I've negotiated based on cost of living, but how are salaries negotiated based on Quality of living?

I've received an excellent job offer I want... Except for the Third Bullet:

  • Offer salary was in 95th percentile (payscale) & 40% more than my current
  • Location has 10%+ lower cost of living than current
  • Location also has higher crime, more pollution, less family friendly

Are there tools/strategies for justifying a higher counter-offer beyond market value and living costs?

  • 1
    Sounds to me like they are already factoring that in with a 95th percentile.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 15:40
  • Yes, good offer but a rough town. The dilemma is how to articulate that as a justification for higher salary.
    – jsmithly
    Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 15:56
  • 6
    @jsmithly If they offered x, but you need x+5%, why not just ask if they can come up to x+5%? I don't see how it will help to say "this neighborhood is a bit rough, that's why I need the extra 5%!"
    – Brandin
    Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 15:59
  • 1
    I need 5% more based on less crime... is just going to come off as petty. The two sides need to negotiate the number not how they came to the number. Lets say it was low number and higher cost of living. "We are long ways apart as that is under the average and a higher cost of living" without giving them a number is different.
    – paparazzo
    Commented Jun 14, 2015 at 16:30
  • 1
    It sounds like if they are paying 95% percentile and 40% over your current, they already know they have difficulty with the area and are willing to pay to get people in. It sounds to me like this was already included. This question is also very subjective. Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 15:44

4 Answers 4


Employers don't really care why you want more money than they have offered you. The reason occasionally carries a little weight if it is an indicator of how strongly you feel on the matter and how likely you are to walk away if you don't get what you want. But whether you want to make more than 98% of your peers instead of more than 95% of your peers because the neighbourhood is bad or because you are constantly trying to win your father's approval makes no difference to the people who have to give you that money. They need to know two things:

  • you're worth that much to them
  • they can't get you for less

If both these things are true, they'll pay you. The "worth that much" part is super complicated - perhaps paying you more might cause trouble in the team that would not be offset by your productivity, for example. The "can't get you" part comes down to whether they believe your position or not.

What do you really want? Is there an amount of money that will make it ok for you to live in a parkless, crime-ridden, smoggy dystopia? Really? Or would you rather live in a leafy suburb and commute to the dystopia? Do you need a minimum salary for that? Do you need flextime so you aren't commuting with the crowds? Do you need to work from home a few days a week to keep yourself out of the smog and save the commuting time? Would you in fact take less money than their generous offer to work 3 days from home, 2 days from the dangerous office?

Think about what you really want. Then ask for it, in a way that makes it clear that you are worth it, and they won't get you without it. (No ultimatums or showboating, but if this is what it takes for you to take the job in dystopia, this is what it takes, right?) Be prepared to lose the job if they can't give you what you need.


I need X% more based on higher crime, more pollution, less family friendly is just going to come off as petty. The two sides need to negotiate the number not how they came to the number.

Consider a low number and higher cost of living. "We are long ways apart as that is under the average and a higher cost of living" without giving them a number is different.

As a business it is a simple supply demand curve. They are going to offer as low a number as possible to attract talent. Yes they will start with salary range that takes in factors. But in the end they will adjust that range up and down based on the market. An area with poor schools will tend to get single workers or couples with no children. Does not mean they are going to factor up the salary for a family. A location near a ski resort is going to get away with lower salaries and tend to have a lot of skiers.


Why you want more money is pretty much irrelevant. Whether it's because the cost of living in the area is high, you have two kids in college and a sick mother to support, or you need more money to make up for what you will lose to muggings on the subway, just doesn't matter much to the employer. All they care about is how much it will cost to get any particular candidate as compared to the candidate's skills.

When you buy something -- a car, say -- if you see one that costs $15,000 and next to it in the lot another that costs $20,000, how do you decide which to buy? If the cars were very similar, both had the features you want, etc, I presume you'd buy the cheaper one. Suppose the car dealer told you that the company that makes the more expensive one is located in a particularly bad section of Detroit and so they have to pay more to attract qualified people to work there. Would this lead you to say, "Oh, I guess I'll buy the more expensive one, then, because they have a good reason for charging a higher price"? Probably not, right? More likely you'd think, That's not my problem.

Sure, if the company is in a scary neighborhood, this might lead ALL applicants to demand a higher salary, so that you can get away with asking for more.

On the other hand, even though logically, by economic principles, the employer shouldn't care why you want more money, the employer hasn't necessarily thought this through. Bringing up a reason might help, provided that it isn't a reason that makes you look bad. "I need more money to pay for my cocaine addiction" -- probably not. "This will be a long commute and I'll have to pay significant amounts of money for parking" -- maybe so. I'd be hesitant about "this is a bad neighborhood and it makes me afraid". Valid, I guess, but it might be taken as kind of wimpy.


The way I'd phrase this is a bit more ambiguous - "This offer will require uprooting my family. I'm concerned about the impact that this move will have on them. Is there anything you can do to help?"

I have to say, though, that getting a 40% increase, plus living in a place that is 10% cheaper - they may already feel they've done right by you and money changes may be off the table. They may say take it or leave it.

Employers tend to have a clear sense of what the going rate is for employees - asking for more money than they would have to pay someone else will make the employer say "no" because as far as they are concerned you don't do your work better or worse because of the poor neighborhood - everyone in the office will work under those conditions. Most likely, that includes your boss.

Another way to approach it is - "there are a lot fewer family resources and I'm a bit worried about the crime - do you guys offer services that can help?" for example:

  • a company funded real estate agent to find better spaces with less crime.
  • company recommendations for schools and day care
  • company provided day care on holidays

May all be useful tools for addressing the shortfalls in the local area.

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