First-time renter’s checklist

If this is your first renting experience, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the whole process. There’s a lot to consider, a lot to remember, and a whole lot of stress can be the result. With a bit of guidance, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Here are a few simple things you should keep in mind as you go through the process of trying to move into your first rental property, in order to:

  • find the right rental,
  • understand your rights and responsibilities, and
  • have a great renting experience.

Keep in mind that this is just a brief guide and a more detailed one can be found at TenancyServices.

Know what you can afford

It’s a good idea to take your average weekly income and work out what you can afford to spend on rent. Many experts advise spending no more than 30% of your income on rent. Unfortunately, if you’re a student or someone on a low income, this isn’t always possible.
While there are different ways to decide how much you are able to spend on rent, it is wise to establish how much you need for food and utilities, as well as savings. Once you work this out you can see how much of your income can be spent on rent. Remember to also put some money aside for the bond and some rent upfront. For more information on what a bond is and how much they usually are, see:

To flatmate or not to flatmate?

Sharing the cost of rent and utilities is a great way to save money and will likely make your first renting experience a lot more fun – even if your milk keeps mysteriously disappearing. If you decide you want to flat with other people, you need to decide if you want to:

  • join a group of friends, or
  • join an established flat.

Although you may not want to live with people that you are unfamiliar with, there are pros and cons to both situations. Living with an established flat means everything will already have a system and you (most likely) won’t need to organise internet, power, etc.
If you decide to live with friends it is important to choose ones that you can tolerate for long periods of time. It sounds rough but just because you are great friends with someone, it does not necessarily mean you will be great living together. A lot of the time these situations are trial and error but, who knows? Your first flat might be the best flat!

Be prepared to compromise

You’ve likely got an image of the perfect flat in your head and although it might seem like you’ll find it the first time around, the rental market is competitive. Landing your first flat can be difficult, especially if you’re looking in places with high-demand such as Wellington or Auckland. Why? Well, many landlords favour those applicants who have had more renting experience. This is because there are less risks with tenants who have flatted before and often, they can provide a reference of a previous landlord who can vouch for them.
So when searching for your first flat – be prepared to compromise.
Know what you need in a property and what you’re prepared to compromise on. Maybe you refuse to live somewhere that doesn’t have more than one toilet, but you’re willing to organise your own washing machine and dryer. In any case, if you’re willing to adjust expectations you will find a property faster.
Having the ability to compromise is a huge lesson of flatting. Not only is this something that is important in the house hunting stage but also when you’re living with other people. Making group decisions and living peacefully with other flatties comes easier when you can do this.

Know where to look

There is a huge range of places to find potential rentals. Some include:

Although all of these sources should show results, it is wise to be cautious about some of the advertisements. Somewhere like the Facebook marketplace might have heaps of rentals and rooms listed but it does not have buyer protection. This is different from Trade Me which does offer buyer protection and is New Zealand’s number one real estate website. Trade Me also requires people to pay to list their property so more often than not, these people are serious about having their home rented.

Decide on location

Unless you work from home, you’re likely going to need to live in a specific area to stay close to your job or schooling. Since location is a big part of any property, it’s worth having a look at where you want to be living before you start attending viewings. Take into consideration:

  • whether you can afford to commute
  • if you want to be in the city

Do your research on the places you are looking to live to see if they line up with what you want.

Rights and obligations

Knowing exactly what you’re protected from, and what you’re obligated to do is an important part of renting. Most of your rights and responsibilities will be laid out in the tenancy agreement. This is the document that you sign before you move into the property. It mentions the terms and conditions of you living in the rental, as well as how much your rent and bond is. You can download a good example of a tenancy agreement here.
More information on your rights and responsibilities as a tenant can be found here.

The Tenancy Tribunal

The Tenancy Tribunal helps to solve disputes between tenants and landlords. As some issues can’t always be personally resolved, the Tribunal helps tenants and landlords to make decisions that are legally binding. 
Before moving into your property it is worth doing a quick search on your landlord or the address of property that you are looking to rent to see if they have been involved in a dispute before. You can do this here.
Be sure to fully read the document to understand the reason for the dispute and the outcome. This will give you an idea of what the landlord or the property is like.

Move-in inspection

Once you’ve found a property that:

  • fits your budget
  • is in a good area, and
  • looks great

it is time to sign the agreement and do a move -in inspection. It is wise to be present at this inspection and to take photos of everything yourself. While it seems that this is the landlord’s job, you should always keep your own records in case anything happens and you end up with a bill for a hole that already existed. It will also mean you can get any repairs fixed fast so that your property is perfect from the beginning.

Read your paperwork!

This point goes for everything, not just renting, but if you’re signing a piece of paper, you’ve got to read it. This isn’t like the 300-page terms and conditions nobody reads, you’ve got to know what’s in your rental agreement so that you can avoid nasty surprises down the road. The last thing you want to discover is that you’ve signed a 4-year lease when you only planned to stay in the property for a year.

Stay in communication

Once you’ve signed everything and have moved into your rental, you’re going to want to make sure that you can easily contact your landlord. Keep them informed when things need fixing or you have any questions about the property or the lease. If you establish good communication from the start, it will make everything easier when things go wrong or you need something fixed.

Look after the property

If you’re a good tenant, your landlord is going to want to keep you around. The opposite is true, too. Make life easier for yourself by taking care of the property and keeping it clean. That way you won’t have the mad scramble to get everything looking decent for a sudden inspection. If you look after the property, it’s going to last a lot longer, and you’re going to have a much more enjoyable stay.

Renting can be a timely process but it’s important to know how to do it properly to ensure you find a good quality property and a good landlord.

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