Number 2 on my top 5 things to do when you land in a city is find accommodation.
Photo Credit: CBC News
Finding accommodation is probably one of the most stressful parts of moving cities. While you can stay in a hostel for as long as you want, it’s more expensive and less convenient than just moving to a shared apartment. Also having a proper address makes other parts of settling into a new city easier (for example getting a bank account).
So you’ve decided you’re going to look for your own place. Where do you start? While there are a lot of things you can’t control in a move, here are a few tips to make finding a pad easier.
Investigate Different Neighbourhoods
One of my favourite things about Vancouver is how different its neighbourhoods can be. They all have their own personality, culture and claims to fame. The question is how can new Vancouverites choose where to live if they don’t know the lay of the land?
If you’re moving to Vancouver for a specific job or university, then that question is taken care of for you. But if you don’t, the task of choosing a neighbourhood can be kind of overwhelming. There are some formal government websites that describe Vancouver’s big neighbourhoods. These websites can, however, be a bit sterile and manage to make all of the cities areas sound the same.
I also found this, slightly more controversial, map of Vancouver. It did the rounds a couple of years ago and, from the look of the comments, offended as many people as it made laugh. I’d take it with a grain of salt. I suspect its creator didn’t mean for it to be taken literally. But it can be useful for giving you a general impression of Vancouver’s neighbourhoods. Or at least what people say when they’re making fun of them.
I was a bit lazy and only used Craigslist when I was searching for a room in Vancouver. It’s just so convenient. It has all the search options you’d want (area, type of room, min and max etc) and I really like it’s map view (see below). It allows you to see all the different apartments in an area and really compare locations (everyone says their location is super convenient, but it’s not always true). The only complaint I have is you can’t add other locations (like skytrain stops or work) to the map. First world problem I know. Having to open that second tab for Google Maps is so hard.
Another website that I’ve heard of is Easyroommate.com. In order to search through adds you have create a profile and since I already have a house I haven’t made one. Forcing people to create profiles might, however, improve the quality of the adds so Easyroommate could be a very good site to use.
Start Early, But Not Too Early
Timing your house hunt can be a bit of a contradiction. On the one hand you want to start looking as soon as possible. The earlier you start, the better your chances right? Most rooms in Vancouver, however, seem to be on monthly rent cycles. So people only put adds up 4 weeks before they need you to move in. So if you’re too early it’s unlikely you’ll hear back from many people. It would be a risky move for them.
I found that people started replying to my emails once I was 2 weeks away from landing in Vancouver. And the closer it got to my flight, the more interested people seemed. Nonetheless, there’s still a lot of risk for a landlord to take on someone before they meet them. One way around this is to give them a local friend’s contact number who can be a referee. My friend was able to call a couple of land lords and I think built a lot of confidence. It also gives your friend a chance to go quiz the landlord and see if the apartment sounds good by local standards.
Check What They Mean By ‘Ground Floor’
A friend warned me that, in Vancouver, when people describe a room as ‘ground floor’ what they often mean is windowless basement. I never looked into any ground floor rooms myself, but I do remember finding some ground floor room in Kitsilano with slightly odd descriptions.
Ground Floor? – Photo Credit: TheTinyLife
Things Sometimes Fall Through
Whether you’re looking to rent a room or subletting a room youself, anyone whose gone through the process knows that nothing’s really settled until money has been paid. Up until then, things can and do fall through. Before moving to Vancouver my boyfriend and I agreed to move into a Yaletown apartment with 2 other people. We had a couple of skype chats with the landlord who seemed really nice, we organised a Western Union transfer and I felt good that accommodation had been sorted. Then 4 days before we flew out we got an email saying that the deal was off. The owner’s situation had changed and the room was no longer available. She didn’t take any of the money, but we still had to pay Western Union’s fees and didn’t have anywhere to stay.
It all worked out for the best in the end. I really love our apartment in the West End. We have a great housemate and rent is cheaper than Yaletown. But it was still a really stressful things to go through just before we flew out. While you can’t prepare for this sort of thing, I’d recommend getting as much confirmation as you possible can before you land. And be nice to people if you end up turning down offers. You never know when you might need to call them back!