I’ve always been fascinated with negotiation. Maybe it’s because I suck at it.
My two biggest negotiation accomplishments were when I negotiated 1) my car and 2) my rent, and in both cases the only reason I haggled was because my boyfriend (a different boyfriend in each case) made me do it.
When I needed to buy a car a couple years ago, I zeroed in on getting a Nissan Altima, and found a well-priced one at a dealer in downtown LA. I weakly tried to negotiate, but when they guy firmly said he couldn’t go any lower, I figured I’d just take it. He probably could have raised the price and I still would have taken it.
Instead, at my boyfriend’s insistence, I called up another dealer with a similar car (from the first dealer’s office) and asked him if he could beat the price (even though his car was listed for ~$2000 more). I was surprised when he said “yes,” and I figured I’d head over there to buy that car. I was more surprised when as I was leaving, the first dealer chased after me saying he “actually could” take $500 off.
When I was looking for apartments in West LA before starting residency, I did a ton of research (in my typical obsessive fashion) and looked at probably 20 apartments in a week. One of them was 100x nicer than the rest, and an insanely good deal for this area of town. Again, I weakly tried to negotiate the owner down, telling him what a great tenet I would be. He wouldn’t budge, and I jumped to sign the lease anyway, because the place was so amazing.
The next morning, after the agreement had already been made and as I was literally driving to sign the lease, my boyfriend made me call the owner up and try to negotiate again. He insisted I still had a shot of getting the price down. Even though I didn’t want to and was afraid I’d look bad by asking, I gave him a call anyway.
I said, “I’m sorry to ask you this again, but I just saw a similar apartment listed for less, and and even thought I like your place more I’m having a hard time justifying the higher price when I’m trying to keep myself within a budget.” I asked for him to knock $50 of the rent. He said he would do $30. Snap!
With a 5 minute phone call I saved $360 over the course of the year.
These two experiences made me realize the power of negotiation, and that everything is negotiable. I find this to be an awesome concept because I hate rules and love thinking of all the ways I can bend them to my will.
Introducing The Negotiation Project…
I’ve been reading a lot of stuff by Ramit Sethi recently, who talks about negotiation as a personal finance tool (and anyone who brags about “negotiating like an Indian” has my vote… sadly “negotiating like an upper middle class West coast Jew” doesn’t have the same pizazz). He’s motivated me to challenge myself to negotiate even when it’s awkward or difficult, and to question my assumptions about what can be negotiated.
So I created a challenge for myself. I’ve decided that over the next month or two, I’m going to negotiate the shit out of my life. This will culminate in possibly (maybe?) negotiating my rent down even further than it is now, or at least avoiding an increase in rent.
It started when I got an email from my internet provider (Verizon) saying that my initial “promotional” rate of $30/month would be increasing to $36 since the initial year-long promotion was up. I figured I’d research promotions with other companies and then call Verizon saying I’d switch if they didn’t match. Sadly I found out that AT&T doesn’t even offer service in my area, so instead I just called up Verizon and asked for a discount. The conversation went something like:
Me: Hi, I noticed my rate for internet would be going up soon, and I don’t want it to, are there any discounts I’m eligible for?
Verizon Guy: I see you’re already getting a good rate for the speed of internet you have, but let me check.
Me: That would be great.
Verizon Guy: I don’t see anything. The rate you’re already getting is very good, though.
Me: I see. Well I’d really like the rate not to go up. I’m an employee at UCLA. Do they have any type of group discount?
Verizon guy: Let me take a closer look. (Pause). I see that you’ve been a customer with us for a while and you always pay your bill on time, so you’re a really good customer.
Verizon Guy: …So there’s a discount I can apply that will take off $10/month. How does that sound?
Me: That sounds great. Thanks very much.
Shazam! I felt like such a negotiating ninja after getting off that phone call.
The next step is for me to negotiate my car insurance. I don’t have a great rate, mostly because I live in LA and I got into a car accident (my fault) a year ago. However I have some negotiating tactics up my sleeve and I don’t think I’ll have too hard of a time knocking some money off my monthly payment.
The Ultimate Negotiation Challenge
This project will culminate when I attempt to negotiate my rent… again.
Now, I expect this to be extremely challenging for a couple of reasons. First off, I already negotiated the price down once (and that was at the height of the housing crash) so the market is not in my favor as much as it was. I’m pretty sure I’m already paying below market rent. Second, my rent never got increased after my first year lease was up. Third, my landlord (who is awesome) just sold the apartment and so I suspect this new landlord will probably try to immediately raise rent.
If I can prevent him from raising my rent I’ll consider myself successful. If I can get him to lower my rent even further, then I’ll consider myself totally badass.
I’m giving myself such a difficult challenge because at best I’ll succeed and at worst I’ll learn a ton that will help me with negotiation in the future.
Hopefully The Negotiation Project won’t turn into The Minimalism Project when my landlord gets pissed and evicts me and I’m forced to live in my car. That being said, I am fully prepared to move to a different (and cheaper) apartment, which is probably why I have some leverage in this whole situation.
Given that I have terrible natural negotiation intuition, I’m not depending on my own skill or knowledge to help my with this challenge. Instead, I’ll be using a couple of key resources.
2. Getting To Yes by Roger Fisher and William Ury.
3. Bargaining For Advantage by G. Richard Snell.
The last two are books I bought a while ago after researching the best stuff on negotiation on Amazon. I’ve already read Getting To Yes and just started Bargaining For Advantage, which I can say I’m really impressed with so far. I say if you’re looking to get one book on negotiation, I’d get this one.
So there you have it. My next update will be on my (hopefully successful) attempt to negotiate my car insurance.
Image by Zephyrance