Finding a well-priced apartment in San Francisco these days is almost as challenging as getting into an Ivy League school - sadly, this is not an exaggeration. According to the San Franciso Examiner, there is "ferocious demand" for residential rental property in the city, with demand expected to continue "skyrocketing." Competition is fierce, but you can find a great place if you know where to look and are diligent in your search.
When to Start Looking?
Most listings go up two to four weeks before they are available. Plan to start looking four weeks before an expected move-in date, but be prepared to move in immediately (or at least state that in your application). The high influx of talent coming in to participate in San Francisco's technology boom means that apartments are snapped up almost immediately.
Know Your Neighborhoods
San Francisco's neighborhoods are well-known for being distinctly different. Do some research before looking at apartment listings, which will significantly narrow your search down and allow you to focus on attending open houses that fulfill your criteria.
Great for Kids
Closer to the city center, Pacific Heights, Marina, Cow Hollow, Presidio, and Nob Hill are all great neighborhoods to raise kids in. They are safe and are in close proximity to libraries, schools, and parks. The Presidio, in particular, is one of the largest parks in San Francisco and borders the Golden Gate Park.
For something a little further away but where your money can get you a little further, try Outer Sunset, Sunset, and the Richmond districts. Single family housing is predominant in these neighborhoods, which is very rare for a city as densely populated as San Francisco. Outer Sunset overlooks the ocean and has an easy, relaxed vibe, while Richmond is a mecca for Asian food.
Great for Partying
The Mission and North Beach neighborhoods might be filled with homeless people and tourists respectively, but both boast a bustling nightlife. The Mission in particular has a host of great restaurants and bars, and is easily accessible to downtown via the Bay Area Rapid Transit.
For the Brave
The Tenderloin, Hunter's Point, and Western Addition are three of the city's most notorious neighborhoods. Proceed with extreme caution and be prepared to use pepper spray. The upside is that apartments tend to be cheaper in these neighborhoods, and for the Tenderloin - its proximity to downtown is unrivalled. For these neighborhoods, renter's insurance is a must.
Without a doubt, Craigslist is the most popular and commonly used avenue to go down when looking for San Francisco apartments. You'll find tons of listings of Bay Area availabilities, all of which can be put in order according to the neighborhood you're searching in. Each listing includes price, a description of the space, and an email contact, and many now contain pictures.
An insider tip is to download the Craigslist app on your smartphone and to check listings every hour. The earlier you hop on a listing, the more likely you'll get to see the apartment before anyone else does.
Best used as a phone app, Lovely has an easy-to-use interface that makes searching for apartments a breeze. Simply filter by price, number of bedrooms, and special requests (like "Dogs OK"), and the app does the rest for you. The app's interface is a map, which makes it easy to search around town. The best part is that you can preset the filters so you'll never even need to look at listings that don't meet your criteria. Many apartments on Lovely don't get listed on other websites, like Craigslist, which is rare.
Trulia allows you to progressively narrow your search by area, neighborhood, price, and number of bedrooms. All rental listings include a full description of the property, contacts for inquiries, and in many cases, photographs. They also have a great phone app, which allows you to easily email for quotes and save searches on the go.
Almost all available apartments get listed on Craigslist, and many of them get relisted on other rental websites. To find apartments that are not listed on these sites, look at specific real estate company websites. Two of the larger firms in the city are Hill & Co. and McGuire. They sometimes update their websites with special listings that don't pop up on Craigslist.
Think about your apartment search like a job interview. You are competing against numerous of candidates, and you need to convince the leasing agent that you're dependable, emotionally stable, and most definitely will not throw loud parties that neighbors will call the cops on.
Before an Open House
Check your listing app or website of choice every hour. Apartments get listed all the time and are very quickly snatched up. Call the number listed to schedule a viewing appointment. Always ask to view the apartment as early as possible - if they give you a specific date for an open house, always ask to view the house a day earlier. It's better still if you manage to view the house on that same day.
If they don't answer the phone, send a follow up inquiry email with a short blurb about yourself that includes: your paid job, the school you graduated from, and a "fun fact" - something like baking or reading. The key is to be personable and share a little bit about yourself, but only the good bits.
During an Open House
Arrive early. Chat with the real estate agent and make a connection. In this market, available apartments receive over twenty applications per open house. Do what you can to leave a good impression.
Come prepared with all the documents you need to fill out an application form. This includes:
- A generic application form pre-filled with personal, employment, and bank history
- Copies of your ID
- Copies of your credit report
- And even a short cover letter about yourself and your roommates
Be ready to submit an application on the spot. If you wait to sleep on it, the apartment will - almost guaranteed - be gone by the time you get home. Most apartments don't require a deposit at the time of application, but there may be a required application fee or credit check fee. Most run between $30-$50 per credit check.
After an Open House
A week after the open house, send a polite follow up email requesting for a timeline for the decision. If you don't hear back from them within three days, there's a large chance you did not get the apartment. It is very rare to hear back if you are not accepted.
If you're ever at a party and don't know what to say to fellow partygoers, a great opening line would be, "I can't believe how hard it is to find an apartment in San Francisco!" San Francisans love talking about the city's crazy housing market. Expect to spend all your waking moments consumed with thoughts about apartment hunting, and expect to spend at least two to four weeks in this agony. If, at the end of the day (or month!), the dream San Francisco apartment still remains out of reach - you might want to try Oakland.