Why finding a rental property in Canberra can be difficult

Are you trying to find a rental property in Canberra? If you are and you are finding it difficult, unfortunately you are not alone. January/February brings thousands of public servants, military personnel, academics and university students to the city, and they are all looking for a place to live at the same time. During this months it is not uncommon for rental vacancies get more than 50 applicants, making it incredibly difficult for new residents to find a good place to live.

Rebound in prices

This rental story was very different several years ago. After Tony Abbott became prime minister in 2013, the federal bureaucracy shed more than 6,000 ACT-based jobs over two years.The job losses coincided with a glut of new apartments and rental prices plunged.

As shown in the graph below from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, rental price growth dropped significantly over this period and was effectively flat for several years. Thankfully for owners, but unfortunately for renters, the rapid rental growth started again from 2017 onwards and shows no sign of abating.

CoreLogic’s head of research, Tim Lawless, says that the ACT market has behaved very differently to the rest of the country over the past five years: “we’ve been seeing rents rising at about 3 per cent per annum, [when] the national average over the same time frame has been only 1 per cent per annum — a little bit less than wages growth.”

So while renting is slightly cheaper for most Australians (given that rental prices in quite a few states stagnated or decreased last quarter), it’s become significantly more expensive for Canberrans, particularly those in the inner-north. Some suburbs have seen grow by more than 5% per year, which is a massive change. The most-affected suburbs for unit dwellers are Aranda, Campbell and Downer — annual rent increases have averaged about 8 per cent over the past five years! For houses, rents raced upwards across the entire inner north by between 5 and 7 per cent a year.

Why is Canberra booming?

Population growth and high incomes are the main reason Canberra has been feeling a rental squeeze.

“Population growth into the ACT has been very strong … from both interstate and overseas migration,” Mr Lawless said.

But the benefits — or costs, if you’re a tenant — are not spread across the city evenly. You can put this down to a number of factors, including the new light-rail development, better schools in some areas, newer amenities in others — as you can see, there are reasons certain areas are more popular with different demographics.

How to make sure you get the rental property you want

So if you’re about to start your search, here are a few tips to make this difficult process just a little bit easier.

In Canberra, property managers generally rule out potential tenants if the rent is more than 30% of their income. They’ll also knock you out if you can’t attend a rental viewing, and most people with pets find that they have a much smaller number of properties that will accept them. With this in mind, the general aim of the game is to apply for a large number of properties — the average is roughly 20+ during this part of the year — and hope that you get accepted.

There are a couple of things you can do to make the search easier though. It’s good practice to follow up applications with a phone call and/or email to ensure that the landlord knows you’re keen. You might also find it helpful to have all of your documentation ready to go and complete so that agents don’t have to make unnecessary follow-up calls (some agents estimate that up to 30% of the applications they receive are incomplete, and in busy times these will be almost automatically discounted if there is a better applicant who has a complete form). Updating your social media may also help, because it’s becoming increasingly common for property managers to check your details via your social media accounts.

It might be easier to wait a month or two though, if you can manage it. By the time autumn rolls around, the rental battles are much easier to win as most people have either gotten a property or sorted themselves out.

Written: 31 January 2020

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