Tips for Apartment Searching in SF
July 3, 2014 9:25 AM   Subscribe

Any advice on getting a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco?

My girlfriend and I are moving to the City by the Bay and we need a place to live. We’re interested in neighborhoods close-ish to Golden Gate park but still a reasonable commute downtown (we are both working close the the Embarcadero BART stop), so we’ve been looking at NOPA, the Lower Haight, Alamo Square, and places around there. We can pay up to and maybe a little over $3,000 per month for a one-bedroom place.

My understanding is that we should scour Craigslist for listings, try to go to their open houses, and walk around the neighborhoods we’re interested in looking for any posted vacancies. When we go to these open houses, I believe we’re supposed to bring credit reports, landlord references, pay stubs, bank statements, and a checkbook.

My question for you, AskMe, is whether I have this all right. Is there anything I’m missing? Anything else to bring when looking at/for apartments? Any other websites that we should check out for listings? Other neighborhoods we should consider or that you think are cool? San Francisco-specific things that we should check when we look at places?

Also, we will have roughly three weeks in which to close on a place so that we can be settled before we start our jobs. Since we won’t be working we will be able to be looking for places more or less all day every day. Is three weeks enough time? Might we be able to get this done faster?

Any other thoughts or advice would be greatly appreciated. I’m really looking forward to meeting some of the Bay Area mefites at meetups.
posted by Aizkolari to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Try to respond to craigslist postings for places you're interested in immediately, and try to see the place as soon as possible (before open houses). If there's a phone number, use it. Getting yourself to the top of the list can get you a lot.

But be aware that in some ways it's a crapshoot right now. You might get lucky and find something great quickly, you might get unlucky and have a really hard time. An open house for a nice, well-priced place can easily have 50 people at it these days, and the landlord can choose the person with the best credentials, which may not be you.
posted by brainmouse at 9:32 AM on July 3, 2014

Since you're working by Embarcadero, I would recommend looking in the East Bay as well (Rockridge or Berkeley, maybe, near a BART stop), as the prices should be a little better and the competition slightly less.

Good luck! This is really a rough time to look.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:33 AM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks for the initial feedback. We are planning to move to the East Bay in 2-3 years but would like to settle in the city right now. I am excited about the question about the question I'll be posting about East Bay neighborhoods in a few years though.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:37 AM on July 3, 2014

You're in the right price range, which is good. It's possible you could get a 2br for that price.

Do you have a car? If so, parking can be tricky in those neighborhoods (although certainly not as bad as Nob Hill) if you don't have off-street parking.

You might also want to consider The Inner Sunset and Inner Richmond. Commute from Inner Richmond can actually be quite fast on the 38BX or 31BX. My boss lives in Alamo Square and while it is geographically closer to downtown (we work near Embarcadero station) she is always frustrated taking the 21 because it is super slow. I believe the bus from the Lower Haight is the 71/71L, which is also slow. Basically any bus that spends a good portion of its time on Market (above ground) is going to be slow.

Google Maps will show you public transit commutes from any potential rentals to your work although I wouldn't say it's super-accurate about time (Muni is very optimistic about their routes, so much that the drivers are suing them right now).

I live in the Inner Sunset and like it. Commuting on the N-Judah (light rail) can be hit or miss. My neighborhood is really cute though, pretty easy to park, very neighborhood-y, lots of shops and restaurants, etc.

I have not done this but I've heard that trying to make an appointment to see a place before the open house (basically ASAP, during the work day when a lot of people can't make it) can get you a rental faster.
posted by radioamy at 10:10 AM on July 3, 2014

Another option is to look at some of the new larger buildings that are coming up for rent in SF right now. Obviously, I don't know if you're interested in a larger building (it feels less San Francisco in many ways, but also you're likely to have more amenities. There's also a cost to choosing a brand new building in this market), but the advantage is less time spent playing the ridiculous game of showing up at open houses with 50 people all trying to impress the landlord/agent at once. Since these places are trying to lease a good number of units at once, it's more a matter of whether you meet their requirements than you competing against every possible tenant.

There are several new buildings in the Mid-Market corridor (Van Ness to Civic Center basically), a little farther from the Park than you were considering, but with easy BART/Muni Metro commute access down Market.
posted by zachlipton at 10:57 AM on July 3, 2014

You need to be mentally prepared to "lock in" the apartment pretty much right when you step foot in it. The last apartment I got I put in my check five minutes after open house began, even while another couple was wandering the place. Don't be afraid. Be bold. You're a hunter here.

So, get yourself into the mind space so that you can make a move as fast as you can. Know if the neighborhood will have the amenities you'll need, etc. etc., so you don't have to spend time dwaddling on your phone once you arrive. Ask the questions you need to ask as soon as you can -- rent controlled? deliveries? laundry? -- and then put down your application fee.
posted by ellerhodes at 10:58 AM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks again for all this info. Mefites are great, as usual. I just wanted to note that we will not have a car at first and may never get one, so that's not a concern for now.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:16 AM on July 3, 2014

May I refer you to the answer I gave some months ago.
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:22 AM on July 3, 2014

Mefites gave me great advice in the thread jefamaphone just mentioned.

One additional bit of advice I can give based on my own experience: Tell everyone you know you are looking. I knew virtually no one in SF, but found our place because someone I had dinner with in New York had a son leaving an apartment in Inner Sunset.

Good luck!
posted by reren at 11:39 AM on July 3, 2014

It's not as common as it used to be, but some landlords still use a for-rent sign in the window as their only advertising. Since you're going to be walking/driving around your preferred areas anyway, you might as well keep an eye out. I found my last apartment that way.
posted by wryly at 12:16 PM on July 3, 2014

I'd agree with above mention of the Inner Sunset and Inner Richmond. The Bx buses from the Richmond are super fast in the morning, and both neighborhoods are super bike-able to downtown.

There's also the Western Addition, which has arguable boundaries, but around Divis/Octavia (through to VanNess) and McAllister/Geary.

There's this place: 2130 Post. I watched it being renovated. Not sure what it is like, but it might be worth a visit.

Good luck and welcome!
posted by mamabear at 12:39 PM on July 3, 2014

Response by poster: We ended up getting a place in the Upper Haight near Page and Stanyan and are loving it so far. The search was weirdly easy; we ended up liking a place we saw on our first day's hunting, sent in an application immediately after the viewing, and signed the lease two days later. I think it may have helped that we had all of our materials, including the application and credit checks and stuff, in to them within 20 minutes of leaving the place.

Unfortunately I don't have a ton of advice for future readers of this question because I think my girlfriend and I got lucky. I would have my materials ready in advance, go to all the open houses and see if you can go early if you can, and be ready to say yes to the first place that you like.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:21 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

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