Toronto’s hot real estate market gets a lot of play in the media, but that attention focuses almost exclusively on buying and selling, leaving one aspect of the market completely unmentioned: rentals. Toronto’s renter market is massive. Forty-nine percent of those living in Toronto are renters, and there are approximately 255,000 units as of Fall 2013 (CMHC). With all these apartments out there, trying to find the perfect one to suit you can be a very difficult task. As I recently learned, finding a great apartment in Toronto will not be something you do in a matter of days, but with a little dedication, some flexibility and time invested in your search, you will find a great place to live…
Give Yourself Plenty of Time
I cannot iterate this point enough. Give yourself plenty of time to look at the market! If you think you will need a month to find a new apartment, give yourself three. A good rule of thumb is that you will need two extra months than you anticipate depending on what you are looking for. There are plenty of bad apartments out there, but eventually you will find something perfect. Additionally, it’s probably wise not to give your current landlord notice until you have found a new place, unless you have good friends or family who will let you couch surf for a bit. I moved out of my place in May expecting to find a new apartment by July – it will be September when I actually take possession of my new apartment.
Create a Wishlist
Much like buying a home, apartment hunting should start by figuring out what you really want. Create your wishlist, your deal breakers, and your nice-to-haves, and work from there. I wanted a unit that was second floor or higher, with no carpets, big windows in every room, and a configuration that made sense. Things I would love if it had included a second bedroom, a balcony, the ability to BBQ, and stainless steel appliances/luxury kitchen/updated bathroom. While I saw a bunch of places with the nice-to-haves – including a loft space, a unit with a fireplace, and one with a large BBQ area – they came with the drawbacks of no stove, no insulation, or no windows. I stuck to my guns and ended up getting something that met nearly all my must-haves and even a few of the nice ones.
There are so many avenues (sorry for the pun) that you might find a great apartment on. Most people in Toronto turn to Viewit.ca, and in truth, you will find the best listings there – with pictures, prices, and without any of the nonsense that you might find on other listing sites. However, the reality is you have to expand your search beyond that website. Check out websites like Padmapper, which maps apartments found on Kijiji, Craigslist, and a few other sites. Also, make sure to check out Kijiji and Craigslist directly. While entirely user-unfriendly, and the listings are packed with fake apartments, real estate spam, and dishonest postings, there will be a few decent places that Padmapper could not pin on the map. One other thing to realize is that the best apartments are often not listed anywhere. These apartments rent out to friends, family, and to people in the neighbourhood. So make sure to let friends know that you are looking and even go spend a day walking around the neighbourhood you want to live in to spot any “For Rent” signs posted.
Once you have seen the dozen (or dozens) of apartments that seemed like they would be a good fit, weigh out the pros and cons of each and determine if the rental rate seems reasonable. All real estate is negotiable, and that includes the rent. Talk to the landlord, offer them a lower amount, and see if they are willing to negotiate, but at the same time selling yourself as the ideal tenant. I looked at an apartment that I liked, offered them $100 less per month than they listed it for but offered to pay the first 3 months (and last) in cash immediately. It sold them on my offer and would have saved me $1,200 a year. Ultimately, I did not take that apartment, but it proved that you could negotiate on price.
Make the Apartment Yours
Once you have signed the lease, the apartment is yours to enjoy! Know your rights as a tenant. A landlord will often ask you not to do something or have pets or guests, etc., but they have no legal standing in that regard. Read the various laws on tenancy. Balance that out with maintaining a positive experience with the landlord and you will have a great place to call home until you are ready to enter the other side of real estate: ownership.
What are some of your tips and tricks to scoring a great apartment in Toronto? Let us know in the comments below or tweet us @ViewTheVibe.