Understand The Rental Market

The advertisement said "big backyard, sun-drenched home with spacious bedrooms, modern kitchen and renovated bathroom".

Beware of the huge backyard tag if it's the first thing mentioned.

The bathroom was modern, but the walls in each room were still covered in dirty wallpaper circa 1920, the shabby carpet was about the same age and the kitchen might have been updated about 30 years ago.

The sunroom was labelled as an extra bedroom and "spacious" would have been an accurate description if a hamster was renting it.

Or take this little gem: "Eat-in kitchen, four generously-sized bedrooms in a character home with attic and sunroom."

The oven in the kitchen possibly pre-dated WWII (presumably when it was last cleaned), the attic stairwell had no protective railings - a potential death trap if if someone fell through the gap, and the carpets were black with dirt around the skirting boards.

Then there's the house that appeared not to have a laundry.

"Oh yes there is," said the real estate agent brightly, throwing open a door with a flourish.

There it was - a tiny, narrow room (more of a cupboard, really) a powerpoint, a single tap and a drainpipe.

When I wondered about how much sunlight another house received, the agent tried to divert my attention by pointing to the church steeple up the road.

"Oh look," she said, "It's a church."

"Yeah thanks for that," I replied as I headed through the shadows for the front door.

Those properties were listed for $500 or more. They had all been on the market for weeks.

Clearly, renters aren't as stupid as agents think they are.

Real estate agents not only talk things up, they'll omit vital information that might put you off turning up in the first place.

Such as the landlord lives next door or downstairs with a yard of pit bulls.

And another thing. The real estate industry always talks up rental increases at the beginning of each year and warns of property shortages.

You can almost set your watch by it.

Nationally, rents jumped by two per cent in 2009 - the weakest annual increase since 2002, the Australian Property Monitors' Quarterly Rental Report said, forecasting a rent hike.

The figure compares with average annual rent increases of 12 per cent across Australia for 2007 and 2008.

The rental vacancy rate is hovering at 1.7 per cent in Sydney, according to the Real Estate Institute of NSW, warning in the same breath that any recovery in the rental market remains seriously threatened by proposed changes to the Residential Tenancy Act.

I countered the predictable hike talk by offering a lower price for the property I wanted, wondering if I should have offered even less.

The description omitted to say the bathroom is hamster sized, but we'll live with that.

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