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How to choose the ideal apartment to rent

By George Hadgelias

With record-low rental vacancy rates across much of Australia, renters are being urged to take more care in choosing the apartment that will most suit their needs.

“At the moment, supply is low in many places where they’ll want to live,” said Emily Sim, Ray White Group chief executive of property management. “So it’s important that they make the decision wisely, and perhaps even start considering apartments in areas they hadn’t necessary thought of before.”

Location, location

The CBDs of both Sydney and Melbourne, for instance, were hit hard by the COVID-19 ban on international travel. Many apartments that were traditionally filled by overseas students, new migrants or casual workers are now sitting empty, with rents slashed to attract tenants.

Conversely, you could also consider renting a home further out from the city now that remote working is more commonplace. That could mean a much cheaper outer suburb or even a rural or regional location, with a great deal more space.

The right building

The choice of the right apartment building is also critical if you want a home that’s going to suit your lifestyle. There are so many different kinds around, from small boutique blocks to large towers with lots of facilities, and the bylaws may differ widely between them.

“If you have a pet, or intend to get a pet, make sure the bylaws of the building you’re looking at allows them,” said Tonja Gibson, of strata advice and advocacy service Strata Answers.

“Of course, you’ll need permission first from your landlord to keep a pet in your apartment. But with your building, while strata rules have changed to outlaw blanket bans on pets, some may have very different rules and fees.”

Having a quick read of the rest of a building’s bylaws could be worthwhile too, advises Gibson, to make sure there’s nothing else in there that might adversely affect you. Consider the rules on hanging washing on balconies, or the times you will be allowed to use the gym or barbecue area.

You should also check to see if there’s any remediation work planned for the building which might affect you. This might be in terms of noise, disruption, having to admit workers into your apartment to fix up defects, or allowing your balcony to be used to store their materials. It might also mean parts of the building, like a gym or pool, being out of use for long periods.

“The tone of a building can also be very important,” said Gibson. “You might love seeing kids playing in a central courtyard, or the noise might drive you mad. You might have kids of your own, and want to know if there are other families living there as company for your children.

“And is the building likely to be friendly? There might be a gardening club if there are garden beds on the roof or in the grounds – and a composting system for food scraps – a book club or a wine-tasting club. You want a building that’s going to be welcoming, and where the neighbours are friendly.”

The right apartment

Make sure the apartment you’re looking at renting is going to work out well for how you’re going to use it. If you need parking, does it come with a car space, and is it secure? Are there insect screens in place if you’re renting going into spring and summer?

Then, if you plan to sublet one of the bedrooms, are there two bathrooms so both you and your flatmate can have plenty of privacy? Is there enough room for you not to hear each other if you both work from home? How good are the internet connections?

Ms McDonald, head of leasing property management, and a rentvestor herself, said one of the first things she always checked was the condition of the individual apartment. “I want to know that it’s a well-maintained property,” she said.

“I want to know whether there are any potential dangers, like faulty wiring, or whether there’s wear and tear, like marks on walls and tired carpets that indicate that the landlord isn’t looking after it as well as they might, and should. That can be difficult to judge in lockdowns when you’re not allowed to inspect a property under some rules, so you should look carefully at the photos and ask the agent any questions.”

You should also think clearly beforehand about your non-negotiable needs and which you’re prepared to compromise on. Some people might say they don’t want to live without air-conditioning or a dishwasher; others might be prepared to pay more for a good layout that makes the most of space.

Many people, particularly during the pandemic, don’t want apartments without any outdoor space, or balconies, while for others that’s not so important.

“With so many people working from home now, they might say they need more room so they can have a good space for a desk,” McDonald said.

“It’s important to work out a budget and know if you’re prepared to stretch it for what you want. You should also be thinking ahead for the next 18 months or two years, to see if you think it will still suit your needs then.” 

Anticipating problems

If the building has a building manager or concierge, ask them if you can check whether there have been any complaints against neighbours either next door to the unit you’re thinking of renting, or above or below it.

“If there have been lots of complaints filed, see if the problem is likely to persist,” said Deb Francis, the director of concierge service A Class Concierge. “You could also knock on the doors of neighbours and see if they’ve had any problems on that floor.”

Then, if you’re sensitive to noise, work out carefully how quiet the apartment is going to be. Check if it’s close to the lobby or any common facilities like a gym, pool, barbecue area or gardens.

“Some people like to hear a soft buzz of noise coming from elsewhere; others can find it very disturbing,” Francis said. “In that case, how well is that apartment sound-proofed? On an inspection, close the door and have a friend stand outside talking, to see if you can hear them.”

She also recommended that the same friend try the lift while you’re inside the apartment, to check if you can hear the lift motor rumbling, or the ding of a bell when it arrives at that floor. Go into the bedroom and listen from there too.

“You don’t want noise to disrupt your sleep,” Francis said. “That can really drive you mad.”

Gibson also said you should check the position of any external lights, from either your building or from neighbouring buildings.

“I often found this a problem, particularly when the blinds in the unit were very flimsy and I could not fix things myself,” she said.“Having to try to get the landlord to fix it adds another layer of difficulty you could well do without.”

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