Finding your dream home in Oz
Many Irish families are moving to Australia, but house prices and rents are rising, so you need to do your homework, writes CIARA KENNY
AUSTRALIA IS one of the main destinations for Irish people leaving in search of employment abroad, but finding a new place to live so far from home is a major challenge, especially for families who have to consider access to work, childcare, schools and public transport, while trying to work out affordability in a different currency. So what should people expect when searching for a home in Australia?
Following several years of rapid growth, which led to speculation that Australia was experiencing a property bubble similar to Ireland’s before the crash, the property market in Australia contracted slightly last year. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that house prices fell by about 5 per cent nationally in 2011, with slight increases recorded in Perth, Hobart and Canberra.
But according to RP Data, a company which provides property information and analytics for Australia, prices are on the rise again, with values in Sydney increasing by 1.1 per cent since January. The average price for a house in Sydney last month was $572,000 (€446,000), with homes in Perth averaging $455,000 (€355,000) and Melbourne $495,000 (€386,000).
Karen Hennessy, a founding member of the Irish Families in Perth social network, says the vast majority of Irish families are wary of buying property when they first arrive, and choose to rent instead.
“A lot of people are coming over here with mortgages in arrears. They have experienced first-hand what happened with the housing bubble in Ireland and are unlikely to get involved with buying again any time soon,” she says.
Rental properties don’t come cheap, however. Last year, the average three-bed house in Sydney cost $440 (€343) per week, but properties close to the city or in sought-after suburbs can cost up to twice that amount. In Perth, the average price was significantly lower at $370 (€288), and in Melbourne, a similar home was $350 (€273).
According to LJ Hooker, one of the largest real estate agents in the country, rents have increased by about 6 per cent over the past five years, a trend that is predicted to continue. In areas where property is in high demand, the increase has been much steeper, with those in Perth rising by 10 per cent last year alone.
“The rental market in Perth has really gone through the roof recently because of the mining boom in Western Australia,” says Hennessy. “People are offering $50 or $100 a week over the asking price for rental properties, just so they can be assured they will get the house they want. House prices seem to be evening out, though, and you can get good value if you are happy to live a distance from the city.”
When choosing a location, schools should be one of the primary considerations for families, according to Lesley Snell, who runs Northern Beaches Know-How, a relocation service in Sydney. If you want to send your child to a state or Catholic school, you will need to be living within the school’s catchment area.
“It is worth checking with the school how strictly these zones are imposed, but popular schools will enforce the rules more tightly if they are close to capacity,” she says. “Those planning to sent their children to private schools will be less constrained, but it is still worth checking public transport routes if the school is not within walking distance from where you want to live.”
According to Snell, husbands who gain employment with large companies in Australia will often travel out first, with the wives and children joining them a few months later. “If they are coming over on a sponsored visa through a large company, they will have temporary accommodation provided for them as part of their package,” she says.
Those who arrive independently can rent temporary furnished accommodation through websites such as Rentahome.com.auand Stayz.com.auwhile they are searching for a more permanent home. Young, single travellers often opt to stay in a hostel at first, and hostel noticeboards can be a good place to find advertisements for rooms to rent in shared houses or apartments.
Competition is fierce for rental properties in the cities and suburbs of Perth, Sydney and Melbourne, so if you are going to view a property, Snell advises people to be prepared to pay a deposit straight away and bring all the necessary paperwork to the viewing. Australian landlords and agencies require more documentation from tenants than in Ireland, and some of the groundwork for this should be done before you leave for Australia. You will need photo identification, proof of current employment and salary, a letter to show you have an Australian bank account, two character references, and a letter from a previous landlord; if you have a mortgage in Ireland, you will also need to provide a letter from the Irish bank to show your repayments are being made on time.
Tenants are usually required to pay a month’s rent in advance, plus a rental bond, which is usually equivalent to an additional month’s rent. Rental properties usually come furnished, but appliances such as washing machines, dishwashers and fridges may not be included. This can add a considerable amount to your start-up costs, but secondhand machines are often advertised cheaply on websites such as Gumtree.com.au. It is also worth checking if there has been a recent pest inspection, as cockroaches, spiders, ants and pantry moths are common in Australia, and landlords are responsible for their extermination.
Those who are renting out their property in Ireland will have to declare rental income on their annual tax return in Australia. Expenses such as agency fees or maintenance and repair costs for the property in Ireland can be claimed back from the Australian government, and in certain instances you may also be entitled to a refund on interest paid on an Irish mortgage. See the Australian Taxation Office website for more information ( ato.com.au). A good accountant will be able to advise.
The distance between Ireland and Australia means that most people will not be able to visit before they make the big move, and landlords are not permitted to rent properties to tenants unseen. Snell advises setting aside some work-free time in the first couple of weeks to find a suitable place to live, and doing as much research in advance of the move as possible.
One to buy, one to rent in Perth
For sale: 137 Leake Street, Belmont
This large 4-bedroom home, situated in the Belmont area to the south of the city, is ideal for families.
Situated on 480 sq m of land, there’s a galley-style open-plan kitchen, separate lounge area, and a large outdoor patio with a salt-water pool. Ducted evaporative air-conditioning has been installed throughout, with roof insulation and roller shutters to reduce energy consumption.
A shopping strip and several schools and parks are within walking distance.
Council rates: $1477.91 (€1,157)
Water rates: $956.20
Agent: LJ Hooker Victoria Park ljhooker.com.au0061-89473-7777
To let: 112/128 Carr Street, West Perth
Situated in the West Perth area in the centre of the city, this small but recently renovated two-bedroom apartment has a new kitchen and bathroom, and varnished timber flooring. The apartment is fully furnished. All amenities are within walking distance, but there is also an allocated parking space.
Rent: $320 (€250) per week
Agent: LJ Hooker Residential – East Perth ljhooker.com.au0061-89325-0700
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