Finding a new place to call home is always a daunting task, and when factoring in an overseas move as well, it can seem like a mammoth undertaking.

Expats new to Australia will not only need to find a suitable property for their needs but they will also need to choose the right area or suburb to live in. For this reason, most expats prefer renting property in Australia before they buy; a choice that works best for trying out different areas and suburbs.

The rental market in most of Australia's major cities, such as Sydney and Melbourne, moves quickly, and finding the right rental property isn't always easy. That said, there are a few tips and guidelines that can make finding a new home in Australia considerably easier.

Step 1: Learn the local lingo

The first step to renting property in Australia is to get a handle on the local lingo that residents and agents use to describe their humble homes or magnificent mansions.

In Australia, properties are either referred to as flats or houses. A flat is the local term for an apartment. Houses are typically larger than flats and come with an outdoor space – so it's more likely that a two-bedroom flat will cost less than a two-bedroom house, but it's not always the case. Flats with just one room are called studios.

Step 2: Location, location, location

Next, expats will want to choose which areas they would possibly want to live in. An easy way to kickstart this process is to visit a few neighbourhoods and stroll around to get a feel for the area. Take a few moments to check real estate agent windows and see if the area is within budget. If not, get on the train or bus and ride a couple of stops away and repeat. Those moving to a major city should come up with a shortlist of three or four suburbs or areas.

Part of finding the perfect location is knowing what kind of commute one can expect from home to the workplace or to the children's school. Luckily, in this robust information age, some property websites present their rental properties on maps that show local transport stops and stations so customers can predict travel time and proximity.

Those planning to use a car will also need to make sure that they have somewhere to park it. This is often a factor that expats overlook, but in reality, it can lead to high costs and an even more hectic headache if not addressed appropriately.

Step 3: Start searching

The best way to home hunt in Australia is by enlisting the help of technology. Sit down with some property search websites and start looking at what falls within budget in a desired location. Newspapers are another source of property listings, but the market moves quickly and expats are better off looking online for the freshest information.

Step 4: Dealing with agents

Once a suitable property has been found that meets the requirements, it's time to arrange a viewing.

Find out who is managing the property, and in the case that it's an agency – which happens more often than not – it's a good idea to find out the name of the individual agent managing the property and ask for them directly by name. The managing agent is the one most likely to be able to answer questions and start the application process.

It's important to note that in Australia most agents will not rent a property without the tenant having viewed it first. Some agents hold opening viewings or open houses, where anyone can view. These can be competitive, so turn up early and be prepared. Bring all the papers necessary to put in an application on the spot.

Step 5: Putting in an application for a property

Real estate agents can take more than one application for a property at a time, so expats should make sure when submitting that they include all the correct information. This can often be the difference between securing a property and losing out to someone else who is better prepared as applications operate on a first-come first-served basis.

Typical applications require:

  • Proof of identity (passport/drivers license)
  • Proof of income, bank statements for the last three months
  • References – one of the most important parts of the application. Ideally these would be from previous landlords but this can be a problem for those moving from overseas. In such cases, the expat's employer may be able to act as a reference instead.

In some cases, expats might be asked to put down a deposit with their application. This will be returned if they do not get the property. 

Step 6: Signing the lease and moving in

When renting property in Australia, there is no standard for how much rent has to be paid in advance. However, when coming to sign the lease and to pay the first instalment of rent, the new tenant will also need to pay a deposit or 'bond', usually for the amount of a month to six weeks' rent.

The bond, similar to the idea of a security deposit, protects the owner against any damage done to the property or any bills left unpaid by the tenant. The bond is held by an independent government-owned body.

As the tenant is bound to the bond it's important to inspect the property thoroughly for damage before moving in. If existing damage is found, be sure to bring it to the attention of the managing agent or landlord. In the case of a furnished property, an inventory should be kept. At the lease's conclusion, the cost of any items not accounted for on the inventory are deducted from the bond.

Before signing the lease, expats should also ask the managing agent if there are accounts set up with any utility providers. If there are, it might save having to pay a connection fee. 

For additional support with tenant issues, each state has a tenant's association that aims to protect the rights of the renter.