Moving into a new home can be an exciting but daunting process as a tenant. From our own experience in property management (and the panic we see in the eyes of first time tenants!), we know first hand that it can be tough just figuring out where to start.
We’re here to help you avoid common mistakes, learn how to pick the right rental and understand the process all the way to signing your tenancy agreement.
Let’s get started!
How to rent for the first time
A good place to begin is to figure out what kind of rental arrangement you’d like to have and can afford. Let’s take a look at the most common types of rental arrangements and some things to consider:
- Going solo: If you have a stable income and can carry the rent yourself, being a solo tenant can be a good option. Although you are likely to be limited to smaller 1 or 2 bedroom apartments on a single income, many solo tenants consider the added privacy worth it.
- Renting with a partner or friend: Moving in with your partner or a friend can give you more property options and lower your rental payments. This could also be a great way to lower other costs like utilities and transport if you are able to split these.
Always be upfront about how you want to split any shared payments before you move in. It can be awkward, but it can also avoid a messy misunderstanding when it comes time to pay.
- Joining a shared house: A shared house is when multiple tenants rent one property, and split the weekly rent. This can be a good cost-effective option but also means you’ll lose out on your privacy in any shared communal spaces (like the kitchen, living room and bathroom).
- Renting a furnished property: if you’re moving across states or looking for a property that is move-in ready, it can be worth looking for a furnished rental. This means worrying less about investing in new furniture or needing to hire removalists when it's time to move again.
Keep in mind that all rental furnishings are your responsibility and you will have to pay for any maintenance or damage.
First time renter requirements: What you'll need
Before you start looking at rental properties, there are a few key documents and pieces of information you'll need to get together:
- Proof of income: Landlords will typically want to see proof of your income, such as pay stubs or bank statements, to confirm that you can afford the rent.
- Identification: You'll need to provide a valid form of identification, such as a driver's license or passport.
- Rental reference: Landlords will often want to see your rental history, so if this is your first time renting, a rental reference letter from an employer or friend can go a long way.
- Credit check: Some landlords may also want to run a credit check to assess your financial history and creditworthiness.
- Security deposit: You may be required to pay a security deposit upfront, which is typically one month's rent.
5 steps to renting a house for the first time
Step 1: Figure out how much you can afford
Setting an affordable budget is key to finding the right property. Generally speaking, you should be spending no more than 30% of your weekly income on rent.
Remember to leave enough room in your budget for additional expenses like internet bills, utilities, groceries and transportation.
Your rental arrangements will also have a big impact on your budget. The more people you have to split the rent, the more choice you’ll have when selecting a property size, features and location.
Property managers and landlords will ask for proof of income when it comes time to apply for a rental, so make sure you’re not applying for properties that are beyond your means.
Step 2: Decide what area or suburb you want to live in
Deciding which suburb to live in is a balancing act between price and location when it comes to securing a rental property. Here are some things to think about:
- How close is the nearest train station or bus stop?
- How long is your commute to school or work?
- Are there convenience amenities nearby (such as grocery stores, service stations, cafes and restaurants)?
You might have to compromise on the number of bedrooms or style of décor to get an affordable property in the right location for you.
Step 3: Shortlist potential rentals and attend inspections
Once you know your budget and have narrowed down your location options, it's time to start searching for rental listings.
Online rental websites (like Domain and Realestate.com.au), classified ads, Facebook listings and local real estate agencies are great resources when looking for the right rental property.
Draw up a shortlist of potential rentals and head out for in-person inspections. This is your chance to really assess whether a property ticks your boxes and is worth applying for.
Here are a few things to add to your checklist during property inspections:
- Security: The more secure your rental property is, the lower your home and contents insurance premiums will be. So, check for things like deadbolts, functioning gate locks, window locks, and other security features.
- Storage: It’s worth looking for a property with plenty of built-in wardrobes, cupboards or even a storage cage. These features could save you money on furniture costs.
- Cleanliness: Take a look at the condition of the property and pay attention to signs of mould, dampness, broken tiles, rusted pipes or fittings, and gardens that need weeding. These are all potential signs of an inattentive landlord who isn’t keeping their property well-maintained.
- Heating and cooling: If the property is in a location that gets hot in summer or particularly cold in winter, air conditioning, fans, and heating options are all important things to consider.
- White goods: Does the property come with appliances like a washing machine, dryer, dishwasher or fridge? These are all white goods that you’ll likely need to buy, so look out for rentals with these big purchases already included.
Don’t be afraid to ask the inspection host any questions you have. Be sure to get all the information you need to make an informed decision before applying.
Step 4: Prepare your rental application
When you’re happy with a property you’ve inspected, it’s time to secure it with a rental application.
Most property managers will ask that you submit your application online and will request additional information or required documents.
Below are the most commonly requested documents you’ll need to give a property manager or landlord on a rental application:
- Proof of identity (such as a passport or driving license)
- Proof of income (such as pay slips and bank statements)
- Past rental records (if you have any to show)
- Personal and work references (here's a rental reference letter template to get you started)
If you’re interested in a particular property, it’s worth applying as soon as possible - rentals tend to be leased very quickly in competitive inner-city markets.
Step 5: Signing the tenancy agreements
If your rental application is approved, you’re on the final step of becoming a first time home renter!
Your landlord or property manager will send over a tenancy agreement which will include all the terms of your lease (such as the weekly rent, lease length and terms for breaking the lease early).
Here are some additional payments to be aware of at this point:
- Holding Deposit - Some agents require a refundable holding deposit while they put together the paperwork. Once the lease is signed, this deposit is usually considered a down payment on your first rent.
- Rental Bond - Landlords may require a rental bond as a security deposit, which will typically cost four weeks' rent. The landlord or property manager will submit your bond to the relevant state Residential Tenancies Bond Authority on your behalf - be sure to get a receipt of payment for your own records!
When the formalities are out of the way, your property manager will confirm your move-in date, where to pick up the property key and the details of your entry condition report.
Insider tips for mastering your first rental
Here are some of our best tips on securing the right property as a first time tenant.
- Assess if a property is within your budget: it’s a good idea to ensure you’re only inspecting properties within your budget. Check that the advertised weekly rent is no more than 30% of your weekly income or risk your application being rejected off the bat.
- Make your rental application stand out: provide all the required documents, write a detailed cover letter, provide reference letters and follow up with the agent after you’ve submitted your application. These small steps will show that you’re a serious long-term tenant and a reliable applicant to choose.
- Make sure you protect yourself as a tenant: condition reports and lease agreements are the key documents you’ll need to have in case of a dispute with your landlord or property manager. So, make sure you keep copies of all these forms handy throughout your entire residential tenancy agreement.
- Be aware of your rights and responsibilities: brush up on your tenant rights and responsibilities to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of as a first time renter (especially when it comes to rent increases and how often your landlord can inspect the property).
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