How Much Does this Job Have to Pay to Maintain Quality of Life in SF?
June 20, 2014 8:34 AM   Subscribe

I am considering a job offer that would relocate me from Washington, D.C. (an expensive place), to San Francisco (an even more expensive place). I'm trying to get an idea of how much of a bump in salary I'd need in order to make the move worthwhile.

I currently earn 93K in the DC area, which, if you live here, know is not all that much money if you factor in a family, commuting costs, etc. My wife works as a consultant 20-hours per week and takes care of the kids (6 and 4) when they are not in school. While our income is sufficent to keep us in a neighborhood near the Metro and with good schools, we're not saving a ton of money and definitely don't feel rich (although I'd be rollin' in it if I still lived in my midwestern hometown on this salary). We pay $2500 per month for a 1200 sqft townhouse at the end of the metro and we economize a lot.

I feel I am very close to receiving an offer from a well-funded startup in San Francisco. The move is attractive to us, but I need to have an idea how much I'd need to earn in order to meet the following qualifications: (1) Live in the city, so my commute doesn't eat up 2 hours of my day, as it does here in D.C.; (2) 3 bedrooms; (3) decent neighborhood with access to decent elementary schools; (4) relatively close to reliable public transportation).

I've lived in San Francisco before (12 years ago) and I know that housing costs can be astronomical. I'm not necessarily looking to amp up my lifestyle, but I'm trying to figure out what kind of offer I'd need to get so I could, at a minimum, maintain my lifestyle, or (even better), slightly upgrade it. I understand housing costs are the biggest burden in SF, but I'm not sure about the cost of living in other areas. I don't want to take a 15k bump in salary only to learn that I'm nevertheless poorer because of it.

I know there are a number of cost-of-living comparison sites out there, but I'd love some real life examples from SF-ites or anyone else who has made this move. Help me figure out what other hidden costs I may be missing.

posted by Creamroller to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Housing is the big factor. In a good school zone is going to cost. The minimum for a three bedroom town home in decent condition is around $4000/month. Depending on what you need from a good school (the city proper doesn't have the best schools) you could pay a $500-$1000 more. Some of my friends have found private school to be cheaper than moving.

As for other expenses, goods are only slightly more expensive than else where (hurray for online shopping). I notice restaurants and services being more expensive (nanny, house cleaners etc). The biggest hidden expense is that we pay for *everything*. Our kids go to preschool, take swimming and gymnastic lessons and other misc activities and every activity costs at least $75 a month. Don't even get me started on how much we pay for preschool. Where we use to live most programs were run by the community parks and rec sort of think and were $75 a year.

Living here is amazing. The lifestyle is amazing but we seem to have a lot more expenses to live a middle (upper middle?) class life.

If you were happy with 93k, I think that would be closer to $130 here. Again housing is the big one so take a look on Craigslist to see what you would be interested in and go from there.

Also people seem to like Burlingame (near SFO) as a close to SF suburb but with nicer schools/homes.

Good luck with the move!

Oh, and check your tax rate differences as I am sure it's more here but not sure how much more.
posted by saradarlin at 8:56 AM on June 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Here is a cost-of-living calculator.

I'd recommend looking in the Sunset and Richmond districts, mostly because you can get the housing you want, and still be in the city.

I'd tack on about $1000 - $1500 extra to your monthly housing costs to be able to rent something comperable in San Francisco. (Don't buy. Rent.)

You may want to look into Millbrae, Burlingame or even Daly City near SFSU Campus, if you want a more suburban feel.

Everywhere in the city is close to transit, lots of transit.

Good luck to you!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another place to consider might be the island of Alameda, which my friends with kids think is a great place to live (suburban, safe, quiet, sunnier than SF). You could ride the ferry to SF, which wouldn't take that long if you work somewhere near the Financial District (20 minutes to Ferry Building).
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:21 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you were happy with 93k, I think that would be closer to $130 here.

I was going to say $150K, so definitely in that same ballpark (minimum).
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:22 AM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

(1) Live in the city, so my commute doesn't eat up 2 hours of my day

Spend some time playing around with the BART trip calculator, because you may find that living near BART in the East Bay makes for a shorter commute than living *in* San Francisco but having to rely on buses to get to work. This is especially true if your office is in SOMA, the FiDi, or Mission Bay. East Bay housing/rental prices are still cheaper than in SF, but they are rising.

You can fiddle with transit trip planning for other transit agencies with the 511 trip planner.
posted by rtha at 9:26 AM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Three bedrooms in the city will be about 5000 a month or more in a good neighborhood near your work. You could find it for more like 3000 in a good neighborhood farther out (Sunset, Richmond, West Portal), but you'll have to commute on public transit or bike. At that point you might as well look at Berkeley, Oakland, Albany.

Good public schools are actually pretty tough to find in the city, and you may have more luck in the East Bay.

If you have a car, parking can be expensive and street parking is stressful (moving it several times a week before 8 am to avoid street sweeping). Car insurance is also probably close to double what it is in Maryland here in California.

I think I wouldn't try to raise kids in SF unless my combined family income were about 300k+.

I don't know what your profession is, but word on the street out here is that starting salary for engineers at Google is up to numbers like $135k. That's for a 22-year-old just graduated (usually out of Stanford or MIT). Startups likely pay a little lower. Good developers are easily making $150-200k.
posted by amaire at 9:30 AM on June 20, 2014

Everywhere in the city is close to transit, lots of transit.

The above is not entirely true - it really depends on what you mean by "close to public transportation". While buses do run in most neighborhoods, depending on where you are you will have to transfer and that eats up time. It can easily take 45 minutes to an hour to get across the city each way depending on which routes you take. So there you're already at an 1.5-2 hour commute.

(As a data point, I live in Cole Valley and it takes me ~25-30 minutes each way via the NJudah to get to the Embarcadero. It always seems crazy to me that it takes that long, but it always does. Trains are stopped in the tunnel, trains are packed so the doors can't close, etc., etc.) Point being: just being near a bus stop or a MUNI line is no guarantee of a short commute. The route matters, so if commute time is important to you, you should take that into consideration.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 9:34 AM on June 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

Everywhere in the city is close to transit, lots of transit.

I'll admit, I'm in Atlanta now, and I am shocked at how crappy the transit is, in comparison.

I'll also add that Albany is ADORABLE and well worth considering, if you don't mind riding in on BART. We lived in the Condos right off of I-80, and there's a trans-bay bus that stops right at the end of the driveway.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:41 AM on June 20, 2014

Since it sounds like you want/need to go the public school route vs. the private school route, know that in SF neighborhood schools are not a thing. You can read more here , but basically it's an application and lottery system and there is no guarantee you'll be in the school assigned by your attendance area. I have kids and choose to live on the peninsula due in large part to it being more family friendly and more straightforward with respect to public schools. I have friends in SF and and I know from them that kids reaching school age is a big catalyst to move out of the city. I know folks that just did the kindergarten lottery, for example, and got their fifth-choice school.

If you really want to accept your pending offer, compromise on the commute and take a serious look at east bay or the peninsula for options. They will be much better for your family, and depending on where in the city your job is you can wrangle a not-terrible commute. I agree you want in the $140+ range to get to your same comfort level as in DC, but note that the school thing will not be a guarantee based on where you live.

The other thing to keep in mind is that employment out here can be fluid, and you might move from your startup to another employer in a year or two. That employer could be located in SF or further south into Mountain View/Palo Alto/Silicon Valley, so locating on the peninsula might be a more central home base to make it easier to target other employers.
posted by handful of rain at 9:56 AM on June 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

Somewhat relevant: How Far Your Paycheck Goes in 356 US Cities
posted by gemutlichkeit at 10:17 AM on June 20, 2014

Here is a cost-of-living calculator.

Just to note that IMHO Creamroller is right to be a little wary of those calculators-- they all seem to be built off the same engine, which packs in a bunch of weird, unstated assumptions.

Just asking for information seems the better approach, but if you want more data I might compare federal salary adjustments or military BAH's to get a more realistic sense.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:31 AM on June 20, 2014

Seconding rtha about BART access. When I worked in the Financial District, my commute got a lot shorter and much more reliable when I moved from Cole Valley to Berkeley. I'd also look at communities to the south, like Millbrae, that would make switching to a south bay/peninsula job less upheaval-inducing. She says, having moved from Berkeley to Menlo Park because of a job in Mountain View.

My sense, and this is purely my own, is that SF proper really isn't very kid-friendly anymore. But that's just me.
posted by ambrosia at 12:06 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone. These answers have been super-helpful. I will definitely expand my research into the East Bay and beyond, taking into account transit routes and whatnot. The school information is also helpful. It's a shame that SF seems to be turning into Manhattan. When I lived there in 2000 it was expensive, but nowhere near as bad as now.
posted by Creamroller at 1:11 PM on June 20, 2014

Feel free to memail me if you want more information. I know the peninsula well and my husband and I are both in the tech/startup scene to some degree. I would say that my perception of SF is that it's not kid-friendly, as ambrosia says above. I know there are folks there with kids who love it, but I think many parents with young kids conclude that they are better off moving out of the city, for a variety of reasons. A lot depends on your personal preferences and how your family works, so you'd know best, but a commute on Caltrain or BART is not the end of the world to get some tradeoffs for more space, less expensive (though still really pricey) housing, and a different school situation.
posted by handful of rain at 1:44 PM on June 20, 2014

Here is a cost-of-living calculator.

Beware, most of these use median or average rental costs, which underestimates costs for newcomers to SF (and NYC) because of all the people in rent-controlled apartments.
posted by overhauser at 3:10 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

My sister goes three miles on a Muni bus every day and it takes 40-45 minutes. (It would only take her 10-15 more minutes to walk). If you live in the Sunset, you're going to live further than @hapax_legomenon's 25-30 minute commute along the N-Judah. The Richmond doesn't have a rail line, so you'll definitely be on Muni there.

I think you'd probably be better off along a BART line to the East Bay or possibly on Caltrain down the peninsula. However, on the peninsula, chances are pretty good that you'll have to go from Caltrain to a streetcar to get to work, which is going to add time to your commute. I'd look at Berkeley, Albany or the neighborhoods in Oakland (Rockridge) close to Berkeley.

You're likely to save $1,000 per month or more *and* have a shorter commute living in the East Bay. You'd save money and live in a more kid-friendly neighborhood on the Peninsula. The weather will be incredibly better in either place than the Sunset or Richmond districts.

Edit: To answer your question, I'd say $1,500 to $2,000 more to rent in SF vs in DC. After taxes, that's an additional $2,500 to $3,000 per month in salary or $30K to $35K more than you make now. I'd probably call it $40K to be safe.
posted by cnc at 3:11 PM on June 20, 2014

Adding - the extra $1,500 to $2,000 per month will probably get you a townhouse smaller and older than the one you live in now.
posted by cnc at 3:18 PM on June 20, 2014

Nthing looking at the East Bay. Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito, and the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland are all close to BART and have glorious weather. They are all still very expensive, (Berkeley in particular may not be much cheaper than SF) but you will have more options if you look there.

You basically want to be near a BART line. I found that BART from Oakland to SF was a much shorter trip than a bus from the Sunset district to downtown SF.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:50 PM on June 20, 2014

By the way, part of the magic of BART is that it generally runs on schedule, which is not even close to true for SF Muni or AC Transit buses, in my experience. I'm back to biking now, but when I was taking the bus, I basically left WAY early to go anywhere, just in case a bus was missing or three of them were all stacked up playing leap frog.
posted by ktkt at 5:28 PM on June 20, 2014

Also wanted to add that as you move down the peninsula the weather gets better and better. We are near Mountain View and live in the land of sunshine and 73 degrees most of the year. My kids and I swim weekly outside from Feb 1 to Nov 1.

I would consider $150k to be the minimum to live here.
posted by saradarlin at 6:13 PM on June 20, 2014

Since I don't think it was mentioned explicitly, BART extends south into Millbrae, which is one of the Peninsula suburbs. It's got good schools and plenty of houses for rent (as opposed to apartments). It's also close to be Caltrain and BART, which can be convenient. You might also check out Burlingame, which is the suburb immediately to its south. Similar schools, but a bit more expensive.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 10:34 PM on June 20, 2014

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