Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Migrated to Oz Milestone 1: Finding Rental Accommodation

Greetings all! A here. I have not blogged since we touched down in Melbourne one week ago, as I've been really busy with all the administrative matters since... S has kept you guys updated this week on some of our first impressions and other random updates... that's not really my style of blogging haha. I'm here to address the more 'serious' readers with some information on getting the first rental accommodation for migrants =)

The Importance of Being Prepared

Regular readers who had followed my chapters on migration would know that I emphasize greatly on prior research and mental preparation. I found it useful to monitor the rental property market for a few months prior to moving, in order to understand the correlations between average asking price, size of unit/apartment/house and location. For this purpose, I found the search by map area function in www.realestate.com.au and www.domain.com.au extremely useful. The search filters also allow you to search by price range and by number of bedrooms, so you can see at one glance which units on the map are the most value for money. I also looked at gumtree.com.au - this site is like an online marketplace for anything under the sun. Because advertising is free on gumtree, the website is more 'messy' and advertisements harder to sieve through than those on realestate and domain.

The second part of preparedness comes in reading up and asking as many people as we knew on the brief profile of various suburbs/regions in Melbourne. Melbourne suburbs are NOT like Singapore HDB estates - I personally find almost all HDB estates to be bland and largely similar. Different suburbs and regions in Melbourne, on the other hand, can have a very different culture, look and feel. Of course, I haven't been here long enough (one week only!) to compare all the suburbs, but based on the areas we have explored so far - CBD, Brunswick, Coburg, Greensborough, St Kilda, Richmond and Airport West, I can safely say that no 2 areas are exactly alike. 

Admin stuff you need to do first while you search for rental/job-hunt

This part is pretty boring but quite easily done. Based on personal experience, these are the first things to do after you have landed in Australia as a new PR. You should do them roughly in this order.

  1. Apply for a Tax File Number. You can do this online but only after you have landed in Australia, as the authorities will check with DIAC that you are physically in Oz before they process your application. 
  2. Get a Pre-paid mobile number asap. You need this for almost everything else listed below and beyond. S has posted here on some local Telco options you can consider.
  3. Register for Medicare - You should do so in person at any Medicare branch. Remember to bring along your passport and visa grant letter as that is all you need. Couples and families can apply together to have one common Medicare account number, so that in the future you can make claims for each other. Useful feature there!
  4. Get your Victorian Driving License - In order to save time, you should call vicroads first to make an appointment to covert your license. Our friends made two trips because they didn't know the requirement for an appointment, and their lesson learnt saved us at least an hour and the cost of and additional trip. The good news is that the Singapore Driving License is recognised so all you need to do is bring it (together with other supporting documents as listed here), pay the required admin fee and you're all set.
  5. Open a bank account if you haven't already done so before landing in Oz. As S has mentioned in an earlier post, National Australia Bank allows prospective migrants to migrate their money before they physically go over. Their iBanking system is pretty straightforward and activating your bank account when you reach Australia is equally simple. The NAB staff will arrange via email / phone to meet you at one of their branches during banking hours and you can be issued an ATM card on the same day. No sweat!

Opening a Centrelink account need not be immediate as there is a 2 year waiting period for all PRs before you are eligible for welfare claims. However, some Medicare and Centrelink branches are in the same building so you may want to open a Centrelink account at the same time that you register for Medicare, if that is the case. We did that  at the Moreland branch.

Rental accommodation and what to expect

The main reason we did (and you'll want to do) all the above things first is to get a few Australia-based identity documents as soon as possible. For rental accommodation, a landlord/real estate agent will typically ask for the following documents to support your rental application:

  1. One photo ID. This can be your passport or driving license. 
  2. One other ID that need not have a photo. This can be your Medicare card (or Centrelink card, which new migrants will not have as there is a 2 year waiting period before new PRs are eligible for welfare).
  3. Statements/Testimonials from your previous landlords, which first-timers would not have.
  4. Rental lease agreements from earlier rentals, which most migrants would not have unless you have rented overseas before. I'm not sure landlords will recognize lease agreements from other countries but I was prepared to submit my HDB ownership documents as supporting documents if I was 'desperate' enough...
  5. Evidence of current employment. No problem for those under subclass 457 or those who landed jobs before reaching Oz. Very challenging for job-hunters.
  6. Other miscellaneous documents can be used to replace items 3, 4 or 5 such as previous utility bills or bank statements. Whether they are accepted as 'good enough' as alternatives will depend on the landlord.

Landlords are people. People are complex and have varying expectations, but most landlords are simply looking for reliable and trustworthy tenants to care for their homes. If you feel you do not have enough supporting documents and there is stiff competition, you can choose to move on to another property / area with low demand or apply with as much evidence as you have to convince the landlord that you are sincere and have the funds to finance the rental for some time. For us, we were prepared to use our NAB bank statements to prove this. Of course, if you are coming with no job, no family/friend to bunk with and minimal funds... then I would suggest job-hunting and securing a job before coming over. You will have minimal chance to secure a rental otherwise, plus the initial costs of staying in Australia can be quite high.

How can we prove we are the right fit for the landlord?

Most landlords advertising online are looking for tenants willing to lease for at least a year. Shorter term leases are also possible but much fewer are available (except on gumtree). That probably explains why landlords are generally quite picky about their tenants. I was also told that lease periods are usually fixed in the lease agreement as landlords may revise the rental rate towards the end of the lease. This adds an element of uncertainty to most tenants who typically need to relocate every year or two, especially if they are not willing to pay the revised (higher) rental rate.

Most places for rent (whether newer apartments or older units) are typically quite spartan and almost completely unfurnished. The main exception to this is house-sharing units for students/singles, which will come with basic furniture and common facilities. Unless otherwise stated, water, gas and electricity bills are billed separately.

Inspections and Opportunities

Going for inspections was one of the most interesting aspects of our first week here. We were totally new to the concept, having never rented anywhere before. We inspected 4 units before finding 'the one', so we encountered the following types of inspections:
  • 'Fixed-time' open inspection - the time period when the unit is open for viewing will be advertised online. Some agents require that viewers register for inspection while most others don't. You simply show up at the rental venue at the time and date stated and the agent will come along to open the place. After you view the unit/apartment/house, you can ask the agent questions and request for an application form if you are keen. Typically there is no deadline for submission but the agency will process the applications as they are received and close applications once the landlord has decided on a tenant. Units at good locations will typically have inspections of this form so that interested parties can 'see' their competition for the place. Our first viewing had probably about FIFTY people in the queue, not counting those who left upon seeing the crowd, before viewing the unit. But that's probably an extreme case. Another viewing had about five other interested parties, which I would guess is a more usual number.
  • 'Anytime' inspections - this requires you to pick up the key to the unit from the agent's office during office hours. The receptionist will ask for a photo ID, $50 deposit and you will have one hour after collection of the keys to go to the venue, inspect the place and return the key. Units in mediocre/not-so-good location or units in poorer condition will typically have inspections of this form. Remember to call the office beforehand to check that the unit is still available.
  • Deal with owner direct. This can be sourced via gumtree or by looking for "For Lease" signs in the neighbourhood that you are keen to rent in. Some owners not willing to pay for an agent will place advertisements on gumtree, hand-made signs outside the unit for lease or in restaurants/shops. You will have to call and arrange for an inspection with the owner directly. Before you go down this route, it is critical to check for the average rental rates in the area first so that you'll know if the quoted price is reasonable.

For the first 2 options, remember to call the agent / agency during office hours the day before or on the day of the inspection to confirm the open time and date, as well as to confirm if registration is required. Most agents do answer their phones and are quite happy to entertain quick questions.

A good friend of ours mentioned that mid-week inspections tend to have fewer number of people attending and therefore less competition than weekend inspections. This assumption makes sense and I suppose is quite true in general. However, this wasn't the case based on our experience mainly because our mid-week inspection was after office hours and in a prime location. 

Our Miraculous Story

We shared our current situation to a couple of housing agents and friends, who told us honestly that without prior employment, some landlords will not consider our application even if we could prove we had sufficient finances. After viewing 3 places, one with very stiff competition, I must admit it did seem that we were not likely to get a place with a decent location without current employment...

Last Saturday, we lined ourselves for 3 fixed-time inspections to gain more experience and adjust our rental expectations. Between the first and second, we had a 1.5 hour break so we randomly decided to stop by a Fish & Chips shop in the Coburg area for some food. On the shop window, S caught sight of a small, handwritten notice on a white piece of paper that simply said "2 bedroom unit for rent in East Coburg. Call Mr XX at 123456789." This was the sort of 'advertisement' that (back in Singapore) we will usually ignore. Out of  curiosity, we asked the Fish & Chips owner about the advertisement and found out that he had placed the note under the request of his good friend who had a place to rent. With time to kill, we made the call. The landlord was pleased to have us inspect the place immediately (it was quite near the Fish & Chips shop) and so we went.

Opportunities can be found in unexpected places!

The place turned out to be half a house with a garden! The landlord stayed on the other half of the house. The place was surprisingly clean, large (compared to our 59 sqm HDB flat), well-maintained and reasonably priced. Unlike apartments or block units, this area had unrestricted street parking which meant we did not need to pay extra for a second car space if required in the future. This is a huge plus, as the closer one gets to the city, the more likely one is required to "buy/rent" parking spaces from other tenants or neighbours. This place is just a 40 minute tram ride to the heart of Melbourne CBD. We had a long chat with the owner and towards the end of the conversation we expressed our keen interest in renting the place. We were also completely honest about our current situation. 

Turns out, he was looking for the 'right tenant/neighbour' - he had several others who expressed interest but for reasons unknown, he had his doubts about the others. After we spoke, he gave us a warm smile and then proceeded to take down the huge 'For Lease' sign at the window. Without requiring a deposit, he offered us a flexible lease (no minimum or maximum lease period, or in his words "you can stay for as long or as short as you want") with water included in the rental price. He would tend to the common garden personally and we were allowed to include our friends in the lease to share the cost. He didn't even bother to ask for our ID or bank statements or employment/rental references - just a gentleman's handshake of agreement will do before he proceeded to get his lawyer to draft the lease agreement. 

It sounds too good to be true, I know. My slightly skeptical self is still wondering what the catch is...? If I find out, I'll update my post... Miracles do happen, after all. We turned out to be the 'right tenant' and he turned out to be the 'right landlord'! We just went to sign the lease yesterday and will be moving in today... that's simply unreal! Thank God! My heart is so filled with gratitude and joy! It's likely that I won't be blogging for a while in the coming week as we settle in to our new place. S will probably post more updates after we move in.

Moving house today!!

Some readers have messaged / commented and thanked us for being an inspiration to others who are thinking of migrating. Thanks for your kind comments but we are just ordinary folks... Like many others who have pioneered ahead of us, I hope the information and stories that we share on our personal journey can serve as encouragement to fellow Singaporeans willing to be quitters in order to escape the tyranny at home. Migration is a faith journey and discouragement is bound to set in. When the going gets tough, the individual's faith, resourcefulness, determination and mindset will make all the difference. Of course, some money and a dose of luck will help as well ;)

Ok I shall continue working on my next milestone of getting a job now. Cheerios!

- A


  1. Congratulations for the stroke of luck. Post some pictures of your new place leh

  2. http://www.consumer.vic.gov.au/library/publications/housing-and-accommodation/renting/renting-a-home-a-guide-for-tenants.pdf


    Read up on the residential tenancy Act ... tenants have many rights (too many, if you ask me).

  3. Before applying for TFN, Medicare card, driver's license, opening a bank account and purchasing a private health insurance, a home address in Australia is required.

  4. Congrads! Finding a place to stay with an easy-going landlord is a blessing indeed for the newly arrived migrants. :)

  5. Congrats! Hope your streak of luck continues in your job hunting.

  6. That's a great stroke of luck, well done! This may be a omen of good things to come. Very happy for you two, and hope to see more inspirational stories soon!


  7. Hi,
    Is buying a car next on your list? Do share abt it. Thks

    1. Hi KT

      Haha yes we have got our car for more than a week now... So super busy that S had not found the time to blog about it. That's the second milestone though so we will share the process once we have the time. Stay tuned!


  8. Hi S, A

    I've stumbled upon your blog, and I would say that it is very helpful for us as we are also currently applying for a PR in OZ.

    I just want to ask you about the medical exam, are we suppose to scan and attach the forms (xray & medical)? We had our medical exam and the practitioner told us that the info would be sent directly to DIAC. But until today, the status of our medical is not yet received as shown in our online application. Can you advise on this? Thank you!

    1. Hi anon,

      For medical you don't have to scan and upload anything if you are applying from singapore. The clinic will do it on your behalf. The status of the medical on your application may not change until your CO is assigned or until your medical is cleared. Just be patient for now :)


  9. Hi
    I just wanna thank you for this useful blog .interesting to read and very informative .thanks again.

  10. Hi,
    I enjoy reading your blog as my husband and I are preparing to move to Melb by end of this year with our children. We are doing our research on where to stay and which schools to send our children to. Your blog helps us to visualise some experiences we would soon have. Congratulations on making the move!

  11. Landlords pay the water bill, Australia-wide. I believe that's the law. It's a strange quirk since they don't pick up any of the other utility bills.

  12. Hi

    How much did you bring over to kick start? and what about the flat in singapore?

    1. Hi Lixian, after living here for 5 months plus, I'm too lazy to search and copy and paste the link to the post that we did before. We did write about our flat in SG. Maybe you can find the post.

      I don't wish to answer your question directly about our finances, I guess we are somewhat private that way. How much do you two have? We could give you some suggestions as to how much of that to bring over. I would say, the more the merrier! ;)

      Btw, congrats on your visa approval!!!


  13. ASingaporeinMelbourne25 April 2014 at 11:06

    As a guide, bring AU$10k for a start that but most people found that if you have about AU$30k, it can help them with expenses for a year or so as rental, purchase of items and bills take a chunk...

  14. Hi, Thank you for taking the time with this blog! Highly informative and educational. Wife and I just got our subclass 190 visa in Oct. We are looking to take that leap of faith probably Q4 of this year. We are visiting melb on the 13th of this month to get our "first visit" done. One major task to is to ship belongings over. Did you ship alot of belongings down under? The wife is quite attached to quite a few pieces of furniture. :P

  15. Hello mate!
    I would like to ask when you touch down in Oz, how did you find a temporary place to stay in while you look around to rent a house? If for someone like me with no connections in Oz, do i stay in a hotel or find lodging prior to moving to Oz on the internet?
    Thanks :D

  16. Hi all,
    I m using this demographic map as a guide to what suburbs to choose. It may sound racist but the word on the street is to avoid ones with high density of immigrants from less developed countries. Hope it helps.

    Source: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/map/-born-brisbane

  17. Hi there!

    Just chanced upon your blog and would like to thank you for sharing such useful information and great tips! It is good to know what I'm in for when I make the move soon too.
    Best wishes to you and everyone here who's also in the process of migration or have already migrated.

    Thanks once again for the awesome tips and information.

    ST :)