How do I find a place to live in the Bay Area in 2019?
July 31, 2019 7:49 PM   Subscribe

I'm moving back to the SF Bay Area. Yay! I missed it! But I have no idea how to start finding a place to live, or if the horror stories I've heard are common or one-offs. The last time I looked was 15 years ago, with a partner--and we stayed in the same rent-controlled apartment we found on Craigslist for over a decade before I moved out of state. Now it is 2019 and I am solo. Any ELI5 instructions, tips, or tricks you have for finding a decent place would be welcome!
posted by rhiannonstone to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I think the main change is that people are more often finding places via things like Facebook. Craigslist is still a common approach, though.

And then there's the question of what you're looking for and what your price range is, if you want to share that.
posted by salvia at 8:38 PM on July 31, 2019

Response by poster: I left out the details of what I'm looking for originally because I didn't want this to come off as a recommend-me-a-specific-place post, but maybe it'll help one way or the other.

In my perfect world I'd find a little apartment by myself in the Mission or Castro for under $2000/month. I know the world isn't perfect, though, so here are my must-haves:

- Generally walkable neighborhood
- Easy walking or biking distance to transit
- Not at the top of a steep hill (I will bike less and that will make me sad)
- No farther north than Berkeley, no farther east than Oakland, no farther south than Daly City
- Max $2500/month (ideally less of course!)

I don't care much about apartment amenities--I'll miss my current in-unit washer/dryer and dishwasher, but it's not a priority--and I'm not concerned about living in any of the areas some people might refer to as "sketchy."

I would also strongly prefer to live alone, without roommates, even if it's in the tiniest of studio shoeboxes. Is that really (as some have suggested) impossible at my price point? I'm currently trying to decide if I'd sacrifice location for living solo or living solo for location.
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:08 PM on July 31, 2019

I think the main change is the cost, now very high which you're probably aware of.

Fwiw as a landlord I advertise only on Craigslist because I don't Facebook so I don't know how they compare; I'm not in SF though.
posted by anadem at 9:11 PM on July 31, 2019

Response by poster: Find places via Facebook as in post and ask your friends to let you know of housing opportunities they hear about, or as in using Facebook's housing listings?
posted by rhiannonstone at 9:20 PM on July 31, 2019

E.g., there's a Facebook group called something like Affordable housing For OK People, though it's mostly for shared housing.
posted by slidell at 10:02 PM on July 31, 2019

Best answer: But yeah, as a landlord I too post just on Craigslist. I have heard that Zillow is increasingly being used by some property managers, though, so you might check there too.
posted by slidell at 10:03 PM on July 31, 2019

It is impossible at your price point and within your geographic restrictions. If you had double the monthly budget you’d probably be OK—then average 1-bed rents for $3700.

Less than $2,000 a month might not even get you a roommate situation; two-bedroom places rent for an average of $4700.

Either way, you won’t be anywhere near the Castro or the Mission. I’m sorry.
posted by jesourie at 10:34 PM on July 31, 2019 [9 favorites]

Best answer: My husband and I rented a place in San Francisco in December after asking a similar question. Most of the advice was pretty good, maybe not quite as competitive as I thought it would be, but I’m sure that’s in part because this was two weeks before Christmas.

I would just get online and start scouring listings to see if you can hit that sweet spot between price, location, and size, then start making compromises.

We flew in from another state for a few days with six or eight viewings lined up. We did all our searching online beforehand, just sifting through hundreds of listings that met our requirements. I think we found most of them through Craigslist, but it seemed like most were double or triple listed on other sites or apps with a different broker. If you can’t reach one broker from a property company, just try another broker from that company since they all have access to the same listings. Some were responsive, some were not. Didn’t check Facebook, so I can’t comment on that.

Nobody would really set up a viewing appointment more than maybe a week in advance because things get rented fairly quickly, so I was scrambling to make these viewing appointments until just before our trip to SF.

We left the apartment we wanted and went to a coffee shop nearby to fill out the online app right away. I would make sure you have all info for an application ready to go when you start filling them out. About home ownership or rental history, current and past employers, references sorted out, etc. There were a couple of things we had to scramble to find, but with our iPads and internet access, we were able to sort it out quickly enough.

Having a dog definitely reduced our choices, though we didn’t end up using his résúme. Probably would have been different if we had seen more for-rent-by-owner type places.

(I’m sure you’ve considered your commute, if you have one? I’ve been told a number of times traffic here has become so, so much worse in the last decade.)

I’ll think about this a little more and see if there’s anything else that might help.
posted by jroybal at 10:35 PM on July 31, 2019

jesourie: "It is impossible at your price point and within your geographic restrictions. If you had double the monthly budget you’d probably be OK—then average 1-bed rents for $3700. "

I don't think this is true at all. I'm seeing studios in d/t Oakland in the ~$1700 range. I agree SF would be tough.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:38 PM on July 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I agree that $2500 for your own place in the Castro or the Mission won’t likely be possible, but it might be for a very small studio (or some other type of unit) elsewhere in the city. It is definitely possible outside the city, like Daly City.
posted by jroybal at 10:51 PM on July 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

I searched on Craigslist - there is a bit in Berkeley/Oakland that fit your needs, nothing in San Francisco. That's probably a good starting point. I will say though that a lot of the best opportunities for this type of thing seem to be word of mouth, which means moving here, meeting people and then finding an offer you can't refuse!
posted by Toddles at 11:46 PM on July 31, 2019

I’ve also seen apartments listed on nextdoor and posts by people looking for places. You access posts by neighborhood and they supposedly confirm location somehow but it might be worth trying to sign up for an area you’re looking for.
posted by oneear at 1:18 AM on August 1, 2019

I lived in studios at 1341 Valencia twice. Once in 2005 and again in 2011. In 2011 my rent was 1700-ish for a studio with parking. The management company is Murphy Apartments and they were fine as property management companies go. They let me install a MonkeyBrains line-of-sight WiFi receiver on the roof which may still be there.

Anchor Realty was teh suck, mostly because the building manager let himself into my apartment with no notice and watched me in the shower. Their response was "we'll speak to him."

I'm bullish on Murphy and bearish on Anchor.

I'd look for management companies with good ratings and peruse their listings. Going to their office, filling out all the paperwork while you're there, letting them see you as a person all seem like good ideas to me.
posted by bendy at 3:46 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Median 1-Bedroom Rent In San Francisco Soars To Nearly $3,700 A Month

I have to wonder if a lot of the cheaper postings people are seeing are either outright scams or ways the rental companies get you in the door. When we were looking for a rental in SF, we got a lot of, “Oh, gosh, so sorry, that apartment was *just* rented! But let us show you this much more expensive one...”
posted by jesourie at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

On a recent work trip to the bay area I met up for drinks with a friend who moved to Alameda. It's just west of Oakland and I would assume not as insanely priced as SF because my friend is pretty blue-collar. He seemed very happy there, the tiki bar we met at in the town had non-obscene prices (especially for the bay area) and it appeared to me pretty easy to get around with BART and a bike or the occasional uber/lyft. Maybe that's an area you can look into? My friend told me it has flown under the radar since folks mostly look in SF or Oakland/Berkeley.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2019

Is a 1BR absolutely required, or would you be okay with a studio? The last time I helped a friend look for a place on their own here was 2017. The sense I got then was that the absolute minimum you could pay to live on your own (excepting situations where you get a crazy hookup through a connection) was around $1750-$2000 for quite small studios in okay parts of the Tenderloin, which is overall a pretty rough part of town. My sense is that a very modest studio could be doable for $2500 in the areas you mentioned, but that you might have a better quality of life looking in Oakland near the first couple of BART stops. The dollar goes a lot further there with regard to living arrangements.
posted by Expecto Cilantro at 8:56 AM on August 1, 2019

On a recent work trip to the bay area I met up for drinks with a friend who moved to Alameda.

Alameda is far more suburban and conservative than Oakland or SF. It's also not particularly convenient to BART, although there are both bus and ferry options for getting into the city. It is, however, flat and relatively bike-friendly, and there's plenty of shops and restaurants. (And now it has quite a number of wineries and breweries out at Alameda Point if you like that sort of thing.)
posted by suelac at 9:21 AM on August 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

All this speculation that OP can't afford this can be disproven in two minutes on Craigslist. The next question is how to compete for those units. But studios and 1 BRs can certainly be found under $2500.

Top floor studio in the Castro $2175
Castro 1 BR $2395
posted by slidell at 9:27 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I don't know about SF/Oakland in particular, but in NYC, about 75%-80% of Craigslist apartment postings are fakes. So I wouldn't necessarily go by that.
posted by praemunire at 10:06 AM on August 1, 2019

Sure, plenty of fakes, but not anywhere near as high as 75%. And I think the posting is real if it's advertising an open house with a specific address and time, like one slidell posted.
posted by crazy with stars at 10:09 AM on August 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I occasionally see better deals on Nextdoor, and if you know someone in a neighborhood where you want to live, you could ask them to post for you (people write brief descriptions of how they're a great tenant and what they're looking for). If you know someone at UC Berkeley, there's also a separate housing site that only staff/students can access- some good places that don't end up on Craigslist. The last time I looked on CL, I used IFTTT to send automatic alerts for my search criteria so I could be one of the first people to respond. I think the market in the East Bay is slightly less crazy than has been at other points in the last few years, though that's just my impression. You probably still should show up at showings with a rental resume and credit report printed out, etc. It's true that there are many more fakes on the Bay Area CL than there used to be in the past. Usually it's obvious that they're too good to be true.
posted by pinochiette at 12:19 PM on August 1, 2019

My experiences have only been in North Oakland/Berkeley, so take this with a grain of salt.

I very recently finished my apartment search in Oakland. The majority of apartment ads here are put on Craigslist. The ones that are scams are actually pretty obvious once you know what to look for: lower than market price or market price but with the up-to-date appliances, amenities, pet friendliness of high priced accommodations. Most ads were otherwise real. My strategy for apartment hunt was simply to "be prepared." I always attended the open house with copies of my pay checks, bank statement, credit report, and a copy of driver's license; I had these documents all prepared to e-mail as well since many small landlords will simply email the application. After the open house, I'd either fill out the application in my car or go to a local coffee shop to do it on my laptop. I had prepared all the information needed to put on the application on a separate document to refer to, so I didn't need to have to continue looking up old addresses, contact information, account numbers, etc. I fortunately did the bulk of my apartment hunting during the off-season for college here in East Bay, which made my experience a little less intense... Although many open houses were crowded. Many landlords were interested in my application because I also had the benefit of stating that I was "ready to move in as soon as you want me to," where many other people had to wait for one lease to end or couldn't afford to let leases overlap. This could definitely work in your benefit.

I'm out-of-the-loop when it comes to apartment hunting in San Francisco itself. The Castro and Mission may not work for your price range, but Inner/Outer Sunset will. I had a close friend find a decently sized one-bedroom apartment at around $2k in that area in April of this year. He approached his apartment hunt with a similar approach of being "prepared," and found a acceptable apartment in one weekend.

Best of luck!
posted by Thirty7Degrees at 12:37 PM on August 1, 2019

I'd email all your local friends and let them know you're looking. There are informal, word-of-mouth options that pop up. It's no guarantee, but it's worth putting the word out via email (bcc!) and Facebook posts. I'd also try to register on NextDoor for the neighborhood you're targeting, or get a friend(s) to post on your behalf if they're on NextDoor. I've regularly seen landlords posting responding to posts of people looking for a place.
posted by quince at 1:08 PM on August 1, 2019

If you speak any other languages, actual physical bulletin boards at ethnic markets are good. In my neighborhood a few of the Mexican markets have them and the Ranch 99 in El Cerrito/Richmond has one.

Otherwise, I'd post on one of the housing pages on facebook. If you have anyone you can get to post your case on the relevant that can sometimes be useful.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:14 PM on August 1, 2019

I'm on Nextdoor in Potrero Hill/Mission and can post something for you, or send you listings if you want.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:29 PM on August 1, 2019

And I think the posting is real if it's advertising an open house with a specific address and time, like one slidell posted.

This is not a reliable indication. I moved in the North Oakland / Berkely / Emeryville area in the last month. I contacted roughly 30 listings, exclusively those that had pictures, address or cross streets, open house dates, and was clear on price. So, not obvious scam ads. Two of these were revealed to be scams only after I contacted; in that the person wanted three months rent as a “deposit” before I could apply or view the apartment.

About the cheapest you can expect within the geographic boundaries specified, on the open market, is around $1800/mo for a studio, but far from transit. If you want close to BART/Muni or major bus lines, you’re looking at over $2000/mo. It’s common for ads of multiple unit buildings to list the cheapest unit price, while advertising the specs of more expensive units. Example: the apartment I ended up renting is $2700/mo for a 1BR. The ad listed $2000/mo. Those units are the cheapest theoretically available, but have long-tenure tenants that are not moving. The cheapest actually available unit was $2350/mo for a lofted studio.

Best bet for “affordable” is to put feelers out through your extended network, to see if someone has an in-law or cottage available. A few years ago my sister rented a (likely illegal) cottage, with bathroom/kitchen in main house, for $900/mo in West Oakland.
posted by jraenar at 9:40 PM on August 4, 2019

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