Living alone in SF. Difficulty level: postdoc
April 30, 2015 9:21 PM   Subscribe

Is it possible to find a studio in SF proper for ≤$1650/mo? Where (and how) should I be looking?

Increasingly I'm realizing that I'd really, really prefer to live alone. I'm looking for a studio, preferably within SF proper, in the $1,400 to $1,650 range. I also need to be in transit range of Mission Bay. Is this even do-able within my budget anymore, and where should I be looking? I've read previous similar Asks, but the Bay Area rental scene seems to have changed so dramatically even within the last 2 years that I think I could use a fresh take.

Things I absolutely want: range w/ at least two burners and a bathroom to myself, plus the ability to have overnight guests without getting prior approval from the landlord. (These factors alone seem to eliminate most of the "in-law" listings I've seen, which often have "no cooking + no guest" policies.)

Ideally: a neighborhood with reasonably low violent crime, some basic local amenities (groceries, drugstores, hardware, cheap eats, local bar or two, etc.), and a ≤45 minute commute by transit/bike to Mission Bay. I can also use UCSF shuttles as part of my commute, but I don't have a car so that's a limiting factor.

DGAF about: square footage, hipness of neighborhood, weather.

Right now I'm scoping out the Tendernob (above Geary), the Sunset, the area around Mission between Persia and Geneva, the Portola, and the bit of Ingleside right near CCSF. If anyone has experience living in these areas, or knows other neighborhoods I should check out, that would be super useful.

Also, honestly, Craigslist and Padmapper have been turning up pretty slim pickings for the last several weeks. Is this just a particularly bad time of the year to be looking, or am I really as screwed as it looks? I'm month to month at my current place so I have some flexibility there. (And are there any other avenues I should be pursuing besides CL, like walking around candidate neighborhoods, or going through local newspapers/bulletins/mailing lists?)

Thanks! I'd be grateful for any advice you could give me.

P.S. I'm hesitant about the East Bay at this point because: most of my friends live in SF proper, I don't want to deal with the BART curfew or a $50 cab ride on the (rare) occasions I do go out, and the transit commute doesn't actually seem so great to Mission Bay. Plus the "nicer" areas seem to have gotten close to as expensive as outer SF (average studio price in Adams Point looks more like $1,750 these days, for instance). But if you live in the East Bay and you think these are bullshit made-up problems, feel free to sell me on your neighborhood!
posted by en forme de poire to Home & Garden (25 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
People who haven't moved recently have no idea how godawful it is right now — like, I landed a rent-controlled place in Oakland last year, and that took months, and it's on a legitimately terrible street, and it's so badly maintained that if we lived in a metropolitan area with actual weather it would be uninhabitable... but if it went on the market now, it would probably cost half again what I'm paying.

I don't know if SF is affected at all by university schedules like Berkeley/North Oakland are, but if the university schedules matter, now's exactly the _right_ time to be looking. So, yeah, it's not going to be any better in August, I figure.

I mean I have a notoriously bleak outlook on more or less everything, but even correcting for that I'd be pleasantly stunned if anyone has a better answer than "nope, not possible," or "cross your fingers and hope for a market crash?"

when I first moved down here I briefly considered renting a room in Dogpatch. Dogpatch! Which was in my price range at the time! And this was just a few years ago!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:55 PM on April 30, 2015

$50 cab ride from East Bay once or twice a month is worth it if it saves you $500/month in rent. If you are intent on living in SF, you might want to take a look at the new "microapartments" being built such as The Karl and The Panoramic (nevermind.. looks like this was actually turned into student housing). If you can find something at that price don't expect much more than a single room... ~250-300 square feet?
posted by sophist at 10:34 PM on April 30, 2015

You are really as screwed as it looks. Sorry.
posted by jesourie at 10:44 PM on April 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you're using CL's price range feature, consider going up a notch over your budget and looking for places with parking, like this one or others with even higher rents. Since you don't have a car, you can rent out your parking space and get your monthly housing outlay down to your budget.
posted by carmicha at 10:45 PM on April 30, 2015 [7 favorites]

I've lived at 1341 Valencia (@24) twice and found the studios to be in your price range. They may not be anymore, but google murphy apartments and stop into their office if anything seems interesting.
posted by bendy at 11:47 PM on April 30, 2015

Response by poster: It was a good try, bendy, but the 1341 Valencia studios are now listing at $2350.

sophist, I would gladly take a 174-square-foot room, but unfortunately those apartments are merely planned and do not exist yet.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:44 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (Oops, re: East Bay, I forgot to account for the cost of commuting, which looks like ~$135 for BART. As far as cab rides go, I was mostly joking about going out anyway -- I mean, let's be real, I'm a 30-year-old postdoc, I'm basically a broken, empty husk of a man -- so let's say a max of $1550 for Oakland.)
posted by en forme de poire at 1:21 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could also consider Alameda; take the ferry into the city and bike from the ferry terminal to UCSF. I see a handful of studios there that would be in your price range.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:08 AM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

When my wife and I lived in north Oakland and she commuted to UCSF Parnassus, she took the Caltrans bike shuttle across most days. Only a dollar, leaves from MacArthur BART, drops off near the transbay terminal, so an easy ride to mission bay. That may open up some north Oakland options within your budget.
(When we moved in together, she left a 900 a month studio in Hayes Valley...)
posted by rockindata at 4:53 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Are you going to be a postdoc employed by a UCSF lab? If so, you may be able to get student housing at Mission Bay. I think the studios there meet all of your criteria.
posted by stillmoving at 6:24 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you looked at any housing boards associated with the school/program? At UC Berkeley, I saw much better options on a school-associated board than on Craigslist (in-laws from professors, etc).

Things are awful right now for housing and seem to be getting worse all the time (also, even if you see a decent listing in your price range, those tend to be so competitive that the chances of getting it are very slim). But Alameda may be an interesting possibility, even if it's not ideal for your social life (also, the ferry has limited commuting hours, though there are other options). Usually cheaper, but also safe and nice. Although they don't have rent control, unlike most of Berkeley/Oakland/SF, so your rent could theoretically go up dramatically after a year.

One way that commuting from the East Bay can theoretically be a little cheaper is casual carpool, where people line up at designated spots to get an extra seat in someone's car so they can drive in the carpool lane over the bridge. Free, comfortable, reasonably safe, accessible at many BART stops. They usually drop you off in the Financial District and then you could just grab the light rail or bus to Mission Bay.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:09 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you a UCSF postdoc? My friend is a postdoc at UCSF and she has a studio through the university. I believe that she pays about $1400. I'm guessing they're full if you're looking for other options? She is definitely paying below market rate for her place, and it's a proper studio with a small but functional kitchen.
posted by barnone at 8:38 AM on May 1, 2015

Response by poster: Haha, yeah, not to threadsit, but I did apply to the housing lottery through UCSF. Not only did I not get anything, they used the phrase "extremely unlikely" to describe my chances of being provided an apartment in the future. There's a pretty major shortfall of housing at the University right now.

The other commute options from the East Bay are very interesting!
posted by en forme de poire at 8:56 AM on May 1, 2015

Potentially look down on the peninsula. If you need to get to Mission Bay the caltrain comes in every day. Might not be ideal but a quick search shows a number of places close to your budget.
posted by Carillon at 9:11 AM on May 1, 2015

Do you have a bike? It's not ideal, but I get from Emeryville to my office in Portreo by either bike + BART + bike or transbay bus with my bike on it + bike. Having a bike opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of mass transit in the Bay Area. Try looking in the area north and east of the lake in Oakland, down the Caltrain line (but more than walking distance from the stations), the foggiest parts of Daly City, and up in Albany.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:50 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

No, I don't think that price range is possible in SF proper anymore. However, you do have some 'outside the box' options to achieve your end goal.

1) Share a place with a grad or post-grad student who is travelling a lot for research. Social sciences, archaeology, anthropolgy/sociology etc are all disciplines that generally require field research at some point. If you really luck out, you'll find a roommate who landed a Fullbright (acceptance letters just got sent out) and will be gone for the next 9 months but still wants to keep a room in their rent controlled apartment in the city. You might have to check around Berkeley to find something like this.

2) House sitting. This may be less stability than you like, but I know some folks who get nice, long-term gigs -- months at a time. If you don't mind watering plants, and your friends can vouch that you know how to not destroy nice things, this might be a great fit. Other plus: not paying for rent in SF is AWESOME.

3) Apartment managing. Tough to land one of these jobs, but you get free rent in exchange for dealing with maintenance people, cleaning up common areas, and very occasionally showing an apartment. I know several people that do this and the love it. It's an 8-10 hour a week commitment, but very worth it.

Good luck!
posted by ananci at 10:08 AM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

a warning re: caltrans bike shuttle: Though it exists as an artifact of the period when all bikes were banned from BART during commute hours, what I've heard is that now it's primarily a service for bike messengers, and that if you're going over during the bike messenger commute you have to get there _real_ early to get a spot.

Something that might save you the trouble of getting a bike over to SF: Bay Area Bikeshare. I'm a member; my commute involves taking my own person bike to 19th street BART, parking it there, then getting off in downtown SF and bikeshare biking down to 4th+king.

West Oakland is, as far as I can tell, over as far as affordable rent goes. Because I live in West Oakland, henceforth I will be forever identifiable as someone who moved to Oakland and locked down rent control in 2014, and I will forever be jealous of the people who moved over here in 2012 and locked up all the good rent-controlled spots by the lake and in Temescal. I think the place that postdocs and grad students, the unwilling shock troops of gentrification, are moving to now is Fruitvale, but that might be full too.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:35 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

OH: if you've decided for sure that living with people is more obnoxious than a transbay commute, and also don't mind taking buses, you might want to try looking at neighborhoods in Oakland that are served by the AC Transit NL. It's the fastest commute across the bay aside from BART, and I don't think housing near NL stops has gotten as expensive as quickly as housing near BART stations.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:02 AM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ingleside near CCSF meets your requirements pretty well: not trendy but has basic amenities, is quiet and safe, close to BART and MUNI Metro K line. When I lived there in 2013 it was definitely an overlooked neighborhood with pricing to match. Do you have any friends who speak/read Chinese or Japanese? On craigslist I'm seeing several ads in (or even below!) your price range.
posted by serelliya at 1:39 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, actually it looks like Ingleside is mostly in-law studios. But I would keep an eye on it nonetheless.
posted by serelliya at 1:44 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

San Leandro is on the BART and just doing a quick search of apartments for rent on Craigslist - it looks like there are plenty in your price range. Since you are a postdoc you won't have a life anyway, but there appears to be some "healthy" outings to downtown with a farmers market etc.
posted by Toddles at 2:32 PM on May 1, 2015

West Oakland, East Oakland, Lake Merritt, and San Leandro are fairly high crime if you consider armed robberies violent crimes.
posted by benzenedream at 5:39 PM on May 1, 2015

Seconding a few of these spots, like Ingleside (and proximates, like Mission Terrace and Excelsior). I have a few student friends who live in those spots, two of whom are in (different) illegal backyard or basement conversions. Spaces like that aren't advertised quite as loudly, so it can help if you've actually got time to walk around neighborhoods you find acceptable and look for 'for rent' signs. Ditto Portola (this looks nice, for instance) and Visitacion Valley.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 5:45 PM on May 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was in your shoes back in August. I did a stint in a Tenderloin sublet, and now I'm spending more than I reasonably should to live in a studio in Lower Nob Hill. The walls are thin and the room is drafty, but otherwise it's pretty ok. A couple suggestions:

1. Look at lots of places, even if you don't think they sound especially great for you. Some managers don't put much thought into listings.

2. Look at the Sunset/Richmond. There are some options there that are closer to $1500. I also looked into Western Addition, where there were some studios that I could afford.

3. Maybe consider AirBnBing your place for one weekend a month. Live someplace where the building manger will not run into you, because subletting is probably in violation of your lease if you're in any older building. Lots of people do this though.

Feel free to memail me. Good luck.
posted by null14 at 10:58 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: I found something in the Inner Sunset!!! Thanks so much for all of your help and advice.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:08 PM on June 30, 2015

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