Bimonthly San Francisco apartment question: Student Edition
April 18, 2011 3:17 AM   Subscribe

Please help a new grad move to San Francisco. I will probably arrive on June 1 and start working June 10, and I have $1500 for the whole move in process. Where do I stay while I'm apartment hunting? A hotel is very expensive and a hostel is pretty cramped. I could probably stay on a friend's couch but are there any other reasonable options for 1 month stays?

I would also welcome general tips, such as apartment rental prices (is <$1000 reasonable?), neighborhoods for frugal students, things to look for when visiting apartments, and links to SF-specific resources. I'm leaving this a bit vague because honestly, I am unsure what the process entails. Thanks!
posted by yaymukund to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Have you spoken to your university? They will have people and contacts for this exact situation.
posted by gryftir at 4:02 AM on April 18, 2011

Craigslist has a sublet/temporary section. Just browsing there quickly I see a couple of options for June or June/July sublets. (No idea where in SF you want to be, etc., so can't say if any work for you, but it's a place to look.)
posted by criacow at 4:36 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you can come to a month-long arrangement with a reputable-seeming airbnb renter.
posted by thejoshu at 5:44 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: At less than 1000, you're looking at a roommate situation, a dodgy neighborhood, a studio without a kitchen or the East Bay. Does the 1500 include first month's rent and deposit? If so, you don't have enough.

Craigslist is both full of scams and pretty much the only game in town aside from walking around looking for "for rent" signs. The really cool places and the really great deals rarely even make it up onto CL--they get snapped up via word of mouth.
posted by mollymayhem at 5:46 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Don't take this the wrong way mollymayhem - but sometimes I've noticed that responses like yours sound very harsh -- even though you are being pragmatic and trying to help some NOOB not get scammed out of their life savings.

OP - craigslist is THE resource in San Francisco. I know that it's not as popular in many other cities, but I've never found a job or an apartment without it, and I'm 31.

Over the course of four years, we had at least 10 people come and stay with us for everything from 3 weeks to six months, all from craigslist ads we put up. Most were students, but not all -- and none of them were serial killers. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

It's easy to spot scams and sketchy people if you are smart -- try to talk to them on the phone or get an email conversation going, it helps a LOT to get a feel for the person and what their house would be like. and DO NOT SEND ANY MONEY beforehand. Look for 20-somethings, or young couples; avoid single mens' ads (if you are female??) and have SOME SORT of back up place to stay if you get to the house and get a bad vibe --- really - do NOT stay if they seem creepy or the house is filthy or something. That's a recipe for disaster.

$1,000 per month is what I once paid for a studio, and that was in the Fillmore, and I heard gunshots and ambulances every single night. Look for roommates, unless that sounds good to you.

Why not look for a six-month sublet NOW, and then talk to the housemates about staying on/signing onto the lease if you all click?? This is not an unusual scenario.

Good luck!! Be safe and listen to your instincts -- I'm still very good friends with a couple of the girls that we sublet to back in 2006, but your mileage may vary.
posted by polly_dactyl at 6:39 AM on April 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to clarify a few things:
* The 1500 is just my budget for a temporary place to stay— it doesn't include first month's rent.
* I'm not completely sure what people mean when they say "roommates." I would actually prefer having housemates to living alone, but I'd also like a bedroom for myself.
* I'm looking for a place in the city… I've heard that the mission district is a pretty cool place to live but I don't know much beyond what I've read on MeFi.
posted by yaymukund at 7:12 AM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Yes, go with sublets/temporary to give yourself 1-2 months to find something you like. If nothing else, some of the frats and dorms (I-House?) on the Berkeley campus practically give space away, and it's still just a BART ride to SF. But it'd be better to try something that might be your permanent neighborhood. the mission is a good idea. (I wouldn't choose a spot ON Mission Ave myself.) Inner Sunset is another good neighborhood. Good luck!
posted by salvia at 7:25 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Roommates = housemates. You should definitely have your own bedroom. You can even change the lock on the door so that only you have access - I don't like living in houses where people do this, but again - safety first.

The Mission is GENTRIFICATION CENTRAL is SF. Lots of young White kids from other states. Lots of new restaurants and fun bars. Above like, 24th Street, it gets kind of sketch again.

The city is really so small, but the lines between neighborhoods are pretty pronounced. Much like NYC, you go one block over and suddenly you're in a war zone.

Inner Sunset is great - and you'll be right near Golden Gate Park! Upper Haight is full of housemate situations, but costs a little more. DON'T move out to the avenues unless you want to spend lots of time on the beach -- it's cheaper over there, but it's lonely, foggy, and no one ever wants to come "all the way out there" to hang out. Bummer.

Personally I always wanted to live on Dolores Park, but I ended up moving away before I got the chance.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2011

Oh and AVOID the Tenderloin. Unless you are really street-savvy and always get home before dark. I know it's getting cleaned up (slowly), but it's been the eyesore of the city since I was a kid.
posted by polly_dactyl at 8:08 AM on April 18, 2011

" If nothing else, some of the frats and dorms (I-House?) on the Berkeley campus practically give space away, and it's still just a BART ride to SF."

Does anyone have more information on places like this? Is Craigslist still the best way to find these sorts of sublets, or do you really have to hit the ground and walk about Berkeley?

I'm in much the same boat as the OP and this thread is great!

yaymukund: The one thing I'd add to this is that I *love* - it is just a slick mashup that puts Craigslist posts onto Google Maps and has lots of filters that you can adjust. Make sure to check that you want it to show sublets!
posted by alaijmw at 8:24 AM on April 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Padmapper doesn't always include everything--even things with clear location info--so make sure you're paying attention to Craigslist at the same time.

Also, I'd really encourage you to consider Oakland and Berkeley as fantastic cities with many different culturally & socially diverse neighborhoods, all with different vibes and price-ranges and aesthetics. As cities, they don't have the same alterna-glamor associated with them as San Francisco, but they're much more affordable (i.e. it's not unheard of to pay $500/mo or less for a room in an awesome house with folks you really like--of course it's easy to pay more, but it's easy to pay more in any big city!), and you'll find entirely different subcultures. Spend the extra money on a bike, and on BART/bus fare to explore both sides of the bay.

Data-point: I've lived in four places in Oakland since moving to the Bay Area two years ago, and my rent has been: $500 (charming but grungy house right next to West Oakland BART, a 20 minute door-to-door commute to my job in downtown SF); $380 (sublet in an awesome but, again grungy house of grownup punks, with a loft bed); $640 (a huge, sunny room with en suite kitchen in Fruitvale, on the edge of East Oakland, far away from where white kid hipsters live); $485 ($1950 split four ways for an amazing whole house with giant yard and front porch five minutes away from Fruitvale BART). Obviously I'm more partial to collectives and punk houses than bland-but-clean apartments in downtown Berkeley with the college students, or places in hipper neighborhoods. But I want folks considering the Bay Area to realize that there are a lot of possibilities beyond the neighborhoods you've heard of from afar (the Mission, the Haight), and not everyone is going broke to live here.

I'd also join the sf-looking-for-housing google group, and possibly check on SF Chalkboard, a message board I've heard of friends having luck on.
posted by soviet sleepover at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another vote for Padmapper + Craigslist. My 2 month sublet when I moved here in November ran about $1300 in the East Bay - 1BR with kitchen in a subdivided house with onsite laundry, in a pretty nice neighborhood, 10min walk from BART. I moved fast as soon as it was posted, had my credit report pulled and emailable as an attachment, and then had a scanner ready to send a copy of a lease agreement back within 24 hours.

This may have been overkill, but I found being decisive on good-enough sublets took a lot of the pain and uncertainty out of the idea of moving + not knowing where I was living. I wouldn't do it without good pictures of the place, though.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:08 AM on April 18, 2011

A good strategy (that has nothing to do with the Bay Area, but is useful to remember in general) is to bring your checkbook and be ready to put down a $200ish deposit on a place to buy yourself a couple more days (you negotiate the amount of time). The landlord won't cash the check, but will hold the place for you in good faith until the specified time and apply it toward first month's rent, or will (presumably) tear up the check if you back out.
posted by soviet sleepover at 12:19 PM on April 18, 2011

Response by poster: The only thing I'm still a bit unsure about is the process of signing a lease for a sublet without ever having seen the place. (If you've done this before, I'd love to hear your story.) Specifically, how do I know the neighborhood is safe? I've tried the crime overlay on PadMapper, but it seems unreliable and vague.

Thank you! This is not as overwhelming as it was this morning, and I have a much better idea of what I have to do.
posted by yaymukund at 9:26 PM on April 18, 2011

Best answer: Yaymukund, a sublet is hopefully short-term enough that (if you're good at listening to your gut instincts, at least!) if you get stuck in a lousy situation, it's only for a month or two. I've done this once before, and ended up living with a cranky old hippy. Could've been better, but it also could've been worse. Personally, for crime stats, I'd look at a different map (I think a pretty great one was linked on here for Bay Area crime stats a while ago, but I can't find it!). Pay close attention to the kind of crime: if it's muggings, break-ins, and other seemingly minor stuff--well, to me that's bad because as someone who walks around late at night a lot, I'd easily be a victim of that. If there's drug activity and sex work, probably that's something you can avoid easily if you're, say, perceptibly white or middle class or just plain ol' aren't buying drugs on the street. Look for a cluster of activity happening on one block or one address, and don't live nearby. Also, make sure you differentiate between a lot of different charges filed on one date (one bad thing happened) vs. a lot of charges over a long(er) span of time (i.e. consistent problems). Someone else may have more suggestions about this, too, if the thread hasn't died yet.

If you'd like, you can email me about East Bay neighborhoods. Probably the safest/"nicest" that are near BART are Rockridge, downtown Berkeley & North Berkeley, and Lake Merritt. North Oakland's Temescal neighborhood near Macarthur BART is a great neighborhood, and tends to be safer north of 43rd and east of Telegraph. If you're worried about safety or otherwise want to take it easy for your first month or so, I'd avoid West Oakland, perhaps places south of Ashby BART (north of Ashby is pretty nice/"nice"), things near downtown Oakland, and south of 43rd/west of Telegraph by Macarthur. But in my experience I feel much less safe in the semi-dicey neighborhoods near campus where lots of overprivileged kids walk around with earbuds in late at night, ripe for mugging, than I do in so-called "bad" neighborhoods where the class disparity isn't so great, and where people aren't fighting the effects of gentrification as part of their day-to-day frustrations. Sorry, the soapbox just slipped under me right there, but I'm done! Send me a me-mail if you have any quick questions!
posted by soviet sleepover at 4:16 PM on April 22, 2011

The good (awesome, actually) East Bay crime stats page is Oakland Crimespotting. Not sure what to use in the city.
posted by deludingmyself at 6:29 PM on April 27, 2011

Response by poster: Some things that have happened since this thread:

* I'm in SF. Yay! I found a one month sublet via AirBnB with some lovely roommates, and we have grown pretty close in only a month. My area, 26th and Alabama, is perfect— two streets away from noise and public transportation, loads of good Mexican food, and a nice mix of young people and families.

* I'll be dropping off my things at my new apartment at the Haight. I couldn't find a place in the mission. The East Bay is also beautiful and many of my coworkers commute from Berkeley or Oakland, but it's harder to get out there to see places.

* Maybe I don't know how to do it or I wasn't here long enough (1 month is not very long to find an apartment, apparently!) but I didn't see any For Rent signs while walking around the mission.

* A postscript, but I attended two meetups and even MET some of you :)
posted by yaymukund at 10:26 PM on June 29, 2011

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