How to find a place to rent in Vancouver - 8 tips for a young family

By Ryan Lee
March 29, 2021
Read Time:8 Minute

Photo by Takenori Okada on Unsplash

Here are our tips that help you find a place to rent in Vancouver for young families in 2021.

Whether you are a newcomer or a seasoned Vancouver housing hunter, finding a place to rent is a daunting challenge. It's an ever-updating game that doesn't seem to be getting easier. 

At Young Families of Metro Vancouver, we take this game very seriously. helping our young families to find a perfect place is one of our five-pillar missions.

Table Of Contents

Cafe Medina, Richard Street, Vancouver
Photo by Mario Mendez on Unsplash

Tip 1. Narrow down to a few desirable neighbourhoods.

There are a few important factors when we choose a new neighbourhood. Surprisingly, the price is not always the best indicator for making that decision. 

Yes, there is a vast difference between renting a townhouse in front of Coal Harbour and a basement suite in Surrey. Still, when we rule out some extreme cases, most of Vancouver's rental properties fall into a specific price range. 

And within that range, the actual price differences can often be eliminated by the following factors:

  1. Schools nearby
  2. Distance to commute to work
  3. A particular lifestyle the neighbourhood offers
  4. Security
  5. Good access to public transport
  6. Proximity to your friends, family and communities

So sometimes, it comes down to non-housing values. 

"A right neighbourhood has unseen dollar values."

Let's say you had a place that is $1900 per month and another $2100 per month. There is a $200 fixed difference. 

But what if the $2100 one is closer to grocery stores and a bus stop to your work? Then you don't have to drive much. There you might save $40 ~ $50 simply from the gas per month. 

There might be a community centre nearby where it offers lots of classes and activities. Your friends might live closer by so you can take turns babysitting the kids. 

At the end of the day, the actual difference might not be exact $200. You should try to be as picky in looking for those hidden values as finding a cheaper rent.

Some of us from the town might already know these pieces of information and roughly know which neighbourhood is best for them. But for the newcomers without any of this local information, you might want to ask the good people at the YFMV community.

Walkscore.com is a great website you can use to help you learn about a neighbourhood. You can see the 3 important scores of a given address.

Tip 2. It's a number game. Start looking. The earlier, the better. 

Finding the best deal is a number game. The more often and the earlier you look into it, the higher chance you will find a better deal.

I remember when my wife and I came back to Vancouver back in 2016 after living 3 years in Europe. We started looking for a place to rent. In my mind, a two-bedroom apartment in Burnaby should be around $1200 a month. That was the price back in 2010. I was so out of touch! 

None of us browse houses to rent daily. Many of us search places on the Internet in a short period. But it is always a good idea to study the rental market every month, even if you are not moving anytime soon.

Because you'd never know when you have to move out in this busy housing market. 

"Know how much time you would need to look for a new place"

By law, landlords must give tenants an ample amount of time to move out. After giving them the notice to end the tenancy, you have some time—this ranges from one month notice to end tenancy to 12 months. 

If you had unpaid rent or utilities, the landlord could give you as short as 10-day notice to end the tenancy. 

Landlord Notice to end Tenancy

For some of us, one month might be enough time to find an ideal place. In some cases, you might want to file a dispute just to earn more time to find a new home. In the worst case, we might have to find temporary lodging until you find a permanent one. 

But suppose you are already familiar with the market by studying it regularly. In that case, the whole thing might not be as daunting. So if you have some free time, do some window shopping on Craigslist.

Tip 3. Get Yourself Organized

Now it's time to get in the actual game. First, you need to get organized. 

There are a few tools that will help you stay organized.

  1. An easily accessible spreadsheet
  2. A map
  3. A calendar

"Map"

Google Map is lovely, but a city map hanging on your wall is something else. These maps can be a great decoration. If you are new to town, this will help you become familiar with the city.

Not only it gives you an atmosphere of a war room, but it also gives you a bird's eye view of all the places you have contacted, turned down and planned to see.

Here are some Vancouver maps for dear Vancouverites that you can buy online and works great as wall decor on Etsy.

From Esty

"Spreadsheet"

A spreadsheet with is columns and rows is a great way to organize information. You can easily compare the information. It can be better if you use some colours as well. 

Google sheet is fantastic. But if you are outside, it's tough to work with it on your phone. You can, of course, carry a tablet, but that can be too clunky to carry around. All these technologies sometimes cannot beat the nicely folded piece of paper. 

I highly recommend using the best of both worlds. You can print out a spreadsheet before you go out for viewing etc., and then update it on the paper spreadsheet. Later you can update it on the online spreadsheet. 

"Calendar"

There will be viewings amid your already chaotic schedule. Creating a calendar or integrating your viewing schedule into your existing calendar is a must. 

Some of us (like me) are so used to my daily routine/agony that I don't keep a calendar. This could be problematic if I wanted to squeeze in lots of viewings. So if you don't have a calendar yet, I highly recommend creating one before viewings start.

Again, a physical calendar hanging on a fridge or a wall can be an easy start because investing time to learn how to use an online calendar can be a daunting task.

how to find a rental property in Vancouver as a young family - prepare a calendar
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

Tip 4. Size Matters

Deciding on how much space you would need will make things easier for you. It narrows down your choices, and it often serves better guidance than price alone.  

At YFMV, we did a survey on "what's the acceptable housing size for a family of 4." According to our community members, an 800 sqft for two adults and two children is still acceptable.

Some might need a more enormous bedroom but a smaller living room area and some the other way around. Some prefer actual usable space, and some want more visible space (meaning it looks bigger.) 

So you should write down on a piece of paper the max and min size you are looking for.

You think 800 sqft is too small? You need to follow 600sqftandababy on Instagram.

Tip 5. How to evaluate a place

Guilty. I am an impulsive buyer. But selecting a place has more consequences than impulsively getting a new iPhone. Although a new has a sentimental aspect of it and we should sometimes trust our gut feelings. Still, as adults, we must embrace reality and make hard decisions.

A nice trick to an emotional, impulsive decision-maker

"Think of it as a place that you are going to be trapped in for the next 3 years."

"Non-negotiable features VS Negotiable features."

You need to first sort out non-negotiable features. Once you found places that satisfy all the non-negotiables, then you can move on to compare them by negotiable features. 

My non-negotiable feature is: "the place must have a roof." The last negotiable feature is "The colour of the door threshold in the second washroom should be orange, my favourite colour."

Excercise:

Decide whether the following features are negotiables or non-negotiables, and then write down "the best scenario" and "the least acceptable scenario."

Keep in mind that the more non-negotiables you have, the less chance you will find them. So it's wise to keep their number as low as possible. A good number can be 5, but if you could reduce it to 3, that will open up more choices.

Non-negotiable ItemsBest ScenarioAcceptable
Example: Size1300 sqft800 sqft
Size
Number of Rooms
Number of Baths
Parking Space
Yard Size
Distance to Work
Distance to transportation
Close to a school
Close to shops

"How to decide if it's a non-negotiable feature."

Having less non-negotiable items opens up more options for you. But to do that, we must know if a specific need, for example, "I must have 4 bedrooms plus a den," is a valid non-negotiable at all.

I suggest you find an "acceptable bottom-line." 

Here is what I would do to see if I really needed X number of bedroom and a den:

Write down the best scenario that's in your head: "4 bedrooms and a den." on the top and then write down each scenario that is less and less optimal from what you wrote down above, for e.g.

  • "4 bedrooms and a den."
  • "What if it's a 3-bedroom + den?"
  • "What if it's a 2-bedroom + den?"
  • "What if it's a 2-bedroom?"
  • "What if it's 1 bedroom?"
  • "What if it's a studio?"

and so on, and you might find an "acceptable bottom-line."

"Negotiables are nice-to-haves."

Negotiables are features that are nice to have and "might" make you happy down the road. They "might." For example, having a good Pho restaurant nearby is definitely nice to have. I might love it for the next few years, but I might turn vegan during that time as well. 

Remember that these are not as important as non-negotiable features.

"A point system to make your decision easier."

Here is a nice trick that I use to make it easy to juggle with negotiables and non-negotiables. I create a point system that works like this:

1 non-negotiable feature = 100 points.

1 negotiable feature = 1 point.

Let's say you have 3 candidates that all fulfilled all your non-negotiables; they all got equal 500 points. 

Place A: 500 points
Place B: 500 points
Place C: 500 points

but then, if you add negotiable points, this might suggest a winner:

Place A: 515 points
Place B: 503 points
Place C: 507 points

You can put different points on each non-negotiables. Still, the rule of thumb is that "the total of all the non-negotiable points MUST NOT be more than a single negotiable." I meant, if having a roof is 100 points, nothing combined can be more important than that!

Tip 6. Make an email and calling template

Create email templates and scripts for phone calls because you will be writing lots of short emails and making lots of phone calls. 

Scripts and email templates will save lots of energy and time because thinking about what to say or write takes time and energy. It's a proven old sales technique. But if you've never done any sales jobs, this can be a chance for you to learn one of the most valuable skills in this Internet age.

Tip 7. Make the viewing a family outing

If you really liked a place, it is highly recommended to bring your entire family to viewing because it gives the landlords peace of mind about who will be living in their properties. You can prevent them from imagining all these energetic little creatures running and bouncing in and out of their delicate real estates. Most of all, there is nothing wrong with exploiting cuteness to seal the deal.

Finding a babysitter is hard. It is another big reason to bring your family together for viewings since scheduling it is complex and often the last minute.

The trick is to make the viewing your family outing. If it's during a weekend, find out some places to hang out as a family before or after the viewing, such as a playground, a park, a family restaurant or even a friend's place we can drop by.

It is a great way to learn about the neighbourhood.

Tip 8. Prepare deposit and reference beforehand.

Get your deposit and the reference ready beforehand. This should be your task number one, given its importance.

Did you like the place you saw yesterday? The chances are the other people might like it too. Depending on the kind of housing market you're in, sometimes the competition can be very tough. So you might want to be prepared to make an offer before other competitors.

So having your reference, and also deposit ready, can be very handy. It puts you ahead in the game.

Sometimes you might not have enough cash on your hands. Nowadays, many tools can help you pay a deposit with credit cards, such as PayPal.

If you're new in town or a new immigrant, you might not have any reference, to begin with. You can still explain to the landlord that you are new in the country. The people often are very understanding, especially in the Metro Vancouver area.

Tip 9. Educate yourself with the laws

Now it's time to sign an agreement. But before you do that it's always wise to study some legal stuff before you make a big commitment. We won't deal with this in this article. But gathered some good materials:

Further Reads:

Conclusion

It is a daunting task to find a new place, especially when you have a family to take care of and a full-time job. It is a very time-consuming and energy-consuming task. But if you have a system and some techniques, you can make it less painful and more efficient. I hope the tips above would help you find a new place—so good luck with your next house hunt.

Ryan Lee

About Post Author

Ryan Lee

The Dev Dad. Ryan is a software developer / digital product designer who loves to write some random stuff about technology and family life.
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