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Tips for Apartment Hunting in San Francisco

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View from an apartment building rooftop in North Beach.

View from an apartment building rooftop in North Beach.

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

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. Check other sites such as, (for pet friendly apartments), or 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).
  4. 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, 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.

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.


Marina (author) from San Francisco, CA on March 05, 2013:

Thanks everyone! I'm hoping that there will be a resource that can complement Craigslist in SF. Great apartments disappear much too quickly. But I suppose it's just the nature of the city being small and so densely populated.

Judy Specht from California on March 04, 2013:

Great, informative article. It has been awhile since I have hunted for a rental, but I know lots of people who are looking. Will pass the info along.

Shelterguru on November 27, 2012:

This is very informative about finding an apartment. Websites like are also great at giving tips like this, and are truly helpful when hunting for an apartment. Thanks for the info.

extended-stay from Norfolk, Virginia on May 08, 2012:

Vary informative and this is just helpful for someone like me who is looking for apartments. Not in San Francisco but still, I can bear in mind these things.

Marina (author) from San Francisco, CA on April 02, 2012:

Wesman Todd Shaw: I couldn't agree more that SF is an exciting, gorgeous, and delicious city. And you're right that (for a city that spans only 7 sq. miles) it is incredibly diverse. I don't think the claim that "it's too expensive" is necessarily true, either. There are a ton of affordable apartments throughout San Francisco if you're not too picky about the neighborhood.

Wesman Todd Shaw from Kaufman, Texas on December 16, 2011:

I've been to that fine city that you all live and work in....and I just LOVE the place.

If I could live anywhere - I'd live in San Francisco! I loved the food, the place is BEAUTIFUL, and there's a whole different world within the's called "Chinatown."

Heck, there's folks that basically look like my own cousins walking around San Fran, and God and the people they are with only knows what language it is that they're speaking!

Far and away the most beautiful place I've ever been....and I think that were I to brush up on "picking" more and play this keyboard here less - then I could Busk it on up in my free time, and have some fun.

Oh well, probably not going to happen any time soon..but I can keep on dreaming. In any case - I certainly hope to get to visit again ....that chowder in a bowl of bread down by the wharf...just add some red sauce, and it's heaven!!!!!!!!!!

Marina (author) from San Francisco, CA on December 15, 2011:

Thanks, all! Yes, it's funny I've had to move 3 times in the last year and a half, but my current apartment/studio is my absolute favorite so I can't complain.

And yes, Walk Score has generally helped me navigate around the city, but it's super useful for people trying to pick a neighborhood to live in.

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on December 15, 2011:

These are amazing tips, Marina. We rented a house in San Francisco a few years ago and I remember being very overwhelmed having not rented for a long time. Your tips will really help those renting in the City, especially those coming from other areas that aren't as competitive. I agree with Simone, Walk Score is a really cool feature and I'd never heard of it!

Jason Menayan from San Francisco on December 15, 2011:

Incredibly useful information - how many renting fiascoes would I have avoided had I been able to read this 15 years ago?! Your tips on beating out "the competition" when you're after a particularly competitive spot are definitely valuable. I'm sure you had to learn all of this the hard way, but it's great that now you can share your hard-earned wisdom with lots of people.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on December 15, 2011:

This is so awesome! I'm not currently hunting for apartments, but the next time I do, I'll be coming straight back to this Hub, since you've outlined a bunch of approaches and resources I had never even heard of!

I am particularly interested in Walk Score- how cool is that? I think I'll be using it for more than just apartment hunting... since I don't have a car, I can use it to determine whether a far-away place is worth the day trip or too much of a hassle to visit!