Being priced out of the rental market? What you can do

In most Canadian cities – and many smaller communities too – renters are increasingly being priced out of the market. It’s no secret, real estate is hot hot hot, and it’s not just the pricing of homes and condos that’s gone off the charts, as part of the active market, rental prices have also skyrocketed. So what do renters do when facing budget busting market rents?

Here are a few unconventional options for renting in the location you want when prices seem beyond your means. They may not be the ideal, but sometimes a solution requires compromise or reassessment of the situation:

Barter for rent

Think about what skills you have to offer. There are a lot of situations that combine work with lodgings. If your experience and/or interests allow you to negotiate reduced or free rent in exchange for your time and/or skills, you may have found a way to afford renting in an otherwise out-of-range space. Some jobs and skills that lend themselves to bartering with the landlord include: Childcare – from nannying to babysitting; renovations; music lessons; cooking and meal prep; personal training; cleaning; dog walking and holistic therapies. Also, consider that most professionally managed properties require a superintendent and maintenance staff as well as an office team, you may be able to apply for a job and an apartment.

Communal living

Having a roommate is often a solution to affordability – it’s definitely cheaper to share a two- or three-bedroom apartment, or even a whole house, than live alone. But most people limit the roommate solution to their days before they coupled up, became professionals or simply moved onto their first solo space.

Roommates that choose to live communally can dramatically affect the affordability of rental living. While the TV comedy The Golden Girls had some fun with it, it also illustrates how well communal living can work. It’s not restricted to elderly widows and divorcées, it works for men, couples, families, singles and all other variations of age and stage of life.

Two families with young children may be able to rent a whole house together, enabling them to have things like a basement playroom, a big yard and be located in a family style neighbourhood where affordable apartment buildings are few and far between. Parents may even be able to share chores – from taking kids to school and preparing lunches, to childcare and laundry. Children could potentially share toys and clothes, further enhancing affordability.

Those who choose to remain single may enjoy the companionship of living with others, while being able to share expenses and meals, too. There seems to be some hesitation towards roommates once past a certain age or income level, but roommates aren’t just a financial necessity – some people don’t enjoy living alone, and shouldn’t have to, at any age.

Unusual opportunities

Most people are looking for the typical apartments, condos, houses, basement apartments, duplexes and triplexes to rent. While the market is busy in the traditional housing sector, there are a lot of unusual options too. If you’re finding the vacancy rates creating too much competition to handle, why not look into a residential hotel? While this may not be the cheapest alternative, in today’s market it may be equal to what you’re budgeting for rent, and may come with some added amenities like housekeeping, parking and Internet included in the price. You may find the hotel has great on-site amenities, from dining and entertainment to room service and laundry service – and you may appreciate the turn-key solution since hotels come furnished. Or you may want to take a page from generations of artists: loft living. There are plenty of commercially zoned buildings that offer spaces conducive to rental living. They may be finished with industrial features like concrete floors and exposed ducting – but that “industrial chic” is all the rage. You may have to do the work yourself – put up walls, add a kitchen, buy appliances – but it will be all yours and may bring you a more spacious home than you’d otherwise find at the same budget.

Sublet and house-sit

Only minimalists and those who have no trouble with transition need apply for this way of life, because subletting and house-sitting both generally imply you’ll be living in another person’s space for a short period of time.

Sublets are always available, they may just take some digging. People that need to leave their homes temporarily don’t want to go through the effort and inconvenience of losing their home, having to pack up and store all of their stuff (usually at a fairly considerable expense) while they’re gone. You can find sublets that range from as short as a week to a year or longer. Many people want to leave for a summer to travel – or for a brief job opportunity.

It’s not entirely uncommon for someone moving in with their significant other to want to test the waters without giving up their homestead right away, wanting to live with them full time before they decide whether to take the leap. People generally find it difficult and even prohibitive to make rent or mortgage payments in addition to the living expenses they’re temporarily incurring, so you’re the perfect solution! They may even give you a break on the rent because finding a good subtenant who wants their home for their ideal amount of time isn’t an easy order to fill.

Why are renters getting priced out of the market?

It used to be that rent was the more affordable option – carried for less than a mortgage and had no maintenance fees. Renting was a great stepping stone for those that wanted to save up for a down payment on a home, but also a way of life for those that didn’t want to commit to the big mortgage and the rigors of homeownership. But the past few years have seen market rents soar, and vacancy rates plummet. Part of the problem is that real estate as a whole, in most Canadian cities, has become very expensive. Many of the traditional first-time buyers are remaining in the rental market longer because they need to work longer to save up a down payment. Another reason is that most cities have a shortfall of purpose-built rental properties. There was no incentive for developers to build rental properties, especially when the new condo market kept growing. A third reason is the quality of life Canada offers. It’s just an ideal place to immigrate, and the influx of new residents is clear cut in the most recent census, showing that growth is outpacing development of rental opportunities. The trifecta.

While the government is realizing the problem and trying to make headway with affordable housing solutions for the near future, thinking of unique ways to navigate the current rental market may be your key to finding your next home.

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