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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 Aussies, which is why would-be home-owners are turning to rent property instead.

In fact, almost one third (32%) of Australian households rented their home in 2017-18, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

If you’re a first-time renter, there are some things you need to know to make your life easier, including how to:

  • prepare your rental application
  • choose the right property
  • end leases
  • get your all-important bond back when you vacate a property
  • take out renters insurance to protect your possessions against damage or theft (your landlord only insures the house itself, not your belongings).

Here’s our introductory guide to being a first-time renter to ensure you start this exciting new chapter with confidence.

First-time renters’ checklist

Before you move into your next home, here are a few key things to think about. Our first-time renters’ checklist includes tips for preparing your rental application, how to choose the right property, ways to negotiate (or renegotiate) your rental contract, understanding property condition reports, and tips for moving in or out of your rental property.

A couple preparing their rental application with guidance from real estate agent.

  1. 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 not.

Here are some tips to prepare your rental application; try and check-off as many as you can to strengthen your application.

  • Call the agent to ask a few questions. Be friendly and personable – try to make a good impression on the agent to differentiate you from the other applicants.
  • Prepare your application before you view the property. Popular properties will be snapped up quickly, so having your application filled out and ready to hand over if the property is ‘perfect’ for you is an advantage.
  • Write a letter to the landlord. This may seem like a lot of work, but it demonstrates that you are a conscientious potential tenant. Talk about their property and what makes it a great fit for you/your family. You may wish to include personal details that make you more appealing to landlords (i.e. you have a steady income, you don’t smoke, you have no pets etc).
  • 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, because you will more than likely need to provide it. 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. You can request letters of reference from previous landlords or property agents if you have rented in the past. Choose your referees wisely – a poor reference can sink an otherwise strong application.
  • Be financially prepared. You’ll need to have your first month’s rent and bond ready if your application is accepted.
  • Create bios for your pets. If you have pets, creating pet bios can help demonstrate you are 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. According to com.au, first impressions can make a difference. Present yourself well, both in appearance and demeanour, and you’ll have a better chance of securing the property you want.

Just moved in? Protect your property with competitive contents insurance.

A couple choosing a property from a real estate window display

  1. Choosing a property

Choosing the right rental property involves asking yourself a series of questions about your lifestyle and financial needs.

  • How much can you afford to pay in rent? Set yourself a limit, 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 (house, apartment, unit)? 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 (even with potential strata fees to consider).
  • How many bedrooms/bathrooms do you need? Sharing a bathroom can be a deal-breaker for some, and having a spare bedroom means you can potentially host family or friends, or share the costs with another roommate.
  • Do you want to rent a property on your own, with a partner, or are you looking for a room in a shared house? By renting a place by yourself, 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 share with roommates 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 that you can find a secure place nearby.
  • Do you prefer a property with a 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 links? 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 the property allows pets, and 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 duck to the shops when you’re out of something, 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 closer to restaurants and nightlife? 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 calculate how much time the route and traffic will consume from your day-to-day routine.

Once you’ve considered these questions, 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 engage them in helping you find the right property.

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.

A woman negotiating rental lease with property manager

  1. Handling negotiation (and renegotiation)

Sometimes there may be wiggle room on a rental property’s listed price. However, this is dependent 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 that the rent can be negotiated to a lower rate.

However, there are other things you could negotiate than just the weekly rent.

  • Lease term: Lease terms are often variable. Some landlords want the flexibility offered by a six-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. This may appeal to certain landlords; if a long-term lease suits your needs, discuss this with the agent first and then offer longer terms (say 24 months) at a slightly reduced rental rate.
  • Property condition: Landlords are looking for good tenants who will pay their rent on time and keep the property in good condition. If you are 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 (i.e. if you prove yourself to be a model tenant after six months and offer the landlord something in return – like a long-term lease extension).
  • Property inclusions: Ask the property agent whether they can include extras, like yard or garden maintenance, as part of the rental agreement.

A potential renter doing a thorough property inspection with real estate agent

  1. 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 in the master bathroom or a stain on the living room carpet) should be noted with the agent. Take photos of everything 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.

A young couple getting ready to move in by organising their belongings into boxes

  1. 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-in 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 contents 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 contents (i.e. your belongings). If you want to protect your belongings (like furniture, clothing, electronics and jewellery), you’ll need to take out a 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. 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 about an upcoming inspection, usually seven days. 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 (urgent repairs, prospective buyer tours, etc.).

A property being cleaned by professional cleaners before the end of lease and being vacated

  1. Vacating your property

Once you’re ready to move on to another property, 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; it also varies 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, including 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 than you received it. Remember, you may not be responsible for general wear and tear; however, 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. Check with the real-estate agent to see if they have any preferred bond cleaning companies.
  • Attend the end-of-lease inspection. If you’re able to be present, 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, 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:

  • tenants’ responsibilities;
  • privacy rights; and
  • dispute resolution.

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