Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Belshaw's World - Tough rental market to crack

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 16 February 2011. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011.

The column explains my poor posting. We have been trying to organise our house move, and its a real pain.

We are moving, again. This will be the third time we have moved house since I started writing this column.

It’s been a real battle finding a house, a battle that led me to write a post whose title “hot, hostile & frustrated” accurately captured just how I felt!.

When we first came to Sydney, we went to see agents, explained what we wanted, looked at the list of properties that might be possible and arranged to view them. Agents would ring you if a property came up while you were looking.

There weren’t a lot of suitable houses for rent and they were expensive by Armidale standards. There were also forms and reference checks, but things were still relatively simple.

Times have changed!

The first shock of the new came in 2009 when we moved after nine years renting the same property. Now most properties could only be seen at specific times, while the forms to be filled in had become complicated, demanding details that I thought were personally intrusive.

Searching for a rental house this time was like a strange surreal dance.

Rents have gone up in the eighteen months since we last looked, while there are not a lot of vacant properties. Often, the only houses on agents’ books are those nobody really wants to rent.

Everybody searches the on-line real estate sites, looking for houses becoming available that might fit.

Generally, agents open houses for inspection for fifteen minutes, so those looking get out maps and plot driving times between properties trying to fit in the maximum number of inspections.

For the agents’ part, it becomes a mad rush between houses. Get there, get the sign out, rush the people through, then move to the next house.

Few agents have enough properties on their books to offer real choices to even their existing tenants. Our present agent, for example, did not have one suitable property come onto its books of the type we wanted in the three months we were looking.

Those inspecting always gather before the agent, hoping to get through quickly so as to move onto the next place. People get to know and recognise each other, chatting while they wait.

There is always the gaggle of university students looking for a place to rent. Sydney is very expensive. However, if the place is big enough and you can fit in two per room, even $900 per week can be got down to a reasonable per capita price.

One look at those students, one look at the property, and the rest of us smiled. There was no way that landlords would accept students.

Student housing is very a particular market, especially where you have to fit in large numbers to be able to afford the rent.

Some entrepreneurs have actually gone into the student marketplace, targeting mainly overseas students offering single rooms in share houses at above average prices. Their offerings are wrapped around power poles, always with the cut-aways at the bottom with the telephone number you can ring.

Then there are the young couples on double incomes, sometimes with a single young child. This is the metro apartment target group, about the only area in the marketplace with plentiful supply.

Some of those apartments are quite attractive. However, they are really wrapping for people who don’t spend a lot of time at home.

Families with kids form the next group. This is where things really start to bite.

It’s not so bad when the kids are young, but as they grow, add possessions and demand their own space, the number of suitable houses drops.

We belong to the last and most difficult group, parents with children at university. We all have books and computers, we all work to some degree from home. We need a minimum irreducible space to operate.

With a limited number of suitable properties, the gaggle of prospective tenants grabs application forms and moves on.

Those application forms have become still more complicated.

I am sure that there are standard forms, most are very similar, but I do object to a form that expects us to supply dates of birth for referees and get them to sign the bloody thing! That’s neither acceptable nor practical.

Well, we finally found a new house. This time we ran it to the wire, with less than two weeks left on our current lease.

Still, once moved, we won’t have to worry about all this for at least twelve months!