Renting your home? These online tools could save you money

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One in three Australian households rent the home they live in, but as any current or previous renter will appreciate, renting is not always the easiest experience.

That's especially true right now. Rental vacancy rates in most capital cities and regional areas are at the lowest point they've been in years, meaning competition for rentals is particularly fierce. Rent prices are also on the rise, and they're predicted to keep on climbing as landlords pass on the costs associated with rising mortgage rates.

Given that, if you are looking for a new rental at present, you'll want to take advantage of all the tools at your disposal to make life easier.

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1. Reviews from previous tenants

While the market is tight at the moment, the last thing you'll want to do is find yourself locked into a 12-month lease on a place that just isn't up to scratch.

The problem is, it's hard to get a true feel for a home during a 15-minute window - especially when you're surrounded by a swarm of other people inspecting the place. Sure, you can (and should) stake out the neighbourhood to find out what it's like at different times of day, but there's only so much reconnaissance you can do.

One way to get another perspective - both on the place itself and the landlord or property agent who manages it - is through reviews left by former tenants. There is no shortage of options here, including Facebook pages and other online groups, but there are also a growing number of dedicated rental review websites.

Some of the free options available include websites like Property Reviewed and Rate My Rental. And there's also Rent Rabbit which does charge to view their property reviews, but it also pays renters ($30 currently) to leave a review of their own former rental. Of course, not every rental property is going to have a review from a previous tenant, but it's worth cross-checking different websites to have a look.

2. Rent prices

Moving to a new city or suburb, but don't have any idea how much rent typically goes for? It's an important piece of information to know, especially if you're comparing a bunch of different homes or apartments in the same area.

Luckily, there are a few useful (and free) options out there that will give you an idea of the average price of rent in a particular suburb, although they tend to be state-specific.

  • The Rent Tracker tool from the Tenant's Union of New South Wales provides the median rent on a suburb (e.g. Bondi) or area (e.g. the Central Coast) level, as well as how that price compares to the same time last year. You can also filter your search on the number of bedrooms and type of property.
  • The Median Rents Quick Finder from the Queensland Residential Tenancies Authority is a similar tool for renters in the sunshine state, although it only allows searches by postcode.
  • There's also the Rental Search Tool from the Real Estate Institute of Western Australia, which is very similar to the two options above, but it has the added benefit of allowing up to ten suburbs to be searched at once. 

Then there's KoalaData. This is an extension for the Chrome browser which adds some extra features and information for renters who are viewing properties using Domain.

Like the tools above it provides median rental data for the suburb a particular listing is in, but the main benefit for renters is that it shows how long the property has been listed for and whether or not the asking price has gone up or down since it was first listed

3. Housemates  

Given that the cost of rent is generally on the rise, it's not quite as easy justifying the added expense of a spare bedroom. Especially if it's not being used.

So, whether you're looking for a housemate for your existing place, searching for some new digs for yourself or wanting to find a few likeminded souls to go in on a lease with, you no longer have to rely on your existing circle of friends or word of mouth to find housemates.

Again, there are a fair few options out there, but two of the main websites are Flatmates and Flatemate Finders. Both make it simple to either create and manage your own listing for a flatmate (including uploading photos and putting in any requirements you have), or to browse through the thousands of existing listings if you're looking for a new place to live.

While finding a flatmate might be easier than it's ever been before, you'll still want to properly vet any prospective housemate or housemates though - especially if you don't know them.

After all, you'll want to be certain that you can actually live together and that they're in a financial position to cover rent and household bills.

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Tom Watson is a senior journalist at Money magazine. He's previously worked as a journalist covering everything from property and consumer banking to financial technology. Tom has a Bachelor of Communication (Journalism) from the University of Technology, Sydney. He tweets at @TomasAKWatson.