Help me find a place near UC Berkeley!
April 30, 2010 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a place near UC Berkeley! (Difficulty: I'm in Philadelphia.)

Yesterday, I handed in my dissertation and got a job at UC Berkeley. Now I need a place to live.

The job is a one-year position (actually one academic year, so late August to mid-May). I could probably swing a trip out there (from Philadelphia) sometime during the summer to find a place, and will if it's necessary, but that of course costs money. I know a few people in the Bay Area but nobody that I'd really feel comfortable asking to check out apartments for me.

I like coffee shops, cheap restaurants, and not needing a car. (I might bring a car -- I don't have one now, but my parents are getting rid of one -- but I hear parking is really difficult on campus, so I don't want to commute by car.) I would like to not live where all the undergrads do. But I'm willing to live in whatever the "grad student ghetto" is, if such an area exists; I won't be a grad student but that won't stop me. (Besides, the pay for my job sucks -- thanks, California budget crisis! -- but they're making less than I am.)

I don't intend to bring lots of stuff with me, so I don't need a huge space. But a studio kind of freaks me out -- something about eating and sleeping in the same room. A small one-bedroom would be fine. I'm not sure how I feel about sharing an apartment; in theory it seems like a great idea but in practice I've known too many people for whom that just didn't work out. I probably want to stay under $1100/month or so, although I haven't thought too hard about that number. I am aware that the previous paragraph might be unrealistic.

I'm looking on Craigslist but I don't know the geography too well, and Craigslist is depressing anyway and full of people who can't spell.

So, my questions are:
- where should I look for apartments? (I'm both talking about neighborhoods I might want to live in and Web sites that I might look at to find such apartments.)
- when should I look? (Please don't say "you should have already looked", that doesn't help.)
- are there any super-secret things about renting there that I should know about?
posted by madcaptenor to Work & Money (31 answers total)
For the most part, craigslist is where you get apartments in the bay area. An $1100 one-bedroom in walking distance to campus that isn't super sketchy... is unlikely. If you want to avoid undergrads, you want to go north of campus, probably (south and west of campus is very undergrad-y). Lots of people bike in the area, and that's a good option. You can also live anywhere on the BART line just fine -- looking in downtown or uptown oakland might work for you, or pretty much anywhere else.

depending on how you want to transport yourself, you sound like you'd like the Gourmet Ghetto area -- centered roughly at Shattuck & Vine.

The last time I got an apartment in the area, I negotiated a 6-week lead time between finding it and moving in, and it was longer than they wanted to give me. Of course, academic-year stuff might be different. But look around on craigslist and see what the leads time are, and you'll, you know, figure out what the lead times are.
posted by brainmouse at 11:51 AM on April 30, 2010

Your requirement of not wanting to drive but not wanting to live where undergrads do poses a conflict. Most undergrads live close to campus, obviously, so it appears you don't want to live too close to campus.

The closest thing to a grad student ghetto is probably the UC Village complex in Albany. You can commute to campus by bus.

Best time to find a place is NOW and over the next month, when students are heading out of town for the summer.

Be aware that the area is hilly, so if you're going to commute by bike, you'd better be in good shape!

Re secrets: This isn't such a big secret, but you're going to find that the rent control laws here make it hard to find an apartment. When people get a really good deal on a place in Berkeley because of rent control, they tend to stay there forever. I have friends who have been living in houses and paying $700/month rent or whatever. (That's extraordinarily cheap for Berkeley.)

Oh yeah - Housing in Berkeley is really expensive.

Alternatives for less expensive housing are to live in Oakland or Emeryville, but that makes it harder to commute without a car. There is a fairly extensive bus system, but having relied on it myself as a grad student, I would not recommend it unless you are a really, really patient and able to waste a fair amount of time waiting for buses, missing buses, etc. AC Transit recently implemented a GPS locating system, which helps, but the last few times I used it, it was buggy and only worked about 50% of the time.

I'd be glad to talk to you about all this on the phone if you want more detail.
posted by mikeand1 at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2010

Oh, I'm also adding the rockridge and temescal areas to the list. I think those are neighborhood categories on craigslist. Rockridge has slightly easier transportation to campus, I think, but you should be able to figure it out from either place.
posted by brainmouse at 11:52 AM on April 30, 2010

For your budget, I'd recommend checking out north Oakland apartments/shared housing. Anything close to a BART station would be perfect. I'd say when searching craigslist look in the Temescal and Emeryville neighborhoods. I live in the Temescal area, right next to Mosswood park and it's really great. Macarthur BART is within walking distance and there are tons of places to eat and hang out in the area. You don't really need a car, but I'd recommend getting a bike, you'll be using it a ton and it's a great way to meet people in the community.
posted by anoirmarie at 11:57 AM on April 30, 2010

Oh, just noticed your $1100/month number. That's going to get you a cruddy studio, and you'd be lucky to get one within walking distance of campus.

Look for people with houses in the hills who are looking to rent out a room or basement or some such. You *might* be able to find one for $1,100.

And that would probably require you to bike, as the bus system isn't as concentrated in the hills. Biking is fine in the summer when there's no rain, assuming you can handle the hills. It's more problematic in the winter, when it is raining about 1-3 days out of the week (at least that was the case this past winter, which was on the wet side).
posted by mikeand1 at 11:57 AM on April 30, 2010

And I pay WAY less than $1100!
posted by anoirmarie at 11:59 AM on April 30, 2010

Craigslist seems to be filled with people advertising summer sublets now, so it's hard to get an idea on lead times; that's sort of why I asked here.

My current commute is a half-hour walk; I'm fine with that but I don't think I'd want to walk much further, especially if I have to be there early in the morning, as I might. (The teaching schedule is a bit in flux.) On the other hand, if biking is viable there it seems like a perfectly fine way to get around. (I'm not sure how long of a bike ride I'd be willing to have as a commute, though, because I've never been a bike commuter and haven't even owned a bike in years.)

The number I named isn't set in stone; it's just a number that popped into my head. But, you know, I'm not made of money.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:00 PM on April 30, 2010

If you need to live within a 30-min walk of campus, that's going to limit you to Berkeley. That means it's going to be more expensive, and there will be more undergrads around.

Where specifically on campus are you going to be?
posted by mikeand1 at 12:06 PM on April 30, 2010

im a berkeley undergrad alumni and have to agree with others that you aren't going to find something affordable within walking distance to campus if you don't want to be around undergrads. that said, i lived on northside right up against the gourmet ghetto and it seemed like there were more grad students and professors around where i lived, though certainly there were fellow undergrads around.

other friends who were grad students lived in oakland and commuted by car, but it's probably doable by BART if you live in walking distance of one?

by the way, falling in the realm of 'supersecret' (though not really) landlords here can be a little picky about who they rent to because they certainly don't want people who throw a lot of parties moving in and causing damage to their properties. my roommates and i always dressed nice and were on our best behaviour, giving off "we are quiet asian girls who only study and will keep your place VERY CLEAN' vibes to avoid being passed over (looking for cheap, good housing gets competitive amongst students)
posted by raw sugar at 12:07 PM on April 30, 2010

@mikeand1: I'm in the stat department, which is in Evans Hall.

@rawsugar: if I am willing to live around undergrads, does that mean I can get a cheaper place?
posted by madcaptenor at 12:09 PM on April 30, 2010

Oh, I got my masters in stats there! Use to teach stats classes in Evans myself.

Really, drop me a message, I'd be glad to help you out with more detail.

"if I am willing to live around undergrads, does that mean I can get a cheaper place?"

Not really, unless you mean getting a room in a houseful of them (which you probably don't want to do).
posted by mikeand1 at 12:14 PM on April 30, 2010

Oh, and re Evans: An ideal location would be in the hills directly to the north and northeast. That's a fairly concentrated residential area, a very nice neighborhood. But for your budget, you'd be limited to finding a homeowner who's renting out a room. That could definitely be done though.
posted by mikeand1 at 12:17 PM on April 30, 2010

because you've mentioned you'll be working in evans (aka the waffle-shaped math building), which is closer to northside, i'd recommend you look around northside, though it can still be pricey- i had to share a bedroom to afford living there. there's cheaper places on southside but you'll be right in undergrad central, and also it's kind of gross and a bit dangerous on southside (my brother is also a cal alumni. he lived on southside and got mugged his senior year.)

apartments on northside are newer/more expensive around the gourmet ghetto, but more affordable closer to campus on telegraph. i lived on telegraph my second year (and up in the gourmet ghetto 3rd and 4th) and my apartment wasn't that nice but it was reasonably close to campus and slightly less expensive than gourmet ghetto. there's a bunch of restaurants and coffee shops on telegraph right above campus that might fulfill your restaurants/coffee shops quotient. however, more undergrad students live around the telegraph area, and more profs/grad students live in the gourmet ghetto area.
posted by raw sugar at 12:18 PM on April 30, 2010

Get on the listserv for your department, and start friending people on Facebook. Lots of people advertise that way.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:32 PM on April 30, 2010

I would recommend getting a bike once you move to Berkely. The campus is pretty hilly, but most of the rest of Berkeley isn't, so a bike would give you a wider radius.

I also think North Berkeley would be good, or the area around the "North Berkeley" BART stop (it's more west than the "gourmet ghetto" part) would work for you. I used to live just south of there (across University) and it was a nice quiet not-too-undergrady neighborhood but also near stuff area. Or as mentioned Rockridge is really nice, and it's just a short BART ride to downtown Berkeley.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:43 PM on April 30, 2010

Near the North Berkeley BART station would be fine. From there you can go one stop on BART or take the 52. (North Berkeley the BART station is not in what many people consider North Berkeley the neighborhood, which is further east and hillier.) You could also try somewhere near the El Cerrito Plaza BART station, either in Albany, El Cerrito, or perhaps even Kensington.

Rockridge is nice, but not on the same BART line as Berkeley, so you'd have to head the wrong direction one stop and then transfer. But there is a bus that goes directly from Rockridge to the south side of campus.
posted by expialidocious at 12:55 PM on April 30, 2010

Have you thought about the co-ops? There are two graduate student co-ops affiliated with the BSC. Rent is less than $900/month, including food and all utilities. You will almost certainly not find a better deal anywhere. You do get random housemates, but the community is great. Email me if you want any more info.
posted by number9dream at 1:01 PM on April 30, 2010

number9dream: Unfortunately that doesn't work; I'll be faculty, not student.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:07 PM on April 30, 2010

People seem to be suggesting the northern part of Oakland as a general area to look in, which makes sense after some time staring at a map. (I didn't think of that when I wrote my original post.) Thus, for my future reference and for anybody else who might be reading this, the following AskMe questions on Oakland might be useful: one, two, three.

Also, living in Berkeley as a grad student. (My budget isn't quite grad-student, and neither is what I'll be doing exactly, but I probably have a lot of the same concerns.)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:22 PM on April 30, 2010

$1100/mo is an unrealistic budget, unless you want a one-bedroom apartment or a roomshare. Figure $1500 for a decent two bedroom, or an entire home in a non-sketchy neighborhood for $2000+.

Berkeley is a great city to go carless.

Campus is bikable and walkable from all of Berkeley. The Berkeley Hills are nice and not far from campus. The neighborhood around Shattuck and Cedar ("Gourmet Ghetto") is also quite nice. I'd avoid the area immediately adjacent to campus - on street parking is almost impossible, and it's entirely student-ville. If you like quiet at night, you're not going to get it here.

Back to car-free and the hills - it's 20 minutes by bike uphill from the North Gate to just about anywhere in the Berkeley Hills (say Marin and Euclid). 7 minutes in the other direction.

There's also bus service up both Spruce (AC Transit 67) and Euclid (AC Transit 65), as well as a campus bus service that I think goes as far north as Euclid and Cedar.

Craigslist is the source for apartments and houses for rent.

However, when I checked years ago, UC Berkeley also had their own list of available apartments and houses, and there was (at the time) almost zero overlap with the other sources for housing. See if they provide this service still. If they do, you may find a bunch of places not on Craigslist.
posted by zippy at 2:29 PM on April 30, 2010

With a faculty salary I imagine you could afford to spend a bit more than $1100/month, even with furloughs and such. Hell, I'm a postdoc (astro) at Cal, and was paying $1350/month for a place in the Gourmet Ghetto (Francisco & Milvia). Definitely way fewer students on the north side. Recently I moved with my gf to a 2.5BR place that is 3 blocks from the North Berkeley BART station (Virginia & California). I really like that neighborhood. It's a bit quieter, but the restaurants on Shattuck are only a 15 min walk away. Evans would be a 30 min walk, or a <1 min bike ride. I found these places through Craiglist, but you might also want to check out the UC Berkeley rentals site, Cal Rentals. You have to be affiliated with Cal and it costs $25/month. To be honest, most of those places are listed on Craigslist anyways, but sometimes you'll find some promising new ones.

> - when should I look? (Please don't say "you should have already looked", that doesn't help.)

Actually, it's the opposite. Berkeley is notorious for a really *short* lead time. In my searches I found that most places were advertised less than a month before availability. That might be a bit nerve-wracking though, since you're moving from out of town...
posted by mqk at 2:32 PM on April 30, 2010

Ah, here's the campus-run rentals housing list: Cal Rentals. Sign-in required.
posted by zippy at 2:32 PM on April 30, 2010

Oops, by <1 min I meant <10 min. I'm not *that* fast...
posted by mqk at 2:33 PM on April 30, 2010

> $1100/mo is an unrealistic budget, unless you want a one-bedroom apartment or a roomshare. Figure $1500 for a decent two bedroom, or an entire home in a non-sketchy neighborhood for $2000+.

I'm fine with a one-bedroom. I'm one person, what do I need more than one bedroom for? I'll admit that I've fantasized about having a two-bedroom and using the second bedroom as an office, but I'd only do that where housing is less expensive.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:33 PM on April 30, 2010

Congratulations on finding the job!

If you _really love_ to juggle or have interest in living in a cooperative house, drop me a line and I can get in touch with some people I know in the area. I live in Davis, so my fingers aren't directly in the Berkeley housing market, but I have friends in the area... Some live in a warehouse called the Vulcan which is a great place that I love to visit. And I know some co-oppers who live in Berkeley, too.

Good luck! And do come visit Davis some time!
posted by kaibutsu at 11:16 AM on May 2, 2010

I know people who really love to juggle, but alas I am not one of them.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:18 PM on May 2, 2010

As a person who has had to look for a new Bay Area apartment every couple of years, it seems like you're still missing a key piece of information. In general, apartments around here are rented for a year, then go month to month. There are some exceptions, but it is the general rule. It makes it awesome for renters if they get a new job/want a slightly shorter commute/constantly search for the place of their dreams on craigslist, but it makes it difficult to plan on moving into a place with more than a month lead time.
As a frequent observer of craigslist, more apartments are get listed near the beginning of the month than midmonth. These could be immediately available or available the next month. I live in West Berkeley and commute to Berkeley campus by bike and it works well for me, though I sometimes regret not being closer to BART for trips into the city. In checking all the areas (Berkeley, Berkeley North, Emeryville, Temescal, Rockridge) I think are a reasonable walking/bike/BART/bus commute to campus (seriously, even if you want to you can't park near here unless you want to pay a lot, plus biking to work is much more pleasant) I found several that don't have obvious flaws for $1100. The thing is, as others have alluded to, that is the lower end of the price range in this area, and last time I was looking for apartments in the lower end of the spectrum they all tended to have a flaw--it just depends if that flaw is something that bothers you or not. Several of the ones I rejected were in extremely loud locations (busy streets, BART tracks), or too small, but the flaw in my current place was a dilapidated yard, which was actually perfect for my hobby of gardening.
I also found that even though there are a lot more people looking for apartments in August/September because of the academic year there is also a lot of availability. I would suggest that you get a temporary place to stay (sublet or crash at someone's place) and look for a place at the beginning of August (or September if you're busy right up until you start.) If you have a job and decent credit you will have no trouble securing a place in this market.
posted by at 12:38 PM on May 3, 2010

I know, I know, it's the lower end of the price range!

I poked around a bit on Craigslist and saw a good number of places that looked like they'd work for me, so I'm trying not to worry too much; sure *those* won't be available when I actually go and look for places, but similar ones probably will be.

And thanks for pointing out that places are rented for a year and then go month to month. I live currently in a part of Philadelphia where apartments generally are rented on one-year leases which renew year-to-year, so this is something I wouldn't have thought of.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:20 PM on May 3, 2010

It's worth it to post a Housing Wanted ad in hopes of a granny unit.

Take claims of "within walking distance" with a grain of salt, though. Trust, but verify and all that.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions. I've lived all over the area you're contemplating and am working there as I type... well, not so much working, as answering AskMe while at work.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:07 PM on May 5, 2010

small_ruminant: Yeah, I've seen plenty of lies about "within walking distance". (And also apartments that are in geographically imposssible locations - a 15 minute walk from A and a 10 minute walk from B, when it takes 35 minutes for me to walk from A to B and I'm a fast walker.) As a mathematician these annoy the crap out of me.

I'll probably have questions later; right now I'm just trying to figure out how feasible this is going to be, I'm not actually looking for a place yet.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:20 PM on May 5, 2010

Thanks for your help! I found a place. As it turned out I didn't have to sift through Craigslist. A friend of mine from college is living in a rented house near Colby and Woolsey and was trying to fill it, and I decided that I was tired of living alone so I'm taking the room.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:15 PM on June 30, 2010

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