Going rate for apartments in San Francisco
January 10, 2008 10:32 PM   Subscribe

What's the going rates for apartments in San Francisco? Is it as bad as it looks on craigslist?

So I'm idly contemplating moving to the Bay Area after I finish my Master's in eight months or so. If I do that I would work in Silicon Valley and I would want to live in San Francisco. (I did this before as an intern. Had a great time. Would likely be returning to the same company.) Last time I was there I found a room in a great 4-bedroom in Haight-Ashbury. Anyway this is all daydreaming right now but I'm just wondering what kind of life I could make for myself down there.

I'm currently happily set up in Vancouver and have my own apartment for the first time in my life and really love it. I'm not sure I could go back to living with roommates again. Real estate's crazy here and people tend to ask for way too much on craiglist - but they find buyers because there's so much traffic. The going rate at most apartment complexes is much lower, but they don't advertise on craigslist. I found my current place by walking past a "vacancy" sign and calling the number.

If I were to attempt to move to San Francisco and try to find something like this:
- studio / bachelor / 1 bedroom - not too small - maybe 300, 350 sq ft minimum? enough so I could have a few people over
- not in a basement, not falling apart or vermin infested or anything, proper kitchen and bathroom... doesn't have to be slick and new, but at least fully functional
- biking distance to caltrain?
- colorful neighborhood? (haight, mission, something like that)

Is this really going to cost me, um, what, $1200 or so? At minimum? Cause that's what it looks like. Or is the rate more reasonable if you walk around looking for 'for rent' signs?
posted by PercussivePaul to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Close to public transit, fun neighborhood, 1 bedroom? I think you're better off splitting 2500/mo and getting a roommate. If budget is of any concern, living alone in SF makes no sense.. there's too much to do outside.
posted by kcm at 10:36 PM on January 10, 2008

the south side of San Francisco, near SF State is still somewhat affordable. You should look there. I should note, I don't know a single person in SF under the age of 35 who earns less than $100,000 a year who live alone in the city.
posted by parmanparman at 10:57 PM on January 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine found a studio for $1,300 at Clay and Franklin about a year ago. That was considered "pretty good" then. She shares with her girlfriend.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:06 PM on January 10, 2008

Anecdatum: A friend lives alone in an in-law behind the garage of a single family house in the Sunset near 19th. Kitchen and bedroom are sort of the same room, and there is a separate living room. It's small but clean and nice. I think she pays $930/mo. People in our social circle consider this a pretty good deal, to give you a sense of what one group of people thinks is a reasonable rate for living alone. I've certainly never heard of anyone getting any great deals through the method you suggest, but perhaps I'm just not in-the-know.

I do know of two rentals that were carried out without a listing on craigslist--one of them was the place my old roommate moved into and the other was the room we filled in our place after he left. In both cases personal connections were key--knowledge of these places was passed to coworkers and friends-of-friends, which allowed these people to have a shot at the places before they were turned over to the broader market. I don't know if in either case the rent was much below the craigslist market rates, however. The room we rented was $716/mo for 1 bedroom in an Inner Sunset 3 bedroom; I don't know how much the old roommate is paying for his place. But you might try spamming your Facebook friends, e.g., to see if anyone has a lead on a not-yet-listed place.
posted by epugachev at 11:35 PM on January 10, 2008

$1200 for a one bedroom in a fun neighborhood and close to public trans is what I'm paying in motherfucking Oakland. So, yeah, I don't think you're gonna get a much better deal than that.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 11:36 PM on January 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, I just found the best deal ever on my new place, but that is only because I've lived in the City for almost 30 years and have magical friends.

I will tell you that the approximately 500 sf apartment I just moved out of, where I was paying $1500/mo (I had been there for nine years under rent control), will certainly be inexpensively "renovated" and re-let for at least $2800/mo (the going price for identical units in the building).
posted by trip and a half at 11:38 PM on January 10, 2008

The Boy and I live in the Outer Richmond. It's not as "colorful" as the Haight or Mission, but it's a nice, very residential neighborhood with great access to the beach and Golden Gate Park (but crap access to Caltrain). We moved in almost exactly three years ago and pay $1,150 a month (plus $100 for our parking place) for a one bedroom with 800-ish square feet. We got a very good deal at the time, so it's probably a super awesome deal now (and make hilariously less than $100,000 a year. In fact, I don't think I know anyone in the city who does.).

We sacrifice location somewhat for the price we pay; to a very real extent, that's the deal a lot of people make. We love our pad (but have our eye on the Outer Haight or Potrero Hill for some day when we're more solvent) and have learned a certain Zen acceptance of what is awesome and so awesome about the location. Around SF State or the Richmond or Sunset (inner and outer) are going to get you more space for your money. You sort of have to weigh what your priorities are (space, location, price, public transportation access, whatever), and decide what neighborhood suits you best based on those criteria.

Moving from Vancouver, I imagine it's all quite shocking. We came from Beacon Hill in Boston where we paid an exorbitant amount of money for a really, truly crap place, so it was an easier transition. If budget and the amount of your income you pay for rent is something you take very seriously, SF might be a hard place for you to be happy in.
posted by mostlymartha at 11:43 PM on January 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, out here it's kind of a convention to live with roommates until your stock options vest, you get married, or you give up and leave town. I know investment bankers and bigshot lawyers who live with roommates; that's just sort of how it goes. I can't imagine finding the kind of place you describe for less than the price you quote.
posted by rkent at 12:03 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Some friends of mine live in a very cute, but smallish, 1br (not tiny, but the place was basically "at capacity" as soon as they moved in) in the Western Addition. The price at the time (2002) was $1600/mo, and everyone said it was a really good deal. They ended up buying it when the building got sold, for about $500k ... basically, because their mortgage payments would be about the same as their rent. Still considered a good deal. Pretty much all of their friends have been priced out of SF, and moved to other parts of the country, though.
posted by the luke parker fiasco at 12:10 AM on January 11, 2008

It's worse than that- prepare to go to every viewing with a copy of your renter's resume, your credit report, and a check to wave in the face of the prospective landlord and to be one of a huge herd, especially if you're looking at economical places. Pretty high-pressure. That's why I live in Oakland- I have a beautiful little loft in a fun-nish neighborhood near public transportation and I pay 1k monthly, utilities included. Berkeley is a lot more expensive.

You can live in a crack house (no offense intended, my sister lived in an actual crack house last year as a college student housemate to the drug dealers) in a really bad neighborhood for around ~$500/month in the bay area. That's as low as it gets, however.
posted by arnicae at 12:38 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, you might consider looking in Pacifica. It's not that far away, there's only one road, and it's on the water.
posted by parmanparman at 1:23 AM on January 11, 2008

It's fucked. I paid $400/mo to live in what was essentially a closet with a water heater in a flat with 4 other people. And yes, you have to go to every viewing with as much documentation about yourself as possible and have cash/check in hand ready to take it RIGHT THERE. Your other option is to drive around SF for a few weeks living out of your car until you happen upon a place that has not been listed on craigslist.
posted by beerbajay at 4:44 AM on January 11, 2008

This is only one part of your question, but hopefully a helpful trick. I'm preparing to move back in with roommates after a blissful period of living alone (in a similarly saturated/crazy housing market, Manhattan). To help with that, the thing I specifically searched for on Craigslist & other sites is the word "absentee" as in "absentee roommate." You might find a place where you are nominally a roommate but the other person really is gone a lot because they're a flight attendant or other traveling professional.
posted by sparrows at 4:51 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you thought about San Jose? 1 million people couldn't be wrong.
posted by rjacobs at 8:47 AM on January 11, 2008

SFRentStats provides "Mapped listings from Craigslist with statistics. Displays the last 2 days. Updated every 15 minutes" and breaks it down by studio/1 BR/etc. I posted about it a while back.
posted by rtha at 9:02 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Check out the heat maps on HotPads. Gives you the range for the median rent by zips on the map. They have this for the entire country.
posted by CAnneDC at 9:05 AM on January 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think it's possible to do what you're asking but it's going to take a lot of time and effort to find the place. Be prepared to spend a lot of energy on your search. As others suggest, you might try looking in the south end of the city. Not as colorful, but I love living in the Excelsior. It's cheap, quiet, mostly well-maintained, and easy to get to freeways. We totally scored with a 2 br house with a yard and full garage in really great condition for 2100 month.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:13 AM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: OK. Basically it is as bad as it looks then.
Like I said it's all speculation right now... I will just adjust my San Francisco daydreams to include a few roommates. :) Thanks
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:35 AM on January 11, 2008

To answer your question, yes, craigslist is a good reflection of what you'll have to pay. Certainly you might be able to score something cheaper but this usually involves networking - knowing landlords, taking over a lease from someone else, etc.

If you want to live alone, live alone. I know plenty of people who do here in SF and they do not all make over $100k. Your estimate of $1200 is about right for a decent studio right now. You need to be persistent but thats true for anyone in this rental market.

If you can find someone who has lived here a long time to help you when shopping neighborhoods that can be invaluable. SF is very much a micro-neighborhood place. One block may be great and the next block over may be not so great. So, you can't trust broad neighborhood descriptions all the time, especially when its the seller doing the categorization (Its amazing how big "Nob hill" has gotten, for example) There are upsides and downsides to the alternative neighborhoods people are suggesting above - usually that they're farther from the City center.
posted by vacapinta at 9:36 AM on January 11, 2008

Funny, but I've gotten the feeling recently that Marin is cheaper than the city. I lot quieter too, but public transportation to anywhere but the City sucks. I pay $1k, and live alone, in about 400 square feet in a shabby victorian in San Rafael.
posted by wzcx at 9:41 AM on January 11, 2008

Is it that bad? Yes. Can you cope? Sure, lots of people do.

If having your own place is a must, you CAN do it.

For example, I used rent from these guys. I lived on Market Street in what was essentially, an SRO -- or 'efficiency' unit -- except the apartments were rented to students instead of the desperately poor (sorry, desperately poor, but you can be hard to live with). You have to share a bathroom, and you have zero kitchen, and uh, you live on Sixth street, almost, but there's a lot of upsides. The shared bathroom is cleaned every day, and in a lot of ways is probably cleaner and nicer than your own bathroom (no bath, though, shower only, which is a big downside); you live right by Tu Lan and Cancun, so you have tons of bachelor dining options; there is shitloads of nightlife; great BART proximity; great FiDi proximity; and, uh, it's hella fuckin cheap. I lived there for two years and it was not bad at all; although I would recommend NOT living in the building with a window facing Sixth street -- too much street noise. Also, forget about parking unless you want to pay for it. All this can be yours for under $800.

But yeah, generally, the rental situation is bad in the Bay Area, and it's getting worse, as everyone who would've bought a house is now renting instead. Prices are slowly climbing, and we're still (crazily enough) in a tech boom. It may soon get to the point where shit is as wacky as it was during the first dot com boom, where 20 people would show up, deposit checks in hand, to rent an absolute piece of crap.

Living in Oakland (or any of the East Bay, really) is great, but it is not SF, and you will not spend as much time in SF as you would if you lived in SF. Depending where you are in your life, this could be a plus (I'm old and grouchy and sick of those kids, so the East Bay is more my speed these days). Obviously, you shouldn't even consider San Jose if you want to move to SF (unless you're working there, in which case you should probably just live there and save yourself the CalTrain hassle).
posted by fishfucker at 10:07 AM on January 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

It may soon get to the point where shit is as wacky as it was during the first dot com boom, where 20 people would show up, deposit checks in hand, to rent an absolute piece of crap.

I rented twice during the middle of the dot-com boom.

First time, we (me and my then gf) showed up along with like 50 other people to an open house. It was a great place. The landlord was there and several people were sucking up to him. I chatted with him briefly. He said everyones chances were low. And by the way, what did I do for a living? Where did I work? I told him. And, bingo, it turns out his son was a co-worker of mine. Next day we got a call telling us the place was ours if we called back within a couple hours. Like winning the lottery. Crazy.

Second time. my then gf (same one) is walking by this apt building that is undergoing renovations. A woman walks out and my gf chats with her. Turns out they are about to put the entire building on the rental market but havent yet. Gf gives her her phone number. We expect nothing will come of it. A couple weeks later we get a call, asking us to choose which apt in the building we would like and here's the rental price for all of them (we of course choose the airy one on top). Do we want it? Yes of course.

I hope for the sake of everyone's sanity it doesnt get like that get again. But, I'm afraid, like fishfucker says, that it is inveitably heading there.
posted by vacapinta at 10:21 AM on January 11, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I know the lay of the land in the Bay Area. The city is really the only part that appeals to me and it's what I really miss. I wouldn't be nearly as happy in the more suburban areas.

The funny thing is I thought the real estate market in Vancouver was bad. And it is, very bad, by pretty much every objective measurement. I had a hell of a time finding my current place. But it sounds like SF is much, much worse.

It's a strange world we live in, huh? The tech boom attracts all these skilled workers and we pay them all really high salaries -- which they then end up spending almost exclusively on real estate since it's so bloody expensive. Maybe I'll just stay in Canada.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:26 AM on January 11, 2008

they then end up spending almost exclusively on real estate since it's so bloody expensive.

That's the thing... most of those highly {skilled,paid} workers don't put the money into real estate, they put it into rent.

There's a very interesting dynamic going on in San Francisco's rental/purchase market. I was here before and through the last tech boom, and the same dynamic was in play then.

There are a significant number of people who can afford to buy in SF, but are still renting, because they're waiting for the sub-prime mess (and eventual tech downturn) to catch up to the housing (purchase) market. That represents an oversupply of renters, many of whom can show liquid assets in excess of a year's rent (in the form of their down payment money parked in a high-interest savings account). It's a landlord's market, and $1200 for a one bedroom doesn't sound too bad, actually -- especially if it's big enough for a couple.

In one sense, the SF purchase market is cooling a little -- there's a lot more inventory than usual, and things are staying on the market longer. But the prices haven't really slipped (I believe the last DataQuick numbers said that SF's median price is still climbing, actually).

Because as the supply of waiting buyers increases (and interest rates continue to fall), it supports the (expensive) cost of real estate in The City -- which, in-turn creates even more of a belief that "It's got to go down soon, lets keep renting" -- which keeps rent prices high.

SF is a great place to live, and while it's expensive, plenty of people do manage to live here without six-figure incomes. There are more compromises involved than in many other locales, but at least to the people living here, they're worth it.
posted by toxic at 11:52 AM on January 11, 2008

"I wouldn't be nearly as happy in the more suburban areas."

just so you know, east bay != suburban in, like, any remotely normal sense of the word
posted by kelseyq at 12:12 PM on January 11, 2008

just so you know, east bay != suburban in, like, any remotely normal sense of the word

Yep- Downtown Oakland is by no means San Francisco, but it's certainly not the suburbs. It would be kind of a drag to live here if you were commuting to the Peninsula, however, unless you could take BART all the way.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:34 PM on January 11, 2008

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