately I did not ask for the price before the service!) but after few calls, I could find that another facility (standalone imaging center) does the same x-ray for 107/-. Well, I just composed and sent the mail to Billing ffice who replied with some standard ‘we are hospital-based facility andhave to provide24x7 services, etc ‘. I forwarded that reply (and my earlier mail) to their CEO – and few days later, one of their Directors sent a detailed reply with more explanations but reducing the bill to 150/-.

    In another situation, some amount on a gift card from expired and reply from customer service was that it is T&C. It was easy to guess Jeff Bezos’ email address and I forwarded the reply to him with comment that with enormous technological features available on their website, it will be a good idea to warn the customers about the expiring gift cards! In a day or two after that, I got mail from their customer service about reinstating my earlier gift card balance!

  7. Wilson

    Everything is negotiable.

    If you don’t ask, you will never know, now will you? And even if they say no, often they’ll provide a good answer..

    Thanks for sharing your experience Jim, and reminding us of the capability to negotiate for things. This can also apply successfully to credit card rates and cable/internet bills; I’ve successfully negotiated both of these down by skipping the underling and going straight to the manager. It also helps if you have a competitor’s rate and tell them you would not mind changing companies for the lower rate… 😉

    Your last coment is presumptuous, though: “$425 for 5 minutes of sacking up….equals about $8500/hour.” That assumes that you would be able to consistently do this type of thing for a whole hour or 12 negotiations of 5 minutes each that equal at least 425… and by using hourly, you imply a comparison to an hourly wage, for example. Likely this was a small and shortlived event so to compare it to an hourly yield is proposterous!

  8. Casey

    I had an HSA through my company with HSA bank as administrator, paying 1.15% interest and charging $25 per month to hold my money in absurd account. Now that I left the company it took 3 requests and 3 months for them to roll it over to a no fee account paying 5.64 per cent and they charged me $25 to close it. They are supposed to be an administrator for benefitstreet since they couldn’t come up with a platform but I have never seen a plan where you can actually lose money like this. The erosion in dollars for a person that is 40 like me would be ridiculous by the time i retired and how would anyone ever be able to invest with that ROI? Basically on your own you can go wherever but when you are employed you have to stay with the company administrator so they can payroll deduct contributions. Stay away from HSA bank. My bank warned me that they say they lose the forms so they kept copies…they were right, they will do anything to hold those dollars that they get higher returns on, higher than any bank with fees that border on userous for withdrawals and laughable interest rates!