Buying instead of renting? See the buying a home in Australia section.
Again, we relied heavily on the web to find somewhere to live in Australia - Melbourne, in our case. We wanted a place to rent, and we primarily used realestate.com.au to create a shortlist of places.
Regardless of which city in Australia you are moving to, the good places will be snapped up quickly - so it doesn't make much sense to be seriously looking for places until you are on the ground and can visit the places you are interested in renting.
We originally planned for one of us to go to Melbourne two weeks before our big move to finalise a place to live. We thought this would help because we would then have an address to send our belongings to when we were packing them up.
After being advised by a few international removals companies that our stuff would take up to 6 weeks to actually reach our new place by the time the Australian customs process was taken into account, we decided to scrap the idea of one person making an early trip. Besides, if you choose a place your significant other isn't too happy with, will you be able to live it down? ;)
Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was how competitive the Melbourne rental market was right at the time we were looking for a place to live. Typical! It does vary though, of course, depending on the time of year and suburb location.
Locals tell us that it is more competitive during the Winter months, easier in Spring and then tougher again at the start of the academic year. Of course, it will also depend on the rent bracket you are looking in.
We don't know if this seasonal difference is true in places other than Melbourne, but it might be of some use to you for whichever city/town you are moving to (and let us know if you have a different experience to ours).
We originally started in the $300 - $350 per week bracket, as that is what we were paying in Christchurch. This quickly changed after we learned that we would have to pay more to get something like we had in New Zealand. So now we're paying $450 per week, but we don't need a car, so it balances out somewhat.
We had hoped to find a place within a week, but that turned out to be completely unrealistic. In part, this was because we were used to Christchurch being such a tiny place and therefore relatively easy to get from one side to the other in no time at all. In Melbourne, we managed to look at 2 or 3 places in a day, at most. This might have been bad planning on our part, but we wanted to take a good look at the different suburbs of Melbourne to be sure we were living where we wanted to be.
In the end, it took us two weeks to find a place and move in. We found our place through an agent listing on realestate.com.au. Thankfully, we didn't have to pay a letting fee unlike the usual situation when an agent manages a rental property back in Christchurch. Letting fees just don't seem to be common practice here, but your experience might differ.
We did have to pay 4 weeks rent as bond and 4 weeks rent in advance though, which meant a whopping deduction from our bank account of AUD$3,900. Ouch. The tenancy laws have changed a bit since we moved in 2007 though, and you now only have to pay 2 weeks rent in advance.
One thing to keep in mind is that you have to pay for water (at least in Melbourne). This was a new experience for us we didn't have to do so in Christchurch. The cost of power was a surprise though - we're paying about 25% less for it in Melbourne than we were in Christchurch, and only $19 to get connected with no bond (although some companies do require a bond). (Note that power prices in Victoria and other parts of Australia have increased significantly since 2007).
This is where we were firmly reminded that Australia is quite a lot bigger than New Zealand and has those things called states(!) with different laws etc. So when looking for legislation that applies to the city or town you're moving to, you will of course need to refer to the governing laws of the relevant state (or territory).
Overall though, the tenancy laws are very similar to New Zealand. Listed below are places you can find very good information about tenancy laws in the different states and territories of Australia. It really does pay to learn about your rights and obligations regarding bond, giving notice of your intent to vacate a premises, etc.
NSW has not one but four relevant pieces of legislation applicable to residential tenancies. Unless you love making yourself bored, you shouldn't need to read any of them directly.
In Victoria the legislation governing residential tenancies is the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. A great resource covering your rights and obligations as a tenant can be found in this section of the Consumer Affairs Victoria site.
In Queensland, the place to go to learn all about residential tenancies is the Residential Tenancies Authority. They have great information about your rights and responsibilities when starting a tenancy, during a tenancy, and when ending a tenancy.
Another good resource for those of you planning to rent in ACT is the ACT Tenants' Union site.
The place to go for information about the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords in the Northern Territory is the residential tenancies section of the Northern Territory Consumer Affairs.
There you will find the useful A Guide To Renting In The Northern Territory (in PDF format) that explains things in plain english.
For information on tenancies in South Australia you will want to visit the renting and letting section of the South Australian Government site.
If you intend to rent a home in Tasmania, the Renting In Tasmania section of the Consumer, Building and Occupational Services website is a useful resource.
Tenancies in Western Australia are guided by the Residential Tenancies Act 1987. A good guide for those of us who don't like reading legalese is the Property Renting Guides and Videos section of the Department of Consumer and Employment Protection website.
One point of interest here is that Western Australia abolished tenant letting fees from April 5, 2007.