Coming from Perth, we were dreading apartment hunting in Vancouver. The rental situation back home was at the point of people bidding against one another for housing because there were that few available, and rental prices were rocketing, so when it came to the point of looking for somewhere to live in Vancouver, we expected it to be quite the ordeal. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
We landed in Vancouver on 9 October 2013 and our plan was to stay a few nights in the city, buy a car, and head out to Sun Peaks, a ski resort, where Gavin had already secured a job as a lifty and I had a few interviews lined up. The night of the tenth we looked at each other and could tell we were both thinking the same thing – as much as we wanted to experience life on a mountain, we had fallen in love with Vancouver and we more wanted to live in this beautiful city for a year. It was time to begin apartment hunting.THE HUNT
Just three days after we arrived, we spent the day looking for an apartment. A guy we’d met in a store (where we spent a fortune on all new snowboarding equipment which we ended up only using once…but that’s another story) had recommended the website/app Padmapper which shows all the available apartments in an area on Google maps. We would highly recommend it, it made our lives so much easier – it pulls apartments from all different websites so that they’re combined into one, gives you a small preview on the map, and then links you to the full ad.
After having wandered around the city for a few days, we’d decided we would love to live in the West End, the area where our hotel was and where we got our first taste of Vancouver. If you’re not sure where you want to live, the best way to decide is to just walk around the area, see what’s close by, and to chat to people working or living there to get a feel for the lifestyle. Think about all those practical things as well – public transport options, job opportunities, how far it is from downtown, proximity to food shops and outdoor areas for exercise if you’re not going to join a gym. For us, the West End was perfect – it was close to the beach, Stanley Park and had heaps of places to go for dinner or coffee, as well as still being within very reasonable walking distance from downtown. However, if you’re more into boutique shopping and stylish restaurants you’d be more suited to Yaletown, or if your thing is bars and nightlife, possibly Gastown.
Once you’ve decided on an area, give yourself a budget to stick to. It makes it much easier to narrow down the options and makes sure you’re not going to be living beyond your means. Of course, you probably don’t have a job yet like we didn’t, so consider what you may be earning (we based it on minimum wage to be safe) and come up with a monthly figure. We decided on $1200. In saying this, if you’ve followed our tips on How to Save Money to Travel the World and can be a little flexible then go for it. We could have budgeted $800 and lived a lot further out of the city, but we wouldn’t have had the amazing view that we ended up with and the great location and lifestyle, which is what made our time in Vancouver one of the best times of our lives. In the end, we walked into an apartment and both died at how incredible the view was – and ended up spending $1450.
There is definitely no shortage of rentals in Vancouver, and we could basically pick what we liked. We called a few dozen people and found the best way to keep track of the apartments was to save the phone number and then take a photo of the ad and attach it to the contact – this way, when they called us back, the photo of the apartment came up as a preview before we answered, so we knew which place we were talking about.
One of the things to keep in mind is that generally the current tenant only has to give a month’s notice to the building before their departure, so if you’re looking around the start or middle of the month like we were, it can be very difficult to find somewhere that is already vacant so that you can move in straight away. We were really lucky and found somewhere that was empty already as they hadn’t been able to fill it the previous month, but a lot of the ones we looked at we were going to have to wait until the 1 November, which would have meant another 20 nights of accommodation expense somewhere else.
While you’re looking, be sure to ask the building manager about costs of electricity, water and heating. Electricity was ridiculously cheap in the building we lived in – around $15 a month – we were used to paying up to $70 a month in Perth! Water and heating were both included in the rent. A quick google search should give you an idea of Internet costs so keep that in mind too, we went with Telus and it was around $35 a month.
We booked in to see five places – seven apartments and five hours later and we had a clear winner.THE TECHNICALITIES
As soon as we made our decision we called the building manager back and asked if we could put in an application – she was available so we went round immediately. Applying for a place in Vancouver is rather casual compared to Australia – we just had to complete an application form with all our details, provide proof of either employment or sufficient funds (bank statement) and read through and sign off on the terms and conditions.
Make sure you ask about the terms of the contract and understand it thoroughly. We had to sign up for a year but we ended up in a Hollyburn Properties building and as it is a large company rather than an independent building, this could have been the reason. After a year the contract became monthly so that’s really convenient if you want to stay just an extra month or two. Ask what the bond will be – generally half a month’s rent which will be refunded at the end of your contract as long as you’ve looked after the place – ours almost paid for one of our flights back home! They will give you a property condition report for you to go over when you first move in, which states the condition of the apartment. Be thorough with this and make sure it’s accurate, you don’t want to be losing your bond because of something that was damaged by the previous tenant.
Also, ask about rent inspections. In Perth we had them every three months and they were brutal – we once had a comment about the fact that our sliding door tracks had some dirt in them – you know, the ones that are half outdoors? Vancouver? We had one in the year we were living there – the guy literally walked into our apartment and straight over to the window that looked out on English Bay, exclaimed “I can see Hawaii from here!”, turned to our snowboards and asked if we’d been out much, and walked out. He didn’t even look in the bedroom or bathroom, or the oven that I had scrubbed for an hour beforehand.
While filling out the paperwork I asked our new building manager, Lucy, “So when will we know if we’ve been approved?”, expecting her to say a week or two – we got a nice little surprise when she looked at me a little confused and said, “You’re approved, I have just approved you! You can move in on Monday if you like!”.FURNISHING
Monday? Sure, we’d love to! It was a completely empty apartment besides the fridge, so furniture was the next job on the list. Furnishing is something we hadn’t even thought about before we left Australia as the housing would have been furnished in Sun Peaks. The day after we secured our place, we took an epic hour-long train and bus ride out to IKEA in Richmond to try to furnish our apartment for as little as possible. Our biggest tip; think about what you really need, especially if you don’t plan to stay forever. Furniture-wise we actually only bought a bed, sofa couch (for our visitors!), and small coffee table. You do need to think of everything – it’s only until you go to open a can of baked beans (‘cos that’s all you can afford while unemployed and living in a beautiful apartment), that you realise you don’t have a can opener. Think about all the little things – yep, you’re going to need a pillow to sleep on, a kettle would be handy, and it’s preferable not to have all your dirty clothes in a pile on the floor. Decide on your priorities – we lived a year without a microwave and TV and neither bothered us too much.
In hindsight – embrace Craigslist! We bought everything new at IKEA, and while IKEA has great prices, Craigslist has better, and there are SO many pieces of IKEA furniture on there for less than half the price of new. We were warned against bed bugs so probably wouldn’t buy a bed or couch off there, but all little extras add up and we could have definitely saved money buying them second hand. Also, check your laundry room in your new building – we ended up leaving a heap of stuff in there for free when we moved out, and we saw a lot of freebies in there over the year we lived there. In saying this, the total of everything we bought cost us around $2000 which was pretty good since we got everything new.SETTLING IN
You’ve got your apartment, you’ve furnished it with whatever you deemed necessary, and now it’s time to get to know your neighbourhood! Check out all your local eateries, wander around the streets, get your bearings, chat to the locals, and enjoy your new home!Us? We ended up in the ‘sub-penthouse’ (as Gavin fondly named it) of English Bay Tower on Davie Street. Eleventh floor, corner apartment, view of the mountains one way, view of the beach the other, Tim Horton’s next door, Starbucks on the corner, sushi across the road and just a stone’s throw from English Bay and Stanley Park. There wasn’t one morning we woke up that year, looked out at the snow capped mountains or the glistening bay, and regretted spending that extra $250 a month.
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