The pandemic was a boon for renters. With the mass exodus leaving the country and young people moving back to the family home there was a surplus of rental properties available. Fast forward three years and as life returns to normal, finding a place to rent has become a real challenge. Over the course of the last 12 months, I have documented my search for a new home, and my experience shows just how dire the rental market has become.
After a slight rental increase, I made the decision that I would not renew the lease the following year. Rents were only going to go up, and with both my adult children living independently, I had no need of the second bedroom in my two-bedroom unit. I would find a one-bedroom apartment for myself; something modern and close to the city. I would save on rent and be closer to the places and events I wanted to be a part of.
I started researching early, and in October 2022, I found a one-bedroom apartment that would have been perfect. Circa 1990s, it was in a secure building and close to public transport, a short train ride to the city. If the timing had of been right, I would have taken it straight away. But the next place I visited that day was a different story. A modern apartment in a slick new building, there were crowds lined up to rival those waiting for Taylor Swift tickets. I didn’t even bother going in. Apparently, the trend now is toward modern apartments, with older style no longer in favour. Fine by me, older style it is.
October 2022- April 2023
Over the next few months, I continued to keep my eye on the rental market. With August 2023 as my deadline, as still had plenty of time. I would intermittently look up apartments online and was shocked how few were on offer. A quick search of an outer suburb with a proliferation of apartment blocks yielded only a handful of results. It made my blood run cold.
With the end of my lease approaching, I started attending the open for inspections on Saturdays. I attended one in a secure apartment building, close to the train station. I little further out from the city than I would have preferred, but still doable. I arrived slightly early and chatted with the real estate agent before the open. He took the details I had registered online, and as other customers arrived, he marked their names off on his clipboard and griped about the people who hadn’t turned up.
“Why don’t they bother to cancel?” He shook his head in consternation. “These people are so unreliable.”
His attitude toward customers prepared to hand over large sums of money each month left me speechless, though is fairly typical in the real estate industry. While customers buying and selling property are treated like royalty, renters are treated like the poor relation.
It was time to double down on my efforts. I managed to get an appointment for an inspection on a Saturday afternoon, after many of my other requests had gone unanswered. About a dozen people were gathered outside the suburban apartment building at the bottom of a dead-end street and waited for the agent to arrive. He was late. A young sapling of a man in a puffer vest walked up and joined the crowd. He stood scrolling through his phone, then with no introduction, started asking people for their names. Turns out he was the agent.
He then began to lead the procession on a wild goose chase through the labyrinthian apartment complex. After not being able to open the security door at the front, he buzzed up to the apartment but received no reply. We were later to discover that the tenant had already gone. He managed to open the security gate at the back and led us up a couple of flights of stairs. The building was new and modern, painted a gleaming, clinical white and eerily quiet despite the number of apartments within. As per the picture, the apartment was clean and modern, with neutral, earthy tones and overlooking a leafy courtyard. However, what it offered in style it lacked in substance; it was the size of a prison cell.
2020 vs 2023
During the pandemic, prospective renters were gold. There was no end of properties to choose from and often, I would be the only customer at the inspections. My attendance would be swiftly followed by a call from the agent to ask whether I liked the property, and if I was going to apply. If I was undecided, they would offer a discount and the first two weeks rent-free.
Today, it often takes weeks to hear back when you register to inspect a property, and even then, those inspections can be cancelled at the last minute. Properties are advertised and then just as quickly disappear, snapped up by savvy customers who put in their online applications, sight unseen. It has become almost impossible to get to an inspection, let alone find a home to rent, and with the myriad rental platforms and accounts, it has become necessary for me to create a spreadsheet to keep up with it all.
My plan to save money by downsizing has gone out the window; today I will be paying more for a one-bedroom property than the two-bedroom one I have now.
As my deadline of August 2023 looms closer, a family member looking for an apartment on their own suggested we get a place together. Our combined budget affords us more options and less competition. We applied for a property together, and managed to secure one that we could never have afforded on our own.
In the 1990s, I used to enjoy a situation comedy call The Golden Girls, featuring four older women living in a house together. Poverty and loneliness had necessitated the women combining forces and together they created a life of financial security and connection.
When I mentioned to people in my network that I was looking for a new place to live, I had several offers of accommodation. People offered their spare rooms, bungalows for rent and last but not least, an offer of co-tenancy. As the rental crisis deepens, we are going to have to look at alternative ways of living, and with homeowners struggling too, many are offering rooms for rent.
The powers that be have created an untenable situation where the basic right to shelter is now under threat. We can no longer rely on governments and the template they have given us to live by is no longer working. It is up to all of us to look after ourselves and those closest to us, and to work with each other to find a better way of life.