What I Learned: Finding a Place to Rent in SF

There are many reasons to not live in San Francisco. Let me tell you about the ones that have been told to me:

  • rent is too high / generally everything is too expensive
  • you can’t live there without roommates
  • there’s no need for a car there
  • it’s dirty / it smells

Up until this year, I was perfectly content with living in South Bay. For the most part, I was near my workplace, my friends, my errands and my routine. I had made a life for myself there that I was comfortable with. When I changed jobs earlier this year though with my new office being in the city, it was a huge adjustment for me. I went from having a 30 minute round trip commute to a two-hour one. I tried to rationalize. Well, I really like driving! I may not like road trips, but I’m a morning person anyways and I don’t mind driving on I-280. It’s SO pretty!

I rationalized until I couldn’t anymore. 2017 was a big year of changes for me so why not add one more to the mix – new city / new home? I was ready for a complete fresh start. Having lived in the Bay Area for nearly four years at this point, I felt like I had a good starting point. I knew exactly what I wanted in a new home and I wasn’t going to settle. I’d also spent a lot of time doing research too so while others told me to brace myself for 1-2 months of searching, I was out to prove people wrong. So yes, it is possible to find a place in one week!

Just like a job description, I broke things out into my Must Haves and Nice-t0-Haves.

Must have: 

  • washer/dryer in-unit
  • not a ground floor unit
  • safe neighborhood
  • short commute to work
  • lot of natural sunlight – no basement units allowed

Nice-to-have:

  • dishwasher
  • wood floors
  • top floor unit
  • parking spot
  • rent-controlled
  • some utilities paid

When I shared with some friends these requirements, I got a lot of smirky “good lucks!” And I get it, people have lived here for some amount of time and they’ve gone through their fair share of apartment hunting so it hasn’t always been easy. In total, I looked at five different places and the neighborhoods that I considered were: Dogpatch, Potrero Hill, Cole Valley, Bernal Heights, Hayes Valley, Noe Valley, Alamo Square, Pacific Heights, and Laurel Heights. I’m also willing to acknowledge that while I’m writing this and making this “look easy,” I came across a few places that were a bit of a disaster.

The first apartment I checked out, I found through Apartment List. I spent one of my weekend days prior to checking out places making an account with the site listing all of these requirements (and more!) and a few results came up for me. It paired me with someone who was a rep from RentSFNow, which I hadn’t heard too much about it. I’ll also note that for all of my visits, I always brought a friend. The apartment that I was shown was beautiful. It had more than enough room for me, was on a higher floor, had its own walk-in-closet and since it was my first one, I almost let that sway me too much. I got so excited that I was willing to settle because I had heard how difficult it could be to find a place so why not end my search at number 1? However, after I spent some more time on it, I realized I didn’t exactly trust my rep when she told me she didn’t have the key to the laundry room especially when I had seen the apartment on other listings saying it had no laundry. I realized that while the apartment was spacious, it had too much space that I didn’t need. It also didn’t help that it was on the busiest and loudest street.

What this process was beginning to teach me was that there are things that I could think that I really need initially, but also a handful of things that I can definitely live without. I’ll spare you the details of every other place that I visited, but I will say that I visited a place in Hayes Valley that had zero closet space at all (that was an immediate no) an in-law-unit of a beautiful house with an entrance that started from the garage and had no sunlight coming in at all. I even ran into a Craigslist scam. It wouldn’t be apartment hunting in SF without one of those! Rent in SF is expensive and we all have to make sacrifices, but at the end of the day, you have to make the best choice for you and your lifestyle. The things I gave up? Just one – the washer/dryer in unit, but what I was able to get in return? Living a block away from my best friend, a parking spot free-of-charge, top floor unit, walking distance to my favorite neighborhoods, and a few more.

In 2017, Craigslist is still the preferred method of choice for finding a place. It isn’t easy and there’s a lot of noise, but you have to remain persistent. Every night after work, I spent about a week and a half looking at the most recent posts for all of the neighborhoods I listed. It was exhausting and at times I didn’t feel like it was the best use of my time, but it ultimately led me to where I landed.

People also will tell you that you need to bring folders with you that include ALL of your information. I did this and I’m glad I learned how to prepare one, but I didn’t end up having to use it! I’m more than a month into living at my new spot, but it feels like I’ve been living here for much longer. If I had to pick between searching and moving in this process, the actual moving was probably the worst with the searching being the most fun and adventurous. Friends love to help you find a place, but ain’t nobody trying to sign up to help you move.

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