Help us rent an apartment in San Francisco​
November 28, 2018 7:12 AM   Subscribe

We know it’s extremely expensive and densely populated, and we know about the supply/demand dynamic. But are there other things we should know that will help us find an apartment? Advice on strategies, best listings, viewings/showings, applications, ways to get ahead, etc., would be appreciated. What do you wish you had known?

I'll be working in the Lincoln Park area; my husband’s working on his job search. We're primarily looking at the Richmond District. We have a 24 lb dog (and he has a pet résumé). We’ll be moving at the end of December and making a trip out there in a week.

We'll have job offer/salary letter, credit reports, pay stubs, bank statements, and a checkbook ready to go. We're not sure how to handle landlord references, since we haven't rented in ten years.

I see a few questions from earlier, but I don't know what's still relevant.

What can we do to help ourselves?
posted by jroybal to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I’ve lived in San Francisco for 20 years but have no idea where Lincoln Park is! It sounds like you have everything in order but have you determined a price range?

I would be prepared to sign a lease when you come out next week, even if it means paying rent while you’re not living here. People jump on leases quickly here, more so than any other place I’ve lived so don’t put off signing for something you really like.

It will be difficult to find a place that’s dog friendly, particularly a larger dog so be prepared for that. Do you need a garage space? Parking isn’t great in a lot of areas of the Richmond so think that through.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 7:22 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Ohhhh Lincoln Park is where the Legion of Honor and VA hospital are. I would just call that the "Outer Richmond." :)

The best thing we ever did in SF was to move in December. We did that twice. You do have to move fairly quickly when you find a place you like, but we didn't look at very many places and there was zero competition. Craigslist is still your best bet, unfortunately.

Do be prepared for sticker shock and for living in a smaller place than you're used to, but it sounds like you know that already. Fortunately, The Richmond is less expensive than other parts of the City.

Don't underestimate the power of charming the landlord when you meet them. A good landlord is looking for a quality tenant. When we looked at the place we ended up moving to in Oakland (also competitive but prices are a little better), we knew that they had a couple other applicants they were considering. We spent a lot of time chatting with the landlord and his mother and I thought we really clicked with them. We really emphasized how good of a relationship we have with our current landlord, how we care about where we live, etc.

Also, yes, parking is a hot mess in San Francisco. If you have a car, get a garage space.

Speaking of dogs, vet care is ridiculous expensive, but I can recommend a vet if you'd like.
posted by radioamy at 9:28 AM on November 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

As of my last San Francisco apartment search in Fall 2016:
  • There's no harm in checking listings on newer sites like Hotpads, Trulia, Zumper, etc., but I found plain old Craigslist to be both comprehensive and easier to work with in supporting detailed search criteria.
  • That thing you've heard about where 20 people show up to a listing at once? Yep, it happens. Some landlords encourage it by scheduling the one and only viewing time for a place from, like, 10:00-10:15 on Saturday morning. They're the exception in my experience though—most people were flexible about scheduling individual viewing times.
  • Be prepared to act quickly if you find a place you like. Bring copies of your supporting documents to viewings in case they are accepting applications on site. Expect to pay ~$40 per application to cover the cost of running your credit check. You may still lose out if another qualified applicant gets their application in ahead of you, so continue searching actively until you have an accepted application.
  • That said, don't feel pressured to take a place that you don't feel comfortable with. I looked at a few places that had minor but noticeable issues—nothing that really compromised basic habitability, but things like worn down flooring or evidence of mildew. When I asked the landlord if they planned to repair the issue the response was always "LOL NOPE". It's a competitive market, yes, but you still have choices.
Good luck with your search!
posted by 4rtemis at 9:52 AM on November 28, 2018

I don’t know if this is still done, but in San Francisco some people used to put “For Rent” signs in windows. You might try looking for signs in neighborhoods that appeal to you.
posted by wryly at 10:23 AM on November 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Agree it's still really competitive. Would you consider commuting from Marin County? That might open up more options with pet friendly apartments but expect a 45 min commute (you'll have to trade-off on time or money usually in looking for Bay Area housing). Also, might be worth being flexible and arrange short term housing. Sounds like you have a job secured already - may be worth asking co-workers for good leads.
posted by hampanda at 7:31 PM on November 28, 2018

I live in the Central Richmond area. The dog thing will be hard -- we have two cats and there were barely any options available, so of course the number of places that accept dogs are even fewer. And because of that, every person in San Francisco who has a dog and needs an apartment will be there.

Just know that you will find something, it just might take some time. Try to stay patient and sane through the process. Some people do get lucky and find something right away, and that could be you!

Regarding parking: if you have a subcompact it's not THAT bad in this area. I mean, maybe I've just become a bit immune to it, but I have a Honda Fit and almost always find a space fairly quickly (there are definitely some days/times that are more challenging). A garage space would be awesome, don't get me wrong, but depending on your price range it might be hard to make it happen.

Feel free to DM me if you have more questions about the area.
posted by imalaowai at 9:24 PM on November 28, 2018

Sneaky trick that has worked for me a couple times. If you see a listing you like, sometimes you can email the landlord/property manager and saying you'll be out of town for the open house, darn, but can you stop by whenever is convenient for them BEFORE the open house just to check it out? If they say yes, even if it is 6am on a Tuesday, come by with all your paperwork in hand and be ready to have a cashier's check within an hour if needed for a deposit. If you like the place GET IT WHILE YOU CAN because yes there will be 10-20 people at the open house.

If they say you can't come early, go to the open house anyway. You can always say your trip plans changed, if they ask.
posted by egeanin at 12:48 PM on November 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

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