5 Tips to Find an Apartment in San Francisco

26 Feb 2017

How to find an apartment in San Francisco

Finding an apartment in San Francisco is daunting. Especially if you aren't used to the prices and real estate market that we have here.

1. Be ready to act now

There's no time like the present. San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area is pretty much a seller's market all the time. The demand is so high for living, that a seller's property is only available for a short time.

Since landlords have a scare resource, they can (and will) charge the fair market value.

Roommates searching for a new person are looking for someone that can cover their part of rent and is a good fit.

If you act right now then your chances increase of getting picked by a group of people trying to pay rent.

A mini checklist to have

  • Up to date pay stubs (or offer letter)
  • A paper check
  • Money in your checking account to pay a hefty amount at any time
  • A smile on your face

But back to the money part. I was trying to move when I was self employed and didn't have the pay stubs. I had some promising meetings with potential house mates until the money topic came up. I know I was capable of holding down the rent. But they didn't. So whatever you do, if possible, do not give anyone a reason to doubt your ability to pay.

2. Use your connections

Do you have friends here? Do you know anyone here? If so, reach out and ask. After living in the bay for two years, it's one thing I've learned about housing.

Nobody is afraid to ask how much you pay in rent. And nobody is afraid to help out if they know of a room available.

In fact, the 'how much is your rent' topic is small talk around here.

This goes back to point #1. Housemates are looking for the first great fit that can pay rent. So friends or friends of friends vouching carries a lot of weight.

If you can't use your connections, then it's time to learn some marketing techniques.

When I was searching for rooms, I noticed some people put a lot of effort in writing their ads. And for good reason. If you are listing a room for rent, you get 100+ applications per day.

If you don't believe me, put up a fake ad on Craigslist. Then you'll see who you are competing with.

People put detail into their ads because they need a way to judge responses. (Including your response).

So I recommend reading the ads and answering all questions the poster has. Don't worry about making your response be generic. You want to be you. You want people to either hate or love your response. Be sure to hint you are secure and are not (too) crazy.

Sometimes people ask you to write a word in the subject line. DO THIS. This usually means people have a email filter. So if you don't include the word, they won't even read your response.

4. Know the warning signs

I remember getting my hopes up many times when searching. The worst was when I'd get a text message back a minute or two after sending my response. It seemed real at first, but as I chatted more, it was a robot trying to make me use another service or steal my credit card.

Jason Evanish says relator's use 'Lower Nob Hill' to describe the tenderloin. Be careful and pay attention to the words people write.

In general I've found if it's too good to be true, it is. Do your due diligence and protect yourself and your money.

5. Save time by automating things

Time is your most precious resource.

You will spend a lot of time reading and responding to posts. You will spend even more time meeting potential housemates and traveling.

I recommend never going to open houses unless you have to. Every time I went to one, I went early. Nobody was there so I walked around the block since I didn't want to be creepy waiting outside. Five minutes later, I was 20 deep in line.

Have a template for replying to ads. See 3. Don't copy and paste. You'll still need to customize your response to the ad. But don't copy paste and send.

Make it worth traveling to. If you love bacon, and the house it's a vegetarian house, don't reply and definitely don't go. They will smell the bacon on you. It's a waste of your time.

If you haven't noticed (from my other blog posts), I'm a software engineer. A lot of people in SF are. There are marketers, growth hackers, you name it. Some of their skills translate to finding an apartment.

Programmers will write scripts to be the first to know about new listings. Marketers will write copy that melt hearts. Growth hackers will do whatever it takes.

When I search for apartments I use IFTTT combined with Craigslist. IFTTT makes automating things on the web simple. I make searches with Craigslist and create a IFTTT applet to send new posts to my email.

This process works well because I get only apartments I want to look at and I get them exactly when they are posted.

I'm typing this blog post from my apartment that I found using this method.

When my friends were apartment hunting last year I shared my technique with them. They all found apartments through this method.

I decided to build a guide that I can send to my friends since it works so well.

And I want to share it with you now! Enter your name and email below.

Content is published under this license.