The number of vacant rental properties in Sydney has swollen to an estimated 30,000, and tenants who can afford it are on the move. I don’t know anyone who is not at least considering to move before the end of the year, and many have already taken the plunge. But before you start packing, remember that there is a lot of bad stock around.
The problem is that you don’t know the history of the rentals available for inspection. Small scale property, ‘mum & dad’ investors are tighter than ever (in fact, many landlords are already experiencing financial stress). Chances are that these places have just been vacated due to a long list of defects, especially in these cold winter nights when issues with mold and inefficient heating are front of mind.
Before you move into the next lemon, here are some tips from a serial Sydney renter. And I’m not talking about the usual ‘location, location, location’ flocked by the real estate industry:
1. Choose a more energy efficient rental
This is easier said than done, as general awareness of energy efficiency measures such as insulation and thermal efficiency is low across New South Wales. I looked for energy efficient rentals on realestate.com.au and found only 3 listed for the whole of Greater Sydney. With 30,000 rentals currently available in Sydney, that would equate to 0.01% of the total rental market.
A better indication for those seeking to reduce energy bills and improve health outcomes (especially if you’re suffering from asthma and live in a damp place with mold) is to look at the year the property was built. You can do this via free property valuation websites like OnTheHouse. Basic rooftop insulation was first introduced in the late 1990s. Houses built before that period will generally have no insulation in Sydney, unless retrofitted.
The NSW BASIX Sustainability standard was introduced in 2004 and gradually implemented more stringent rules for newly built houses and apartments. This includes some form of wall insulation.
Other details to investigate:
· Energy (Star) rating of appliances such as heaters, aircon units and tumble dryers;
· Solar panels on the roof and if they are actually connected and not just a visual contraption;
· Quality of doors and windows - gaps around the frame are a major source of heat loss and ‘ventilation’ in the wrong places;
· Old fireplaces – have they been sealed OR properly maintained for use / heating.
Double glazing is still generally hard to find, unless for noise reduction purposes next to busy roads. I still chuckle at one real estate agent’s response when asked whether the property has double-glazing: “not in the windows”!
2. Do a background check on your future rental and real estate agent
YOU as the applicant has to give out professional and personal references, bank account information and all sorts of confidential details with your application (read here about my views on the point system used in many online and paper form becoming more invasive). In addition, the typical Sydney rental application process involves background checks against your name in privately held third party tenant databases to assess your viability as a future tenant.
Before I enter a binding legal contract, I would also like to know who I’m doing business with, and also, what was the experience for previous tenants and why did they move out. There is no single port of call for tenants, but you can do some desktop research.
For example, you can google the real estate company with suburb and look at the reviews listed on their Google business entry (on the right hand side of the Google search results). These reviews are not controlled by the real estate company, although they will encourage property clients to post positive comments. Dig around to find the genuine ones from fellow renters.
You can also look for ratings of the rental properties themselves. I noticed TenantTales setting up in Australia recently. Great platform that lets renters publish reviews, much like you would publicly review an AirBnB holiday rental. Do your successors a favour and let them know about the good, bad and ugly of your last rental.
3. Avoid apartment buildings with high incidents of false fire alarms
Surly fire safety is one everyone’s mind following horror stories of combustible cladding and people dying in high rise building fires. However, it’s also annoying when you live in a large block and you have to evacuate every other week because of false alarms.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “false alarms cost more than $100 million last year because 97 per cent of calls made to firefighters by NSW automatic alarm systems are mistakes triggered by non-emergencies such as burnt toast and steam.”
We experienced that on numerous occasions living in apartment blocks the Inner West and the Ryde area. Our child was a baby at the time, and I lost count how many time we tumbled down the fire stairs with a wrapped infant in one arm, baby bottle in the other in the middle of the night. Occupants will stand outside for an hour in the cold and watch the fire brigade turn off the alarm system before being allowed back inside. The only upside is that you get to meet your neighbours in their slippers and PJs.
For a prospect tenant, it’s really difficult to tell how well the AFA (automated fire alarm) system is being managed by the owners and property managers. You could check on social media and local news sources for the suburb you’re looking at if there are suspiciously high incidents of false fire alarms in the area. Or avoid high rises with four storeys and above.
Do you have any pro tips to share? Would love to hear from my fellow Sydney renters how you go about researching and selecting your next rental in the current market!