In my previous article on How to find Initial Accommodation in Australia, I gave you the sources through which you can find shared accommodation when you first arrive in Australia. However, finding a perfect shared accommodation in an unknown country is not a joke. Heck, it’s not a trivial task even in your home country where you have contacts and know all about the place.
Well, of many things that immigration teaches you, it definitely teaches you to be smart. If you are reading this article, you are already ahead of the crowd. In the next few minutes, you will know some very useful and practical stuff to find your first shared accommodation in Australia. Here are the top 10 things to look for in a shared accommodation.
1. Save On the Rental cost
As a new migrant without any job in hand, you must save as much as you can. In Australia, rent makes the biggest chunk of your spending, sometimes as big as nearly 40% of your income. As a result, you have to find a place which is cost-effective and yet liveable. Generally, if you live closer to the CBD, you will end up paying more rent compared to living in suburbs. However, the advantage is that you save on travel cost as most of the jobs are located in and around CBD. Depending on your budget, you may want to stay close to city or in the suburbs.
If you want to save some bucks, you can choose hostels or backpackers, however they are more suitable for temporary stay than as a long term accommodation. In a shared accommodation, make sure to check what is covered in rent amount such as electricity bills, internet, water bill etc. Also, make sure that you pay rent by bank transfer or bank cheque and have evidence of rental payment in the undesirable case of disputes. Secondly, sign a lease contract with the owner to be able to get the legal support, if you need to.
2.What are the Amenities Offered
Before finalising any deal, be sure to check the number and type of amenities offered by the owner. This includes but not limited to, TV, WiFi, room cooling/heating, kitchen appliances such as oven, dishwasher, microwave, refrigerator etc. As an Indian, I feel it’s vital to check whether we will get electric cooking or gas cooking, especially if you are moving with family. It’s a fact that electric cooking does not go too well with the Indian cooking style. So unless you are not going to cook much at home, it’s good to check this factor. It is also important to check whether rent includes bills such as electricity, gas, internet, water and cable connection if any. Often in such cases rent appears to be low but you need to pay utility bills, which prove to be a costly affair.
Sometimes, small things can make a big difference. For example, it really matters if a house has a single bathroom or more. Depending on how many people are going to share the house, this can make your morning routine real nightmare. Imagine standing outside bathroom waiting for your room-mate to finish his morning “stuff”, while you are getting stomach cramps. One more important thing to check is whether you will get a private bedroom or a shared bedroom. If it is a shared bedroom, check the room size and whether you have an en suite bathroom.
3.Check What Is Shared And What Is Not
While booking a flat sharing accommodation, it’s important not to assume anything. It will often be the case that some stuff will be available for everyone to use while some is not. For example, kitchen utensils might be shared but bar fridge is not. TV can be shared but not music system. It’s often good to check with the owner the specifics of usage and if there is any usage limit as well. For example, water usage might be restricted in some cases or there is data limit over broadband usage. Check it beforehand to avoid embarrassing situations or penalties later on.
4.Look For Appropriate Minimum Stay Obligation
Many times you will find cheap accommodation in a decent location that suits you perfectly. However, don’t be tempted to make decision solely based on the rent and location. For a sharing accommodation, often the owner will expect you to stay for at least couple of months. It will be specifically mentioned in the ad as “minimum stay period”. If it’s not mentioned, ask the owner specifically. Please make sure that the minimum stay is suitable to you. Also, make sure there are no penalties, if you want to vacate early.
5.Check For Better Proximity to CBD
Australian cities typically have central business district or CBD area which hosts all the prominent business offices. Hence, it is a no-brainer that the closer you live to CBD, the shorter and less expensive will be your daily commute. In the early days when you have to regularly meet recruiters and attend interviews, living in CBD pays off significantly. In a city like Melbourne where CBD boasts of free tram zone, it can also keep your wallet happy. Hence, when zeroing on accommodation, make sure it is in or around CBD. If that’s not possible, at least make sure that it is well connected by public transport. That means by train, tram/ferry or bus in that order, train being the fastest and bus being the slowest transportation option.
6.Are you available now?
When looking for accommodation online, it is crucial to check the date from which it is available. Many times, everything looks perfect but then the availability kicks in and makes everything worthless. As an example, when I was on AirBnb, I had a hard deadline to find accommodation in a week. So I was looking for any accommodation which was available immediately. Anything beyond week was useless to me, irrespective of the amenities or the location or the cost. Most of the real estate sites provide options to filter by availability date. Make use of it to find the right deal for you.
7.Don’t Live in Pigeon-Hole
The initial accommodation that you choose is going to be your personal space for initial 4-5 months at the minimum. So, it goes without saying that you need to find a decent sized room which can comfortably accommodate all your stuff without making it look like a storage shed. In my early days in Australia, I have seen unbelievable number of people living in a pigeon-hole like flat. Was it the “better life” that they were seeking down under? I couldn’t understand. However, I would never choose something like that to save few bucks. Please make sure that the room is of decent size, is not damp, dark or cold, have good air circulation and sunlight. Gloomy and dark places will just dampen your spirit which is not a good idea in those terrible job hunting days.
8.Know Your Room-mates
90% of the time employees leave the organisation due to their immediate boss. Similarly, 90% of the time people leave the shared house just because of a bad flatmate. I agree that room-mate is not your clone and may not see eye to eye on everything. But the least I will expect is that he/she should not get under my skin. As an example, when I was sharing a flat, we had a lazy room-mate who won’t do any kind of room cleaning of the shared areas such as kitchen or dining, even when it was his turn. He even didn’t bother to clear the garbage bins.
When you are living in shared accommodation, such things are implicitly understood. Usually, people on their own will understand its their turn to do the cleaning and do it without anybody asking them. Not this guy! Well that’s something that won’t go well with many. Another big no-no will be the room-mate with horrible personal hygiene and to your surprise, you will find plenty of them. Sorry folks but this is not a engineering hostel where you can roam around in week-old under-garments and still bother no-one. But it’s hard to see all this when you inspect the room for just few minutes. Of course, you can see the signs based on the condition of the flat, but sometimes it’s hard to find out the truth unless you live there for some time.
9.Anything special, eh?
Sometimes, your roommate or owner might add certain extra restrictions or conditions which will be applicable only in special cases. Remember Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory and his special condition in his legendary room-mate agreement that Leonard will take him to CERN Supercollider if he gets a chance? Well, that’s bit extreme but a good example of how weird these special conditions can get. In a more sane world than Sheldon’s, your roommate may not allow you to smoke within flat or he may be restrictive about bringing your friends for overnight stay or even drinking in the house. Make sure to sort these things out before you sign the lease.
I am a foodie myself and of course, very choosy about what I eat and how to prepare it. So it goes without saying that I like to prepare food myself using my own ingredients. Some people may not be so obsessive about their food or the style of cooking. But you need to respect each other’s preference. Some people may prefer chopping stuff and cleaning dishes as long as they don’t have to cook. Some people may not want to share ingredients but may lend hand in cooking.
Hence, it is best to be clear about who is going to do what and in which manner to avoid conflicts later. Additionally, once in a while, offer your room-mates something that you bought or something nice that you cooked or give them a helping hand if they need. It doesn’t cost a dime to be nice to someone and goes long way to build connections.
There are few other things that you may look at such as if the house has covered car park, especially if living in city or if house has central heating or cooling or if the house has security system etc. However, these wont be applicable to everyone or can be tackled easily with other alternatives. I hope the above tips will give you pretty solid foundation while searching for shared accommodation. Good luck and share these tips with others if you like them.