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Finding a rental apartment in Vancouver

Sunset in Vancouver's west end

Time has been flying by. In late October, RD and I started talking about moving in together. The timing seemed perfect: my home was on the market, and he had been thinking of leaving his house as well. I accepted an offer on my townhouse on November 2nd, and we had a 1-year lease signed on a cute little laneway house by November 10th.

If you live in Vancouver, you’ll probably relate to how nuts the rental market is here. According to CMHC, the rental vacancy rate sits at 0.8%. That is a crazy figure, and while it’s always been like that in Vancouver, I never really understood what it meant to have to deal with it. When I first moved here, the woman whose job I was taking recommended me to her landlord. So not only did I take her job, but I took her apartment too. :) Then I moved into New West (where rentals were quite easy to find), then out to Port Coquitlam, and then I bought my townhouse – where I’ve lived for the last 5 years.

Related: How I saved for my down payment

I’ll admit that even though the rental process was stressful, we have had an easier time than most people finding a place to live. Here’s how we did it:

Knowing what you want

We knew exactly what we wanted: a clean one-bedroom apartment with lots of light (no basement suites) in pretty specific areas of East Vancouver. That’s it. We had no sq.ft. requirements, gave up dedicated parking, and weren’t even picky about in-suite laundry (although secretly I was only showing him listings that had dedicated laundry).

There were also secondary things that would be “nice to have.” Like hardwood floors, a quiet tree-lined street, lots of storage, free parking, and I didn’t want to live in a boring, cookie-cutter apartment if we could help it.

Set your budget

Our original budget was $1,400, but we realized after a day of searching that it wasn’t going to give us what we wanted (see point above). Our main must-have was to find a place in one of our desired neighbourhoods. So our budget slowly began to rise. This increased the inventory available to us, and the places got nicer. Not even close to luxury nice, but definitely better. We weren’t sure where to draw the line as we crept closer to $1,700, but I remember RD showed me a listing his friend sent him that was $1,850. We both cringed at the rent and decided $1,700 was the maximum we would pay. I mean, if we’re going to rent, we’d better both be saving money as well, right?

Be quick (really quick)

Since I’m glued to my computer most of the day, I made sure to check Craigslist every couple of hours. This may seem a bit obsessive, but we learned quickly that apartments go FAST. It’s pretty much a given that if an apartment listing has been up on Craigslist for more than 24 hours, it’s already gone. So to get ahead of the competition, I checked online all the time and RD and I were in constant communication.

Get organized

I’ve never had to deal with renting in Vancouver before, but RD knew what was up. So he had printed up all of our information to take to open houses, so that we apply immediately. We lost one apartment because we decided to fill out an application later that evening, so when the laneway house came up and I was out of town, RD went to see the open house and filled out an application on the spot.

Look good on paper

RD pointed out that we are desirable tenants because we look good on paper. We are in our 30’s with stable jobs and comfortable incomes. We have good references, don’t smoke, and don’t have pets. And when you show up to open houses with your act together (see above point) you end up looking pretty good.

Have your finances in order

We had all our finances worked out so that when the house was offered to us, we could sign the lease and put down a damage deposit immediately without having to wait and shift around money. PC Financial, for example, makes you wait until the next business day to access any money from your savings accounts.

What was your experience renting your last apartment?
Was the process difficult, or fairly easy?



From home ownership to renting

I mentioned in a previous post that my housing situation has changed dramatically. In the summer I hinted at the idea of selling my house and moving into Vancouver to be closer to work, my friends, and where I spend most of my life. So back in August, I put my townhouse on the market just to see what would happen. There was a lot of interest, and finally I accepted an offer earlier this month. :)

That means I’m moving! But I’m not just moving into an apartment… I’m going to live out my small space living fantasy by renting out a laneway house in Vancouver. For those that are not from the Vancouver area and might be unfamiliar with laneway houses, these homes are typically built on a pre-existing lot (usually someone’s backyard). They are usually detached from the main house and open onto the back lane. My laneway house is a two-storey, two-bedroom house that measures about 685 sq.ft. It’s extremely cute, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to live just a 10 min. drive to work, and within a few blocks of my favourite neighbourhood in Vancouver.

I had a short introduction into small space living in 2012, when I lived in a 215 sq.ft. apartment with a boyfriend for a year in Germany I don’t think I would want to live in a space that small long-term with another person (at least not that specific space – it did not function very well and there was no storage), but it definitely showed me that I can do with a lot less than what I have and still be completely happy. So now that there’s 685 sq.ft. for two people, it seems really doable.

With my new job, I will also be getting a modest bump in salary, which will increase my monthly saving amount. But I want to get right to the fun stuff – and that’s creating a new budget for a new living situation. :)

This is what my initial thoughts are for my new budget:

January 2016 Proposed Budget

A few things to note:

  • This is not a fair representation of home ownership vs. renting as I’m also going from living alone to living with somebody else. Creating this mock budget for the first time really made me realize how much more I was spending over the last 5 years living solo. Back in the summer, I did create another mock budget to see how much I’d save if I went from owning to renting as a single person ($400/month). So while this isn’t a truly fair representation, it doesn’t result in a *massive* difference in my budget living with someone vs. living solo.
  • My townhouse had rental restrictions. A lot of people suggested that I rent out my townhouse and move into the city. However, my building did not allow for rentals, so this just wasn’t an option for me.
  • Monthly rent on this house is $1,650. For a two bedroom in an extremely desirable area in Vancouver, this is quite reasonable, but definitely not the cheapest option out there.
  • We will be splitting the cost of utilities and internet. Electricity will go up a bit as we are heating a whole house, but that increase is offset by the fact that it’s now a shared expense. Renter’s insurance has been quoted at $30 per month.
  • I anticipate my monthly grocery budget will go down a little bit as I’ll have more time to prepare more meals from scratch.
  • Car insurance is not accurate – it will likely cost a bit more now that I live in Vancouver.
  • The cost of gas is cut in half now that my daily commute to work is 10 minutes instead of 45-60 minutes. :)

Related: Single? It’s costing you more than you think.)

As you can see, I *think* I’ll be able to slash over $700 from my budget each month without changing my lifestyle through variable expenses. Unless I’ve made some glaring error. This is a significant amount, and I am really excited about it. If you add to that my modest pay raise, and if I am vigilant in saving my savings, I could potentially put away an additional $1,000+ each month.

On renting or buying in Vancouver

Vancouver is expensive.

Okay, yes, stating the obvious. I’ve known this for years,  yet I never really understood it until I started looking for a place to live close to downtown Vancouver. I’ve always lived in the suburbs – whether it was Burnaby, New Westminster, or Port Coquitlam. Rent and housing is cheaper out here – not by much – but definitely manageable.

Now that I’m about three weeks into my search for a new place to live, I finally understand what people are talking about when they describe how horrible the rental and real estate market is in Vancouver. For $1,300 to $1,400 in rent, I could get a small outdated apartment – that is if I can snap it up fast enough off of Craigslist. It seems like as soon as they are posted, they’re taken down. So after a while, I started increasing the amount I was willing to pay in rent. Because, the lifestyle is worth not having the commute, right? For $1,500 to $1,600 I’ll get a more modern (but definitely smaller) apartment.

And it was at that moment – when I briefly considered spending $1,500+ on rent – that I decided to look at potentially buying a home in Vancouver. With a budget of around what my current home is worth, I got to work with my Realtor to look at my options. I realized right away I wouldn’t get everything on my checklist. Every place I looked at had something wrong with it – no in-suite laundry, too far away from my preferred neighbourhood, sky high condo fees, or needed a ton of work I just wasn’t willing to take on. There are some things I’m willing to overlook (like no parking – I can park on the street, and I’d be willing to do some renovations), but location and monthly condo fees are deal breakers for me.

So now I feel a bit stuck. I don’t want to live in the suburbs. I don’t want a roommate. I don’t want to pay $1,500/month in rent. And I don’t want to buy another condo if I can’t find what I’m looking for.

The good thing is that I have time. I’m in no rush to sell my place. The bad news is that the thought of trying to find a new place to live is making me a bit stressed out at the moment. :)

P.S. I am sorry for coming back to the blog and then disappearing again. Things got crazy for a while with work (summer holidays means a way bigger workload for me) as well as in my personal life, but it has all settled down now.

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