Every city is different when it comes to real estate. Not only are the markets different, but knowing what to do when you’re setting up house can be intimidating. Here’s a quick guide to the ins and outs of getting set up in a new apartment in Sydney:
Where to apartment hunt
When I first I arrived, I used Airbnb to find accommodations. This allowed me to explore different suburbs without committing. My Moving To Sydney Checklist recommended that, and using flatmates.com.au or flatmatefinders.com.au if you want to find share housing. If you’re looking to live on your own, head to realestate.com.au and domain.com.au. These aggregate all the newest listings from the real estate companies around Sydney. Luckily, if you use them, you don’t have to pay a broker’s fee. Most of the time, you can directly register – if necessary – for open houses directly on those sites. Open houses are a bit of a doozy themselves – they last 15-20 minutes, normally on a Saturday morning but occasionally during the week; come prepared with questions and if you’re interested, fill out the application immediately. And just like any legitimate real estate application elsewhere, Sydney’s apartment applications will require references, rental history, bank statements, etc. As an expat, I had to make sure I had money moved over to my Australian bank account because my US accounts wouldn’t have been recognised; when I was really interested in an apartment, I talked with the agent about how to make sure I wouldn’t be disqualified because of my visa or residence status.
Rent – how it works
In Sydney, apartments are expensive – but if you’ve lived here for any amount of time or have researched daily life, you already know that. The bond is paid upfront and you will receive notification that it is lodged and held in a safe place until you vacate. Rent is usually listed per week but paid fortnightly or monthly. Utilities, however, are paid quarterly. Internet will be billed monthly. And to set up Internet service, I discussed with my real estate agent about how to get set up in the building; typically, they will recommend a particular service provider that has worked with the building before.
Units – what to expect
Unlike NYC, Sydney apartments often come with laundry facilities. Some are in the building and some are in the unit. It’s not uncommon to find an apartment that has a dryer left behind but you have to buy the washer. The odds of finding a dishwasher are 50/50. Fridges are a bit of a point of contention for me; since I spend a lot of time baking and cooking, a good kitchen is important. I was very disheartened to find fantastic apartments with only room for a bar fridge. Sadly, that’s not too uncommon. If that’s adequate for you, great! Otherwise, keep looking or see if there’s a way to stack multiple bar fridges and freezers so that you get what you need.
Sydney apartments absolutely roast in summer and get really chilly at night in winter. It’s not likely that an apartment will have air con, so make sure you have space and outlets for fans and a space heater.
The fun part! I was relieved to see that Sydney has IKEA, my mecca for pre-fab furniture. Just like in the US, IKEA will deliver and assemble your purchases. If you are concerned about spending too much money on assembly and still don’t want to do it yourself, put an ad out on Airtasker.com.au for how much you’re willing to spend for the job.
Then there’s my true love: Kmart. This is not the Kmart I knew back home in the US. It’s better than Target – although that’s still in my top 5 stores here – with adorable homewares, stylish decor, and well-priced day-to-day items. I shamelessly spent hours at Kmart and came out with everything from pillows and bedding to pots and pans to shelving and tools.
For a few choice items, I splurged at Matt Blatt. His furniture and art are funky but functional. My hot tip is to shop online, create a wishlist, and go into the store to test the furniture’s comfort and colours; if you show your wishlist to the helpful staff, your trip will be fast and organised.
Since I love thrifting, antiquing, and sifting through art stores and boutiques for fantastic finds, I found all kinds of knick-knacks and art at stores all over Sydney that really made my apartment tell my story. Coffee table books from Berkelouw, candles from Paddington Markets, a framed Mulga poster from Newtown’s Blue Dog Posters, original vintage Don King Promotions boxing posters from Darlinghurst’s Dust, and so on.
It’s your apartment, so dress it up how you like! Since I had furnished an entire apartment in NYC with my flare and family heirlooms, it was weird starting totally from scratch. But it’s another part of living life as an expat: nothing is what it used to be, nothing is permanent, everything reflects you.