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The art of finding affordable housing

The art of finding affordable housing
by Lynette Mwangi

There is an art to finding affordable housing, especially if one is in the world’s most expensive cities. I discovered this when I arrived in Sydney early this year. As one of my main concerns, I went looking for housing industry experts to give me a couple of tips on how to get a fairly priced rental accommodation.

True, statistics reveal that indeed housing prices have dropped recently. This is according to data released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in February (House price indexes-Eight Capital Cities), and mortgage interest rates have dropped too. This is a positive reflection as housing affordability in general has improved.

While I was looking for a place to live, the biggest issue for me was whether I would afford the rent. Affordability is relative as most would argue. So the question arises, “How then do I find affordable housing?” Many of us believe that affordable housing is difficult to find.

Experts in the housing industry, however, say that people look for housing in all the wrong areas, especially where they cannot afford.

As obvious as the money factor might seem, Matt Otway of Southern Waters Real Estate Agency says that most people tend to ignore it.

“People’s emotions get in the way regardless of what they know they have to spend,” Mr Otway said.

“I reckon that people should be diligent and think with their heads and not their hearts,” he said.

Housing experts say that anyone could get affordable housing if they looked for it in areas where they could afford. Fringe areas of popular places and higher density living areas such as apartments, unit blocks and villas are said to be a good starting point for renters. An additional alternative is to check all forms of media, agencies and organizations that offer information on housing.

Professor Peter Phibbs of the University of Western Sydney’s centre for Urban Research said that the best strategy for renters is to keep out of major cities and focus on regional areas.

“Share housing is a good option for moderate and low income earners,” Dr Phibbs said.

This truly works. I currently live with a friend in a unit block located in Miranda suburb. The rent is affordable and I pay almost 40 percent less of the rental prices in the city.

There are sacrifices that come along with finding an affordable house. I personally wanted to live in the city in order to have easier access to my university. The rental prices in the city were too high and I had settle with what’s best for my pocket.

Housing industry experts advise that every state has a couple of outlets that address the issue of housing. Housing NSW (Centre for Affordable Housing) is among the organizations that enable people living in NSW to address the need of housing and also finding the most affordable option.

The HIA Report shows improved housing affordability rates across major states in Australia. Therefore I guess we are all in a good position to get “affordable” housing.

There are many factors that we might tend to overlook but at the end of the day they determine where and how we live. We might be our very own agents of “housing stress”. Should we stop putting blame on the government?


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How many are aware of this art?

Lynette, the art you are talking about might be useful for some of us who plan to stay in Australia for a longer period of time. However, it is not very clear to me. I am particularly concerned because prior to arriving in Sydney, I was informed it wouldn’t be a joke to find housing, as I had always wanted to find one very close to the University. I searched and compared but was scared to drop too many offers and ended up settling for one very close to Sydney University, after my landlord threatened that he got more than forty calls daily, which I doubt.

Surprisingly, the art of hooking and securing tenants seems smarter and effective for ‘some landlords’, leaving many housing-seekers in the shade of fear of the unknown. Signing a year contract for my house, that I pay $60.00 more than what the previous tenant was paying, makes me feel like a prisoner. I don’t really believe I looked for housing at a wrong place, as I have learnt that, had I known the art, I would be saving at least $50.00 per week. You argue that share housing could be the best option, I doubt it. That seems even worse. At one share house very close to the Sydney University as well, the lesser the number of tenants in a seven bedroom house, the higher the rent becomes. Something is strange here!

No way around it...

Australia Bureau of Statistics points towards 'housing prices to have dropped recently' I think they are referring to mortgage payers (as interesting rates have gone down) not to people like you and me who have to suffer to find a decent place to live in NSW.

I have spent the last month in living hell (pardon my French). Last January I've leased a unit for over 500AUD per week as the classes where about to start and I needed a place to live ASAP (I live with my boyfriend so it makes sense to go solo instead of opting for a share accommodation). I got a 3 months lease in the hope to find a better place by the end of it! Last month I’ve been to dozens of inspections where you and 10 other people are competing for the lease and the real estate agent is trying to make you stab each other.

I’ve been to horrible, dark, dirty, 20 square metre total living space, units and my conclusion is: You can't even lease a studio in the city for less than 400AUD per week. Take it or leave it.

Value for money?

I totally understand what you mean. But as I stated, I'm sure the unit worth $500 is in the city or very close to the city. If you are now looking for a house there are sacrifices you ought to make. Search for accommodation in fringe areas and see if there will be a slight difference. I know there are thousands of people at any one point looking at the same house. That forces you to sacrifice your time and go look at more than one house.

I advise you to also try using agents or housing organizations. These drastically reduce the amount of time taken to look for a house which is preferably in your range. A few examples are any real estate agents under the Gilmour property group such as Domain (whose magazines are free or you can search through the internet). Remember also that you are stating that the studio worth $400 is in the city. Move to the fringe areas and I can guarantee you that you will get something much cheaper and very beautiful ... personal experience!

A basic matter of life

Finding accommodation is one of the biggest challenge, especially for international students who are struggling to cope with culture shock, foreign languages and environment, even different traffic direction. It is really hard to find an affordable place to live in a short time and at a perfect location. Admit it or not, the accommodation services in the university are far from perfect and there is always a long queue of applicants. To book on-campus accommodation you should apply at least a year in advance.

Should government take the responsibility of solving the problem? My answer is yes. Education, as a business, has attracted millions of foreign students to Australia. Their tuition payments create millions in revenue for the country as well. Education is turning to be one of Australia's biggest exports. Therefore, similar to the development of other business, to develop the education targeted to international student, investment should be put into constructing facilities including accommodation.

the undeserving poor

Part of the problem comes from unemployment regulations that meant that unemployed country people were no longer allowed to live in the country if the penpushers felt they  might not be able to find work quick enough.

As if there wasn't enough of a housing shortage without uprooting still more people who would have been better off if left where they were.

Why study in a city?

Well said!

Why study in a city? To get a piece of paper? To get a job, to get a house? Now you have another path:

Mud bricks are easy to make, here in Queensland. Lots of mud here. Mix in a bit of cement, preferably MgO, not CaO, and you can build a structure by hand. You may find your nearest neighbour some distance away, but with satellite broadband......

Energy can be made from a few metal pipes heating water for steam, aided by aluminium foil multipying the rays of the sun. Store some, that is where the cost rises. High tech! Maybe a heated pool under the house? A heat exchanger linked to a Stirling engine and an efficient generator and you have constant power and a pool without expensive batteries.

Why study in a city? To get a piece of paper? To get a job, to get a house? Now you have another path. Enjoy the city while you are young, but think ahead.

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