Things I didn’t know were on my blacklist for a rental until I was living in it.
It can be tough applying for – and being approved – for rental properties, especially when demand is rising like it is now. We spoke to one of our Homely team members about their experience choosing and living in rentals, and most importantly, what to watch out for.
I moved to Melbourne mere days before COVID-19 changed everything. Needless to say, the rental-hunting game became high-pressure really fast. Not only did I have no gauge on what area I should look in, but I also had no idea on what I should expect for certain prices or what to look out for in this new city. My partner and I grabbed the first thing we didn’t hate and signed on as lockdown #1 loomed. From the outside, the apartment was fairly new, modern, small but doable, and in a great location.
Fast forward to 18 months of on and off lockdowns, both working from home and getting in each other’s space way too much, and I have several ‘blacklist’ features that I’ll never settle for again.
The ups and downs of one-way streets
We picked the inner-city suburb of South Yarra to be close to the hustle and bustle and really get amongst the Melbourne scene. The apartment building was on a one-way street so it was nice and cosy and not heavy with traffic. What we didn’t realise is that when you put apartment buildings on both sides of a one-way street, you end up just about close enough to hold hands across the street from your balconies. While we wanted to be around people, we do not love thy neighbours quite enough to have them right there. We spent months working at home with a particularly nosey neighbour literally staring into our lounge-come-home-office for hours on end. No thanks.
Renter’s Tip look for balconies or large glass areas that do not look directly into someone’s opposing lounge or balcony, or at least have a decent amount of ‘clear space’ or distance from neighbours. If you’re being watched, you’re never going to enjoy that precious balcony space.
One-bench kitchens and unusable spaces
This is a problem common in new builds. New apartment buildings often get fitted out with state of the art kitchens, but they are tiny. Yes, of course, you can live with a small kitchen, but the real problem here is those kitchens that are built along one wall in the same space as the ‘living area’, which doesn’t afford any separation of kitchen and living space.
This brings me to the unusable living space. If a space looks awkward, this could be a red flag. Either in terms of design effort to make it work, or whether it’s simply going to be a waste of space you end up paying for. Our kitchen-dining-living space was one big rectangle. Kitchen along one side, bathroom and bedroom doors opposite, balcony at one end and laundry cupboard on the other. This meant we had no wall to sit furniture against, in a space that couldn’t accommodate both a table and a couch.
Renter’s Tip: Look for places with separate kitchens (even if small) that provide more than one bench space and allow you to keep the kitchen and living a little more separate. Open-plan kitchens are great but a decent island bench is a must. If a space looks awkward – it is, and it will haunt you throughout your tenancy.
Things that look pretty but didn’t work
Now we’re getting down to the gritty details – but believe me they are worth triple checking. The thing that was possibly the worst feature of our well-hated rental was the main bedroom louvre windows.
At first, we thought ‘great, better ventilation in the height of Victorian summer!’, and then on night one, we woke up with more than a few buzzing friends in our room that had slipped in through the louvre cracks – as well as legs covered in bites.
The louvres never closed 100% and so we couldn’t keep them out. In a turn of horrible coincidence, those gaps in the louvre windows also let through the wafting stench of the hot mid-summer rubbish room – positioned below the window – albeit 3 floors down. We ended up taping over all of the window gaps with electrical tape, resulting in a painful tape-mark removal effort upon move-out.
Renter’s Tip: Figure out what features you genuinely can ‘make it work’ with, and what things are going to make living there hell. This can come down to personal experience, but take it from me, something like ‘bedroom windows that shut properly’ is one you should not ignore. As far as the rubbish thing goes – it’s probably just one of those things about living in an apartment building but a closing window would have done wonders there.
All in all, there’s no denying that finding the perfect rental is a challenge, but it’s worth putting the full effort in to find a place you enjoy living in. It’s a game of compromises and it’s important to understand your non-negotiables before getting started. When you’re looking through properties at inspections, see if there is something you really like about the place – if there’s nothing particularly positive about it, give it a pass. Before you go, read on below for our 9 top tips when finding a rental.
Top takeaways for finding the perfect rental
- Set your non-negotiables and stick to them
- Decide and live with how much kitchen space you need
- Find the balance between privacy and light
- Research parking before you sign on the dotted line
- Check the details (e.g. window fixtures closing properly, and the effort in cleaning them)
- Basic safety features – windows and doors that lock correctly
- Visit during busy times to monitor foot and car traffic as well as noise levels. Also check for nearby building sites.
- Get in touch with a local Property Manager on Homely.com.au
- If you are moving out of a rental – make sure you review the suburb and street on Homely before you move. This helps others looking at the area find great places and avoid the bad ones.