How to find a room in Melbourne without going crazy?

You are in Melbourne, the city voted as “most livable city in the world”, six years in a row. Congratulations!

The Aussies are welcoming you with a smile and you are happy to be here. The honeymoon period and the excitement are blurring your vision until that one moment — you have started looking for a long-term room.

My Story

I arrived to Melbourne on the 16th of July 2016 to study Masters in Communications and Public Relations. Packed my bags, left Belgrade, Serbia, many close friends, family, their warm hugs and endless laughter, good job and everything which others might describe as a “good life” and came to Australia. Sound exciting! And it is.

If you are coming to Melbourne to work, study long or short-term, find a new career or “reinvent yourself” as one of the girls I met said, you will be needing a place to stay. This is where your adventure starts. Adventure or misery?

Before you arrive

If you are lucky, you will fall into that category of new comers who have friends or family here. And that is good. If they offer help, temporary accommodation, advice, tips and stories — accept all and listen carefully. Trust me, you will need all the help you can get. And being offered free accommodation or either budget-friendly one is a big deal here.

Why do I say this?

Because I am in the other category. While I was packing, I remember being asked “Do you know where you will go after the plane lands?” That was a good question. I had no idea.

At the time, I just knew that I am on my own and that I need to meet locals. Knowing that, I started telling everyone that I would be moving and living in Melbourne.

And somebody always knows somebody. So after a few days, I managed to make at least some connections here, added a few people on Facebook and remembered I do know one person, a girl who I met during my previous travels. Now, I honestly hope some of those contacts would turn into lasting friendships.

So where did I go after the plane landed? My new FB connections advised me to find a temporary accommodation for two weeks.

And that is the best piece of advice for any new comer.

TIP 1: Find temporary accommodation for two/three weeks or a month until you figure out where you want to live.

If there is someone here offering you to stay with them, accept it. Rent prices are high, you will need to save as much as you can. Not to mention the “tips and tricks” you will hear from locals which will be priceless during those confusing first days.

Typical houses in the northern Melbourne suburbs. Photo: realestate.com.au

How to find temporary accommodation?

Besides asking friends of friends, use the social media. That is what worked for me — FB groups and pages, to be exact. Here are the links:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/117412174975402/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/Melbourne.flatshare/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/498915220208421/

Basically, I wrote a post in all of these, stating my arrival date, what I am looking for, budget and invited people who had a room to offer to write to me in Inbox. Soon, a guy who was traveling abroad offered me his room in a fabulous central location. At first, it looked too good to be true. Besides this, numerous thoughts were rushing through my head — Who would I be living with? What if I don't get along with my flatmates? Also, I had to transfer a deposit to his bank account, thinking — What if something goes wrong? How do I know this is not a scam? Luckily, it wasn’t.

My temporary accommodation turned out to be a luxurious one, a room with a private bathroom, which is a rare find here. The flatmates were great guys and due to my problems with finding a long-term solution, I ended up staying there four weeks.

Finding long-term accommodation

This is where my troubles started. I had no idea it was going to be this difficult. My first resources were the above mentioned FB groups, hoping that I would be lucky as the first time. It just didn't work. People kept posting ads for available rooms, but only around 20% of them replied to my messages. Why?

The demand here is greater than the supply. More than one third of all students in Melbourne are international students and this city is one of the most desirable destinations for study. And all these people need a place to stay. Let’s not forget the young professionals, exchange students who come here for just one semester and others who are also your competitors in this shared accommodation market.

Students, young professionals, both singles and even couples live in shared houses or flats. This was one of the biggest culture shocks for me, as I had no idea that the rent prices were so high that even full-time working professionals in their early thirties could not so comfortably afford to live alone in the inner city area. This is a topic I am still investigating, but I am giving you this info only to make you realize how competitive the real estate market here is.

As I was becoming desperate and without any hope, I had to ask for help from my local FB contacts — “What works here and how do I find a room?”.

The answer is — certain web sites dedicated to finding shared accommodation. I will give you a list, and all have proven to be very useful.

Flatmatefinders — http://flatmatefinders.com.au/ — this is an excellent web site, free to use, which matches your profile with what the advertisers are looking for. Therefore, create an honest profile, upload a photo, state your budget and desirable locations/suburbs, write about yourself and the site will show the best matches. Likewise, your profile will appear as a match to potential flat advertisers. You can contact your matches via private messages or call/sms. I arranged most of my inspections through this site.

Flatmates — http://flatmates.com.au/ — here you also need to create a profile and then connect with the room advertisers. Do pay for the upgrade (which is around 20 AUD), so that you can immediately contact any new listings and arrange inspections. It is worth the money, as all good and clean rooms go off the market quickly.

Gumtree — http://gumtree.com.au/ — this is a well-know web site for all kinds of buying, selling and anything you might need. You will also see here some of the ads posted on other accommodation web sites. Although I was warned that the site is huge and that I should be careful of scammers, I found my current long-term room here. It just turned out this way, so be sure to look here as well. You can buy used furniture in good condition here, like I bought my desk and chair.

https://m.realestate.com.au/— this is a web site dedicated not only to renting, but also to buying property. Also, a profile is needed and then you can browse, contact others and arrange inspections. Both agencies and individuals advertise here. There is also an app you can download and have a look at the new ads while commuting to the University.

TIP 2: Calls and SMS are better than private messages, as the advertisers will reply more quickly and you will more easily book an inspection. Therefore, call or text, unless otherwise stated in the ad. This method has given the best results.

Where to live?

Melbourne is a huge city, therefore to a new comer who is completely confused like I was upon arrival, and can honestly say that still am, a clear advice “live here — don’t live there” is hard to give. Why?

Because every area has its own vibe. As the locals have told me, there is a silent division between the northern and the southern suburbs. The northern ones, as I have heard are cool, hip, hipster friendly, with many artists, urban, with trendy coffee&food cafes, restaurants and clubs (areas like Carlton, Fitzroy, Brunswick, Collingwood, Northcote).

The southern areas are for beach lovers, more elegant (in my opinion), attracting the higher middle class and the richer citizens. Those are areas like South Yara, Richmond, Elwood. Again, I am new to the city so my opinion of the suburbs and areas can (and probably would) change. I have barely scratched the surface.

This is the “division” which the locals know and feel, to a new comer who can judge only by the first impression and some kind of general feeling, it will all depend on your personal preferences and where your study/work is located.

Safety is, as I have been told, not a big issue here. Here are some of the tips I got from the locals:

Avoid western suburbs (haven't been there yet, so not sure if there is real threat)
Avoid St. Kilda (not sure this is a dangerous area, from what I have heard it has occasional drugs&prostitution problems, but the area leaning towards Balaclava and Elwood seems safer and more family-friendly). The main street is full of bars and cafes, safe during the day from what I have seen.
If you are going to live in Preston, the High Street is the “border”. Don’t go above the High Street (tip from a local).

TIP 3: Carefully look at the train (metro) and tram map and see which lines go to your university or workplace. Try to find a room that is near the train station, as this is the fastest way of getting around town. Avoid the buses, they are too slow. If you can find a place that is on the same train line as your work/school, that would be ideal. Even better, it would be just a walking distance away. But that just seems too good to be true.

The good side of your impending room search, which would take days or weeks, is that you would see different suburbs this way. I remember how, on one of the busy Saturdays, I had 7 booked inspections, many in different suburbs. Only two were liveable for my standards, but at least I saw many new areas and had a taste of how far they are, what kind of vibe they have and tried to imagine myself living there.

Why is it so hard?

Besides the obvious reason of high demand-low supply and crazy high prices, I found it very hard to find something clean. Maybe my standards are higher than local ones, but I just couldn’t imagine living in a room with stained walls and carpets. Also, I have seen many bathrooms with paint peeling from walls, mold, dust and similar. And all this for a very high price. What it shocked me is that somehow the owners or other housemates there somehow considered it to be OK, without showing any discomfort because of the condition the room was in.

Beside the cleanness, it is also difficult to find housemates you could imagine living with. Trust me, when you enter a house or a flat, you will either get that “I could live here” or the “Run for the hills” feeling. Not saying that something was wrong with those people, just that there was no chemistry between us.

TIP 4: Ask the “stupid” questions before booking an inspection. For example, there will be ads with great photos of the living room, kitchen and bathroom and you could think “wow, here is something finally”, only to realize that the room does not have a window!! Therefore, ask for the window, internet, washing machine, and whatever you need. If they are hiding photos of the room, there is a huge reason for that.

Some people are very strict about who they want as their housemate — reading the ads sometimes looks like reading dating ads. People state what they do and like, what they eat, their sexual preferences and age. And a lot of them are very restrictive on all of the above. You will see sentences like “This is an alcohol and meat free house” or “Must be queer friendly” or “ Must be below 30 years of age”.

Maybe we could be good housemates even if you are 22 and I am 34, or even if I eat meat and you don’t, because there are a million of other things which make a “match” between two people, but some people here seem to think otherwise and are very strict on choosing their new housemate.

You will like the room, the people, the house and the price, and they will choose somebody else. Yes, that has happened a few times. Just when you think “Finally!”, they call to inform that you are not the one.

It feels exactly like when a guy tells you — You are a great girl, but I am marrying somebody else. Let’s be friends……

Location-location-location — It is all about location, as everywhere else in the world. And money. If you have from 1000 AUD to spend for a room monthly, you could find something decent, clean and big, with natural light, friendly housemates or maybe even live alone in a studio.

To be honest, you will go a little crazy during your room search. Unless you know something that I don’t.

And again, just like in dating, as soon as you say “Yes” to some room, others will want you too.

If you are in Melbourne, let me know. We could meet for a coffee. :)

Also, feel free to share with me your room searching experiences.