Chicago’s rental services a/k/a apartment locators a/k/a apartment finders advertise that they’re “free” to renters since the landlords pay their commissions – typically a month’s rent.
It doesn’t take much reflection to realize that renters are paying for that “free” service over the course of their lease. If you’re spending $2,000 a month on rent and make use of a rental service, you’re paying $2,000 for your “free” service.
Major landlords don’t allow rental services to negotiate the rent or any other term of a lease on your behalf. That’s just one of the many things rental services won’t tell you that you ought to know about using a rental service.
Another thing you ought to know is that the cost of using a rental service is fully negotiable, and you can ask your rental service to rebate a part of their commission to you. If you plan to work with a rental service, read anything you sign carefully before proceeding. Then, once you’ve settled on an apartment, and before you commit to it in writing, determine the most strategic moment at which to negotiate the level of rebate you think is appropriate to the level of service you’ve received.
Real estate brokerage firms that rent homes and condos listed in the Multiple Listing Service typically split the one month commission equally between the firm that represents the owner and the firm that represents the renter. That’s one of the reasons that most rental services won’t show you MLS-listed properties despite the fact that they may offer the most value to renters and brokers can negotiate price and terms. It’s also the case that renting MLS-listed properties requires more effort in scheduling showings and follow-up, and requires a higher level of professionalism and knowledge.
You can, of course, also negotiate the terms of any rebate before beginning to work with a rental service. If you’re looking to rent in one of the high-rises on our at-a-glance apartment lists, the options are so limited that it’s realistic to ask for at least a 50% commission rebate.