Stephanie Gardiner June 14, 2012
Where to go next? It takes persistence and preparation to find a new rental home in competitive Sydney.
As I opened a letter from my real-estate agent, I crossed my fingers for a rent rise.
Along with defamation suits and huntsman spiders, finding a new place to rent in Sydney is one of my worst fears.
I would prefer to pay more rent, have a surprise inspection, or even hand my husband over in an Indecent Proposal-style deal with a real-estate agent than have to navigate the wilds of the city's rental market.
But there it was in a sad little letter: our landlord, who was also our neighbour and the owner of the cafe we lived behind, had given us three months to move out. He told us later it was because the chef needed somewhere to live.
We assumed the poor chef must have lost his fingers, eyes and brain in one of those tragic eggs Benedict-related accidents you hear so much about, leaving him incapable of browsing rental websites.
Deciding on a maximum $450 a week for a one-bedroom unit, we spent five long weeks going to inspections well-dressed, polite and armed with copies of our passports, bank statements, pay slips, tax returns and completed application forms.
To some, $450 a week might seem like a lot, but, according to Australian Property Monitors' latest report, it is the median weekly asking rent in Sydney.
We quickly found that price often gets you very little, especially if you need to be reasonably close to the city and public transport.
There was a teeny unit in Chippendale for $430 with no oven nor space for a fridge. The description should have read: "A great place to keep your dog!"
A place in Camperdown for $450 was lovely, but obviously made for one person with nothing to bring with them but a goldfish and a "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster.
The weekend inspections were predictably awful, having to stand in line with 30 other people.
At one inspection in Chippendale on a Saturday morning the line went around the corner and down an entire block, only for the real-estate agent to cancel at the very last minute.
An hour later I was alarmed to be the only person at an inspection for a $450 a week "funky warehouse" near Redfern.
The poor real-estate agent was soon accosted by the tenant, who came running down the street yelling at her to stop the inspection, complaining about being unexpectedly kicked out.
We looked almost everywhere we could think of near the city and in the inner west - Stanmore, Petersham, Lewisham, Marrickville, Leichhardt, Annandale and Glebe.
By our third week of looking, real-estate agents started recognising us and would kindly point us to units that might suit.
We applied for plenty of places, but missed out at least once because someone else had offered to pay more rent.
As time wore on we started looking in areas we had assumed we couldn't afford - the posher parts of the eastern suburbs and north shore, as well as Balmain and Rozelle.
Surprisingly we found you get more bang for your buck in those areas, with better quality apartments that have more space.
Eventually we ended up being approved for a beautiful one-bedroom flat in Balmain, the result of persistence, enthusiasm and a bit of luck.
It even has a private outdoor space - something I didn't think I would have in Sydney until my death.
The experts' view:
Real-estate agents say Sydney's rental market is particularly competitive at the moment and tenants have to be proactive in their approach.
Jeremy Martin, the managing director of Martin Property, said more and more people were treating renting like the job market and compiling professional-looking resumes.
"They've got all the information there and they make it as easy as possible for the property manager to approve their applications."
Mr Martin said his agency encouraged prospective tenants to join their Facebook page and be included on their email database.
"My advice is, if you've missed out on a property, then go and see that property manager and ask them why you missed out.
"The tenants need to be proactive ... then they can tinker with their approach for the next property."
Real Estate Institute of NSW president Christian Payne, a Cronulla real-estate agent, said many people were now well-versed on turning up to inspections with the necessary documents and being prepared to pay more rent.
"When it comes to the property management, we see lots of suitable tenants. We just have to say 'yes' to one of them and everyone else is disappointed.
"There's a lack of supply of rental accommodation; that's what it boils down to.
"It's continuing to remain low ... and there's still upward pressure on rents. That's not good news for tenants."
The best way to up your chances of finding a rental is to introduce yourself to real-estate agents in the areas you're interested in, Mr Payne said.
"At the end of the day get your best references, get [your application] all ready and make it easy.
"Persistence, I guess, pays off.
"If people are willing to compromise ... on one of those things they're looking for, ultimately you'll find a property."
This reporter is on Twitter @steph_gardiner