Finding your ideal condo to rent in Toronto can seem as daunting as winning the lottery.
With not many purpose-built apartments and row houses available, many in the rental market turn to condos. But there is not a plentiful supply of condos either.
But, take heart; with these tips below, you’ll be prepared to land your ideal condo — or apartment for that matter — in your ideal neighbourhood.
Let’s first look at the obstacles. Rents are rising and condo and apartment availability is declining, according to Rentals.ca and Bullpen and Research & Consulting’s latest rental report.
A recent story in the Toronto Star said the vacancy rate for the Greater Toronto Area is 1.1 per cent, putting the rental vacancy rate in the city at its lowest in 16 years.
“The new mortgage stress test, higher interest rates, and housing prices have caused a dramatic increase in the number of people looking for rental homes this year,” said Matt Danison, CEO of Rentals.ca.
And, rent for a one-bedroom in Toronto is $2,144, while rent for a two-bedroom is averaging $2,576, according to the latest rent report from Rentals.ca.
“A surge in demand has also added to increasing rents,” added Ben Myers, President Bullpen Research & Consulting Inc.
Higher immigration and the steady influx of students also adds to that demand.
Here are some tips to get in front of the line and stay ahead of the pack when looking for your ideal home to rent:
Tips on how to rent a condo in Toronto
1) Make a budget and stick to it
Figure out ahead of time what your budget is — and stick to it! It’s easy to get shiny object syndrome and keep pushing your budget as you find nicer and nicer condos for rent in Toronto. When you view it, it may emotionally feel right, but your bank account will hate you.
Only look at condos for rent that fall within your budget. Be realistic and factor in added costs as well, such as utilities, parking fees, and commuting fees.
2) Narrow down where you want to live
Make a list of what you want in your neighbourhood, such as safety, nearby schools, proximity to work, nearby parks, restaurants, and whatever else is important to you. Also, create a list of what you must have, will not have, and would like to have. Then, work from the list to rate the condos you are viewing.
The day of your visit, you might forget one of them without the list. Next thing you know, you’ve signed a one-year lease for a new condo or apartment without that high-pressure shower head you can’t live without.
With a list, landlords will notice you came prepared. Preparedness will make you stand out as a potential stellar renter. If it comes down to you or someone else getting that one in a million condo, the landlord is likely to remember who came well-prepared.
3) Drive, walk, bicycle the top neighbourhoods you choose and talk to some of the residents who have lived there awhile
Take a stroll and/or a drive to get a feel for the residents, to gauge the flow of traffic, and to see if it fits your lifestyle and demographic. Take note of any “For Rent” signs and traffic flow for commutes.
4) Scope out the area electronically
Now that you’ve got an area narrowed down, time to do some electronic reconnaissance. If you aren’t familiar with a neighbourhood, check it out on Google Street View and see if it’s to your liking. Some renters prefer to live in gentrified neighbourhoods. Others might choose to live in the hustle and bustle of downtown. By doing a bit of electronic research, you can help narrow your search.
Try a listing site with a map view which makes it easier to drill down your search to find condos for rent in Toronto. You can also use the power of Google Alerts. Set up a basic Google Alert with keywords relevant to the neighborhoods you like. Whenever the search engine finds them on a new page, you’ll get an alert.
And, this is a big one when viewing a property: Be sure to check your phone’s reception from every location in the condo or apartment when you view it. Unreliable reception can be a daily nuisance.
5) Check an area’s crime statistics
If you’re new to Toronto, you might not be familiar with the good and bad spots. The Toronto Police Service puts out a crime map for all neighborhoods in the city.
6) Leverage your social network
Ask friends, family, and coworkers if they know of any good condo or apartment rental units available. Who knows, you might also get insight into the neighbourhood you’re considering. You might even stumble upon that one person who knows the city inside and out, and where all the trendy areas are.
Social media is also a great spot to find information. Check out CBC, and the Certified Rental Building Program for rental information
Finally, a post on Facebook asking for help or information costs you nothing. Put those 400+ friends to work!
7) Check what others said about a property
You can check if the property is listed in the bed bug registry. Read everything you can about a condo, apartment complex or property management company before you sign a lease. Remember that there will always be someone unhappy with their condo who is ranting online.
And real problems arise that get resolved, though the web rants remain. However, if you consistently find many recently posted negative comments about one of your options, get more information and proceed with caution
8) Viewings are like job interviews
In most viewings, you’ll be meeting the landlords. While you’re there to see if the condo or apartment fit your needs, the landlord is also assessing you. You need to instill a sense of trust that you’ll take good care of the condo or apartment and won’t be a hassle for him or her. It’s the same dynamic as in a job interview.
Here are key points that will make a good impression on a landlord:
- Arrive on time. If you’re going to be late, text them the reason and when you plan on arriving
- Be friendly and polite
- With a competitive condo market, you need to be flexible in viewing times as units come up. You want to be first in making a good impression
- Have a personal letter with your biography ready to give to a prospective condo landlord or property manager, so they get to know you better and so they trust you with their property
- Take your shoes off when entering the unit; that shows respect and indicates that you will take pride in and care of his or her rental while you live there
- Shut off any lights behind you, close any cupboards you open and put anything you move back in place
- Look reasonable. A suit and tie or business dress aren’t necessary, but wouldn’t hurt. But shorts, T-shirts and jogging pants — please leave in your closet
During the visit, be attentive to the questions the landlord asks you. Did he or she forego a proof of employment, reference or credit check? Those checks may not have been made on your future neighbors either. This might be a sign the building isn’t properly managed or that you might have a few sketchy neighbours.
9) Be ready to close on the spot
Bring a proof of employment (2-3 pay stubs over the last months), references and cheques to any viewings. Imagine finding that perfect condo or apartment and losing it. The reason? You had to go home to pick up missing documents while someone else came in and swooped up the deal. In some competitive neighbourhoods, that little detail could make a big difference.
Remember to take your time and not get carried away with emotions. Any lease is negotiable so don’t be afraid to ask for a discount, no matter what the market is like. And of course, before signing, read the lease from start to finish. A good landlord will be more than willing to clarify any points you’re unsure about.
Do not sign a lease until you have read and understand all elements. Some rental agreements contain pages and pages of legalese with addenda for a variety of things.
Reputable leasing agents and property managers will let you review the lease before they add dates and dollar amounts. A good landlord will also take you through the entire lease and explain all the elements.
10) And last: The devil is in the details
Know your rights — Check out these sites before viewing a condo or signing a lease: Residential Tenancies Act and Condo Authority Ontario.
Use the video on your phone — A picture is worth a thousand words, but video is worth more. Take quick video clips of the pros, cons, and general feel of each condo or apartment you visit. Having video will keep you from confusing the details of the different condos you view, and when you’re making your final decision later.
Pre-measure your furniture — You won’t have time to go back and check that your king-sized bed will fit in the bedroom, or that there’s enough space for your dining table. Bring a list of measurements for your furniture, plus a measuring tape to size up each room. Knowing what you can and can’t bring with you will save you lots of money and hassle. Plus, be sure to make sure your furniture will fit through the door and into the elevator.
Use a checklist to compare favourites — When showings day comes around and you’ve scheduled visits to 5 to 8 different condos for rent in Toronto, you’re going to need to keep track of which is which when the day ends. Avoid feeling confused and overwhelmed by creating a checklist for each condo you see. While you’re there, check off which features and amenities it has. Add notes with your observations about the apartment. And take pictures.
Put all your information into a spreadsheet. This is a good way to track all the condos and apartments you’ve seen, and makes for an organized pros and cons list. Use it to compare prices, neighbourhoods, amenities and utilities.
Move-in in the winter — It is sometimes the case that you have better chances in securing a rental during the winter months, as there is not as much demand.
Check out the small stuff — During showings, get nosy. Look in closets to see how much storage space you really have. Look at the window frames and under sinks for signs of mold. Test out the thermostat and A/C, run the shower, flush the toilets, open and close the windows, and test all the lights.
And some condos don’t necessarily come with a parking spot. Ask to clarify if you will get a place to park with the condo.
Glenn Carter is a real estate writer and investor. Getting his start in single-family home and condo investing, Glenn has since moved on to multi-family investing in the Ottawa area.