First, Stop Doing This.
Have you started looking at rentals in Sydney yet? If you’re anything like me, you have.
When we were at the beginning stages of our move to Australia, I had already started looking at rental sites because y’ know, I wanted to be prepared. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
It was like an addiction, flipping through photos of apartments all over the city, just to see what was out there.
Sure it was fun to picture us in Sydney. Sitting on our terrace with a fantastic view of the harbor, sipping champagne. But honestly, it was a complete waste of time. I mean, we hadn’t even packed a single box yet!
Not only was it a waste of time, but I was making some vast assumptions about renting in Sydney. One was that it was going to be easy. Another was the number of rentals available.
The truth is, apartments in Sydney disappear faster than Oprah’s favorite things sell out.
When we arrived and started our search for a place to live, reality hit hard, and we realized what we were up against.
There are so many things I wish I had known. If I had, I definitely would have stopped looking at all the pretty photos of empty apartments online. Instead, I would have gotten organized.
I strongly suggest this is what you should be doing too.
At the very least, read the first half of this post about what you can do now before you move. And definitely, before you look at any more photos online of apartments in Sydney, that wouldn’t be available anyway.
Start Your Sydney Rental Search Before You Leave Home
Finding a place to live in Sydney is stressful for everyone new to the city, especially on a tight deadline. Either a two-week deadline, because that’s how long you have booked at a hotel. Or savings-running-out-quickly deadline.
You can arrive prepared and ready to hit the ground running. You can even start contacting real estate agents before you arrive in Sydney, but you don’t want to start too early. Finding a rental in Sydney is all about timing.
I’m going to run through a few things you can get started on before you leave home.
Narrow down where you want to live.
Sydney is a large, expansive city. Narrowing down your rental search to two or three suburbs at the most will cut down on time it takes getting to rental inspections.
Rentals are only open for inspection for 15 minutes at a time. You don’t want to pick two inspections at opposite ends of the city and not have enough time to get to each. Even if you are thinking of jumping in an Uber and running from one to the other. Traffic in Sydney is awful at all times of the day, and you can easily miss that 15-minute window.
Narrowing down your search to two suburbs might be hard to do if you’re not that familiar with the city.
When we moved to Sydney, neither of us had ever been to Australia before, so I completely understand.
To narrow down what Sydney suburbs we wanted to live in, we took a look at the train routes. We decided that we wanted to be no more than a 15-minute walk to the station.
We ended up in Elizabeth Bay for the first year. Then expanded our search for our second place to the Lower North Shore, no longer on the train.
Living in Elizabeth Bay was great and super close to work for both of us, but, to be honest, I liked living in Neutral Bay more and wish we had started out there. Commuting by ferry in Sydney is one of the best ways to start and end the day.
I would suggest focusing on areas with more than one public transport option if commuting to work is a factor for where you want to live in Sydney.
For example, getting to Balmain, people usually take the ferry, but the bus is a quick, easy ride though crowded at peak hours. Balmain isn’t that far from Sydney’s downtown area. Still, it feels more secluded than say Kirribilli, just across the harbor from Circular Quay.
Besides the commute, the other main factor is usually how much rent is going to be.
The farther you get away from the downtown area, the less expensive rents get, which makes sense, right? The caveat is the farther away you go, the less you feel like you’re in Sydney.
I have a post where I recommend different areas of Sydney to consider living when you first arrive. It goes into more detail and includes information on local schools for each suburb.
Short-term rentals instead of hotels.
I always recommend a short-term rental instead of a hotel. A short-term rental gives you the chance to try a suburb on to see if it’s a good fit. You can also scope out nearby listings before they are open for inspection. This gives you a chance to suss out local schools and how far of a walk is it to the bus or train.
There are many to choose from, available in a wide range of prices. You should have no problem finding one you can afford.
Moving to Australia with a temporary skills shortage 482 visa and negotiating your relocation? Try to get them on board with booking an Airbnb in one of the suburbs you are considering living. If they’re not keen on this idea, see if they would be okay with you booking it and reimbursing the cost. That often works.
Update: $50AUD credit on a short-term rental with Airbnb. You can set up a wishlist on Airbnb to save apartments you like but not sure of your exact travel dates yet. Airbnb hosts are a useful resource for more information about the suburb, like local schools and the commute.
House sitting is a free option worth considering if time and money start running out.
I have a post about house sitting as a way of cutting costs on accommodations in Australia, not only for Sydney.
Update: TrustedHousesitters.com is now offering Sydney Moving Guide readers 25% off housesitting memberships. Use promo code “sydneymovingguide”.
Start contacting real estate agents in Australia.
Now that you’ve narrowed down where you want to live, you can start contacting real estate agents in that area.
Each suburb has its local real estate office that posts rental listings on their website. Often before they’re posted on larger search sites. You can Google the suburb plus “real estate agency,” and all the local offices should pop up.
I wouldn’t recommend contacting them until you’re a month away from your arrival date.
They have listings that they need to fill asap and not that interested in a few months from now. They also usually don’t have any idea what’s coming up two or three months in advance.
I have an example of the email we sent out when we first arrived in Sydney that scored us our first apartment in Elizabeth Bay.
Address gaps in your rental application.
For your rental application, you’re going to have to have 100 points of ID. It’s a bit rough on new arrivals to get up to 100 points. You’ll be okay as far as primary documentation, but it’s the secondary documents that are the catch.
Besides having 100 points of ID, you’ll need proof of employment and tenancy history in Australia.
“Wait, did you say tenancy history in Australia?”
Yes, I did. And yes, I realize you probably don’t have one, which is why you need to start thinking about what you’re going to do to show you are a trustworthy applicant, so keep on reading.
I list out all the documents you’ll need and points given to each in my post here, all about filling out your first rental application in Australia.
I also cover what to do to address those gaps in your paperwork, like tenancy history in Australia. You’ll need to address this when you fill out your first rental application, or chances are your application won’t be successful.
For more on the 100 Points ID Check in Australia, read my post covering all the documents you need to pass and the points given to each.
The 100 Points ID Check comes up over and over. And it’s different each time, especially when it comes to rental applications. It’s best to have all your supporting documents with you when you move. It’s not uncommon for new expats to be asked for extra documentation.
Set up a 1form and tApp account.
With 1form, you can fill out one form, as the name suggests, scan or take a photo of your 100 points ID documents and save it to your account. Then, when you see a place you want, go to the listing on either the agency’s site or RealEstate.com.au and click the apply with the 1form button.
Agencies that don’t accept 1form usually accept tApp, pretty much the same thing as 1form but with more junk mail.
If they don’t accept either 1form or tApp, they usually have an application on their site. Most have a PDF application that you can download, fill out, and send back to them. That’s not that common nowadays, but you never know.
It doesn’t matter if you use 1form, tApp, or the agency’s application. You’ll still need 100 points of ID, proof of employment, income to cover the rent, and tenant history.
How to Beat the Competition When You’re in Sydney
Okay, now that you’ve got your paperwork ready and set up your 1from account, it’s time to get back to looking at all those pretty photos. But this time with a plan in mind.
The best rental search sites in Australia.
Domain.com.au and RealEstate.com.au are the two largest real estate search engines in Australia, but there’s also Gumtree.com.au, the Craigslist of Australia. Side note, no one uses Craigslist in Australia for much of anything.
Domain and RE have the same listings, but Gumtree is more for owners to list rentals themselves. It’s worth checking out alongside the others.
Go to the mid-week inspections.
Inspection times for rentals in Sydney are crazy short, only 15 minutes, which doesn’t make things easy, especially since they’re at random times of the day. For example, our apartment in Woollahra was only open from 2:00 pm to 2:15 pm on a Tuesday.
What makes things worse is nicer apartments with reasonable rents are usually only shown once. If you miss it, you’re out of luck. Done and dusted.
Rental inspections on a Tuesday at 2 pm have fewer people than inspections on a Saturday. Rentals with inspections scheduled for both Tuesday and Saturday are usually gone before that Saturday inspection happens. This is because someone snapped it up at that Tuesday inspection.
Since you most likely won’t be working right away, and have an open schedule, make it to every midweek inspection you can. Saturdays are for suckers.
Divide and conquer.
This, of course, only works if you’re moving to Sydney with a partner or potential flatmate.
My husband and I always split up viewings, that way, we get to see more and spread out across the city.
We also have an agreement that if it’s a “yes,” then jump on it. In fact, our apartment in Woollahra was one that my husband went to on his own and said yes before I saw it.
We also sent in all our paperwork before the inspection, so it was pretty much a done deal once he said yes.
Be early or at the very Least ON TIME!
Sydney apartments are usually rented on a first-come, first-served system. If you arrive early and get your application in first, you’ll be first-in-line for the apartment.
This is why emailing the agent before the viewing worked out so well for us and has every single time we’ve had to move since. The email correspondence counts as the first point of contact usually.
Offer to pay more.
This is a tough one and might not be an option for everyone.
By offering to pay more, I mean paying more per week or offering to pay three months plus deposit upfront.
I know that this is a tough one because it’s expensive moving to Australia, and savings are already stretched thin. It does tip the scale and isn’t uncommon to be at an inspection where people start to try and outbid each other.
I include it as something to consider if time is running out.
Follow up within 24 hours.
Don’t sit and wait to hear back. Contact the agent within 24 hours of turning in your application.
It’s best to call. I know it’s so much easier to email, but if the agent is out, they might miss it.
Don’t be a nag, but stay on top of it. Make sure there aren’t any follow-up questions or need any other secondary ID documents from you.
If you do follow up and find out that you didn’t get the place, ask why to see if it’s something you need to address for future applications. Ask for their opinion on how to make your application stronger.
Also, inquire about any other listings that they have coming up that are similar. You have their attention and have already turned in an application. See if you can use it towards another rental listing. This’ll save them time, dealing with listings and inspections, and you’d score your first place in Sydney. It’s a win for you both.
The best and worst times to find a rental property.
Fewer people move house during the winter months in general. Remember, the seasons are switched in the Southern Hemisphere. When I say winter, I mean June, July, and August. This is also the beginning of the fiscal year, which starts in July in Australia.
At the end of the year, many real estate agencies shut down, especially between Christmas and the New Year. This is also the worst time for booking short-term rentals and hotels. They’re usually booked solid because Sydney is a holiday destination for the New Year fireworks celebration.
If you’re moving around the Christmas holidays, booking your accommodations early.
I have noticed a spike in international relocations in October, November, mid-January, and February.
If you’re moving mid-November, I’d recommend contacting one of the relocation agencies below for help.
When all else fails, get help from a professional relocation agent.
Several relocation agencies in Sydney can help you with finding a place. Even before you arrive. They often have different packages with tiered pricing, depending on what’s included.
I got three recommendations for you.
Warning: Don’t Get Screwed When You Move Out
Before you move in, make sure you go through the apartment thoroughly, as in military white-glove inspection. Take photos or videos of anything that is not up to scratch. And make sure it’s time-stamped.
The first two times we moved, the real estate agent tried to ding us with damage from another tenant. One wanted us to repaint the whole apartment for a few scratches on the wall that was already there. The other tried to get us to buy a new stove, which was a mess when we moved in. Something I clearly remember as I had a rough time cleaning it up before using it.
Thank goodness I took before and after photos that were time-stamped shortly after we moved in.
This is very common. Real estate agents are extremely picking with the moving out inspection, but the moving-in inspection is your responsibility.
That means making sure all appliances are clean or you will have to clean it when you move out. (I’m now pretty quick when it comes to cleaning the oven.)
When you do your inspection, open up everything. All cabinets, wardrobe, closets, under the sink cabinets, the fridge, and oven. Pull back any curtains and have a good look at the windows for cracks or blemishes. Note any picture hooks or marks on the walls.
Before You Move In, Be Sure You Do This
Another thing to do before you move in is bug bomb your new place.
There is no way around it. Your new apartment or house will have cockroaches and spiders. It’s so much easier to bug bomb it when it’s empty.
It only takes one flying cockroach to make you wish you did.