PROPERTY

Survival of the fittest: how to outlast the rental jungle

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Eventually most people have to fly the nest and start a life of their own. For some, it's a necessity; for others, it's a lifestyle choice. Whatever the reason, opting to rent is a major step towards independence.

Actually securing a rental is one of the hardest tasks. Sometimes it's like a sales auction and you find yourself bolting from a 10am inspection with a pack of other people who are all desperately trying to get their application in to the agent. It can be a sordid business. But I can offer a few tips to avoid too much pain.

The first thing you need to do is find a suitable place. The right choice must fit a demanding formula: it needs to be affordable, in good condition to keep your lifestyle intact and close enough to public transport so that you can get to work, uni or a shopping centre with relative ease.

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For a Sydneysider, finding perfect accommodation is tricky. Rents are expensive and many places, such as inner-city terraces, are old, some 100 years-plus. It's important to stick to it and take time to find a place that suits you.

Don't pick a place you don't like. It might be cheap but usually it's cheap for a reason. If you decide at the end of the lease that you hate it, it could cost you a few hundred dollars in moving costs on top of any bond issues.

Move twice in a year and that could be almost $1000 wasted because you settled for the wrong property.

On the day of the inspection, you should be prim and proper and armed with a list of questions. Why did the previous tenants move out? Is there a laundry on the premises? Does the property have a phone line for internet connection?

There are no stupid questions. This is where you may be living for a few years, so it's best to find out about any issues before you sign the lease.

When you've found your place, you must go straight to the application process. You need to think competitively - be prepared to apply for the property immediately after the inspection, so that you are first in.

These days the rental application process can be completely online, so you can start an application before you even inspect the property.

Some programs even allow you to save a template application, meaning that you can apply for more than one rental property without having to fill out the same form every time. Every application needs to have a few good references, so make sure you give advance notice to your employer, teacher or trusted friend before you apply.

It's not necessarily all smooth sailing after you get approval - there are still a few things you need to be wary of. The first is your lease. If you get the option of choosing the length of your lease, I suggest aiming for six months.

Who knows what could happen in that time - a house mate could leave, you could lose your job and the house could be more work than you initially thought. Having a six-month, as opposed to a 12-month contract lets you move out sooner if you need to without breaking the lease.

Unless the landlord decides to sell the property or increase the rent, you'll be able to request another six-month lease.

Make sure that all people living in your home have their names on the lease - that way everyone is legally accountable for rent and everyone has a responsibility to look after the rental property.

Moving can be an expensive exercise.

If you've moved from another place, you're most likely waiting for the agent to return your bond, at the same time forking out another $1000 or so for the new bond - not to mention the two weeks' rent you'll most likely have to pay upfront to hold the new property in your name.

But, apart from the holding fee, you do not have to pay any other fees to secure a rental property. In NSW, legally you can only be charged a bond worth up to four weeks' rent, so make sure your estate agent is doing the right thing.

There is no guarantee that you'll get your bond back at the end of the lease but the easiest way to protect yourself is to be as thorough as possible when filling out the condition report for the agent at the beginning of your tenancy.

No damage is too minor, so don't be afraid to go into detail when listing the flaws of your new home. It's also wise to take some photos so that if you're asked to pay for damages that were present before you moved in you have some evidence to support your case.

Renting a property isn't exactly a walk in the park but it's also not too difficult if you go about it the right way. Ask questions when in doubt, don't settle for anything less than what you deserve and don't let anyone walk over the top of you - especially real estate agents. Congratulations, you're officially a renter!

Steph Nash was a staff writer at Money until 2017.
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