Friday, January 8, 2010

The Student Guide - 5 Tips for Househunters

Whoops, it's the first week of 2010, and I'm already behind in my New Years resolutions! Unfortunately, between work and travelling to house hunt everyday, I have largely neglected the Diatribe this week. Yes, still that famed hunt for the new digs. Things are, thankfully, looking up in that area. Not only are there some really great properties popping up in my price range, my mum has come to the party and is signing onto the lease with me, which will hopefully make things a lot smoother going in terms of getting applications approved. At present, the tally now stands at:

  • 12 inspections
  • 6 application submitted & 4 rejected
  • I've lost count of how many email enquiries (it was 15 today alone!)

Now, as soon as you say the word 'student', a lot of landlord's go running. Add to that the words 'casual work', and no matter what you make a week (or if you have a parent willing to pay a large chunk of the rent), there is probably not a chance in hell that you're going to be given a place over that middle-aged suit with a stable, full-time job. This has been my problem so far, it's not that I'm a bad applicant, it's just that there are BETTER applicants. It's not because agents are nasty, it's because they're being practical. Of course, students have a reputation, albeit somewhat undeserved, of being bad tenants, of trashing houses, being late with rent, throwing loud parties that annoy the neighbours, you name the trait, chances are it's attributable to the student stereotype (In all honesty, I have yet to meet a student who is like this, or that can afford to lose the bond!)

So, how do you increase your chances of making a good impression on the agent and landlord, and of getting the lease for your dream house?

  1. Know your limits – It's no good finding the house of your dreams, and then discovering that it is out of your price range. Really, it's just not worth the heartache. Do some budget calculations, figure out what your absolute upper limit is, and then stick to your guns. Don't be tempted to go for that property that is just $20 a week more, because you will quickly find yourself in dire straits. If you want something outside your price range, consider the idea of sharing with friends or other students, as this can halve your rent and your bills, and gives you scope for a bigger property. Know how many bedrooms you need, what features you want in the living areas and the kitchen, and figure out is having a yard is a priority. Also know what areas you are interested in and how far you are willing to travel to get to work, uni, the supermarket, buses or the pub. To start off with, you might think that hour commute from your new place is well worth it, but that fuel bill is going to add up quickly, and consider how much earlier you have to get up to get organised and to classes, work or appointments compared to living a suburb or two away.

  2. Presentation – How many people do you see rocking up to an inspection looking like they're just thrown on whatever was in the laundry hamper? Unless it's for a swank, inner city property, I'd bet there'd be quite a few. Ditch the old t-shirt, baggy jeans and sneakers. At the very least, dress neat casual. If it's for somewhere where you know there will be a lot of applicants, dress up a bit, try to stand out! Think of this like a job interview, and dress accordingly. After all, that's exactly what it is, it is the first chance for the agent to suss you out! Having a pen and notebook in hand will also help, not only giving you somewhere to take notes like rent, bond, and existing contents, but it looks like you mean business. I always take my laptop/briefcase, looks a lot more professional than my bright purple handbag, or my much-loved rucksack.
  3. Show up on time – If you're going to a house inspection, make sure you're there bang-smack on time, if not a few minutes before. If you're late, what's to stop the agent thinking that you're unreliable or unorganised, even that you're not going to pay your rent on time? It also means that you have the maximum amount of time to look through the property, poke around in cupboards, make note of any issues, and find out if your bed is going to fit in that tiny bedroom. Unfortunately, many agents fail to ascribe to this, and are often late for these appointments, leaving applicants standing around in the sun for 10 minutes or more. I've had this happen quite a few times, and it's infuriating, but try not to lose your cool about it. Remember, this is an interview. Just let them know that you've been inconvenienced, then move on. It may also pay off to ring up the agent the day of the inspection to ask that the inspection is still on. Many a prospective tenant has turned up to an inspection, only to discover that it is no longer available. I learnt the hard way, after standing around on a sunny, 30oC day waiting for an agent for 30 mins, who had already leased the property, had decided not to turn up for the inspection time, and hadn't bothered to tell any of the 12 other prospective tenants that the property was no longer available. It pays to double check!
  4. Ask questions – Engage the agent, get them to answer some questions about the property. Not only does this help you, it gives the definite impression that you're interested in the lease. Ideas include rent and bond amounts, when it's available, if pets are allowed, what the utilities costs are like, if the neighbours are noisy, if the landlord has plans to fix the leaky taps, where the fuse box is, if there's been much interest in the property, when the application should be in by, etc. Make sure you write everything down for later reference, don't expect to be able to remember every detail 3 days and several properties later.

  5. Be prepared – Be ready to get an application in early! Many properties are practically leased before the inspection even takes place, in many instances making it merely a formality for the right applicant. If you can, download the forms and submit them to the agent prior to the inspection with a note saying subject to inspection, or if that's not possible, hand them to the agent at the inspection if you decide you like the property. If you can't get the forms beforehand, take copies of your supporting documentation to the inspection with you, and fill out the application on the spot (that pen you bought along comes in handy). You'll usually need 100pts of ID (Drivers Licence, Passport, Medicare or healthcare cards, bills, etc), payslips or bank statements as proof of income, and the contact details of 3 people to act as referees. If you can't fill it out on the spot, try to have it in within 24 hours! A lot of the time, it's first in, first reference checked, so getting your forms in ASAP can put you near the top of the pile, and hopefully approved before the others even get theirs in!

Now I'm turning it over to you guys! What are your tips for having the best shot at getting that awesome house? Have you had any shocking run-ins with estate agents?

Image Credit -  Tina Kugler @ The Tina Show: Post-it Note Theatre. I love her drawings!

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