Moving out of home for the first time, but don’t have enough savings to afford your own place? Buying a house can feel well beyond the reach of many young Australians, which is why would-be homeowners are turning to renting property instead.
In fact, almost one third (31%) of Australian households rented their home in 2019–20, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.1
If you’re a first-time renter, there are some things you need to know to make your life easier. So, we’ve compiled this introductory guide for first-time renters, which includes tips on:
- Choosing the right property
- Preparing your rental application
- Negotiating (or renegotiating) your tenancy agreement
- Understanding property condition reports
- Moving in or out of your rental property
Choosing a property
Choosing your first rental property is an important process, so you need to ask yourself some questions about your lifestyle and financial needs, like:
- How much can you afford to pay in rent? Set yourself a limit on the amount of rent you can afford and stick to it, even if that means missing out on your dream home. You don’t want to lock yourself into a contract that will send you broke.
- What type of home suits you? Decide whether you’d prefer having your own place with a backyard, if you’re open to sharing with neighbours or like the convenience of apartment living.
- How many bedrooms and bathrooms do you need? Sharing a bathroom can be a deal-breaker for some, while having a spare bedroom means you can host family and friends or share the costs with a roommate.
- Who do you want to rent with? Renting a place by yourself means you’ll get a lot more freedom, but it will come at a cost. If you want to cut down your rental spend, it might be best to live with roommates in a shared house or potential partners.
- Do you need somewhere to park your vehicle? If you have a car, it’s important to make sure your rental comes with a car park or a secure place nearby.
- Do you want a whole yard or a low-maintenance outdoor area? If you don’t have time to do the gardening or just dislike yard work, it might be best to find a place that requires minimal work.
- Is the property near public transport? Living on a train line or near a bus stop can be quite handy and can potentially reduce your need for a car.
- If you have pets, does the property cater for them? Make sure any property you look at is pet-friendly; for example, if you need a big, fenced-off yard for your dog, there’s no point in looking at properties that don’t offer this.
- Is the property near local shops, schools and other amenities? Being able to quickly duck to the shops or walk kids to their school or a local park can be quite an advantage.
- Do you prefer a quiet suburban street or an urban setting? Weigh up whether you’d prefer quiet nights and less congestion or inner-city living with everything you need at your doorstep.
- How far are you willing to commute for work? Map out your route to work from your potential property and work out how much time the route and traffic will consume from your day-to-day routine.
Once you’ve considered these questions and any other special terms you may have, heading online to search for properties that fit your criteria is a good first step. It could also be a good idea to contact agents who specialise in particular areas to help you find the right property.
Furthermore, rental properties turn over quickly, so getting in touch with a few key agents may help you find the perfect property before it’s listed online or in the local paper.
Preparing your application
Depending on where you want to live and the type of property you would like, the rental market can be fiercely competitive. If you want to secure your dream rental property, a strong application may be the difference between getting it or missing out. It’s also a good idea to prepare your application before viewing properties, so you can get a jumpstart if you like the place.
Here are some tips for preparing and handling your rental application.
- Call the agent to ask a few questions. Be friendly and personable, and try to make a good impression on the agent to differentiate you from the other applicants.
- Save the agent time and present your application with photocopies of your various forms of ID. This could include the front and back of your driver’s license, Medicare card and passport. They may need to see the originals, but at least you’ve saved them the hassle of taking copies. They may also request copies of your previous utility bills, so have these ready as well.
- Prepare your proof of income. You will more than likely need to provide this. This proof could be a payslip, end-of-year tax certificate or bank statement. Keep copies of these handy to include with your rental applications.
- Get your references in order. This could keep you a step ahead of the competition. For first-time renters without a rental history (and therefore no previous landlord to reference), a good referee could be your employer or a career mentor. Choose your referees wisely, as a poor reference can sink an otherwise strong application.
- Be financially prepared. You’ll need to have your first month’s rent and bond (otherwise known as security deposit) ready if your application is accepted.
- Create profiles for your pets. If you have pets, creating pet profiles can help demonstrate that you’re a conscientious pet owner who cares for your animal and your home. Include details like your pet’s behaviour, training regimen and any regular vet checks or vaccinations to help calm landlords who may be cautious about renting out to pet owners.
- Dress to impress. First impressions can make a world of difference. You have a far better chance of securing the property you want if you present yourself well, both in appearance and demeanour.
Handling negotiation (and renegotiation)
Sometimes there may be wiggle room on a rental property’s listed price. However, this depends on market conditions and interest in the property.
By researching the market in your chosen area, it should give you a good idea of whether a property will be popular with other renters. If strong competition is likely, it’s doubtful you could negotiate the rent to a lower rate.
However, there are other things you could negotiate than just the weekly rent, including:
- Lease term. Lease agreement terms often vary. Some landlords want the flexibility offered by a 6-month lease, while others want the security of a 12-month lease. In some cases, if you’re looking for a long-term rental property, you may be able to negotiate lease terms over 12 months, and this may appeal to certain landlords. If a long-term lease suits your needs, discuss this with the agent first before offering longer terms (say 24 months) at a slightly reduced rental rate.
- Property condition. Landlords are looking for good tenants who can provide rent payments on time and keep the property in good condition. If you’re a strong candidate, you may be able to request amendments to the property condition as a lease sweetener; for example, a fresh coat of paint or a new oven.
- Rent renegotiation terms. While there may not be room to move on the initial rent amount, you may be able to work out rent renegotiation terms as a part of your application. You may also be able to negotiate rent reductions down the track; for example, if you prove yourself to be a model tenant after six months, you could offer the landlord something in return, like a long-term lease extension).
- Property inclusions. Ask the property manager whether they can include extras, like yard or garden maintenance, as part of the rental agreement.
Organising your property condition report
A property condition report will list the condition of the property in general, as well as various items within the property, like included white goods and any furniture or furnishings. By taking the time to be thorough at the initial stages of your tenancy, it will benefit you in the long run.
- Do a thorough inspection. Any discrepancies between your observations and the property condition report (for example, a cracked tile or a carpet stain) should be noted with the agent. Take photos of everything in every room before you move in.
- Make sure you receive an amended copy of the property condition report. This will be used to assess whether or not your bond is returned at the end of your tenancy.
Getting move-in ready
Once you’ve signed the lease on your new rental property, it’s time to move in! However, just because you’ve got your dream rental place, it doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. The property still belongs to the owner, and they’re going to make sure it’s taken care of.
So, here are some steps to make your move smoother.
- Organise your belongings. Moving into a new property is the perfect time to take stock of your belongings and to create a home contents inventory. Taking inventory is an essential part of protecting your belongings if items are lost, stolen or damaged in your home. Remember to take care when moving your furniture and belongings into the property to avoid damaging walls and floors.
- Protect your possessions. Remember that your rental agreement does not cover your belongings. If you want to protect your belongings (like furniture, clothing, electronics and jewellery), you’ll need to take out renters insurance (also known as Contents Insurance). Without cover, you would face the costs of replacing them out of your own pocket. Just imagine how much your clothes, appliances, jewellery and furniture are all worth!
- Prepare for inspections. Remember, as a tenant, you may be subject to periodic property inspections. The frequency of these inspections varies in each state, but inspections are usually carried out within the first six weeks of a new tenancy and then every three to six months. Make sure your place is clean and tidy all the time, but especially before an inspection.
- Confirm your notice period for inspections. Property agents are required to give tenants sufficient notice (usually seven days) about an upcoming inspection. Check with your property agent to find out how often they conduct inspections. It’s also important to check with your local tenancy advocacy and advice service for specific notice periods for entry to the premise for reasons other than inspections (e.g. urgent repairs, prospective buyer tours).
Vacating your property
Once you’re ready to move out of your current rental, there are some steps to take so that you leave on good terms with the property owner.
- Give sufficient notice. Whether you’re leaving by choice or by circumstances, the initiating party must give notice. The notice period varies depending on the reason for vacating a premise as well as by state and territory, so check with your local tenancy authority to find out which notice periods are applicable to you. Notice must be given in writing and include the date of notice, the date you will vacate the premise and reason for vacating.
- Prepare your property for handover. Once notice is given, you’ll need to arrange for the property to be ready by the stated date. You will be required to return the property to the agent/landlord in the same condition that you received it. Remember, while you may not be responsible for general wear and tear, you should leave the premises in a fairly clean condition and repair any damage you were responsible for.
- Organise end-of-lease ‘bond’ cleaning. The condition in which you leave the property will have a direct effect on the return of your bond. So, if you can afford it, budget for a professional cleaning company to do an end-of-lease clean. If the property has a yard or garden, make sure it’s also neat and tidy. It’s a good idea to check with the real estate agent to see if they have any preferred bond cleaning companies; using their recommended services might help ensure the property is cleaned to acceptable standards for your bond return. Any cleaning issues after this point is between the cleaning company and the property manager.
- Attend the end-of-lease inspection. If you can, attend the end-of-lease inspection, where the property agent will inspect the property against both the initial property condition report and any amendments that have been made to the report throughout the tenancy. All going well, your bond should be returned without dispute; however, if there are any disputes, you can apply for it to be resolved through the Tenancy Tribunal in your state or territory.
Where to go for help
Navigating the rental market can be challenging when finding your new home, so remember to keep thorough records throughout your tenancy in case any queries arise.
By doing a quick online search, you’ll find many state- and territory-specific tenant advice websites and organisations that help tenants with a range of issues, including tenant responsibilities, privacy rights and dispute resolution.
Insure your belongings today
If you’ve read through our guide, secured a property and are ready for the move, the next step is to consider renters insurance to cover your furniture and possessions.
Luckily, we can make this part easy for you! Simply head to our free comparison service to compare renters’ insurance options. If you find a policy you like, you can buy it right there and then. Simples! Remember to always read the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to know exactly how you’re covered before making the decision to purchase.