The rise of the renter’s agent

It's no secret that Australia's rental market is the tightest it's ever been. Vacancy rates have plummeted, weekly rents are soaring and tenants are looking for anything to help them get a foot in the door. That means turning to the rising number of renter's agents to help secure a property. But just as a renter's agent can assist a tenant in finding the perfect home, they can also save property managers time and lease a property faster.

Real estate agent, property manager, buyer’s agent – and now there’s an increasing number of agents building careers as renter’s agents.

With national vacancy rates at a record low of 0.9 per cent, increasingly frustrated tenants are turning to the experts to help them secure a property – some after applying unsuccessfully for dozens of properties.

Renter’s agents aren’t new, per se, but with the tight rental market, combined with time-poor tenants and the reopening of borders, more are entering the real estate market with demand for their services growing stronger by the day.

Demand on the rise

Sydney Rental Search’s Marcelle Wever says demand for her services has never been higher in 17 years as a renter’s agent.

“I’ve never been this busy in 17 years,” she says.

“We’ve just come off winter when it’s normally very quiet but not this year.”

Fuelling the rental crisis is not so much a lack of rentals but a lack of quality rentals, Marcelle says.

She says some landlords decided to sell in the property boom over the past two years, but a quick search on any of the portals will reveal there’s plenty of stock.

Marcelle says the issue is tenants are more discerning, and some landlords haven’t kept their properties up to scratch.

“There are always rentals out there, but the problem is the quality,” she says.

“People want good properties. They want floorboards, more people want air conditioning, and more are asking for two bathrooms and parking.

“There was a time that people would just take anything. But people don’t want to live that way anymore, and nor should they.

“If you search for a one-bedroom apartment in the eastern suburbs (of Sydney) for up to $650 per week, you might have more than 100 properties come up.

“On the surface, you might think, ‘There’s no shortage’.

“But when you dig a bit deeper, you might find some of those properties have been sitting on the market for a very long time because they need a coat of paint, a new kitchen or a refurb of the bathroom.”

It means there are more tenants for a smaller pool of quality rentals, and that’s where Marcelle gets called in.

Help finding a home

Marcelle says her clientele is made up of both local and overseas renters. With international and state borders only recently opening up again after Covid, there’s a backlog of relocating tenants needing help finding a home.

But local Sydneysiders are also asking for assistance in increasing numbers.

“The people that come to me are time poor, people who have not rented before, people with pets, people with disabilities and people who had rented before but had everything in their partner’s name, so they don’t have a rental history,” Marcelle explains.

“I’m incredibly busy because of the backlog of people not being able to come to Australia for the past two years.

“Half of my clients are from overseas and interstate, and the other half are people that live locally and are finding it difficult because they keep missing out.”

Some of Marcelle’s current clients include an ex-pat returning from the US and Canada, someone relocating from Adelaide to Sydney, and a client with a cat.

“The pet issue can be difficult,” Marcelle says.

Often what lets prospective tenants down is their attention to detail on applications, Marcelle says, with some forgetting to accurately show their income or applying for properties they can’t truly afford.

“Property managers look at your rent not being more than one-third of your income,” she says.

“Sometimes clients have a combined income, but they only put down one of the party’s earnings.

“So it might be that their application is incomplete because only one of them has applied instead of both.

“It can be the combination of a lot of little things that people do wrong that means they’re not successful in getting a property.”

A full-service offering

Marcelle says her services include filling out applications, inspecting properties and providing commentary and at least 10 minutes of detailed video footage to ensure every feature and corner of the property is covered.

“Some agents will say, ‘I’ll take a short video and send it to you’ and they’ll send a two or three-minute video through, but it’s not enough,” she says.

“Or you might send a friend through who FaceTimes you, but then you’ve got nothing to refer back to.

“I’ve seen videos, and then I’ve gone to see the property only to find some faults or that it’s not suitable for what my client wants.”

Understanding the rental process

After 25 years in real estate, former property manager Terry Christianos started Urban Renters in Sydney almost two years ago. 

She was prompted to make the change as she saw a gap in the market, with tenants often flying blind when it came to searching and applying for rentals.

“There’s nowhere you can go to learn about the rental process in Australia,” she says.

“Overseas, it’s a lot more simplified, and they have letting agents that step you through everything. But here, especially in a tight market, it can be very daunting.

“People keep asking how it all works, why they’re missing out and why they have to line up with 35 other couples to see a property on a Saturday.”

Terry has a set process she follows with every client, from getting them to fill out an application form to ensure they tick all of the right boxes, to searching, making a shortlist of properties, doing inspections on the tenant’s behalf and making their recommendations.

“We will follow up with the property manager, and if we need to do any negotiations, we will do this on the tenant’s behalf, Terry says.

“Once we secure the property for them, we also oversee their lease documentation and make sure that it’s compliant and that anything pre-negotiated is included in the lease. 

“When it comes to moving day, we collect the keys and pick up their condition report on their behalf and complete it.”

Terry says while most tenants hate filling out a condition report, it’s an important part of the process and one that shouldn’t be skipped.

“Some tenants do it with us, which is also really helpful so that they can understand what sort of things we, and property managers, look for,” she explains.

“Then we continue to represent the renter for an additional 30 days, and help with things such as reporting any little maintenance issues or just helping them settle in and feel comfortable.”

Strong relationships with PMs

Marcelle and Terry have built strong relationships with property managers and agency principals in the areas they service. They say these connections can also help tenants get their foot in the door.

“We have those relationships where we can go and say, ‘This is the client that I have, this is what I’m looking for, can you help?’” Terry says.

“Working with property managers is key to us doing what we do so well and strengthening those relationships and bringing them people that are pretty much ready to go. 

“We can save them the time, which is obviously a big thing in property management.”

Marcelle says the relationship also works both ways, and, particularly for high-end properties, property managers often come to her to see if she has a suitable tenant.

“My clients are genuine, they’ve got the funds, I’ve evaluated them and checked their criteria, and I make sure that I’m not going to take someone with a bad rental history.”

Expediting the leasing process

Cassandra Lantry is the Director and General Manager of sole property management agency Leah Jay. Her agency currently works with two renter’s agents, and she notes it’s an emerging area of expertise.

“We see them as advantageous, and we like to have those relationships because, for us, it means tenants are often pre-screened,” she says.

“It expedites that leasing process as well. You know the applicant you’re getting, and we can help lease properties more quickly.

“Each renter’s agent has their way of doing things, but once those relationships are established, they can really run in tandem with your agency and really help you move properties – much like a buyer’s agent does in the sales space.”

Cassandra says working with renter’s agents also allows her agency to work with tenants who may otherwise not have considered their properties.

“And I think it aligns with our overarching philosophy of having a dedicated service there for tenants,” she says.

“It’s something we try to do internally as an agency, but we can’t always accommodate it.

“Anything that empowers prospective tenants and helps make that process smoother and easier and feels more informed and in control, we think, is an excellent initiative.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.