I know New Zealand is in the midst of a housing crisis, and I also know a group of under-25s aren’t often seen as the most desirable tenants. But I didn’t know finding a flat (without visible mould) would be this hard.
I spent eight weeks looking for a flat in Auckland. My inbox was littered with messages saying “Your application Was unsuccessful...Have a nice day!”. The words sounded more mocking each time.
I got so tired of the view-apply-deny cycle, I asked some property managers and one landlord who had rejected me what I was doing wrong and what young people can do to help our chances.
Their recommendations ranged from supplying large amounts of personal information to offering to do the property’s garden. It seems like a lot, especially given we’re trying to pay their mortgage.
Renters United Organiser Robert Whitaker says the advice shows how loaded the dice are against renters. “The system puts all the power in the hands of landlords and property managers. It’s not fair or reasonable that renters need to know how to make the job easier for property managers, let alone the intrusive extent of information they now expect.”
But without a complete system overhaul, I feel like following these tips might be the only way young people can help our chances. It’s a tough reality.
Here is a complete guide to the advice the property managers and landlord gave me, and what I’ve learned from my flat hunting experience.
You can make a flat CV
All the property managers I spoke to mentioned a “good flat CV”. If your current flat application just has your contact details and a phone number of a random reference, or you didn’t even know you needed a flat CV, then listen up. Here are their tips - but you can take them or leave them.
1. Start with a quick blurb about who everyone is and why you want to live in the property
The more individualised you make it, the more effort it looks like you have put in. It tells them you're not just spamming every property with the same CV, you are tailoring it to this one because you want it that much!
2. If your group has lived together before, make this clear in your application and at the viewing.
“This is a huge bonus for young people because it shows you’re not just friends, but you can actually live together,” says Kerry Kirwan from Quinovic Property.
3. Then go into detail about who each person is - designate one section for each person
While completely optional, Ashley Giles from Wendell’s Property recommends attaching individuals photos in your CV. “This really helps the property manager connect you with your application. It is a lot easier to remember a face than a name, especially if the viewing is busy. If we have spoken with a group at a viewing and then we see their faces in the application, it's easier for us to make the connection.”
Next to your photo, write a few sentences about who you are (your job, what you do in your spare time, why you would be a good tenant, your contact details).
4. “Give as much information as you can, without us having to ask”
Ashley says the goal should be to “make the property manager's job as easy as possible to choose you” by over-offering information. “The more the better,” he says.
This kind of information can make your application even easier to process:
- A photo of your driver's license, or passport (very optional)
- Answer these questions for them: Are you a smoker? Do you have pets? Have you ever had your tenancy terminated or are you owing money to a landlord? Do you consent to a credit check?
- Legally a property manager can’t ask for a copy of your payslip, but if you want to, you can offer this information voluntarily.
- The name and number of at least two references.
“Remember we are also trying to rent it as quickly as we can,” says Kerry. “So if we have to spend time chasing you up for more information, we’ll probably be less likely to pursue your application.
5. There’s nothing like a good reference (especially if it's written)
“Go one step further and get written references as well,” says Ashley. “We will always verify them with a call, but it just means we don’t have to take as many notes and we have something to fall back on.”
Each person needs to be able to have “two to three verifiable references that are as independent as possible,” says Kelvin Chandra, co-founder of PickMee, a digital platform for tenancy applications. The best ones are current or past landlords and employers.
“If you lack references we are thinking, ‘what are you hiding?’ You are either being very selective about the information you give us, or are you not taking the process very seriously. Either way, it’s not a great look,” says Kelvin.
If you are reading all this and thinking, ‘shit, do I really have to do all of this just to get a flat?’ I thought the same.
With such a ruthless and imbalanced market, it’s not really a matter of what you are doing wrong, it’s a matter of what everyone else is doing right. And sadly, securing a home to live in has become the nation’s most competitive sport. “It shouldn’t be this hard,” says Ashley. “That is my frustration as well. I hate to admit it, but the market has made us rank people on snap decisions and little details.”
Robert from Renters United says the private rental market is failing renters. He says property managers should be regulated and the government needs to build thousands more council and community homes to give renters of all backgrounds a “fair and level playing ground”.
“The advice makes it clear there’s a certain type of person they want, and if you don’t fit that, you’re at the bottom of the heap. All renters should be treated with dignity as they seek a flat or home,” he says. “Every person has the right to a home.”
Is there anything I can do before a viewing?
Apply and make contact before the viewing
If you find a property online that you really like the look of, apply for it before the viewing, then call the agent to let them know who you are and that you're coming. This shows the landlord or property manager that you’re super keen on living here and when you turn up to the viewing, they will already be familiar with you and your stunning CV.
You can physically hand your CV into property companies and let them know who you are and what you are after.
“Sometimes only the 50% of rentals actually get listed on Trade Me,” says Ashley. “You want to be on their radar so you are on their mind even before the house hits the open market.”
Use every connection you have
“Don’t underestimate your circle,” says Kerry. “Ask your friends, family, and acquaintances if they know of any properties up for rent, or if they have any connections to property managers. If you are young but can get a personal recommendation, and avoid jumping through so many hoops, that is a no-brainer.”
“If your friends rent through the same agency, that’s as much of an inroad as you need,” says Ashley. “Ask them to send your CV through to their property manager and let them know what you are looking for. If your friend is a good tenant, you’ll have a solid referral automatically.”
How do you make a good impression at a viewing?
Arrive early and be considerate
“Getting there early always looks great. And always take off your shoes,” says Ashley. “Go through the home at the beginning, and then come out and start the conversation with the agent at the door. Or linger in the property until you're the last one that they talk with so that you stick in the memory.”
If someone is living in the home, ask before opening cupboards or going into certain areas of the house. “This shows you are considerate and respectful, which is attractive from a tenancy point of view,” he says.
If you are a group, try your best to have everyone at the viewing. “It is really hard to make a judgement call from paper, so we want to meet everyone and get a gut feeling about them as a group,” says Ashley. But if someone can’t make it, explain to the agent why.
The goal is to make a connection with the agent so they remember you
One thing I’ve definitely learned is to not leave the viewing until you have had a decent chat with the agent or landlord. After you ask questions about the property, have a chat about other things like your experience finding a flat so far (any funny or horror stories), why you're moving, or what you do for a living. It can feel a bit awkward transitioning to other topics, but this is your golden opportunity to make a lasting impression.
“The whole aim is to create some form of connection with us because connection is what people remember, not fact. You want to be as memorable as possible,” says Ashley.
Ashley recommends talking about your plans to revamp the place. “This shows agents you care about making the house and home, and you will look after the place,” he says.
“If people can show me they are switched on, have a good personality, and can have a decent conversation, that really helps,” says Kerry. She recommends talking about how you like to garden (if you do) and offer to take care of the property’s garden. “That’s one less thing for the landlord to worry about, or pay for, and shows you are responsible,” says Kerry.
I actually tried this and joked about how my flatmate had grown herbs in an outdoor bathtub. When I rang the agent the following day he said “Oh it’s you, the one who plants in the bath!”
Kerry also recommends designating a “confident spokesperson” who communicates the most with the agent after the viewing, to avoid losing track of who is who.
Say you are flexible around when you can move in, or that you can move in immediately
When I asked a landlord who turned us down why he didn’t choose us as tenants (cringe), he said it was simply because we couldn’t move in immediately, and another group could.
Lesson learned: if you can move in right away, make this clear at the viewing and in your application. Every week a house stays vacant, the landlord is losing money - so no downtime is most ideal for them. If you can’t move in immediately, ask whether they can be flexible.
Be upfront about how you are young
“Tell the agent, ‘look, we know we are a younger group and some homeowners might have some concerns,” says Kerry.
Then, ask what you can provide to convince them you’re good tenants. “Why not ask them? They will know exactly what the homeowner has requested, you might find out they prefer to rent to groups over families because there are multiple sources of income,” she says.
What can I do after the viewing?
Follow up with a call to the landlord or agent
“Don’t be afraid to get on the phone to follow up on your application. Don’t be passive, but also don’t be a stalker. Thank them for their time, let them know you are excited about the property and ask if they need any further information,” says Kerry.
If the property wasn't right for you, that’s okay. Instead of ending it there, ring the agent and let them know you are after something different and ask them to let you know if something else pops up.
Be transparent about any red flags you might have
“When you have transparency, you have more trust,” says Kelvin. If you haven’t got a good credit score, for example, instead of being “found out”, Kevin recommends just being upfront and explaining what happened, and that you have been working to improve it.
Even with all this info, I still can’t find a house
After two months of tirelessly looking for a flat, I’ve decided to take a break and re-appreciate living at home. I found the process incredibly draining and needed to take a break from what felt kind of like a second job. It made me sad that even in spite of knowing this long list of “helping tips” (or excessive requirements) the task still felt out of my reach.
My search for what seemed like useful advice just exposed (once again) how unfair and depressing it is to be a renter in New Zealand. And unfortunately when you’re young or someone who doesn’t fit the bill for whatever reason, the odds are even less in our favour.
If every person deserves the right to an affordable home that won’t make them sick, why are they so hard to find?