Tips for Apartment Hunting in San Francisco
Apartment searching in San Francisco can be a daunting task. As is the case with Manhattan, the demand of apartment hunters far exceeds the supply of available apartments. This produces a set of unfortunate hurdles: rent is pricey, space is limited, and you have to act quickly. I've had the pleasure of moving 3 times in this wonderful city: my first move from L.A.; my second move, prompted by a price hike in a non rent-controlled building; and my third move, a result of a fire breaking out in apartment number two. In each case, I grew wiser when it came to searching for and selecting an apartment, and in each case, things got a lot easier. I hope that the following advice will help those transitioning to a San Francisco apartment. Because, well, it's truly a great city to live in once you find a place that meets your needs!
Where to Look
- Craigslist may seem like an obvious choice, but many people don't realize that it's the best apartment hunting resource for San Francisco residents. This is because of the Open House Blitz. What is the Open House Blitz, you ask? It took me a while to wrap my head around it, but in a nutshell: many of the most-desired units will be shown only once during a preset open house period. Time and place are posted, but typically no contact info is provided. Depending on the season, in addition to other factors that might make a certain place particularly attractive, 10-15 people could show up expressing interest in the unit. At that point, it's all out warfare. Showing up early and prepared is key to gaining ground in these situations. That being said, landlords and property management companies are pretty good about keeping their [SF] Craigslist ads up-to-date, so you don't want to miss out by not checking!
- People you know living in the city are also some of your best resources when apartment hunting. Ask around for what's available! Maybe one of your friends' roommates is moving out soon. It's possible he/she knows of a vacancy down the street. Having an "in" can only help in these situations.
- Check other sites such as ForRent.com, MyNewPlace.com (for pet friendly apartments), or RentSFNow.com. Though, typically these sites rent from properties owned by large management companies, which may or may not be preferable. I found these sites less suitable for my needs because I wanted a more personal landlord-tenant relationship (monopolistic property management companies are the bane of my existence).
- Advertise yourself! Particularly if you're looking to shack up with some roommates. Post ads on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace letting other people know what you're looking for. It's best to cover your bases!
Rank Your Priorities
Everybody has different ideas in mind when considering their dream (or yearly) apartment. In San Francisco, narrowing down and ranking your list of priorities will certainly help the apartment search. Here's a list of considerations:
1. Price: San Francisco is a pricey city to live in, and rent is largely be driven by location. If you're worried about paying too much for rent, consider looking for an apartment in one of the less expensive (albeit less "popular") neighborhoods: some parts of the Mission, the Tenderloin, Western Addition, Nob Hill, and Bayview-Hunters Point will have affordable units, even for studios and one-bedrooms. Got a car? Be prepared to pay an extra $100-$250 a month to park it.
2. Location: For a city as small as San Francisco, it would be a disservice to call it homogenous. With so many neat and distinct neighborhoods and communities, anyone can fine a "home" here. Location is about both aesthetics and convenience. Proximity to grocery stores, parks, BART, fitness centers, friends, banks, and work is super important, but so might be a picturesque view or having clean facilities nearby.
Whether or not you have a car is relevant. Personally, I would advise against it if you have a choice in the matter. Though, even those who do have a car will find themselves walking quite a bit. Particularly for those who don't, walking and public transportation will be part of the daily routine. Luckily, WalkScore.com has an algorithm that determines how walkable (how easy it is to run daily errands sans car) a given address is. It is based on a score of 1-100, and can easily and intuitively help you narrow down your apartment searching to a neighborhood that suites all of your needs.
Using WalkScore is easy! Just type in an address on the homepage
Voila! Looks like HubPages' HQ is very walkable!
3. Flying solo or with roommates? If you're like me and prefer to have your own place, be prepared to pay a little more. Unfortunately, studios and one-bedrooms are commonly $1000/month and up. However, living in a larger house or apartment may reduce the cost of rent substantially! Choosing to live alone also reduces the number of options available, and requires a bit more aggression during the apartment hunting process.
What's most important to you when searching for a new apartment?
Some Final Tips
- Show up early for appointments and open houses. Remember, it's a hostile world out there and some open houses last only 15 minutes.
- Be prepared for open houses. Having the necessary documents on you could make or break your chances for securing the apartment you want. You should have with you: a checkbook (and money in your bank account to put down a deposit), a recent copy of your credit report, a recent pay stub/proof of income, and a picture ID.
- Take pictures of the places you visit so you can evaluate and compare after you leave.
- Don't get discouraged by rejection! Keep looking, and surely you will find a home that will make you happy.