Well, we have successfully found a place to live for the next few years. It is about 35% smaller than our current place in London, and about 30% more expensive — welcome to the cost of living in the Centre of the Universe! Compromises were made, but fortunately it’s on the low side of the rent range we were looking in, and that extra money in our pocket will go a long way in the form of take-out when I don’t feel like cooking in the small kitchen, or better yet if we can save it, towards the downpayment for a house that will be perfect (a few years from now… after sanity returns to the market, and I find some stability in my work life). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a nice place (we wouldn’t consider it otherwise), and we simply can’t beat the location (right by the subway).
We had a few different places make the short list, and as you could probably tell, they were all owner (or property manager) listed. The owners all seemed friendlier than many of the agents, and certainly seemed more motivated to make things happen in terms of actually responding to our calls/emails and setting up appointments. Housing requires a lot of upkeep it seems, and the owners were always prepared to mention that something was new, or going to be replaced, or what have you — also giving us the impression that they would continue to do their part of the maintenance.
The house we eventually went with we found through Viewit, though we answered a lot of ads on Craigslist as well. We tried to see a few that were listed on MLS, but less than 1/3 of the agents there ever got back to us, let alone proved their use to the prospective landlords by trying to sell us on the house (though I forgot to mention Gian-Piero Furfaro in my last post — he was a nice guy, learned a lot of details about the house for the showing).
The landlord seems like a reasonable guy, and we were able to negotiate some improvements to the house, including critically central air. In exchange, we agreed to a longer than 1 year lease (which works for us anyway, since we hate to move). We’re also going to have a dishwasher installed — as a compromise, we’ll buy the dishwasher, and he’ll hire the plumber. We didn’t try to negotiate the rent rate itself (which was pretty typical for the area and size of the house). Like I’ve been saying all along, just because you’re renting doesn’t mean you don’t have the freedom to customize/improve your living space. We’re probably also going to install a bike rack in the garage, or at least a better way to secure the garage itself so our bikes will be safe.
Tips for potential landlords to get us to respond to your ads:
First, I’d have to recommend going to the effort of either doing the advertising yourself, or finding a good real estate agent/property manager. The majority of agents aren’t going to help you get tenants quickly!
Next, take pictures. If you have to use old pictures from the last time it was vacant, so be it; if you have to include your tenants’ stuff in the pictures, so be it (though try to get them to clean up as much as possible). We found we were mostly able to see beyond the stuff to what was under it, but we can’t see anything if it’s just a 2-line text description! Maybe it’s just me, but I found pictures of the kitchen and bathrooms to be especially useful — living rooms and bedrooms are just spaces waiting to be filled, but kitchens and bathrooms have to be functional the way they are, so if I don’t see photos of those, I assume they must need to be hidden for some reason! Most decent ads had at least 4 photos, with most on Viewit sporting 8-10, but you can always include more, and I’ve never said “wow, that was too many photos”.
Advertise everywhere. Our new landlord had ads on Viewit, Kijiji, and the Toronto Star that I found, and possibly elsewhere. I’ve heard various anecdotal reasons for picking one medium over another (e.g., professionals use the ‘net, seniors read the classifieds), but some are free and the others aren’t expensive. As a searcher, I preferred Craigslist to Kijiji (it was just a cleaner interface, and half the screen wasn’t taken up by irrelevant paid ads), but Viewit was also fruitful. Hometrader was ok, but didn’t have a lot of ads for detached homes (it mostly seemed to be apartments/townhouses). We never looked at the newspaper classifieds, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an avenue worth exploring. The off-campus housing ads can be a good place to advertise if you’re close to a university and want students, but if you don’t want students, then obviously don’t bother.
Details! Almost every ad for a given housing type will say “clean, [housing type] close to [stuff]. [X] bedrooms and bathrooms.” so if that’s all your ad says, you’re not really selling yourself. If there are any details that help sell it, include them! New A/C or furnace? Nice garden? Crown molding? Finished basement? Parking for X cars? Storage locker? Price? Likewise, anything that’s included should be mentioned (and to be fair, if utilities are extra, mention that too) — utilities, cable, lawn care, snow removal, window service — these are all perks that a renter will see value in, and may help explain why your rent may be higher than average (if it is). Other important details include when it’s available (note: if it is now November and your ad says avail Sept 1, change it to “avail immediately”, or people will wonder what’s wrong with it that it’s been sitting vacant for so long!), the term of lease you’re looking for (e.g., for us it would have been helpful to say “1 year lease with option to extend” or even just “1+year lease”), and a location that’s as exact as you can (preferably the actual address). For a person that doesn’t drive, there’s a huge difference between a place that’s a 5-minute walk to the subway and one that’s a 35-minute walk, even though both might be in “Willowdale”. I’ve seen people mention which school district the unit falls into if they’re trying to attract families. Finally, one thing that MLS does right that the others don’t is report room sizes. If we do some work from home and need to set up an office space, then we might be looking for a 3-bedroom if the rooms are small, or a 2-bedroom if the rooms are large. For houses in particular, explicitly mention if it’s the whole house that’s for rent, or if there’s a basement apartment that’s rented separately.
Current tenants: For the most part, it’s not an issue to work with outgoing tenants to have the place clean and ready to show. However, as we experienced with “Mr. Superlative”, if your tenant is crazy and/or obstructive and/or messy, then it might be worth eating a month or two of vacancy to get them out before showing it to the next group. Likewise, if you’ve successfully managed to keep your unit rented out for 10 continuous years, it might be time to do some maintenance for the wear and tear that’s accumulated over those years.
Know the laws: Many landlords request post-dated cheques in advance; we usually give them since it’s fairly convenient for us and not worth fighting over. However, in Ontario it’s not legal to demand them, so you shouldn’t say so in your ad of all places. Likewise with security deposits beyond the last month’s rent. And of course, we’ve already covered the issue of discrimination.