Applying for a rental became a full-time job application – what I wish I had known

Two small children look outside and sit at a window.

If you are reading this, you are in a similar plight my family and I have recently been in. It is likely you passed us, looking through a crowded rental property with 50 other people making a beeline to the viewing agent, waiting for the opportunity to introduce yourself and make a memorable impression.

I see you and I feel your struggle.

In a rental crisis of the likes that we have never seen in this country or state, we are currently sitting at 0.7% vacancy rates across all of the Perth metro area. Homes are leasing within a 14-day time period from the initial date of listing. 800 less properties are currently available in May 2023 than the start of the year, with 19,200 fewer rental properties now than since January 2021. The urban sprawl is ever increasing, and the sheer amount of competition is devastating and eye-watering.

Properties have become hot commodities and the desperation is evident in the tired and distraught faces of applicants worried not just about the rising costs of inflation, but how they will find a home for their families and not end up homeless. We are looking at the basic human rights of having a safe place to call home, abandoned and depleted by a myriad of factors.

We are quite simply at crisis point

There are many things to consider, and this is not so black and white. The increase of migration post-covid has become straining in an ever-growing population that cannot keep up with housing demands. Nationally, our migrant population is expected to have grown by more than 700,000 between the 2022 and 2024 financial years, with Pandemic border closures bringing the numbers down to -85,000 from 2020-2021. Before the Pandemic, our national migrant level sat at around 235,000 per year, which forecasts an estimated increase of 230,000 migrants over a two-year period. These levels are simply not sustainable with the current housing availability.

We have a large number of rental properties now being converted to easy money in the form of short-stay accommodation which is deeply unregulated. The WA Government is progressing with initiatives to address these concerns and this is occurring in other States across the country such as Tasmania, where the housing situation has extended well beyond crisis.

The public housing bubble has well and truly burst, and according to Shelter WA, 18,936 households are on the social housing waitlist, with 113.5 weeks (over 2 years) being the average wait time for social housing. Even more concerningly, 4,064 households are on the priority waitlist, with 43 weeks being the average wait time for people on this waitlist when they have already reached a catastrophic need for shelter.

The true impact of homelessness has become hidden and the numbers cannot be accurately calculated as many ‘hidden homeless’ families and individuals are couch surfing, renting temporary rooms, splitting up families, in refuges, living in their cars, hotel/motel rooms, backpackers, tents, however, the same scenario is clear – that they do not have a place to call home and know they are safe, and can settle into a home of their own and feel comfortable.

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics recent data, more than 45,000 people under 25 in Australia have been recorded as homeless, and this includes people who are also living in severely crowded dwellings.

Australian Bureau of Statistics

After the 10th RBA rate hike in March this year, we have seen many investors who have had the continued rate hikes applied to not just their home they are living in, but their investment property they rent out, rendering them incapacitated and unable to pay both mortgages. This has led to the forced sale of these properties which consequently removes the rental option for many.  

We have also seen the devastating cost of inflation and increases, well beyond rent rises, that has impacted every family, large and small of every income bracket. Right across the country, we are seeing rent increase after rent increase and they are currently sitting at an all-time national high as house rents rose for the eighth consecutive quarter and unit prices for the seventh.

In Perth just recently, the number of rentals below $400 per week included 6.8 per cent of houses and 27 per cent of units. Compared to the same comparative data released in 2020, the numbers of houses for rent under $400 per week reached a comfortable 54.2 per cent and units at 65.8 per cent respectively.

The Hon John Carey, Minister for Housing, Lands, and Homelessness, has said the McGowan Government will be investing a record $2.4 billion over four years in housing and homelessness services.

“This is all part of our government’s record investment in housing and homelessness services in WA over the next four years, which includes the delivery of around 3,300 social dwellings as well as refurbishments and maintenance work to thousands more.”

Minister John Carey

“We have now added 1,000 social homes with a further 1,051 social homes under contract or construction.”

Minister Carey acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic had significantly impacted and changed the housing market across Australia and internationally, and the Government were working closely with advocate groups to address the volume of the current need.

The Anglicare 2023 Rental Affordability Snapshot examined more than 45,000 rental listings across Australia to determine affordability of rental properties and the results were shocking to say the least. Anglicare measures affordability by ensuring rent would be capped at no more than 30 per cent of a typical household budget to eliminate exceeding amounts of financial hardship.

Across Australia, the rates of rentals that fall into an appropriate financial commitment for different demographics are damning and we see a harsh discrepancy between income earners with a family of four on two full-time minimum wages seeing only 15.9% of rental listings that are affordable, and a single parent on the minimum full-time wage, having access to only 0.7% of all rental listings which could be seen as affordable.

Further information can be seen in the graphic below:

An image of data captured by Anglicare in the affordability study

Anglicare understands that suitability becomes another factor to consider, and what is suitable for one person or family, may not be suitable for others. This includes the area you would like to live, the school your children go to, the realistic commute to work with rising petrol costs, access to family, health and medical services, the size of the dwelling and how your current lifestyle may have to be compromised in order to move into the property.

Source: Anglicare Australia Rental Affordability Snapshot 2023

For many, it is a matter of choosing the least of the hard choices, and making it work as best as they can.

This is not living, and this should not be considered normal. You are not alone in this, and you are being listened to.

What can I share with you?

I have not attended home opens for three years and in that time, I was shocked with how the process had changed. After attending a few home opens and approaching the agents for queries relating to the properties about access to insulation in the roof for appropriate cooling, or working reticulation to the gardens, within two days before getting a response, I learnt the property had already leased. This immediacy dawned on me about not just how competitive it was, how much of a challenge I would have, but also how quickly the market was moving and that I had to apply myself now or fall behind.

I have learnt a lot through this process and my heart has been heavy as I reflect on the many people facing homelessness and eviction and worried that they may have nowhere to go. We were one of those families, my child included. Each one of my applications for a rental have been shortlisted as the final candidates being presented to the owner and when we finally got accepted, the relief was immeasurable and the emotion associated with this, enormous. I would like to share what worked for me.

Your rental application checklist:

1. Register with the online realty platforms and for rental alerts to your email within your price point and in the chosen areas, with surrounding suburbs included.

2. Begin to build a profile on and on the 2Apply tenancy platform as this is what many agents use to filter candidates and applications. This needs to be created by every person who will be applying for the lease, not including children.

3. Visit the websites several times a day with your search terms defined and change the view to ‘most recent’ for the listings so you don’t miss new properties being listed.

4. Find out what real estates are operational in your area and visit their website page listings directly to look at the list of rental properties and familiarise yourself with the agent’s names and faces if provided.

5. Ensure you have references that are ready to be contacted and include personal references x2 who know you well and have frequently visited your home, employment references from the past 3+ years and also rental references from 5+ years. Reach out to them to ensure they are happy to be contacted and note their correct name spelling, email address and mobile phone number. Remind them they will most likely receive a series of requests to vouch for you and time is most certainly of the essence.

6. Prepare all necessary documentation for your application including:
*All rental history with dates of lease, amounts paid, agents, etc…
*Bank statements with your account balance and savings history
*Request a rental ledger from your current real estate to show regular payments that have occurred over a period of time
*Water bill/gas etc or something with your address listed
*Scanned in copies of all ID for people applying including driver’s license, visa information, passport, Medicare card, birth certificate etc…
*Proof of current employment and contract
*Previous employment history and dates of contracts, and
*Photos of you, your family, pets, your home (to show how you live).

7. Register for the home opens and accept the reminder notifications to ensure the agent is expecting you and list anybody who may be attending as they are taking notes of all arrivals at the homes and checking names off the list. You will also be sent correspondence to apply through your mobile number and email, so make sure this is included.

8. When you know what home opens you are attending, find the listing agent so you can greet them by name as you arrive. Arrive early and be prompt, with professional and/or neat attire. First impressions are very important and the agent will give feedback on which person and applicant stood out. They are your direct line to the owner and their recommendations go a long way!

9. View the property in a respectful way, taking notes if necessary and measure areas to check suitability of couch and furniture capacity and fridge and washer recesses. I visited so many home opens and it was easy to lose track of which house had what feature. I created individual albums of the homes with photos and individual notes on measurements and observations I noticed about whether there was central AC, parking access, the garden maintenance needed, whether there were walk-in-robes or the size of spaces.

10. Wait politely to speak to the agent again and introduce yourself and your family, making the opportunity to ask questions about the application process, stating you are interested and like the property for these reasons…

11. Once returning home, promptly complete the application within the next few hours if possible and make sure each item is filled out meticulously, taking time to personalise sections that are relevant to that specific property. Make sure your application is 100% finished, as incomplete applications will most likely go to the bottom of the pile.

12. Have the person you are applying with ready as well, as your application will send them an email, linking them to your account, and all parties must submit their application to be considered by the agent.

13. Once completed, follow up with an email to the agent to say you have completed the application, are interested in the property and remind them who you are. I would often send a photo and the rental application letter in the email as well, as a back-up.

Now, most importantly, you need to tell your story. Who are you, what are your values and morals, how do you live, what are your hobbies, what pets do you have, what are they like, talk about your children and who they are, why is this community important to you, why do you wish to stay in the area, what is your rental history, what do you like about the area, what do you do for work etc…

This is the key component to get the agent’s attention so you stand out, and for you to show the owner who you and your family are and why they should choose you over 50 other people to live in their home.

If you do not have the skills to write this document, you may wish to consider hiring a professional writer to get to know you and write up the content for you to use. My document was 1.5 pages and I modified it each time like I would do for a job application, with the current property address, listing price and what we liked about the suburb, home and street itself.

There are of course variables in all of this, and I understand, I hear you and feel for your challenges.

You may have had a long period of absence from employment, or you may be unemployed. You may have a larger number of children or a pet that could easily be discriminated against, like a dog or multiple dogs and other pets. You may have escaped domestic violence and have few records of consistent work and rental/living history – I know these challenges listed here make it that much more challenging, but this is all the more reason to tell your story. If you have noticeable gaps in your job application or employment history, you will state why, and this is exactly the same.

How can you make yourself stand out from the rental crowd?

You may not have a job and you are a stay-at-home single parent on Centrelink benefits who volunteers during school hours. Tell the owner and the agent what you do throughout the day and why your voluntary work is meaningful.

Did you have a recent marriage breakdown and have to leave your home? Be honest about your situation and explain how each home you live in; you treat with love and respect because it is the next chapter for your family.

Are you studying to give yourself a better chance at the career you have always dreamt of? Tell them why you are taking a break from paid work and what your goals are around this new venture.

Do you have disabilities but are actively involved in social activities and the community you want to rent in? Be brave and share this part of yourself.

Do you love to garden and take enormous pride in your plants and any green space that you get the opportunity to nurture? Tell them how you will care for their garden in that rental home.

Do you love to cook and when you saw the kitchen in the new home, you knew this would be the perfect place to prepare meals for your family? Tell them about it!

Play to your strengths, sell your values and be honest about your situation and why you will be the best candidate and deserve a fair chance to make this house your home.

I know it is hard, I know it seems hopeless and I know with each application you are unsuccessful with, the pain stings a little deeper, but hold on to hope. You will find a place to live, and it will be okay. 

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

If you are a tenant or someone you know needs help with their current situation, please contact:

  • Dept. Consumer Protection — evictions and tenancy advice 1300 304 054
  • Circle Green Community Legal — for all tenancy advice (08) 6148 3636
  • – for emergency relief near you
  • Financial Counsellors of WA –
  • National Debt helpline 1800 007 007

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