Sydney is a gem.
Sparkling beaches, bohemian pockets, exceptional food and every culture under the sun in one little-big city.
But... for all the epicness, living in Sydney is not without its challenges. Where in the sprawling web of suburbs should I live? Who should I live with? Why is everything so damn expensive?
Well, having rented in Sydney for the last 5 years, I've had to figure out some answers to these questions the hard way. Luckily for you, I'm an organised kid and have collected all the things I learnt in the process.
Here’s a few tips.
1. Choose your bubble
Sydney is one of those rare places where virtually every kind of lifestyle is available, which actually means it’s a city full of bubbles. It pays to figure out exactly which one you want to live in, as you’ll find yourself spending a lot of time there.
To get across the lay of the land, check out Sitchu’s suburb guides. They are your go-to for capturing the vibe of Sydney’s different areas – from the iconic coast, to inner city suburbs filled with hipster cafes and warehouse breweries.
Or if you’re keen to know more about where the eat, drink and go out across Sydney specifically – Broadsheet is your go-to.
Once you’re starting to get a sense of where you want to be, I’d recommend spending a bit of time there to soak up the vibe. Think about how your daily commute would be like from that place, and what the trade-offs you’re making by living there are: nicer apartment, slightly further out / exxy apartment, great location / close to work, less vibe. If you know what you care about the most – this choice will become easier.
2. Find a room in a sharehouse
Living in a sharehouse is a good option if you don’t want to think about furnishing a whole house, want to meet new people, or are keen for a slightly more affordable option.
Flatmates.com is one of the best places to suss out houses with openings. You need to pay to list your house on the site, which means the quality of houses is slightly higher. They also offer a bunch of useful filters to make it faster to find what you’re looking for.
Another option with an edge is to check out Facebook groups like Inner East Housemates or Inner West Housemates. The audiences in these groups are super active, so if you’re applying for a place listed in them make sure you craft a message that will make you stand out from the inevitable hundreds of other applicants. While that’s slightly more effort, the plus side is that there’s tons of places listed every day.
And of course, being able to do a cheeky Facebook stalk on the people you’re thinking of living with (and vice versa) is a good way to filter.
If these options fail you, there’s always trusty ol’ Gumtree, which is free to list and browse.
4. Find an apartment or house
If you’re looking for a apartment or new house to lease, you’ll probably be in one of three scenarios:
- You’re a couple looking for your own place.
- You want to live by yourself.
- You’re a bunch of friends looking to rent together.
For #1 and #2, Domain and Real Estate are your friend. They’ll let you browse and shortlist your favourite places, which is a helpful way to plan your inspection schedule. You’ll also find useful info like what the medium price in a suburb is, which helps you get a sense of if your dream place is below / above average.
If you’re a bunch of friends looking to rent together, but find a place with more rooms than you need, Flatmates also list individual profiles of peeps looking to teamup together. They also offer a useful checklist of questions to interview with. It seems a bit turbo, but having a structured list of questions to ask strangers you might be living with is actually pretty effective.
Once you’ve found a few places you want to visit, register to visit them. It can be pretty crazy how many people apply for the same place, so it also pays to be strategic about how you do it.
Get your application in quickly, follow up with the agent to check they’ve received it, ask if there’s anything you can do to become a preferred applicant. Don’t resort to offering more unless you’re wild about the place and get a sense there’s fierce competition.
By the same merit, if you feel you have a strong application and didn’t see many people at the inspection – take it as an opportunity to lowball on the asking price. This was previously pretty unheard of in Sydney, but I’ve had friends ask reduce the rent by $20 - $50 and be successful.
Maybe a sign of a deflating rental market? Bloody hopefully.
4. Figuring out the lease
Alright, so you’ve found a rad sharehouse to join, or thinking of taking on a lease for a new place. Lets go over the nuts and bolts of what happens next.
How leases work
Before I get started, the government has released a super good “New Tenant Checklist” with tonnes of great info about signing a lease. I’ll pick and choose the important bits for you here.
Almost all leases in Sydney are 6 or 12 months long. If you’re joining an existing house, you’ll go onto the existing lease, and don’t need to sign a new one. If you’re applying for a new house, make sure you ask the agent what type of lease is on offer when you visit the inspection. Don’t be scared to ask If you’d prefer a different length lease than the one that’s on offer.
So, what length lease suits you? Well, shorter leases are more flexible. You’ll be able to move out earlier if you feel like a change of scene. If you still love the place at the end of your stay, you’ll usually be able to sign a new lease, but this isn’t guaranteed.
On the other hand, your rent price can’t be changed in the middle of a lease, meaning longer leases lock in a fixed rent price for longer. Sydney’s rent prices are all over the place these days, so if you’re planning on staying in your place for a while, it might be an idea to lock in a place and a price with a longer lease to avoid any surprises.
Signing a lease
When you sign a lease, you’ll need to pay a maximum of 2 weeks rent up front (by law) in order to get the ball rolling. Also remember that your agent can’t charge you any fees to prepare the lease (by law).
You’ll also be up for a rental bond of 4 weeks of rent. Unless you trash the place, you’ll get your rental bond back at the end of the lease.Yep, welcome to expensive Sydney.
Rental bonds aren’t held by your landlord or agent, but instead by the government. This is actually cool because your agent can’t be a total jerk and decide not to give it back without reason. You can pay and manage your bond on RentalBondsOnline (RBO).
So you’ve done all the boring paperwork and have moved into your place. Yewww!
Now, I guarantee you’re gonna be super excited to get started moving your stuff in and start living your new life. But there’s one last super important thing you need to nail first. Future you will thank you for it.
I’m talking about the house condition report. Every single time I move out of a rental I wish I’d taken more time, taken more notes, taken more photos when I first moved in, as they can be the difference between getting your bond back at the end or not.
So, here’s what you do:
- Walk through every room in the house
- Take super detailed notes of every mark. Every scratch. Every stain.
- Take photos of everything. Even if it seems insignificant.
- Grab your phone and do a video walkthrough of the house. Mention everything you see.
- Send everything to the real estate agent in an email for future reference.
Breaking your lease
Hopefully it never comes to this, because it’s damn expensive. But, sometimes breaking your lease is unavoidable.
Double check your copy of the lease, but the general rule is a break in the second half of a lease cops a fee of 4 weeks rent. A break in the first half will see a fee of 6 weeks rent 😱.
6. Fill your house with cool stuff
Now it’s time to feng shui your new digs. There’s quite a few options based on what you’re going for.
- Gumtree - Online marketplace for second hand stuff. eBay… but free. American? Think Craigslist. An absolute mountain of everything, from furniture to kitchen utensils, musical instruments to motorbikes.
- Kmart - Retail store selling all sorts of furniture, appliances, storage etc. You can find a Kmart in most big shopping centers, e.g. Bondi Junction, Broadway
- Ikea - We all know the deal here. The closest Ikea to the city is in Tempe, and there’s another further North in Rhodes.
- Koala - Australian manufacturer of affordable Mattresses
- Top Gun Appliances - Cheap second hand appliances (fridges, washing machines etc) in Kensington.
- Victorias Basement - Kitchen stuff. Although not cheap and cheerful, they have a super wide variety of high quality pots and pans and plates and bowls and knives etc at very reasonable prices.
- Lunatiques - a super massive antiques and vintage warehouse with mountains of interesting furniture, appliances, clothes etc in Mascot. Instagram here.
- Mitchell Road Antiques and Design Center - Same deal as Lunatiques. Tonnes of great antiques and vintage. Slightly closer to the city (Alexandria).
- Moore Park Homemakers Supercenter - Shopping center with all the big brand furniture and appliance retailers.
- Peters of Kensington - Department store with fine quality crockery, cutlery, furniture in Kensington and Birkenhead Point.
Yep, that’s a lot to take in, but renting in Sydney is totally worth the effort.
Still have questions? Hit me up on the comments below!