Lesson Learned in Negotiating Part I.

I'm bad at negotiating. I get sweaty palms and a guilty conscious, like I'm committing a crime by asking for a better price. But living and traveling in South America, I have improved. 

Nobody ever taught me the basics of how to negotiate. I never went to a store or car dealer to see how my parents haggle. I never thought it was a necessary skill. 

Since traveling, I've learned that it can save you money when buying souvenirs at a market or when selling yourself to a landlord. Sometimes you win big, sometimes you win small, and sometimes not at all. But it adds up and is a skill that gives back 100s or 1000s over time. 

In other countries, markets are loud and exciting with the dealing of sellers and buyers. Some merchants have crazy high prices because they expect others to bargain them down. Here not so much. We go into a store, pay the price, and leave, sometimes all without talking to anybody. Few of my friends have gotten good deals on TVs or used cars.  

The problem, I think, is looking at negotiating like a confrontation. A lot of people don't like it. Instead look at it like a game. Learn to have fun and embrace it. Everything is negotiable. It's your right to ask for a better price. 

Even though I'm still a student of this skill, I've learned some things. Part I is a story of when I was looking for a room to live in for the next 6 moths.

For a few weeks, I had been looking for places to live, rooms in apartments or houses, near the center of the city. I was revisiting the apartment that was so far my top choice. There was a mother and a son that lived there.

I had only talked to the son and was waiting for him. So the mother and I sat down and chatted about the apartment, Colombia, and other things. We talked for over a 1/2 hour, and eventually she asked me how much I wanted for the room, what was the maximum I would pay. 

If you're smart, you don't give a number, or maybe give a really low number. 

I wasn't smart. She was offering $250 per month, which was a good price for what I was getting. I blurted out $225 per month. She thought about it, gave me a few simple conditions, and agreed. Two days later I signed the contract for $225, saving $150 over 6 months. 

I may have been able to go lower. I'll never know. But $225 for a clean and comfortable room in an apartment with a doorman in the middle of big city was a great price for me. I got a good deal without really trying. 

What I learned from this exchange:

- Know what you want going into the deal.
This is an obvious 1st step in any negotiation. Know what the item is worth or what you are willing to pay for it. Ask around, see competitors, look on the Internet. I knew I had a good deal because other rooms as nice as this one were $275-325 per month. 

- Know who the boss is. 
Another obvious but at times overlooked step. Talk to the manager or the owner, the person who has the ability and willingness to negotiate. I didn't know that the mother, not the son, was the person to be talking to. I got lucky. 

- Offer other benefits so that a discount makes sense. 
Take some time to brainstorm everything you can offer. I told her that I would clean up after myself, wouldn't have parties in the apartment, and would live for 6 months. Also, after talking with me for a while, she saw that I was a good person. These are all important things that landlords worry about. It's not all about the price. 

- Closing it.
You want to get to the point where the other person is about to walk away, but doesn't because it's still a good deal for them. I didn't reach that point here, but I was close. 

In the coming weeks look for Part II about negotiating in the markets.

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