The newspapers are all atwitter about how competitive the rental property market is at the moment - particularly in Sydney. But even in a competitive market you can make househunting a lot easier for yourself by following a few simple steps. I just rented a lovely house in a popular inner city suburb of Sydney for less than I expected to pay - and it only took me two days of looking at houses. Here's how I did it.
I knew that I was going to be looking for a house in a popular area of Sydney - so I focused my efforts on trying to make sure that I got to inspect the properties I was interested in *before* they went to open inspection. You really maximise your chances if you do that rather than wait for an open inspection which might attract dozens of applications.
1. Do some research ahead of time to get an idea of what's available in the market. Do this a week or two in advance if you can, to give yourself an idea of whether the rent you're budgetting for will really get you what you want. If you'll be using public transport to get to school/work, then look for public transport stops too.
Using www.realestate.com.au and Domain plus Google Maps should give you an idea of what's available in your price range in the areas you are interested in. Keep an open mind - make sure you tick the "Include surrounding suburbs" box when searching on a suburb name or postcode. You may find that by going a suburb over you find something nicer at a cheaper price, and it can mean less competition for properties as well because some people aren't that smart. ;)
There are also smaller websites like Gumtree, Exchange Classifieds and Craigslist, which I kept an eye on, although I didn't find anything suitable for me. If you're more interested in a private rental, these would be worth checking out.
You can also sign up for email alerts to be emailed to you. I was getting them from realestate.com.au, and Home Hound.
2. Spend some time working out what you want to look for. Have a good idea of what features are a *must have* for you, and what are just *nice to haves*. This will make the hunting a lot easier - because you're aiming to create a short list of properties to view, rather than looking at a large number of properties and finding you've wasted time looking at properties that really aren't going to be suitable.
3. Take advantage of your contacts. Call your old real estate agents in the area you're moving to, remind them of the property you rented from them and when, and ask if they have anything coming up in the area/price range you want. Even if they don't have something, they can still help with a rental reference for you. Also let your friends/social networks know you are looking - someone may know of a place coming vacant soon. Don't neglect this step - because your goal is to find out about properties before they get shown in an open inspection and competition gets really fierce. I've been at open inspections with over 30 people before - you really want to avoid that!
4. Start a notebook with the information you'll need to fill out property applications - especially your references as they have a big impact on whether your application is successful. Get the name, business address and phone number of one and preferably two previous real estate agents who've agreed to provide you with references - this will really help. I ended up putting 3 real estate references on my successful application - the landlord would have been in no doubt that I came highly recommended as a tenant! You can save some time at the application stage by making sure you've also written down the contact details for your work reference and personal references as well.
5. If at all possible, arrange 1-2 days off *midweek* to look at properties. I can't stress this enough - having time during the week to look can mean the difference between being the first and sometimes only person to see a property, versus being one of a large throng who attend a Saturday viewing. Check with real estate agents in your area to find out whether there's a day mid-week that they usually show properties. In our recent hunt in Sydney, it seemed Wednesdays and Saturdays were the days on which rental properties are shown. The property I ended up letting was only on the market for three days. We were the only people to view it on the Wednesday, and we signed the lease on Friday before it even made it to the Saturday viewing. Midweek house hunting can really make a difference.
6. A few days before your chosen "househunting days", start creating a short list of the properties you want to inspect. Realestate.com.au lets you create a shortlist online, and I found this quite helpful. I set aside 3 days to househunt, and created a shortlist of 14 properties. You need to balance how many properties you can realistically view in the time you have available, but also leave enough properties to give yourself a chance to find something you like. I culled a few from my list when I spoke to the agent and found out more about them ($500 a week for an outside toilet was a deal breaker for one property!) and a few dropped off the short list because they'd already been leased.
7. Do *not* just wait to see which agents advertise inspection times - ring them. I advise ringing every agent on your short list. You need to ring them for three reasons. First of all - often the online listings are not updated. I noticed several properties which had been leased stayed up on the internet listings for several days before being removed. Secondly - you want to avoid going to the open inspection along with 10 or 20 other people. Your chances of getting a place are much greater if you are the first applicant, rather than one of a large pile which come in after an open inspection. If you ring the agent, you can ask to see the property ASAP and hopefully they'll tell you about the midweek opening or arrange a private viewing for you. And finally, make sure you ask the agent if they have any other properties available or coming available soon. One agent who showed us a house we didn't like ended up suggesting the house we did lease - so it's definitely worth asking them if they have anything else available!
8. Once you've created your shortlist and contacted agents about inspection times, make sure you write down all the details in a running sheet for your house hunting day or days. My running sheet listed the property address, price per week, a basic description and the contact name and phone number of the agent. Have an idea of which properties look the best to you - and make them the priority if you have limited time to spend looking. I also had with me my personal ID (as some agents ask for the "100 points" of ID as part of the application process) and my previously prepared list of contact details for my work and rental references. I also had enough cash to cover the 1 week deposit which some agents as for when you apply for a property. So when I hit the road for househunting, I had everything we needed to put in an application on the spot.
9. The application. Two main things will make the difference here - make sure you take the time to fill out your application thoroughly, and make sure you've prepared your list of references. If there are one or two properties you really expect to like, pick up an application form ahead of time from the real estate agent's office so you can fill it out ahead of time. Often landlords will accept the first thorough application they see that they can't fault - so your preparation time will pay off. Make sure you've checked with the people you're putting down as references so you know they're willing to be your referee, and you've refreshed their memory about when you rented from them or worked for them. To be on the safe side, I also contacted my references once I'd put in my application, to make sure they'd be around on the day that the real estate agent was checking my references. You don't want your application delayed because your referees are out of town!
10. It should go without saying, but be polite, professional and honest with the real estate agents you speak to. Even though they're busy people, being polite and asking for help will help you find the agent who's willing to take a moment to think about upcoming properties which might suit you, or make the time for a private viewing of a property.
If you're househunting, good luck! If you have any other tips for househunters, please leave them in comments.