Thursday, July 18, 2013

Apartment Hunting in Melbourne

Since we are currently in the midst of searching for an apartment here in Melbourne, and I keep referring to it in my blog and Facebook posts, it's probably time to write a post explaining exactly how the whole process works here. We had a very interesting day pursuing apartment leads yesterday, so it seems appropriate to explain Melbourne apartment hunting and give a recap of our day in the same post :)

Before we arrived in Melbourne, we read lots of websites that talked about how difficult it is to secure an apartment here, due to the very high demand for rental properties. We prepared as much as we could in advance, and so far I think we've done fairly well. However, no matter how prepared we were, the process is proving quite stressful and time consuming, so we hope one of our current pending applications will be accepted so we can be done with the whole thing!

Basically, here in Melbourne, there really aren't any large apartment complexes such as you can find in a lot of places in the US. There are some large high rise apartment towers, but generally those are more pricey than we'd like or they only sell their apartments, not rent them. Due to there being so many small apartment blocks, you really don't ever have a place that will just show you a model unit or anything like that. Instead, you have to "inspect" the individual units that are up for rent. Inspections can happen one of two ways: (1) you can contact an agency managing a property you are interested in and set up an inspection if they are willing or (2) you can go to open inspection times, which the agency schedules at their convenience and post on the property listing online. So far, we've had lots of available open inspection times for properties that looked promising, so we haven't started contacting agents in advance, though we might do that soon if we have to continue searching.

Inspection times are generally a 15 minute window. The agent shows up (usually exactly on time; if the inspection starts at 11, they tend to walk up at exactly 11, not 10:58), opens the unit, and everyone who has come to see it goes inside and looks around. The agent will answer questions if you have them, but generally they just stay out of the way. When you're done inspecting, you can pick up an application form from the agent on your way out. Some people actually show up to inspections with their applications already filled out and hand them to the agent at the inspection (we haven't done that, we put in our applications online the same day we view the property, it's just been easier for us).

The inspections themselves really aren't too stressful or anything (though it is a bit odd to us to have to rush around for only 15 minutes trying to completely assess a unit's suitability for us, as well as spot any and all potential problems the place has). What's stressful is the fact that open inspection times are scheduled at the agencies' discretion, so if you try to see several different places on a day when they are all open, you end up with a strangely scheduled day (as you'll see when I recap our day yesterday).

Applications for rentals here are my new least favorite thing on the planet. They are quite bureaucratic and complex, and every time we do one it seems something goes wrong with it and it makes it take forever to complete. Most rental applications here require vast quantities of personal information, and agencies require one application form per applicant, so Daniel and I each have to do one. Generally, they ask for your name, your ID number (drivers license or passport) and expiration date, current address, previous address, contact details for previous landlords, contacts for your previous and past employment, your salary (though everyone wants it differently: we've had it asked for as annual salary, as gross monthly salary, as gross weekly salary, as net monthly or weekly salary, etc.), and finally, personal (character) and professional references. On top of all this information, you are also required to provide supporting documentation for your application, which can range anywhere from copies of your ID (for us, our passports), to your birth certificate, to a letter or contract confirming your employment or salary, to utility bills, to bank statements going back a few months, to a written reference from your previous landlord, or a host of other things. And each agency wants all of this information and documentation in a different combination than the last place you applied to, so it's never a quick thing to fill out and submit an app.

Once applications are submitted, the agents vet the applicants, confirm their employment, make sure they aren't in Australia illegally, etc., then the applicants go to the actual owner of the property, who decides which one they want living in their unit. The approval process is supposed to take anywhere from 24-48 hours generally, though we currently have a pending application that is now on its third day awaiting approval or rejection. Most units have multiple applications, and since the decision is up to the owner, there's really no way to predict what factors might endear you to them or make them dislike you. Also, since there's never any guarantee you'll get a particular unit, while you wait to hear back about an application, you have to carry on with viewing and applying to other properties in case you're rejected from the one you've already applied to.

So, as you can see, the whole process is an absolute pain.

Anyway, on to recapping our day yesterday. For some reason, yesterday we had found lots of open inspection times for properties we wanted to see, so we scheduled a pretty full day of inspections (4 actual inspection locations, but 6 units total, since two of the apartment blocks had two units open at the same time...we like it when that happens because you get to see more units with less effort). So, we had inspections to attend from 11-11:15, 3-:3:15, 4-4:15 and 5:15-5:30. As you can see, a weird schedule, and without a car, none of the inspections had enough time between them to come back to the flat or anything.

Also, to save some money, I had decided we would walk to all the inspections instead of taking public transit, because none of them were really all that far away from where we're staying. In hindsight, we should have spent the small amount of money for public transit and saved our feet some pain, but hindsight is always 20/20, so oh well.

In the morning, we set off for our 11:00 inspection, which was actually our only semi-private inspection so far. We had tried to view this unit the night before, but the agent had some issue with the key and couldn't get into the property, so he arranged with us and the other couple that showed up to show it to us this morning at 11:00.

Since we were walking all day, Daniel had the forethought to bring the camera with us, so we could actually take a few pictures of the city. So here's our first picture from Melbourne, a fabulous piece of street art here in Fitzroy:
And another shot of some more art just down from this piece, along with a funky apartment building:

I'll just say again, the street art here is AMAZING.

Anyway, we went to our first inspection, and really liked the unit (we especially liked the fact that it's a 10 minute walk to Daniel's office!). We put in an application for it last night.

After that inspection, we had a good bit of time to kill before our next inspection at 3. We grabbed lunch at a little cheap cafe near the University, then went to Daniel's office (since we were basically right next to it) so Daniel could do some odds and ends at work. On our way there, we ran into one of the department administrators crossing the street, and she told us our M-bag of books had arrived (yay!). We went up to Daniel's office, collected the books, and did some cleaning and organizing to start getting his workspace into good order (it was a bit dirty and there was some junk left from the last tenants of the office).

Dr. Shank at his desk!

 Our books!

The view from Daniel's office, on the 11th floor of the Redmond Barry Building:

Daniel decided to take a picture of me hanging out in his office.
When the time came, we set out for our next inspection: 2 units in the same building. We ended up not particularly liking either. On our walk, though, we passed a business that we had seen this past weekend while we did inspections, but decided to take a picture of it now, as we both find it amusing:

This is a 24 hour florist. We can't figure out why you would need a florist to be 24 hours, but there it is. Also, see the sign advertising that they sell coffee? They have this little coffee machine outside that you can put money into and get a coffee from. You know you're in a city that loves its espresso drinks when even the 24 hour florist sells them!

After our 3:00 inspection, our next one was at 4, but it was only about a 5 minute walk from the one we'd just seen, so we ended up being quite early. We sat on the curb outside for a while, but then it started to storm, so we took shelter under the front porch roof.

This particular property is actually one of the many (MANY) historic "terraces" that are all over Melbourne. Melbourne started to really grow in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a lot of the city's architecture is actually from that time. These terraces were generally working class housing at that time, and a lot of them have survived till now (though some in better condition than others). The one we came to view had no pictures of the interior online, so we expected it would probably be run down inside due to its age, but we thought it would be really neat to get to see one of these historic places, and hoped it might prove to be a good find.

An example of Melbourne's Victorian terraces (not my photo...also this picture shows a terrace in much better condition than many of the ones here in the city, but you get the idea):
Anyway, when it started to rain, we went under the front roof outside the front door (behind this property's little cast iron gate and front fence...most of the terraces have this little area). We'd been there for a few minutes waiting for the rain to let up when a car pulled up and parked. The guy who got out turned out to be the property's current (soon to be former) tenant. He was a super nice guy, and immediately let us in the house, even though the real estate agent (the person who was actually supposed to run the inspection) wasn't there yet. He let us wander all over the house, and answered all our was quite nice to be able to ask questions of someone who had actually lived in the property and dealt with all its good and bad aspects.

Not too long later, more people showed up to view the place, and more, and more...the tenant just kept letting them all in, but the agent still hadn't showed up. It was a very interesting experience.

We had already figured out that we really, really loved this place. The interior was not run down as we'd expected, but was in really good condition. The front bedroom, which was slightly smaller than the main bedroom, and therefore an excellent potential baby nursery, had a beautiful old fireplace in it. There was a little fenced garden area that was adorable...the whole place was just old and interesting and wonderful, though there were definitely some aspects of it that would take some adjustment if you lived there (no built in closets, no obvious place to put a dining table, etc). But we loved it. So we kept waiting for the agent, because we like to make sure we chat with the agents a bit if we like a place so that maybe they'll remember us.

Finally, the agent showed up, after the 15 minute window of time the inspection was scheduled for. We chatted with him a bit, got the information to put in an application online, then left for our next the rain. It continued raining as we walked, and it got pretty miserable. We had an umbrella and rain jackets, but still, walking in the rain for a while means you get pretty soaked, no matter what you do. I was in a particularly bad humor at this point, because we'd been walking all day (my fault, I know), I was tired of this whole apartment hunting process, and to make matters worse, I really, really needed a bathroom (all you ladies who've been pregnant know how that is). Anyway, we walked and walked, then noticed the sun ahead, though it was still raining. Daniel spotted a rainbow not long after, and we watched it turn into a double rainbow, then get brighter and brighter and was the best rainbow either of us have ever seen. I've never seen one that bright, and both arches of the double rainbow were full was really gorgeous. We didn't try to take a picture because photos never seem to capture them, but it was really neat to see.

The rainbow made things a bit better, but it was still raining a bit (though it let up not long after) and I still needed that bathroom. We arrived at the next inspection early, and decided to walk down the street a bit and look for a coffee shop or something. It felt like we walked a long time (it was less than 10 minutes) and I was getting pretty desperate, when finally we came to a car wash. I had been telling Daniel earlier that day about two car washes I'd seen other places in the city that had coffee shops in them so you could get a latte or macchiato while you waited for your car to get washed (I told you this city LOVES its espresso drinks!) and how funny I found that. Well, sure enough this car wash had a cafe in it! I have never been so happy to see a car wash in my life. We went in, and at first the guy working there looked a bit confused, understandably so since we didn't have a car. But we explained the situation and bought coffees, and he ended up being just as nice and helpful as all the other Melbournians we've encountered :D

After that we had our last inspection (two units in the same building, neither of which we decided to apply to), then walked back to the flat, had dinner, submitted applications for the first apartment of the day as well as the terrace, and then spent as much time off our feet as possible! Happily, there are no inspections today, so Daniel has gone to the office for a normal day of work (one where I don't show up at some point and drag him off to an inspection!) and I'm doing a few things around the flat and making a quick trip to the supermarket. Our fingers are crossed that maybe we will hear back from a property soon so we can stop going to all these inspections!

Anyway, sorry, that was another long post! Hopefully the pictures made it a bit more interesting :)

Speaking of pictures, I'll leave you with the last photo we took yesterday, a random one that Daniel wanted:

Shank! :D

Love from Melbourne!



  1. The application process sounds as fun as having to file a tax return several times each day instead of once a year. Hope you get one that you'll love soon so you can get busy nesting.

  2. Melbourne, the City of Expresso Drinks... sounds like my kind of place. Hope your search is fruitful! :)