You've found the house of your dreams. You've got housemates lined up, you've got the cash, furniture... everything is set. Now, where's that legally-binding contract that will make it all official?

Hold it, buddy. Are you sure this is the house you want? Have you really checked it out and done the following?

  • Who are the neighbours?
    It's rare for the real estate agent to know much about the people you'll be sharing sound space/ a wall with. Ask anyway. And then ask people you know around the neighborhood. Ask people you don't know around the neighbourhood. Ask people who don't live around the neighbourhood. Do some late night wandering over to your prospective place- is there heavy metal turned up to 11 at 2am? Is the smell of pot only weaker than the stench of the pile of vomit on your soon-to-be front step? Or, on the other hand, is there a neighbour who screams out their window at you to stop walking on the gravel, the sound is keeping them awake?
    Although the neigbour factor is not a crucial element in choosing a place, it is important to suit your neighbours and their lifestyle if you want to live in a happy, healthy neighbourhood (see: 'Sesame Street' or 'Neighbours').
  • Is there hot water?
    Yes, it sounds silly, I know, but man, do I wish we'd checked that before we'd moved into our current home. Sure, we have hot water, but only if we want a 5 minute hot shower each, or a long shower for 1 and a half people. And all the rushing and freezing in winter could have been avoided by checking the size of the hot water heater, asking the landlord/ agent about the water system (off peak?), and checking if there was any reading material about it in the house.
  • Are the walls in okay condition?
    Here I'm not just talking about their ability to hold up the roof, although that is an essential part of any decent home. I'm saying check for mould, for hidden holes, for paint chips. If the walls are weak and you and your friends love nothing more than an indoor bout of footy, or cricket, or anything which involves hard objects hurtling around the place, maybe it isn't the best place for you (unless, of course, you like to pay a lot of bond when you move out).
    The mould check is important if you're allergic to it (like moi). Within two months of our moving in, we are surrounded by the stuff. Since the get-go, there was mould in one room, but it has spread. If only I had known to check the cornices and look carefully at the walls! (/me shakes head sadly).
  • Are you allowed to use the fireplace?
    Again, it seems dumb, but in winter you'll appreciate knowing if what you're doing is considered okay by the landlord. If you live in a cold house and have a fireplace, of course you're going to want to use it... but perhaps, like us, your landlord doesn't want you to (for reasons unknown- maybe because it'll clean out the mould?). Yes, you can use it anyway (provided the chimney works!) but remember: people have been thrown out for less. And unless you want to move when the lease is up, think about it carefully. And electric heaters, while not so romantic, are quite pleasant anyway.
  • What about pets?
    So you might not have a pet right now. But what about a few months down the track? It's best to ask, just to be sure.
    Most places for rent will say "No pets" in the ad if the landlord is that way inclined. In Australia the landlord can't say no to pets unless they have a damn good reason (as defined by the law). Unfortunately, the reasons can be pretty flimsy, but remember it's their house and they can do what they want (within reason!).
    If you do decide you want a pet, write to the agent/ landlord with a detailed and rational explanation of why you should be able to keep your pet goat inside. Quote the rental bible (in Australia, it's the book you get when you move into a rental place) as much as possible, and stay logical. Don't say that you'll die without Benny the Wonder Rabbit sleeping in your bed. That's just wrong.
These are just some ideas of what you should do before you sign on the dotted line. Remember that you're stuck in the house for the duration of the lease, unless you can afford the fiddling around fees when you skip out early. It's your house, so you should be happy there, without crap neighbours/ no hot water/ freezing in winter/ mould on the walls/ a lack of pets.

Happy house hunting!