Apartment Hunting 101
No BS Tips for renters
Read time: 8 minutes
Renting in Toronto is no easy feat, considering that over 47% of Toronto households are renters – and the number is growing. In 2017, over 98,000 condos were rented out in Toronto alone. The average cost of a 1-bedroom unit is $2000 a month. I mean, that’s one of the reasons I decided to live somewhere else in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).
I know that the apartment hunting process can be overwhelming, especially in a city like TO. Trust me, I've had my fair share with 5 apartments under my belt. My post will provide you with no BS tips on this survival of the fittest game that we call the rental market in Toronto.
This post will be split into three parts. The first part will cover some things you may not have thought about in your planning process. In summary, everything you need to know while searching for apartments.
The second part will include what you need to have before going to your viewing appointments, tips to convince your potential landlord that you're the right tenant, plus important tips to bear in mind before signing your lease.
The third and final part will help you prepare for the move-in day. At the end of this part, you'll get a list of new apartment essentials and my favourite stores to shop for those items.
This post is first of the three-part series.
YOUR OPTIONS AS A RENTER
If you want to rent a place in Toronto, you have three options: Apartment, Condo or House. Most millennials go for the first or second option. The third option would make sense if you have some friends that want to live together and can pay their portion of the rent; or if you have a family. Except your bank account is overflowing with dollars, it's not logical to rent a whole house by yourself.
apartment vs condo
Apartments are cheaper than condominiums as a lot of the facilities you'd find in a condo are unavailable in apartment buildings. Things like a gym, pool, tennis court or even a business centre. Condos are also a lot newer and in better condition than apartments as apartments tend to suffer due to lack of regular and timely maintenance.
house vs basement
Renting a house is the most expensive of the three options. Obviously, a house has more square footage than an apartment or a condo. Also, most of the time, the tenant is responsible for more utilities (water, gas, heat) which increases the amount you pay for living there. When you rent a house, you'd be responsible for upkeep like watering the lawn or shovelling snow in the wintertime, but you may not have to do that if you live in a condo or apartment.
A fourth option is a basement apartment. Basements are the cheapest option and most graduates start from renting basements and saving their money until they can afford to rent a condo unit. Basements have their pros and cons, especially units that haven't been renovated in a while.
With all that in mind, here are tips to help with your apartment search.
asking for help
I personally like to search for apartments on my own because I'm so picky and like to do things myself anyway. If you don't have a lot of time to go through all that stress of apartment hunting, you can look into working with a real estate agent or broker.
Some agents will do everything possible to make sure you get an apartment that you like and that is within your budget. Some others are only interested in the fee they get after they help the landlords rent out their apartment. Yes, the landlord pays their fees and not you - another pro of using an agent.
Figure out if working alone or with an agent would be better for you.
research is key
Doing some simple research is important when it comes to looking for your first (or next) apartment. You need to make a list of what you'd like your apartment to have. Do you own a car? Well you need parking, you'd need a functional kitchen if you love to cook, if you are a content creator, you'd need lots of light. You'd need an apartment that is pet-friendly if you have (or plan to adopt) a furry baby.
Would you like a furnished or unfurnished unit? Keep in mind that a furnished unit would increase the rent a little, but wouldn't it be great to come home to a nice apartment and not worry about spending money on decor items to make it feel homey?
I remember finding a beautiful apartment, already furnished with very affordable rent. I was already sold, until I decided to search for the address on Google. Turns out that building was recently renovated after a lot of tragic events like people committing suicide and even murder. Jeez!
When you have a budget and stick to it, it's easier to make responsible financial decisions. Take a look at your budget and figure out how much you can afford to pay monthly for rent. Also factor in utilities and tenant insurance. I've seen some blog posts that recommend allocating 30% of your income to rent and living expenses. I recommend you figure out what works best for you.
That studio apartment with a monthly rent of $1200 may save you more money than the 50th floor of a condominium with a nice view of the CN Tower you would have to pay $2500 for. My advice would be to get the cheaper option and make it yours for the time being. It's not like you'll live there for the rest of your life.
When looking for apartments, location is very important. Rent is usually higher if the unit is close to the city centre and less expensive in the suburbs. If you want to live away from the city centre, consider your commute to work. Would it be worth it to pay cheap rent but have to commute long hours to your place of work every day?
If you like the nightlife in busy neighbourhoods with bars, stores and hangout spots around, consider that when apartment hunting. I don't like living in noisy places as I'm a very light sleeper so that wouldn't work for me.
Another thing to consider is the unit floor. Do you like high or low-rise apartments? I've lived on the 20th floor of a condo and the first floor of another condo. I'll tell you I felt safer on the 20th floor because I didn't have to worry about someone looking through my windows at night. I liked the first floor when I went grocery shopping as it was easier to get to my unit with all those heavy grocery bags.
best time to move in
Choosing when to move in is important, as it can save you some money and stress. Rent is usually cheaper in the winter time because there's little competition and landlords are looking for people to rent their units. On the other hand, moving in the winter might not be the best idea, especially if you live in a place that's really cold and with a lot of snow - messy.
Always be alert as there are a lot of scammers out there. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don't give out any personal information like your SIN or credit report until you have met the owner of the unit in person.
I hope these tips are helpful in your apartment search in Toronto. Remember to always keep an open mind because one apartment may not have everything on your list, or your next possible apartment may have already been rented out before you even get a chance to look at the place.
If you loved this post, here's the second part: Apartment Hunting in Toronto (Part 2) - The Viewing Appointment