Finally, you’ve arrived in Sydney! Now you need to find a place to live. The rental process can be a bit daunting, especially if you’ve been listening to the stories of how competitive the market is. We read that prospective renters will show up with all their documentation in hand including cash for the first month and deposit, even offering a higher weekly payment in order to beat out the competition. That may indeed happen in some very posh and highly desirable locations in the city center, but it’s not all like that. Still, it’s good to have a plan and some inside information on the ins and outs of the process.
When we arrived in Sydney, we had a place to stay for 30 days while we looked around. We thought that was pretty good. In retrospect though, if you can find temporary accommodations for at least three months, you’ll feel less rushed and like you need to take the first thing that comes along for fear of being homeless or having to live in a rat infested cardboard box.
The first step in finding a rental is to narrow down the suburbs you’re interested in living in. You can, and should, start this process months before you arrive. Once you get here and actually visit those suburbs, you may completely change your mind. From what we’d heard, we thought Newtown would be a great place to live, but after spending some time there, walking around the neighborhoods, we realized that while is is a vibrant, eclectic area, it was a bit louder and busier than what we were looking for. Still, talk to people who live here. The Expat.com forums is a good place to do that.
One of the best pieces of advice that we received about choosing a suburb was to think about how you want to spend your weekends. If you want to be at the beach every weekend, then choose a spot close to the beach, such as Bondi or north in Manly. For those who like to immerse themselves in the high energy of city night life then choose a place with easy access to the city center. If quiet weekends at home are more your cup of tea, then perhaps the more northerly suburbs would suit you.
You will want to do your homework on finding the suburbs that fit your budget. The eastern suburbs are typically more expensive, with rents starting at around $350 a week for a studio apartment. While to the north and west are less so, and the farther out you go, the less you’ll spend. You can go on a property management website such as domain.com.au, put in searches for the suburb and style of property you are looking for, to see what there is available. Be aware that those prices quoted are per week. Rent is charged by the week, but typically you pay monthly or fortnightly. Some property managers will require that this is paid through direct debit from your Sydney bank account.
Also, when you are looking at the photos posted on these sites, remember, the photographers are skilled at making a dumpy place look like a palace. The lenses they use make the space seem bigger. Photo enhancement software brightens up a space and hides the dirt. And the cockroaches.
Once you’ve arrived in Sydney is when you want to start roaming the streets of the suburbs you are interested in. If, online, you see a rental you are interested in, you don’t have to wait until the scheduled inspection to go check out the neighborhood. Eat in the cafes, shop in the markets, and most of all talk to the locals. What do they like most about the community? The least?
That brings up another point; the property management companies schedule inspections, sort of an open house without the chocolate chip cookies, usually on Saturdays, but they’ll often be during the week. They like you to register for the inspections, so they know how many are coming, and the inspections are generally only 15-30 minutes long. It’s a good idea to register for several inspections in the same area on a given day. And you’re going to need a car for this. You can’t rely on buses or your feet when you’ve got only a few minutes between appointments.
Keep an eye on the website, because sometimes they will schedule an additional, earlier inspection. Some agents will also allow you to arrange a private appointment if the posted times don’t work for you. If you see a property that you are very interested in, it could work in your favor to schedule an earlier appointment.
At all of the inspections we attended, the agent encouraged everyone to apply online. There is an online application process that saves your information, which you can then use when renting any property. You will need your 100 points of verification to secure a rental. This will include photo identification such as a passport or Australian drivers license, bank account information, credit card, proof of employment, check stubs, and past rental history. Different property managers have their own requirements. These will all be submitted electronically, so go ahead and get digital copies of everything before you leave the your home country. This will save you time and headache later.
When you’re rushing through a 15 minute inspection with 10 other people, it can be hard to really see what’s there. It’s helpful to make yourself a checklist of elements that are most important to you, and also of things to watch for. Check the water faucets, and look for dirt, mildew, and insects around the house. Flush the toilets. Try the door handles and deadbolts. We moved into a house that is extremely difficult to get in and out of. Also, switch on the lights in all the rooms. Ask about telephone and internet lines coming into the house. Are they working? Do they exist at all? Ask to see them. If the agent showing the property doesn’t have the information you need, then call the office to find out. Don’t assume that the house or apartment will have these things. Most apartments do not come with a refrigerator. If you see one, ask if it comes with the rental.
Finally, before you sign a contract, ask for a final walkthrough. Better yet, ask the property management agent to meet you at the property to sign the contract.