Apartment Hunting Tips

Upon our recent return to Toronto, my husband and I felt overwhelmed with things we needed to do, get, and set up; it can be incredibly daunting to move and organize yourself into a new place when you’ve only just returned to the country. There are a lot of places that are available, but with Toronto’s vacancy rate at less than 1%, landlords are incredibly picky, and the prices are astronomical for the small spaces that are available. There was a lot to consider when looking for a new place, and for anyone who is looking to move, here are some helpful tips and things to think about when looking for a new place in the GTA!

  1. Girl, get yourself a realtor. It’s FREE!
    There’s no reason not to. I love working with experienced realtors who know what they’re talking about. Of course, I had done copious amounts of research, but nothing compares to the knowledge of someone who works in that field. You do not pay the realtor if you’re the renter, and what they get paid does not come out of your rent or any other payments that you make. The landlord will be the one who pays the realtor for their service, and their commission will be invoiced directly to the landlord. If you use a realtor, you’ll be able to use them to negotiate on your lease contract (we got $30 off our monthly rent, and a 1 year lease with the option for a 2nd year at the same price) for added benefits and options that you would not think of. Realtors will also have access to properties that may not be listed yet, or may not list at all. They can also take into account the type of places you’re looking for, and show you options that you may not have thought to explore! There is no harm, and you will only benefit from utilizing the services of a realtor.

  2. Consider living outside the downtown area.
    One of the options we were considering, was living in Durham Region – aka Pickering/Ajax/Whitby/Oshawa area. You can get more for your money in that area, and when looking on Kijiji for a home rental, you’ll find there are options to rent the entire top floor of a house for an average of $1700 p/m inclusive of bills (give or take). Depending on where you will be working, this is a great option! You will get more space for less money, however you will need to consider the cost of transport to your job. If you will be taking the GO train you will likely need a vehicle to get to the station, and the GO train itself is not cheap ($9.25 per ride from Whitby to Union). If you are splitting rent with another person and one of you works in the Durham Region, then it is a definite option to live in the area.
  3. Look at unfinished, “phase 1” buildings.
    If you are going the apartment/condo route, take a look at new buildings that are not finished yet! Chances are, if the building is still in phase 1, not all of the amenities or suites have been finished, which means that for those who pre-purchased units to rent out themselves, they will want tenants in there ASAP to try to make some money back on their investment. As such, they’re more likely to be less picky with tenants, more lenient with the price, and you can get into a great location for a lot less than the surrounding buildings since not many people want to move into a place that is not completed. We chose a building that was unfinished, and if we compare it to the surrounding buildings, we’re paying about $400 less per month for a larger unit! While the amenities are not yet completed, it was worth it for the prime location, since we can walk to work and walk anywhere in the downtown core!
  4. Look at entire buildings, and choose a couple you really like.
    Due to the demand of condos and apartments, it can be helpful to look at multiple units in a couple of buildings that you like. This way, if you know you love the building (amenities, location, style, etc) you can jump on any available unit within your budget. When we were looking at ours, we chose one building that we really liked, saw multiple units, and this way if our bid did not go through on our first choice unit, we could immediately make an offer on another unit in the same building without needing to head back out and start looking all over again.
  5. Have the deposit, tenant insurance, and references ready when you look.
    The thing with the market right now, is that it moves fast. I have a number of friends who loved a place, and within the time they saw the unit they liked and started filling out paperwork, it was already sold to another person. When going out to look at places, be prepared to make a decision on the spot and have all of the requirements ready to go! It never hurts to be prepared, and in this case, it actually hurts if you aren’t prepared – so do your homework and be prepared with a blank cheque, references (who know they will be contacted), and a tenant insurance site you like (I like Square One).
  6. Do not take it personally if you are rejected.
    As I mentioned before, with the market right now, chances are you will be rejected from your first choice. It sucks, but it’s the reality of the “game” right now. Landlords can be as picky as they would like since there is a surplus of people looking for new places, and a limited amount of new places on the market. I have multiple friends who were rejected three times before finally being accepted,  who had amazing credit, references, jobs, and everything else – but were still rejected due to the preference of the landlord for the type of people they prefer living in their condo. It is unfair, but there is nothing that can be done. Be prepared to have multiple options if your first choice does not work out.
  7. Consider the local hotspots/amenities that are around the building/house.
    This one is key. For example, if you were to live in a building that was next door to a nightclub, you’d likely hear loud music, fights, crying, honking, and various other loud noises every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. I like to check the areas I’m considering living in for my commute distance to work, how close grocery stores are, potential threats, shopping malls, where the nearest Starbucks is, and local hotspots or events that could mean extra traffic/noise. This helps a lot, because when it’s -22 outside and you’ve gotta get some groceries, you want to know how far of a trek it’s going to be without a car.
  8. Factor in transportation to your budget.
    Personally, I really wanted to be able to walk to work. I suck at waking up in the morning, and will literally sleep until 15 minutes before I need to be out the door before rushing to get ready and hurrying to work. The more sleep the better. That being said, we were open to a higher budget if I was able to walk – it would cut out about $150 monthly (price of a monthly TTC pass) from our transportation costs, which means we could put that towards rent. Due to the locale, it was also likely that Kellan would be able to walk as well, which would cut out an additional $150, saving us $300 in transport per month, and giving us a higher price range to work with. As I mentioned already, if you’re looking outside the city but work inside the city, be sure to include the $9.25 per trip cost of GO trains in your budget.
  9. Book the elevator ASAP.
    We made this mistake. With our building being so new, there were a lot of people moving in on December 1 like we were. I thought we had booked it through the broker for the landlord, however it must be done with the property manager. Be sure to get all of the contact details for your property manager/landlord so that you can book in advance. We had to bring up only suitcases and bags that we could carry in our hands in a LOT of short trips until a few days later when we were able to book the elevator and finally bring in our bed. Don’t make the same mistake we did!
  10. Don’t expect it to be perfect right away.
    Once you’ve moved into your new place, you have to understand that it will not all come together immediately. There are going to be small items you’ll need to buy, perhaps furniture pieces that you will need to save up for, decor pieces you will have to slowly accumulate – the list goes on. What matters most is that you love the potential of the space you have, and give yourself time to make it feel like a home. Chances are it won’t immediately feel like your home, but if you set up a few key items (for me it was my Nespresso, all of my makeup things, and hanging my clothes in the closet) it will start to feel a bit more like home.

It’s a tough market, but you’ve got this! Be prepared, and go into it with an open mind and a positive attitude, and you never know what you could find!

Happy hunting!