Apartment hunt strategy in SF (ideally moving there mid August)?
July 12, 2010 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Apartment hunt strategy in SF (ideally moving there mid August)?

I've never really had to do the apartment hunt before, and it is stressing me out...I know people in real life who have done it, but they seem terrible at making the process seem less stressful.

Basically, mid august I move to SF. I'd like to line up a place, ideally with a lease that starts mid August. I have a roommate who is actually living in SF at the moment (I am not), who has offered to be the only name on the lease if it simplifies things (so I don't have to fly out to sign the lease). We'd like to live in Nob Hill, North Beach, or Russian Hill (basically within a 20 minute walk of the financial district, and not have to use public transportation...these two points are not debatable, so don't bother).

Is craigslist really all there is? It seems all the ads up just want to lease their place NOW, not in two weeks, not in a month. What should we be doing?? Should we start in early august? What should our strategy be? He can check out places, etc. Most people I know seem to just recommend flailing around craigslist. It's awful.

I'd appreciate any help in the matter....I'm stressed.
posted by wooh to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. Craigslist. The immediate availability is pretty much how it works here. At this point, most landlords would probably be happy to have you sign a lease starting August 1, even if the ads say "available now." They know you can't move with 24 hrs notice.
posted by juliapangolin at 7:20 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: If I wait a little bit, do you think they'll be ok with August 15th move in?
posted by wooh at 7:23 PM on July 12, 2010

There's pretty much 2 options a) craigslist, and b) walking around the neighborhood(s) and calling any for rent signs.
I haven't actually moved in a while but when I did I basically had a month to look and didn't find anything until about 2 weeks before the end of the month. It stressed my right the hell out, but also turned out fine.
I would start really looking 3-4 weeks before you want to move in. If it's any consolation there are always tons of rentals in those neighborhoods, so the likelihood that you won't find anything is slim.
posted by grapesaresour at 7:24 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Welcome to the wonderful world of renting.

San Francisco is a highly congested rental market. Desirable apartments in good neighborhoods, like the ones you want to live in, are a constrained resource, unless you're very well-off financially. There are many more people looking to rent than there are apartments. You should be doing the following:

1. Get your shit together. Roommate should prepare a rental history with references, a printout of a credit report, a one-pager with contact info and proof of employment or an employment reference (they'll want you to demonstrate you have income to pay for the place), and a blank check. If shown an apartment that meets your criteria, he should sign a lease on the spot, because he won't get a second chance.

2. Expand your criteria as much as you can. Think carefully about your budget as this will limit the number of places you can see. Also: leases almost invariably start on the first of the month. You'd probably have a better chance of success finding alternative arrangements from mid-Aug to Sept 1 (e.g. a hostel or sublet), and getting a lease that starts on Sept 1. Or, get a lease that starts on Aug 1, and eat the extra two weeks. In fact, start looking now for Aug 1, or Aug 15, or Sept 1, and keep looking until you find a place. Try to negotiate move-in once you have the place locked up, but don't insist on Aug 15.

3. Put the time in. Hit craigslist often. Start with the most recent posts as the older ones will be saturated with responses. If you see a place that looks remotely passable, email or call immediately. Call if you can. If you get them on the phone, set up an appointment as soon as you can -- ask if you can come by right away. If you like it, fill out an application on the spot, and put down a deposit to secure it if they'll let you.

4. Craigslist tips: don't search for neighborhoods as people don't always list them in their ads. Just browse all of San Francisco, but filter by rent, and search for 'August' or 'September' (or 'Aug' or 'Sept', or 'Aug 15' or 'August 15') to get only the places that are available when you want them. It looks overwhelming but you get the hang of it; after a while you can scan it really quickly.

5. Backup plans. You shouldn't settle for a place you don't like. I'm encouraging you to pull the trigger on a good apartment, assuming you can find one. If all you get is meh apartments, you can expand your criteria, or you can try to sublet somewhere else for a month and continue the search.

Good luck. It ain't fun but hopefully you don't have to do it too often. Enjoy SF.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:32 PM on July 12, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, I realize this is a non-answer. But - my best advice is to reconsider Muni. It will expand your options exponentially.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 7:36 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: I'm sorry, I realize this is a non-answer. But - my best advice is to reconsider Muni. It will expand your options exponentially.
I have a job with precarious hours, and I do not want to be beholden to capricious pub trans hours and possible strikes etc. I am super pro pub trans and always used it in NY etc, but I have the budget to live in these areas, and it would be the one luxury I will probably actually take advantage of. If living a little further away saved me $500+ in rent that'd be one thing, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Excellent reply, PercussivePaul. Very helpful. Finding a place to crash for 2 weeks is not a bad idea... I guess if it comes down to it, that's what I will do if I have to to start a lease in september. I refuse to eat a half month of rent to make a landlord richer.
posted by wooh at 7:42 PM on July 12, 2010


Note that there is a bit of a broker problem in SF apartments on Craigslist. Caveat emptor.
posted by rhizome at 7:48 PM on July 12, 2010

I recommend that if you are far away and see something you like then call the landlord or property management company, get the application and fax it in. Honestly, I did property management in Berkeley for very long time and can tell you from experience that mid-August is going to be a glut time and the number of deep-pocketed grad students currently filling the market is not adding any kind of benefit to your search.
posted by parmanparman at 7:53 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Note that there is a bit of a broker problem in SF apartments on Craigslist. Caveat emptor.
Can you explain this?
posted by wooh at 7:54 PM on July 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

If money isn't an issue and a broker is an option, why not consider that? Alternately, lots of cities have apartment finder services.

I've never rented in SF but when I was looking for our current place in DC, I went nuts chasing places on Craigslist. We would go to an open house for an under-priced apartment and find 15 people there. The people renting the place made a sign-up sheet where everyone who was interested would fill out an application and hand over $30 for the credit check. It was pretty bleak and hopeless.

So I started checking every other source I could think of. I found a place on the website of the Express, the Washington Post's free daily. We think my landlord bought an ad and they ran the ad in the Express for free (if I found out my landlord didn't know what the internet was, I would not be surprised). I met the landlord and the place he showed me was a little small so I asked if he had anything else. He happened to own the building next door and knew some people were moving out. We've been here for three years now.

Anyway, I think the moral of the story is check different sources besides Craigslist if you can, try to find out who owns the properties where you want to rent, and ask if they have other ideas, have other places available, etc. Good luck.
posted by kat518 at 8:21 PM on July 12, 2010

That's a good point. I've never been in a position where an apartment broker made sense for me, but it might be ideal for you. You'll pay a slight premium, but that's sort of the point as it reduces competition.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:12 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Checking different sources is a good idea... I'd like to avoid a broker. I don't know anyone who used one, and while I can afford a place in these areas (nothing lavish though), money is still definitely an object! Thanks for some solid advice.
posted by wooh at 4:18 AM on July 13, 2010

There are real estate agencies that list rental apartments such as this one. They tend to list only the higher end rentals but it might be a way of weeding out stuff quickly. The house that I'm living in as a rental was listed by an agency and the showings were handled by an agent. I should point out that we found the listing through Craigslist since the agency also posts to CL (that's how pervasive CL is here for rentals) but it definitely was nice to work with an agent to negotiate the lease. There are lots of agencies that do this. Here's another.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 6:05 AM on July 13, 2010

Can you explain this?

Some light reading can explain it better than me.
posted by rhizome at 11:03 AM on July 13, 2010

Since tenants only have to give 30 days notice, you're not likely to find something more than 30 days before you need to move in.
posted by bendy at 8:36 PM on July 13, 2010

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