The merry, brutal world of Melbourne property rentals

My rude and green introduction to the world of Melbourne rental properties started one early Saturday morning in January where at least 30 desperate, harried and stressed people turned up for a property inspection in Brunswick West. All that I’ve read about renting in Melbourne had been overwhelmingly negative—about prices, the high season (exactly the wrong time to enter it, as I did), the ugly bidding wars—and thus far, I was proven right. Getting a rental home started to feel just as bad as searching for employment.

Despite the property downturn, rents were still soaring, simply because demand outstripped supply.

What I’ve learnt so far:

That the reasonably-priced apartment a little off the city (not even in the trendy suburbs like Carlton or Fitzroy) were going for at least $400 and more per week and was way out of my budget.

Smart viewing

Realestate.com.au became my default home page for a period of time when I would obsessively check for new things that came up, but remember, the rental photos are sometimes, too good to be true. They’re shown in the best light (quite literally sometimes), from odd angles and heights that make the space larger than it really is. A way that I’ve tried to go around this is to use Google street view to look at the property itself and the street that it’s on.

Reading between the lines

An over-emphasis in the description on the property’s location and surroundings and too little light shed on its interior might in itself, be revealing about what’s not said. If the pictures don’t show the bedrooms or the bathrooms, start asking yourself why too. If too many details on ‘natural lighting’ and ‘freshly painted jobs’ (what’s it covering?) are given and not much else, there’s also a reason for it.

An inspection will give you a better idea.

The House Inspection

Most estate agents don’t allow tenant application unless the property has been inspected, or rather, viewed. Many house inspections take place on Saturdays to accommodate the working crowd and just a few take place on weekdays at very inconvenient times. Coming into the game late, I found myself going to a string of them, fitting them in as and when I could. In fact, I’d first opted to drive around the suburbs that appealed personally to me like Heidelberg, Ivanhoe, Essendon to check them out first. When I had time, I’d search out a unit by driving to the area itself and do a bit of a walk-around to see where the amenities are.

Soon enough, I had the same questions coming over and over again:

How ‘nice’ is the neighbourhood? Is it tree-lined? Are the rest of the houses surrounding the unit a little dodgy? Is the street near a main road? How accessible is this place to public transportation, or do I need a car to drive everywhere?

Obviously the property’s interior is something I can’t make any judgement on, but this is a good way to get a feel for the overall surroundings and how comfortable you feel. I’d thrown away some tentative inspections because of this alone.

When the actual inspection comes however, keep your eyes peeled for all the small things that are glossed over in the glamorous photos that the agents post. To date, I’ve found water damage on the ceilings, blackened carpets, a funky smell that won’t go away, peeling countertops and ceilings..and the list goes on.

Mentally match what you see with the website’s description of the place and see if it all adds up for you.

The Application Process

Once it sank in that the Melbourne rental market has its own peculiar cycle, I’ve gone through many forums about renting. The advice ranged from comprehensive to ridiculous in the competitive race to win the apartment of your choice. But many also suggested that getting every scrap of documentation  you could—of your previous rental ledger, your identification, your employment situation, and even a cover letter to explain your circumstances so that you stand out.

For those without a stable income or rental history, this is the most comprehensive blog post I’ve read so far that got me started on meticulously documenting everything.

1. Fill up the 1Form

1 Form is a centralised tenancy application form, so to speak—fill up just one form, go through the tedious, lengthy questions of identity, employment, finances just once. Then upload your supporting documentation. Many estate agencies (though not all) use the 1Form document.

2. Signing up with a realestate.com.au or a domain.com.au account

If you’ve got an app, it’ll ping each time new properties come up and depending on your desperation, you can book inspections online or even send in the 1form from there. All estate agents require inspection before you apply, and some companies require an agent number for a tenancy application to go through.

3. Get 1Form ready before the property inspection.

As soon as you’re done with it, have a small talk with the agent about the application process—it differs slightly across the board—and send it all through on your phone. Or if you prefer, print out everything (documentation, ID, letter and sources of income), including the rental application form, put it in a folder and hand it directly to the agent after the inspection.

I do put my foot down on dressing like I’m heading for a bank job interview however. It’s been said that first impressions count, but that wasn’t what I did at all.

I was fortunate. An agent actually replied to the message I left in the void of realestate.com.au regarding a property I wanted to view and because the timing suited the both of us, I inspected it, and submitted my application for it the same day, then got the approval for it after weekend.

The paperwork was far from over, however. There was the bond lodgement to settle, the rental payment and all the signings to complete, the moving in.

But that was at least a load off my mind.

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