Explore Australia: Mi casa es su casa (for a price)  By

Explore Australia: Mi casa es su casa (for a price)

Last January, my family spent a month in Vietnam. While we were away, a family from Christchurch, New Zealand, had their own holiday in our home. They weren’t friends or relatives; in fact, we’d never met them until the day they collected the key. The rent they paid us covered the cost of our flights and was considerably less than it would have cost them to stay in a hotel.

Some homeowners may be wondering if they can afford to have a decent break this summer. Renting your home out privately using the internet might be the answer. Not only could it pay for your holiday, you can have your plants watered, the mail collected and your pets looked after at the same time.

But before you get too excited, you have to seriously consider how you feel about strangers living in your home. If you are uncomfortable with the thought of other people sleeping in your bed, cooking in your kitchen and lying around on your couch, private home rental probably isn’t for you. My family was unfussed; we added our car into the deal and left our bicycles, boogie boards and tennis racquets along with a list of good places to use them. Our tenants had access to our cable TV connection, fed our cats and looked after the garden for us.

There are several websites that you can use to list your home for short-term rental. Most of them provide a level of separation between you and prospective tenants until you decide you want to contact them directly. ‘It’s a great system,’ says Pat Figgis, who has just returned from a three-month trip that was partly funded by the rent he collected for his Fitzroy terrace. ‘Your house earns money while you are away. What’s not to like about that?’

Before you place your ad, take a little time to think about who might like to spend time in your house. If you have children, advertise your home as family-friendly. People with kids will appreciate knowing that they probably won’t have to worry about sticky fingers on a pristine white leather couch, and über-cool singles will get the message that yours is a family home and not a party pad.

Think about what is appealing to you about where you live. If you live close to town, you can mention museums, art galleries, restaurants and shops. Further out, you might be near wildlife sanctuaries, bicycle tracks or bushwalking trails. Putting a link to your local council’s website is a good way to help people find out a little more about where your house is. On most sites you can also link to a map but, for safety, only give a very general description of your location.

Describe your house accurately and put on as many photos as the website allows. Pictures of the main rooms and the front and back of the house will give people a good idea of what they are getting and avoid any disappointment when they arrive.

Do some research before deciding how much to charge. Check the website for similar homes in your area and investigate current rental prices through your local real estate agent. Remember to allow for gas, electricity and water as you won’t be disconnecting them while you are away. If you are going to give your tenants access to additional services, like the internet, factor that in too.

When you start to get responses, remember that you don’t have to rent your house to the first person that enquires. It can be worth holding out a little longer to find a tenant that best suits you. One private renter confesses that he ‘panicked a bit’. He found himself renting his house to a tenant who didn’t want it for the whole time the property was available. After the contract was signed, people who would have taken the house for a longer period responded to his ad.

In my case, two families responded to our ad within a few days of each other. After some email conversations, we chose the family with children similar in age to our sons. We reasoned that they would enjoy staying in a home already set up for them and that the happier they were in our house the more likely they were to look after it well.

You should always check references before agreeing to rent your home to anyone. Ask for at least two referees and verify their details independently before contacting them. The internet has made this task very simple. Within a few minutes of their first enquiry, I was able to confirm that our tenants did indeed live and work where they said they did and I have no doubt they did the same thing at their end. They paid a deposit to secure the booking and paid the rest of the rent when they came to collect the keys. Other private renters recommend asking for a 10 per cent deposit to secure the booking and the balance ten days before arrival.

In Victoria, if you are renting your own home out for less than 60 days, the Residential Tenancies Act will not apply. This means that you do not have to ask your tenants to sign a lease or collect a bond from them, but it also means you have less protection under the law if anything goes wrong. A lawyer can draw up a contract for around $1,000 or you can draft your own agreement. If you would rather keep things informal, at the very least put in writing what you have agreed regarding dates, the rental amount, what the rent includes and what it doesn’t. Legally, you must also declare any income for taxation purposes.

Before your tenants arrive, you will have to clear space for their clothing and toiletries. You may also wish to remove personal items like photographs, jewellery and anything of great sentimental or monetary value. The house really does need to be scrupulously clean. Try and look at your home through someone else’s eyes and make a note of the things that familiarity usually lets you overlook: dirty walls, broken tiles, grotty kitchen cupboards. A clean oven, sparkling windows and a tidy garden are essential. It is a good idea to hire a professional cleaner before the tenants arrive. Your tenants will most likely leave the place the way they found it, so you will come home to a clean and tidy home, as we did. Well, at least until you unpack.

Useful information
sabbaticalhomes.com Sabbatical Homes is a US-based website that allows you to list your home for rental for a one-off US$55 listing fee. If you are successful they request an additional contribution of US$50–100.
rent-a-home.com.au This Australian–owned site manages and collects all payments for you for a fee of 8.8% of the rental income.
consumer.vic.gov.au For rentals longer than 60 days, tenancy and bond information and forms are available from Consumer Affairs Victoria.
liv.asn.au The Law Institute of Victoria can refer you to a legal practice in your area that has experience in property law.
ato.gov.au The Australian Taxation Office has information online about income and allowable tax deductions from rental properties.

by Lorna Henry (SabbaticalHomes.com member since 2006) Explore Australia