While a few of my friends have bitten the mortgage bullet, the rest of us are still renting for one reason or another. Personally, I’ve never been all that good with numbers. I’m aware that mortgage payments may be around the same amount as my rent each month, but it’s the larger responsibility of home ownership that requires careful planning on my part. Until I can build my financial base to a place where I’ll be able to afford all the contingencies that come with owning an apartment, renting is the logical way to go. I have a landlord on speed dial for the things that go wrong, I don’t have to sacrifice on location and convenience, and I can live in places that, at the moment, would be impossible to purchase.
I’ve been through more than my fair share of student basement suites, single closets (no exaggeration), shared houses, and glitzy downtown high rises. I’ve lived in a variety of Vancouver neighbourhoods, including the West End, Kits, Commerical Drive, Point Grey, Burnaby, and the North Shore. I’ve also had the added joy of living outside of Vancouver – but that’s for a different time. It’s the centralized, Vancouverite rental experience that I’m addressing in this post – and the best online tools and tricks that I’ve discovered to make this a less stressful and more productive experience.
Yes, it’s a gong-show renting in Vancouver. When you discover yet another bedbug-infested dive in certain unnamed downtown buildings, or are told once again that you’re just too late responding to a Craigslist ad posted 5 minutes ago– I hear your pain. I’m also past all of that. Bitching about the system, the government, or the slumlords won’t get you into a place by next month.
When apartment/house hunting, everyone goes through roughly the same process of determining living variables, responding to ads, viewing places, and closing the deal. Packing up your life and getting used to a new environment is hard enough, but the stress can be further exacerbated by the competitive rental market and the online nature of rental websites. Roommates or significant others simply add to the mayhem. So, taking all of my experiences from past rentals, I applied some basic project collaboration principles and set up a system that worked well for me.
Creating Your Rental Profile: Needs Vs Wants
Before diving into the mess of rental listings, some crucial groundwork needs to be done. This is doubly important if you’re looking for accommodation of two or more, but also a good practice even if you’re a bachelor(ette). There are several reasons of why having a clear picture of what you want is crucial before you start looking:
- What are you really looking for?
- Are you, your roommates, and the market on the same wavelength?
- Is it realistic? (budget vs expectations)
- Is it attainable? (timeline & commitment)
Sit down, preferably face-to-face, and start brainstorming and dividing things into two lists. Your Needs List should be as precise as possible – for example, if you say you want to live ‘in Vancouver,’ do you mean downtown only? Do you mean as far as far out as Boundary Road (which is the actual divide between Vancouver and Burnaby)? Are there certain neighbourhoods you prefer, and certain others that you want to avoid? Your Wishes List is everything else – things that would be nice, but really don’t make a difference to…
Your Bottom Line: What Makes or Breaks Putting Down a Deposit?
Go far enough, but not too far. If you’re debating whether ‘Rose-Coloured Venetian Blinds’ makes the cut, you’ve probably gone too far. Or, this blog post is useless to your infinite budget and/or expectations, and you should stop reading now.
Google As Rental Project Management Godliness
If you’ve been emailing URLs back and forth with “What do you think?” in the subject line, here’s a more sophisticated way of keeping on top of your listings and updating your partners in crime.
I shared a simple Word document in Google Docs with an entry for every prospective listing we found. I included some basic information: location, contact information, price & utilities, and a link to the CL entry. This ensured that we were all viewing the same thing, and there was no confusing discussion like, “So what do you think about the posting I just sent? You know. That one.”
Here’s a stripped down version that you’re free to use and modify for your own evil purposes. Just don’t sic any lawyers on me. Or, gods forbid: crying, smelly children.
Setting up this system also assigns responsibility – who called, and when? What additional comments/questions do you have about this listing? Is it worth our time to book a viewing? What listings need to be followed up on? Booked listings go straight into a shared calendar event, complete with location and contact name & number. (I also copied over the CL description, so I could had access to it on the go. I guess it just depends on how anal you are with your rental project management!) Greyed out listings symbolized unsuitable or unavailable listings, to make it easy to track and skip over landlord reposts.
Getting the point? The secret to Vancouver’s competitive rental market: it’s all about response time. Being first in the door drastically increases your chances of making the final cut. Instead of checking in, you need to have a system of open communication and act decisively on listings of interest as they come up.
Finally, I really wish I had discovered Padmapper before finishing my rental search. Coolest geo-mapping application for rentals, ever.
Craigslist is supreme in Vancouver. Don’t waste your time on anything else, like the property-management domainted Kijiji. That’s more of an east coast thing.
The Couple Effect: this was the first time I had looked for a place without the ‘poor student’ or ‘single with roommates’ label. Working young professionals. No pets. No children. I got the place I wanted right away and was offered a discount on the spot for another 3 bedroom suite. I don’t doubt that there’s a correlation.
And that’s the sum of my devious rental tactics at the moment. Thoughts, fellow ninja apartment seekers?