"I requested service six hours ago! Why don't I have hot water yet?" - Text message from tenant, 10pm, Feb 2 2011 - Snowpocalypse Chicago.
"Why should I have to pay for it? My lease says you will maintain the fixtures!" - 375 lb Tenant after breaking his toilet seat for the fourth time.
"I've got my lawyer on speakerphone and we will sue you if you don't fix the mailbox!" - First verbal report of a problem.
Customer service and long term contracts do not go hand in hand. From cell phones and cable providers to apartments and employers, once you're locked in to a long term contract you may cease to be a customer at all in the eyes of the company. In the case of a landlord, the desire for retention becomes even less important. The experienced landlord learns that your decision to stay or leave is more dependent on other factors in your life, like your income and your family status.
Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare in school? For me it was in seventh grade. I'd heard a lot of hype about him up until that point, but nobody had warned me about the strange, antique form of English he used and how difficult it was to understand. I hacked through it, but for a kid who was used to whipping through a couple of novels a day it was a pretty chastening experience. To paraphrase "Star Trek," it was English, but not as I knew it.
So here's an interesting bit of trivia. If you threaten to sue someone in the process of working on a Wikipedia article, you'll lose your editing privileges. The reasoning behind it stems from the "chilling effect" that legal threats have on other writers. Most folks are pretty scared of getting dragged into a courtroom, even if it's just as a witness. It's time consuming and the threat of going to jail or racking up massive fines is always present. TV shows like "Law and Order" have contributed to this idea that court is definitely a place to avoid.
In keeping with the spirit of normal Chicago apartments, this will be the only color in the whole article.
"I thought my landlord had to repaint every X number of years?" I get this question all the time. Usually from tenants who are either a) looking for a reason to move, b) looking for a reason to sue their landlord, c) looking for a fight, d) looking for permission to repaint their apartment in a different color of their choice, or e) originally from other states where such things actually are required. The short answer for Chicago apartments is NO. Your landlord is not required to repaint.
It's an urban legend, guys. In fact, they're not allowed to enter your apartment for any reason unless you tell them something is broken, something is obviously broken like water overflowing into another apartment, or they're showing the apartment. However, like all urban legends it has its roots in the truth. (more…)
Renting a storefront like this will probably be quite different from renting an apartment or a house.
I'm not really sure how people learn about renting out apartments, but by the time they hit the market for the first time they generally have a basic idea of the premise. You pay someone money and exchange you get to live in their building. They handle the maintenance (for the most part) and you leave their building in decent condition when you depart. Easy enough. There are some variances from area to area in terms of what utilities are customarily included and how large/small/old/new the buildings are. Even so, a relative newcomer to apartment hunting can figure it out despite language barriers and regional variances.
I've been working on leasing out a retail storefront in Irving Park lately, and have realized that with commercial spaces the learning curve is far more complex - possibly because business owners come in with preconceived notions based on how the rental housing market works. However, once you switch over to renting out commercial property the whole thing goes out the window. America in all of its messed up glory offers an entire menu of options, arrangements, terms and add-ons for business owners. Meanwhile I'd like to take today to explain a bit about the differences between renting an apartment and renting a storefront, office or other commercial property. If you're out to start your own business or purchase a mixed use building (maybe with my help?) you can use this as a bit of a guide. If you're working for a company that leases their space, maybe this will give you an idea of why your boss keeps stressing out about the rent. (more…)
(This is the fourth and final part of a series that started with Part I: Carefully Taught, Part II: The Bad Guys are Winning, and Part III: The Long Road Back.)
Let's Get Ready to Rumble! (Or at least have a polite chat.)
If you've been following the Agoraphobia series you may be ready to start shopping actively. However, if you're the average American shopper you're going to be pushing back against a lot of training and momentum trying to convince you that negotiation is difficult, scary, futile, or a waste of time.
Negotiation is, at worst, a conversation with a stranger. But the American consumer has been treated for 150 years like a submissive partner in an abusive relationship. As is the case in many of these situations, learning to speak up for yourself can be difficult at first. So let's assemble a guidebook to help you get started.
Level One Negotiation - learning to talk & think for yourself:
Once you've been at level one for at least 3 months, you're ready to move on to level two.
(This is part 3 of a series that started with Confronting Agoraphobia, Part I: Carefully Taught and Confronting our Agoraphobia Part II: The Bad Guys are Winning.)
Where We've Been
Over the past two entries in this series we've reviewed how bargaining has gone from common to rare, and how shopping in America has become a passive experience. We've discussed how the evolution of marketing and discounting have consolidated the power of pricing entirely in the hands of the manufacturers. We've discussed the potential gain from choosing to haggle - a peak negotiator saved $2500 in a year. That means an average negotiator could save about $1500. What we haven't discussed is how to work our way back to an even distribution of power.
Let me expand on that number a bit. $1500 saved per person, per year. 206 million adults in the United States, give or take a hundred thousand or so. Roughly 10% of them are incarcerated. If the rest of them saved $1500 per year, that would total $278.2 Billion saved. Annually. (That's about 2x the annual revenue of Wal-Mart as reported to the NYSE, or, sadly, just 1.7% of the national debt at this moment.)
Let's have one more quote to get things moving forward:
"A recent Consumer Reports survey showed only 28 percent of Americans haggle over prices. A separate report from market research firm BIGresearch found 45.1 percent of adults haggle for things other than cars and homes.
However, the Consumer Reports survey found that consumers who haggle succeed as often as 83 percent of the time in landing a better bargain."
-- Yuki Noguchi, "Haggling picks up steam during recession," NPR.org, August 2009.
This is part II of a series that started with Confronting Agoraphobia, Part I: Carefully Taught.
My folks have a good friend - we'll call him Doug - who's learned a thing or two about saving money. A wunderkind who made an early fortune in the evolution of microloans, he knows that small amounts add up. He's also learned that to most businesses any sale is better than no sale. Doug haggles for everything. He will walk to the counter at Wal-mart with a $25 pack of t-shirts, toss it on the belt, and tell the clerk "I'll give you $15." He renovates kitchens for a living. He will go to furniture stores and open with a bid at 50% of list price.
You'd be amazed at how often he gets the discounts he requests.
Did you think you couldn't haggle at Wal-mart? Have you ever tried? If you haven't, you're probably not alone, and you aren't entirely to blame. It sounds like a fairy tale because you've been on the receiving end of a lengthy, multifaceted agenda to make you think bargaining is scary, difficult, time consuming and futile. Let's take a look at how outside forces, both intentionally and accidentally, have contributed to the decline of negotiation in commerce. (more…)
Fear of the marketplace
"Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate."
-- John F Kennedy
"In North America and Europe bargaining is restricted to expensive or one-of-a-kind items (automobiles, jewellery, art, real estate, trade sales of businesses) and informal sales settings such as flea markets and garage sales. In other regions of the world bargaining may be the norm even for small commercial transactions. In Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia where locals haggle for goods and services everywhere from street markets to hotels, haggling is a strong cultural tradition that even children learn from a young age."
-- Wikipedia, "Bargaining"
There are some places in the world where to get a bargain means that you've used your market savvy to nick some of the vendors' profit back for yourself. It's a win in the game. In America, getting a bargain generally means the vendor had decided to lower her list price on a certain item for a short period of time. There is a "win" involved, but it's more like winning at slots than winning at chess. You'd not believe it from looking at the crazed shoppers waiting out front of Wal-Mart on Christmas Eve, but American-style bargain hunting is a far more passive experience than it is elsewhere.
I have a hypothesis that Americans are afraid of haggling. It's a carefully taught agoraphobia - in the true translation of the term, "fear of the marketplace." It has a twofold basis. On one side, the dogma that only the most clever can successfully negotiate a deal. On the other, the forced separation between buyers and sellers. Transactions are automated and anonymized. The pace is quickened to limit a consumer's ability to research actual value.
This is a pretty major topic, so I'll be doing this as a multiple article series over the next couple of weeks. To give you an idea of where we're headed, I've provided this handy timeline.