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337 - Rental Housing Market

There is no multiple listing service and each rental agency acts independently without much cooperation or shared information. Don't rely on just one agent. Visit several agents and check the local newspapers for private rentals to make sure you get maximum coverage. In general, the agents here do not hustle to get their clients' houses rented--they are merely property managers. Rent is normally advertised as a per week amount. A bond (refundable deposit) of one month's rent plus the first month's rent is normally due upon signature of the lease. Be sensitive to the overall market -- private corporations/individuals can easily outbid lower offers in a hot market, while cold markets can make for some fairly attractive opportunities. A word of caution: Find a home available for the entire length of the assignment. Military members are entitled to only one move at government expense. Under Australian law, owners may reclaim their leased residence prior to the expiration of the lease--a second move is at your expense.

Most agents will give you the address of the property so you can "drive by" to check out the area before actually scheduling an appointment to look at the house. Typical questions you may want to ask rental agents when house hunting includes:

- How many bedrooms/bathrooms?

- What type of heating/cooling? (some homes have only fireplaces or electric space heaters)

- Is there a lock-up garage, is it attached? (some have carports, many have manual garage doors)

- Is a long-term lease available? (Try to get one for the duration of your assignment)

- Are there white goods (appliances) included? (Most homes do not supply refrigerators, dishwashers, washers, or dryers)

- Are pets allowed?

Air conditioning is not usually a standard feature. Insulation and double-paned windows are also scarce commodities, so expect utility rates to be higher than you are accustomed. Utilities are slightly more expensive than in the States with most homes having a combination of gas and electricity. Usually most landlords provide (free-of-charge) a set quantum of water with the tenant paying for use in excess of the agreed upon quantum. 

Generally, utilities are slightly more expensive than in the States with most homes having a combination of gas and electricity. Usually most landlords provide (free-of-charge) a set amount of water with the tenant paying for use in excess of the agreed upon amount. Nominal deposits may be required for gas, electricity, and telephone service. It may also be possible to negotiate extra services--landscape service, lawn service, appliances, etc. into the lease. Again, you can generally negotiate anything--so give it a whirl. Weekly updates for housing rentals are in Wed/Sat edition of the Canberra Times newspaper and other local newspapers. 

Military members do receive a Cost of Living Allowance and an Overseas Housing Allowance to meet these living expenses.

Canberra Specifics

Since the USAF exchange officers in Canberra fall under the authority of the Chief of Mission, they must live in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Canberra basically follows a north-south layout with the Embassy situated in the south central portion of Canberra. Homes around the Embassy tend to be older and more expensive and the neighborhoods are more mature. Very affordable new housing (usually very spacious) is available in South Canberra. Apartments and town homes are also readily available. Most homes are brick with tile roofs. Three bedroom homes are popular while four bedroom homes are somewhat harder to find. Rents vary but typically a three bedroom home rents for approximately $1,500 Australian Dollars or approximately $800 US per month. Canberra-area exchange personnel must have their house approved by the Embassy's Regional Security Office before moving in.

Most homes have heating (most winter mornings are frosty, though snow is rare). Always ask what type of heating is available in the home. Some homes tend to heat the central living area and use space heaters or electric blankets in the bedrooms. Household garbage and recycling bins and collection are normally provided by the ACT Government Services. The normal one months rent is usually required for a security deposit which is refundable upon termination of the housing lease. Just a note, make sure you and the property manager document any and all discrepancies in the house before signing a lease. This will hopefully ensure you get all your security deposit back. Nominal deposits may be required for gas, electricity, and telephone service. Additionally, items to be attached to the walls (i.e. pictures, mirrors, etc) must normally be approved and included in the lease.

Many rental homes are owned by Australian government employees who lease their homes while posted outside of Canberra -- and then return at the most inopportune time. Try to make sure your landlord's property is an investment property, or have an assurance of occupancy throughout your assignment.

Williamtown Specifics

RAAF-provided Defence Housing Authority (DHA) housing is available, but it is possible to rent a much nicer home. The current USAF exchange officer has acquired 4 transformers, microwave, outdoor furniture, coffee pot, lawn mower, refrigerator, freezer, and a queen size bed to pass on to the replacement exchange officer--check with the incumbent concerning these items.

RAAF Provided Housing--Defense Housing Authority (Glenbrook, Richmond)

If you are accompanied, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) will be providing your housing. You will be shown two or three houses, which are appropriate for your rank and family. Your sponsor will be in contact with DHA to let them know you are coming and see what's available. No exchange officer lives on base. Housing offered will generally be a two-story duplex or a single family home, three to four bedrooms. The duplexes tend to be small, but most are new and have some nice amenities. Single-family homes are larger. Of the AF exchange officers at Richmond, three live in duplexes in Castle Hill and one lives in a single-family unit in Quakers Hill. Both areas are about a 30-minute drive from the base and a one-hour drive from downtown Sydney. One of the exchange officers at Glenbrook lives in Glenmore Park (about 10 minutes drive west of RAAF Base Glenbrook) and one lives in Faulconbridge in the Blue Mountains (about 20 minutes drive east of RAAF Base Glenbrook).

Utilities: There will be deposits required for all utilities of approximately $100.00 AUS for each, electric and gas. Water/trash is paid for by DHA with trash bins provided by the municipality. Utility bills can be paid in person, or by mail, phone, or automatic draft. You can mail in a check, or pay at banks and post offices using cash, check or debit card. You can also call a toll-free phone number and pay using a credit card, and almost all bills can also be set up for automatic draft on your bank account or credit card. Note that using a credit card can get you a better exchange rate. These bills come every three months.

Heating and Air Conditioning: You may be lucky and get a house with central heat and air conditioning. If you don't have central heat, you will be provided with heat. DHA provides at least one heater in each home, usually gas. There are some chilly days when you will need heat, especially in the early morning and evenings. If you do not have central air conditioning, it will not be provided by the base or DHA. You may purchase a window A/C and DHA will put in the 15-AMP outlet needed. You may also bring or purchase fans, or purchase ceiling fans (which must be put up by a licensed electrician). Some days are very hot but seem to cool off in the evenings. If there are a couple of hot days in a row, it then seems to cool off for a couple of days.

Self-Help: DHA may provide a small maintenance allowance for maintenance each year (check with DHA service office for availability). This can be used for improving the yard including trees, shrubs, fertilizer, etc. All items must be approved first, then purchased by you and DHA will reimburse you.

Richmond Specifics

Most families favor the Castle Hill area, as it is a large metropolitan area with shopping centers and schools. Quakers Hill, about 10 minutes from Castle Hill, has a country atmosphere. Schools are nearby, but shopping is 10-15 minutes away. Castle Hill is a very crowded area, though Quakers Hill is one of the most rapidly growing areas in Sydney's Western suburbs. DHA is divesting itself of homes in the Castle Hill area because it's more expensive to live there than in Richmond, so it may be difficult to get a home there. You may also choose to live in Richmond, Windsor (each 10 minutes from the base) or Penrith (20-30 minutes from the base) depending on what DHA has available. You will pay subsidized rental rates directly to DHA every two to four weeks. Rent is based on a "fortnight" (2 weeks) rather that a monthly basis. Exchange officers do not get OHA as the subsidized rent is below the basic housing allowance. Most rent is approximately $500.00 - $700.00 AUS per fortnight (about $260.00 - $360.00 US at today's exchange rate). Most of the homes are three bedrooms with 2 or 2 1/2 baths. There is a separate laundry room and all have garages. There may or may not be a separate family room. A stove or cook top and oven are provided. A few houses have washers, dryers and dishwashers provided, but this is the luck of the draw and not a requirement. Garbage disposals are rare.

Glenbrook Specifics

Many of the general details for Richmond apply to the Glenbrook area as well, as they are serviced by the same regional office of the DHA. The major difference being the areas in which housing may be available. Housing is generally of the same type with some new housing available in Glenmore Park and the Blue Mountains areas. The Blue Mountains are an historic and holiday/resort area beginning some 65 kilometers east of Sydney. There are national parks and wilderness areas for "bushwalking" (generally, walking on approved trails of various levels of difficulty) and camping, abseiling, and some bicycling. The Jenolan Caves are probably the best-known and most spectacular underground limestone