Entries in housing (1)


how to find an apartment in san francisco

I just went through an apartment hunt in San Francisco that ended with me renting a beautiful loft in Oakland. Here's what I learned from the hunt: 


  • It will cost more than you want to pay. Get used to it. For me, the value proposition wasn't there, so I started looking in the east bay, and fell in love with a property that was literally 4x the size of what I could get in SF. 
  • Quit smoking.
  • Figure out what you want, then figure out whether that sort of thing is available where you want to live, for the price you want to pay. If it's not, don't waste time looking for it; change the nature of your search. 
  • If you don't know the area, talk to your friends and colleagues. Bay Area neighborhoods change block-by-block. I printed out a map of Berkeley and Oakland and had friends mark it up with different-colored markers. Then go look around at neighborhoods, before you even bother looking at craigslist postings. 
  • Check your credit report as soon as you know you will move, and fix it.
  • Prepare a rental resume: present and former apartments, and the one before that. Landlords, with phone numbers. Reason for leaving, dates you lived there. Personal references with phone numbers. (Lots of people will want you to fill out their unique application, but having all this info will make that easier.)
  • Go to open houses early in your search. They will help you get a sense of prices in the area you're looking, so go even before you are really ready to rent. They are also much less hassle to schedule than 1:1 viewings. Just search for "open house" on craigslist.
  • Apartments in this market appear on craigslist and are rented within days. Use livelovely.com or padmapper.com to set up alerts for exactly what you want, and contact the lister immediately. (If your filters aren't specific enough, you will be deluged with too many alerts.)
  • Corrolary: confirm that the listing is still available before going to an open house
  • Get a written letter that verifies your length of employment and salary, with the phone number and email of a HR department that can verify it. 
  • Print out several copies of your credit report and bring it with you to open houses and viewings. Some landlords want you to provide it and others want to run their own credit report. 
  • At open houses, dress like a responsible and boring person. 
  • Arrive early for open houses and meetings with realtors. I mean EARLY. 15 minutes minimum. Why: 1) it looks good. 2) you can spend some time in the area. 3) You're probably going to get lost / the buses are going to be late / the traffic is going to be bad. 
  • If you find something you love, try to view it before the open house. Everything nice is going to get tons of applicants. Being there first matters. 
  • Have a non-trivial conversation with property owners and leasing managers. Thank them for their time. Ask them about themselves, their business, what they think about the bay area. This isn't just Dale Carnegie bullshit -- this is auditioning them for the long-term relationship you will have if you rent from them. 
  • Read reviews on yelp before even going to see developments. I wouldn't have bothered driving to Park Merced if I had read reviews like this before I went. Most of the developments have extensive shitty reviews, in fact. 
  • You can walk in to buildings and developments and get a tour during the week, but you'd need an appointment on the weekend. I suggest not making appointments; take a day off during the week and go see a bunch of developments. 
  • If you can break free of public transit, you have a ton more options. Consider buying a little motorcycle or bicycle. I pay < $250/month for my motorcycle and insurance, and that enables me to look much farther away from bus routes than I could otherwise -- but I can park easily park it on the street, and my heart wouldn't be broken if it was stolen.