Rental property companies are bracing for a tsunami of applications as thousands of returning students compete with transferring workers and new migrants for a place to live.
The cut-throat Auckland market is already hotting up, with well-priced rental properties drawing dozens of hopeful house-hunters.
Prospective tenants are forced to queue at mass viewing sessions and prepare CV-like covering letters and references, with some offering gardening work or extra cash in a bid to secure scarce properties.
But landlords are being warned that finding the right tenant at a fair market rent is more important than lining their wallets.
"It's all about getting the right person in and looking for longer-term tenancies," Goode Rentals owner Darryl Goode told the Herald.
"The money is important but finding the right person is more important."
Around 40,000 university students return to classes across Auckland next month and thousands of other residents are coming off fixed-term tenancies or arriving in Auckland for work.
That is tipped to put huge pressure on the city's already stretched rental market, which Goode expects to reach boiling point during February and March.
Landlords have already warned of likely rent increases as investors review yields amid rising house prices and seek better returns on their investment properties.
About 70 people traipsed through a newly advertised four-bedroom student flat in Epsom yesterday, available for $795 a week.
Goode said the average Auckland student could expect to pay about $200 for a room in centrally located suburbs. Many others are likely to be forced further out.
However, demand for higher-end properties priced over $1000 a week also remained high, particularly for the executive market.
Goode's priciest property, a four-bedroom open-plan home with its own courtyard and pool, was currently rented for $2000 a week.
"I do wonder how people afford it, but there is that demand and people pay it."
Meanwhile, a six-bedroom, five-bathroom "executive home" in St Mary's Bay is currently advertised by Quinovic for $3400 a week.
And a luxury four-bedroom, three-bedroom waterfront "resort" on Takapuna's blue-chip Clifton Rd is available for $4000 a week, complete with movie theatre, mirror television, lap pool and petanque court.
The Auckland Property Management listing says smokers need not apply, and the price is "not negotiable".
Trade Me Property figures show the average weekly rent across Auckland in December was $510 - compared to $495 a year earlier.
Pinehill on the North Shore was the city's most expensive rental suburb ($855), while Manukau was the cheapest ($345).
Spokesman Nigel Jeffries said there were currently 4003 Auckland rental properties advertised on the site, with 1775 in Auckland city.
January was traditionally a busy time for landlords and tenants, with a huge number of fixed tenancies ending and new university students entering the market in search of their first flat.
Traffic to Trade Me's Viewing Tracker system, which lets prospective tenants book rental viewings - was up 130 per cent this month compared to December.
"It's clear that it's going to be very busy and competitive out there."
Prospective tenants should put their best foot forward by having references prepared and being ready to pay the bond immediately.
"They want the landlord or property agent to be confident that they can pay the rent and they're going to be a respectful and reliable tenant."
Auckland University Students Association president Will Matthews said competition for accommodation was tough, with students forced to compete with young professionals and families.
Rising accommodation costs were cutting into student budgets, with some choosing between eating properly and topping up HOP transport cards.
He advised students to "keep looking".
"It's difficult and can be tiring, tense and stressful. You will find a house. It's just about making sure your application is good, your 'CV' is well presented and that you are well presented.
"It's a competition."
• Sell yourself. Make sure you're well presented - don't turn up looking like a slob.
• Be prepared: Download and fill out the application form ahead of the viewing. Arrive with covering letter and references from previous landlords.
• Show them the money: Let the agent know if you're able to pay the required bond immediately.
• Bring the folks: Some students attend viewings with their parents, who can vouch for your character and add support to your application.
• Say cheese: A photograph can help your application stand out from the crowd.
An exasperating search
For two young students moving to Auckland for their first year of university, searching for a new home can be exasperating.
Jemma Smith and her boyfriend Jason Guan are looking at five properties a day with Smith's parents. But the 18-year-olds' hopes were dashed when they found out the houses they applied for had been claimed just hours after viewings.
"It's very competitive, places just go so fast. You have to get in quick," Smith said.
Her parents Elaine and Martin Smith have flown up from Wellington to help the young couple with their search. Martin hoped that their presence would add some "credibility and support" to the application. He said they might also act as guarantors so they were keen to see the property their daughter would be renting.
"We're trying to reinforce that these guys are here to study, to work hard. They're not party individuals and they will actually look after the property."
Goode Rentals owner Darryl Goode agreed that bringing the parents along can work to your advantage as it shows you have extra support.
"Say if I only had two or three applications. I might tell the landlord 'the parents came along, there's not going to be a problem with the rent, they're from a good family'. And the landlord will go, 'Okay we'll probably run with them then'."
After realising how quickly properties were moving, they changed their strategy, Martin said. Now, if they like the house, they submit an application for it straightaway.
Martin admitted it was tough for students as they were often going up against families and professionals. He estimated that only 25 per cent of the rental market was appropriate for students.
Jemma Smith said they were trying to differentiate themselves to the agents and landlords by saying what they could add to the property.
"We're trying to point out parts of the house we could improve, such as the garden and saying in the application 'if you choose us we could fix up the garden, plant some flowers, make a vege garden'."