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First-Hand Guide: Renting in Sydney, Australia

Our corporate apartment. Thanks ThoughtWorks!

One of our first priorities after arriving was finding a place to live. ThoughtWorks kindly subsidized a corporate apartment for our first month but, given the duration of our stay here, we needed to find a place of our own. We were warned prior to arriving that this would be a challenge, but we weren’t entirely prepared for what it actually entailed.

Sydney and its nearby suburbs have a notoriously low rental vacancy rate, currently 1.5%. By comparison, the rental vacancy rate in the U.S. is 6.2%, the lowest level since 2008. As you can imagine, it’s a landlord’s market here in Sydney, so trying to find a place takes a lot of work.

Houses by Coogee Beach

So what does this actually mean? Well, rental units are obviously still available and come on the market regularly, there’s just a lot more competition for the better places. This became apparent when we showed up for our first inspection and saw 10 other groups of people waiting to see the same place. Inspections are essentially open houses and are normally scheduled for a 15-30 minute period on Saturdays. Since most people will plan to visit as many units as possible, we often would see the same groups at 2 or 3 different places.

Many of the people who attend an inspection will submit an application, so visiting a variety of places and locations is a must. We originally considered living by the beach but ultimately decided to live in the city. Units in high-rises tended to have more predictable layouts and within walking distance to everything we need, including multiple modes of public transportation. Also, finding a house was primarily my job, so looking in the city was easier than trekking out to the beach 🙂

Our new apartment!

As you might expect, renting a place quickly becomes a numbers game… the more applications you submit, the more likely it is that you’ll be the one picked by the landlord. However, we found that some real estate agents, usually the smaller ones, were willing to schedule private inspections during the week in addition to the public inspections on the weekend. This turned out to be very helpful, since, if you schedule an inspection early in the week and submit an application on the spot, it’s likely to be reviewed by the landlord before the public inspection hits. Assuming you look like a reasonable tenant, you have a much better chance of getting the place.

In the end, that’s what worked for us. We found a few places we liked via open inspections. We weren’t selected for one of the places we applied to and another was already taken between the time we saw the place (Saturday) and the time we turned in our application (Monday). However, one of the places we found through a small real estate agent and viewed on a Tuesday was ours a few days later.

Week in Review: Our first 7 days in Sydney

The Opera House at night

It’s been an exciting and exhausting first week in Sydney. I spent my first week in the ThoughtWorks office meeting people and getting work and personal affairs in order (IDs, bank accounts, etc). We’ve also started the search for an apartment, which we’re told will be a challenging process. In the meantime we’re mostly living out of suitcases, as we don’t want to unpack everything while we’re still in the corporate apartment. It takes a bit of time to dig around and find what we need, but we’re getting by.

Kristen spent the week in orientation, getting to know her new classmates and professors. Her class of 48 people represents 19 different countries, so she’s certainly getting the international experience she was looking for. If you want to know more about her MBA activities, you’ll have to bother her, since she’s been a bit lax about posting to the blog 🙂 I did get a chance to meet a few of her classmates at Cruise Bar though… they’re an entertaining bunch.

Classmates Jonathan and Daniel

We spent most of Saturday checking out apartments and getting to know various areas around the city. We’ve seen a few nice and not-so-nice places; the mix gives us a good lay of the land so we know what to expect from the housing market. We mostly looked at houses and apartments in the Surry Hills area, which reminds us a lot of the North Halsted neighborhood of Chicago and whose main street, Oxford Street, is like Halsted Street on steroids. Lunch was at Zambrero, which is currently in the running as an adequate Chipotle substitute (I’m already starting to go into withdrawal). I’ve heard good things about Guzman Y Gomez though…

Always listen to Larry the Lifeguard!

Since we couldn’t look at apartments on Sunday (most open inspections take place on Saturdays), we decided to check out more neighborhoods instead. First stop was Coogee Beach, another of Sydney’s eastern beaches. Unlike Bondi and Manly, there aren’t many surfers due to the calmer waters, so the swimmers don’t necessarily need to stay between the flags (the area of the beach off limits to surfers and more closely monitored by the lifeguards).

Giles Baths at Coogee Beach

Coogee also features a number of baths, which are sheltered ponds carved into the rock on either side of the beach. They are perfect for spending time in the ocean without having to fight the surf. Giles Baths, on the north side of the beach, is essentially just a big hole carved into the rock, but Wylies Baths, on the south side of the beach, has a fully enclosed pool, sun decks and restaurants.

The Coogee area is great, and though we’d considered living near the beach, the public transportation options for the eastern beaches are a bit limited, so we’re probably going to stay closer to the city.

Chinatown

We ended the day a little closer to home with a visit to Chinatown and the surrounding markets, although Paddy’s Market was closed by the time we arrived. One of the nice things about living near Chinatown is that we’ll have front row seats for the Chinese New Year celebrations on February 3rd. We’ve already seen a few dragons on the street as the area prepares to usher in the Year of the Rabbit.