Oxford to Oz: House Hunting, Part 2

Bright yellow house with blue accents, a columned porch, and lavender and palm trees in the front garden.

Choosing and applying for your new Australian home

Open Houses

I had heard about open houses when I was researching back in the UK, and the prospect of them was hugely intimidating.  It turns out that they’re actually quite chilled.  You really can just rock up and look around someone’s house for a bit.

You’ll need to take some form of ID, and provide some information like your name and e-mail address on arrival.  If you do register in advance, you’ll just need to give your name.  Usually the guests seem to get there before the letting agent, so there’ll be a few awkward minutes of eyeing up potential competitor tenants, and then the agent will rush in and open up, letting you traipse in one by one.  You’ll look around the house mumbling to each other about whether ‘it’ll do’, dodging other people doing the same, exchanging slightly awkward smiles as you pass each other.  Only one of the open houses we went to had people currently living in it, and that was considerably more awkward (the house was quite messy and they were in the middle of doing their hair and make-up, although they were very friendly!).

I have to say that I prefer the open house model to the British one of being led round the house one at a time, by an over-zealous estate agent, who barely gives you time to look, let alone discuss the merits of the house.  You’ve got more time to wander back and forth, and mull things over.  For the most part the agent leaves you to your own devices, at least until you leave, when they’ll try to get an idea of whether you’re interested in taking it.  The open houses usually only last a quarter of an hour or so, meaning you can fit a lot of them in each day.  You don’t even have to get there on time, so if you’re running a tight schedule you have a bit of leeway.  The agents are happy to answer your questions, and the ones we met were all really understanding and helpful in explaining the system to us.  All in all I think we only spent about two days actually attending open houses, with a few weeks of researching online and booking in before those days.  So you don’t need to worry that it’ll take you absolutely ages to find somewhere. 

Red brick bungalow with white art deco style porch.

Applying for a House

This, of the entire process, was the part I was most nervous about. I get anxious filling out applications at home, let alone in a whole new country. But again, when it came down to it the whole thing was surprisingly simple. You will need quite a lot of documentation, such as proof of rent payment, a landlord reference, employment details, and of course all your visa information. Your previous estate agent will need to provide a letter essentially stating that you were a good tenant – you won’t be able to just pass on their e-mail address as you would in the UK. You can find a good template for this letter here. You’ll also need to provide both employment and personal references. The latter should be people who can speak to your good character. We ‘ummed’ and ‘ahhed’ about who to choose for these, but our application was approved so quickly that they can only have taken a cursory glance at our references, and not actually contacted them. Our referees, because of the time difference, were all asleep between us applying and being approved! So I’d say don’t worry about it too much, just choose someone like a former tutor, or a work colleague you got on well with but don’t need to put down for your employment reference.

There were a lot of people at the open house for the place we chose, and we had been warned that applications can be very competitive. So we weren’t getting our hopes us that we’d be chosen, and had picked a second favourite for if we missed out. In the end we did get our first choice, and the only one we applied for. I’m not sure how common this is, but the process was all very straightforward, and the agents very accommodating and helpful.

I hope that these posts have given you some insight, and encouragement, about looking for a house in Australia. It is quite a different system to the UK, but in many ways it is actually less stressful, and more straightforward. We arrived in the country with an AirBnB booked for three weeks, prepared to extend or find a new short let if needed. When it came to it we were actually able to move out nearly a week early. It was quite hectic finding somewhere, especially as we were running from open house to open house on foot, but it paid off in the end. There were times when it felt a little hopeless – one of the houses we looked at had a toilet outside the main house (!), so it did seem we were scraping the barrel a little. But thankfully the market moves at a decent pace; not too fast, but fast enough that if you can’t find something you like straight away you can just sit tight and things will change soon enough.

Open houses have been forbidden in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and as they were becoming less popular it will be interesting to see if they make a comeback when things return to ‘normal’. I’m actually a big fan of them, so I hope they do. The whole housing and rental market will likely be hugely impacted by the pandemic, and the subsequent economic unrest. Not for the first time I am enormously grateful that the timing of our move worked out as it did. Over the last few months we’ve spent more time at home than ever, so I’m glad we put in the research to find somewhere that suits us so well. If you’re moving, give yourself time, stay confident, and assess your priorities, and you’re sure to find somewhere you’ll love calling home.

If you have any specific questions about house hunting in Australian, please do ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them helpfully! Have you made the move to a new country? What struck you most about house hunting in a new place? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!

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