Rental inspections outsourced amid ‘brutal’ market conditions

One month into her search for a Sydney rental, 26-year-old Georgia Turner decided to look for some help to find a place.

Ms Turner had been trying to attend rental inspections while flying between Sydney and her then-home base in the Gold Coast for work, and had already resorted to asking friends to attend rental inspections when she was out of town or working.

She finally turned to online task-outsourcing marketplace Airtasker, which she used to hire people to attend about four rental inspections on her behalf.

Two weeks and four $60 outsourced inspections later, this method helped her secure a one-bedroom apartment in Mosman.

Not only did hiring someone to attend the rental inspection on her behalf allow Ms Turner to qualify to apply for the rental properties, it also gave her a better idea of the condition of the properties, and what kind of competition she’d be facing.

Part-time kindergarten teacher Kristin Rucks, the person hired by Ms Turner to go to the Mosman property inspection, has attended about eight rental inspections since the start of the pandemic – seven of those this year.

Georgia Turner (left) credits the help of Taskers like Kristin Rucks (right) with her success in being approved for a rental property. Photo: TND/Airtasker

Ms Rucks said rental inspections tend to be “pretty packed”.

Most of her clients can’t make it to inspections because they live interstate or overseas, so she takes photos and videos of properties, and also makes note of anything that could be an issue, such as poor carpeting or even a bad smell.

Paid anywhere from $40 to $100 for her services, Ms Rucks said she can now relate to the struggle to find a place after moving to Melbourne and entering the rental market two months ago.

“I’ve been in the position myself recently, where I relocated interstate and I was living in a hotel for over a month because I haven’t been able to secure anything when I was still in Sydney,” she said.

“And in hindsight, I should probably have hired someone to help me.”

Rise in outsourced inspections

Airtasker CEO Tim Fung told TND the platform has seen a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in listings looking for people to attend rental inspections.

More than 1000 tasks have been posted in this category so far in 2023, with half already completed and paid.

New South Wales is most popular, then Victoria and Queensland.

“We’ve seen these tasks pop up over the last few years … this year we’re seeing a consistent amount of demand in each month for this task to be completed, which we can safely assume is being driven by the macroeconomic situation of the rental market at the moment,” Mr Fung said.

“However, our data shows that residents in [Queensland] are willing to pay the most for these tasks, with an average price of $320 recorded for property inspection tasks in March.”

Sign of the times

Bernadette Barrett, Better Renting’s director of advocacy, said this trend is a symptom of the desperation Australians are experiencing while trying to secure a rental property.

Hiring someone to attend rental inspections also adds to the already-heavy cost burden in finding a rental property.

Tenants Union of NSW data shows as of 2022, renting households in the state spend an average of $4000 to move, with the cost accumulating from expenses such as hiring a moving van or paying for professional cleaning.

An example of a rental inspection listing on Airtasker. Photo: Kristin Rucks

Ms Barrett said the fact people are going this far reveals a systemic issue of inaccessible rental inspections, and the need for real estate agents to be more honest in their advertising of properties.

Tenants Union of NSW CEO Leo Patterson Ross concurred.

He said the amount of information in rental listings is minimal and how properties are represented can sometimes be “very unreliable”.

This puts more pressure on people to inspect properties to get a better idea of what they’re signing up for.

“That is where there’s a lot of improvement possible in the legislation itself to do things from not just requiring things like floor plans … but also things like energy efficiency information … maintenance histories and ideally probably a check by [an] independent person,” he said.

“There’s not much that’s very fair about the application process at the moment. The whole idea is that everyone is being pitched against each other in a competitive race.

“I don’t think Airtasker is the real problem here, I think it’s the system itself.”

Mr Patterson Ross emphasised that the hiring of random strangers to attend rental inspections is still a “niche” product, considering about 90,000 new tenancies have started in NSW so far in 2023, compared to the 1000 listings nationally on Airtasker.

“We’ve got to recognise that people do need to know a lot more about the properties that they are moving into before they move,” he said.

“[Hiring people for inspections] is an option for some, but it’s not something that most people can afford or would necessarily trust.”

Call to reform ‘brutal’ monetary policy

Australia’s rental market is extremely tight right now.

CoreLogic data shows over the four weeks to April 2, the total count of national rental listings fell to just under 95,000, representing a national vacancy rate of 1.4 per cent.

However, the vacancy rate across the combined capitals fell to a record low of 0.9 per cent in March.

The tightening in capital cities has been mostly attributed to increasing numbers of international migrants, but University of New South Wales senior research fellow Chris Martin said a “spread out” seen during the first couple years of the pandemic is also partly to blame.

“From sharehouses, more people got their own place, and just started … taking a bit more room in the housing stock,” he said.

Dr Martin said the government’s and Reserve Bank of Australia’s recent monetary policy, which has used interest rate hikes to control inflation, has been “brutal”.

“It means that households have less money to spend on goods and services, and that means businesses producing goods and services start cutting back on … their employees’ hours, and on the number of employees,” he said.

“This is supposed to combat rising rents by removing some renters from employment, and effectively from the housing market, and pushing them back into shared accommodation or going back to parents.”

However, some rental markets are holding strong despite the pressure from rising interest rates.

Canberra recorded a 0.7 per cent decline in rents over the three months to March, but Sydney rents climbed 3.4 per cent to reach a median weekly rent value of $699.

Dr Martin said the government should be looking at adding more supply to the rental market to ease cost-of-living pressures, either through building new housing stock or making use of properties that don’t have permanent tenants, such as those being listed on Airbnb.

Topics: rentals
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