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Tips on how to find a great rental condo in Toronto (it is possible)

how to lease a condo

Trying to find a place to rent in this city can be dizzying. Look up and all you see is glass condos.

Look down and you spy excavators digging more. But when you look online, there is little to choose from — condos or otherwise. Feeling queasy yet?

Despite all those cranes cluttering the skyline the vacancy rate has remained at less than two per cent for years. The rents can make your eyes pop. To top it off, traditional rental apartments have become scarce as developers build condos over apartments buildings. Condos account for a whopping 99 per cent of new rental supply in the GTA, according to condo research-firm Urbanation.

That’s led to a shift in the landscape for renters. New rental units on the market tend to be condos — roughly a quarter of condo units are leased out, according to a 2011 Statistics Canada report — making investors increasingly the new landlords.

It’s easy to get vertigo trying to find a place amongst the highrises. There aren’t really deals, but, according to some successful renters and real estate experts, it is possible to lessen the pain of the hunt and snag the perfect place.

Hire help. Jacob Astin tried the usual methods when he relocated to Toronto just over a year ago. The 40-year-old airline pilot and his girlfriend, Monique Chelsom, a 35-year-old tech worker, checked listings through online services such as PadMapper and Kijiji while still in Calgary. They got a sense of what Toronto had to offer and what they could get for their budget, but quickly learned in Toronto’s competitive rental market it can take more than a quick Google search to find The One.

So Astin and Chelsom hired a real estate expert. “It was nice to have a guide,” says Astin.

Seventy to 80 per cent of condo apartments for rent are only listed on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), says Toronto real estate agent Jarrod Armstrong, whose wife and fellow agent, Karolina, worked with the couple. A realtor can quickly search MLS and set up multiple viewings for one day.

An expert can also ensure you find a reputable investor/landlord and help you navigate the paperwork.

The best part? Using knowledgeable professionals usually doesn’t cost renters a dime since the owner of the property generally pays the commission.

Don’t fear commitment: Buildings in Ontario that were built, or came onto the rental market, after Nov. 1, 1991, are not subject to rent control. That means if you sign a typical one-year lease, after your first year in your gorgeous condo the rent could skyrocket.

Armstrong advises offering to sign a longer initial lease. The owner of a property would rather have a paying, reliable tenant over an empty unit with no rent coming in, he says.

Do the math. Astin and Chelsom eventually settled on a one-bedroom,

plus den, near King and Bathurst streets, which they adore.

The proximity to the King streetcar, as well as a balcony with lines for a BBQ, have them swooning. But if you drive and rarely grill these are not the extras for you. Make a list of the amenities you would actually use, such as a gym and parking.

As a rule your housing costs should be no more than 35 per cent of your net income, according to Metro ’s money maven Gail Vaz-Oxlade.

Know that number before you fall head over heels for a place with granite countertops and a salt-water pool that is way out of your price range.

Location, location, location An apartment outside of the core will typically cost you less, says David Fleming, a real estate agent and author of the Toronto Realty Blog. And a unit in an older traditional apartment building, with fewer or no amenities, will also be cheaper. Anja Arvo, 40, and her husband, Alan Contreras, 36, were in an older building in the established Forest Hill area.

Realtor Olenka Mallon pointed the couple to a newer building with perks like a pool in an up-and-coming area in south Etobicoke.

The owner of their rental condo is selling so Mallon recently helped them find another condo to rent in the same waterfront neighbourhood they have come to love.

The couple just got the keys this week and are excited by the view and the brand new amenities, such as a fitness centre and sauna Mallon tells it like it (unfortunately) is: “You’re looking at $2,000 per month for a one-bedroom right in the downtown core.”

If your budget is closer to $1,500 then you’ll have to go further afield, say out to the Fort York area, near Lakeshore and Bathurst, she notes.

Keep an eye on supply. When it comes to signing on the dotted line, you can try bargaining. But, sorry, Fleming says: “There’s virtually no negotiating when renting a condo in Toronto.” The number of condominium apartment starts in the city of Toronto did rise to 1,782 this January, up from 1,470 in January 2014, according to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. But, despite the construction spike demand will continue to outstrip supply, say the experts.

Do keep your eye on all that construction, though. When a brand-new building first starts renting the laws of supply and demand can work in your favour. Several similar units will flood the market at the same time, meaning there may be a bit of wiggle room to negotiate a slightly lower rent, says Armstrong.

Renting a condo in the Big Smoke is not cheap, but remains a popular option. If you enter your condo rental hunt with open eyes, some solid research and a little help, you too can score a home-sweet-rental-home way up high in the sky.

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