The Amazing Race and House Hunters International Have a Baby
I’ve always thought that finding a rental in Sydney would make a great reality show.
Imagine if The Amazing Race and House Hunters International had a baby reality show but without the help of relocation agents to take contestants around to look at properties. And instead of a handful of teams competing, there are hundreds.
That’s kind of what it felt like our first time looking for an apartment in Sydney.
We had no idea what we were up against when we started going to rental inspections. We didn’t even realize that rents in Australia are advertised as the weekly rent, not monthly. Imagine our shock when that $650 per month was really $650 per week. A whole new ball game.
NOTE: The rent listed is always the weekly rent, even if it isn’t clearly stated. RealEstate.com.au listings are pretty good at stating per week, but on Domain.com.au it is sometimes not clearly stated.
We had only two weeks at a hotel paid for as part of our relocation package from the company that hired my husband. After that, we were on our own.
In two weeks, we needed to figure out where we wanted to live, find a place we liked and could afford.
Add on top of that the fact that Sydney has one of the most competitive rental markets in the world, not just in Australia. AND, on top of that, we didn’t have any rental history in Australia to list on our application.
It really did feel like we were competing in some challenge on a reality show.
Everything turned out alright, but there were a couple of significant setbacks along the way.
In the end, we picked our keys to our first apartment in Sydney one week after we moved.
Sydney’s Competitive Rental Market
The very first rental inspection we went to was for a small one-bedroom apartment in Surry Hills near Taylor Square for $550 a week.
So many people showed up that they had to stagger the number of people allowed into the apartment at a time.
It was a feeding frenzy inside. People swarmed around the real estate agent trying to outbid each other, some offering to pay six months’ rent in advance.
We left that inspection in a panic.
There was no way we could pay more, and paying six months in rent plus the deposit to move in was crazy talk.
This outbidding frenzy happens all the time in Sydney. You can do a search on Twitter or Reddit, and you’ll find plenty of stories about overcrowded inspections and outbidding.
Here’s a recent email I got from an SMG reader that’s the inspiration for this post.
“Well, we finally did it – we are in Sydney!
Been here two weeks already and loving it for the most part, but having a tough time finding a permanent place with two kids. Ideally, we want to rent a house with a yard in the city, but now looking far out, like Cherrybrook and Sutherland shire.
Any advice on finding places before inspections? We are getting frustrated as several times we’ve shown up to a place, and it’s already rented!”
Two takeaways from this email.
First, if you are looking to rent a house with a yard, you’re going to have better luck looking farther away from the city center, which will mean a longer commute.
Second, real estate agents in Sydney are awful.
No, really, they are.
I've been to many rental inspections, where they didn't show up, only to find out that the place had been rented a week or more ago. They didn't cancel the inspection or delete the listing. A complete waste of precious time. Not to mention very awkward when I knocked on the door, and the current occupants answered, annoyed as I was one of many that had shown up for the inspection.
As far as advice for finding a rental before it's open for inspection, I can tell you how we scored our first apartment before it was listed online.
How We Found an Apartment in Sydney Before It Was Open for Inspection
After we witnessed the bidding war for that tiny one-bedroom apartment in Surry Hills, we totally freaked out. I’m talking full panic mode.
We were already pushing it financially at that price point, and there was no way we were going to be able to go higher.
That’s when I started emailing.
What we did that had real estate agents contacting us.
The first email I sent out was to the real estate agent of the Surry Hills apartment, saying how much we liked it but couldn't afford to pay more. Then I politely asked if she had any other rentals in Surry Hills that were similar.
To our surprise, she wrote us back.
She didn't have anything at that moment, but if something comes up, she will keep us in mind. It was a bummer, but at least she wrote us back.
That got me thinking.
What would happen if I emailed more real estate agents?
There was only one way to find out, and all it took was time. We would gladly do that instead of standing in line with a crowd waiting to cram into another small apartment.
It felt like I sent out hundreds of emails, but it was probably 20, if not less.
The next day we got a few replies.
From there, we made it a point to go to those agents' inspections that we were interested in.
Before looking at the apartment, we introduced ourselves to the agent, reminding them that we were the ones that emailed. This way, they knew we were serious about doing business with them because not only did we reach out, but we actually showed up.
It totally paid off!
We ended up connecting with an agent at an inspection who happened to have another place coming up that was more of what we were looking for. She was going to swing by to see if it was ready to be photographed and if we wanted to meet her there, we could.
We showed up at the apartment with only one other couple, but since we had been in contact and also showed up, we got first dibs.
A few days later, we picked up our keys.
Answers to Frequent Questions I Get About Emailing Real Estate Agents.
I've gotten a lot of questions about the emails I sent, what I said, and when I would suggest emailing agents.
The first step, narrow down where in Sydney you want to live.
Before you start emailing real estate agents, you need to narrow down where in Sydney you want to live.
Once you figure out where in Sydney you want to live and have given your budget some thought, do a few searches on RealEstate.com.au or Domain.com.au to see what’s available in those areas.
After a couple of searches, you will start to recognize different real estate agencies like LJ Hooker and Raine & Horne. Start taking note of the real estate agents listed, especially if you see the same one a few times for that area.
Don’t focus on the agency, but the agent. The reason for that is each real estate agency has location-specific offices and rental listings are specific to that office. So if you email an agent at LJ Hooker in Neutral Bay asking about rentals in Rose Bay, you probably won’t get a reply.
What to write in the email.
Write up a quick email template stating your visa status and what kind of apartment you are looking for and your arrival date, or when you are looking to move in.
Make it personable, maybe something like “I’ve noticed that the rentals you have available always come up whenever I do a search on RealEstate.com.au. I am looking for… My arrival date is… I will be working at…My visa status is…”
Then ask them if they have anything coming available when you will be looking.
For the subject line, keep it simple but clear what you are looking for. Try something direct like “Neutral Bay 2-bedroom”. Don't mention anything about not being in Sydney currently. They have vacancies they want to fill now.
Don’t contact real estate agents through RealEstate.com.au or Domain.com.au contact forms.
Your email will get lost in all the other inquiries they get through those large search sites.
Instead, you want to contact them directly using their work email address. And please, don't be creepy and message them on Facebook.
To find their work email, you'll need to Google their agency location office website and get their contact email there.
Easy to do, just click on their name in RealEstate.com.au or Domain.com.au, and their profile will pop up. Then copy and paste their name, agency name, and suburb in Sydney that the agency serves in Google. Voilà, their profile page with the agency should pop up with all their contact details.
When should you start emailing agents in Sydney?
Being in Sydney is best since agents are more motivated to reply since they have vacancies they need to fill. I know you're probably getting nervous about finding a place to live and don't want to stay too long in a hotel or Airbnb. Still, I wouldn't start sending out emails a few weeks or a month at the most before you arrive.
The best use of your time right now is to narrow down where in Sydney you want to live. Try to focus on only three suburbs that are all close to each other that way, you're not running all over the city to inspections that last only 15 minutes each.
Many SMG Readers Have Added Their Own Twist to This.
Obviously, make the email your own and try different subject lines to see what works.
Many SMG readers lock in on a suburb because they want to enroll their kids in the local school. From there, they search for real estate agencies in that suburb then go through the agents' profiles that work there. You can usually find a list under the “Our Team” tab. They see what agents have listings on the site that they like then email them directly.
Don’t email every agent that works at that office.
When and if they hear anything back, they then make an appointment or ask when is the best time to stop in the office to meet face-to-face.
That's worked well for some, mainly because nothing beats meeting face-to-face.
Your second apartment in Sydney will be considerably more straightforward as you will now have a rental history in Australia started. Just make sure you maintain a good rental history, or you might be blacklisted in the TICA national tenant database. That is a whole other subject for a different blog post and not something you have to worry about right now.
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