5-Step Guide to a San Francisco Apartment

I live in San Francisco. In San Francisco:

  • Paying $500 a month for a closet that can uncomfortably fit a twin bed is a “steal”.
  • Moving in to a shared 400 square-foot studio with someone you have met once – for 17 minutes – is not unusual.
  • Securing a decent place to live can often be more trying than securing a job.
  • Living with your ex for a year after the breakup is not infrequent.

So what can you, the desperate apartment-seeker, do to avoid the afore-mentioned hitches? Let me be clear: never settle if you can afford to wait. I came to San Francisco with a job secured. I had two jobs, in fact, but no place to live. I was squatting in the empty room at the grace of an old ex for the month who owed me a favor, while she was away in Europe. Less to my fortune, I shared this apartment with her current boyfriend – and he was not fond of me, at all.

The numbing stress associated with simply coming home each night was nearly enough to send me back to the little city I moved from. Their home, on the other hand, was an immaculate 19th-century Victorian that could house 10 comfortably. What is the moral here? Housemates can ruin the perfect home. And for the record, the boyfriend never knew we dated. So, to reiterate, the lesson learned?

The right housemates are just as important as amenities and neighborhood.

Apartment desperation coupled with city-living is a noxious undertaking; it will decimate your schedule, eviscerate your objectives, make you re-evaluate your priorities and bring out a type of foggy stress of which the only consolidation is knowing that thousands of other people are in the exact same boat as you. But with a little (lot) of patience, you will find that almost-perfect spot. If you want to make the agony of the search better, know what you want. The time will come when you are forced to make a choice, and fast. I really mean this: know what you want. If you don’t like the situation you’ve moved in to, the cycle continues. You’re practically back at square one. So here are a few tips to help you identify what you want, and make sure you’re getting in to a living situation that will be good for you.

1. Identify your priorities

What are you looking for? Write it down. Really – make a checklist. Is it that lived-in, cozy flat where you can have the friends over for the occasional dinner night? Maybe the iconic bay windows that succinctly capture the character of San Francisco? Write these things down. Then consider: are these goals realistic with the amount of money you can spend? Now, prioritize.

2. Get organized: be a competitive renter

Nothing boosts confidence and relieves stress like being organized in your search. You walk in to the open-house, where you find 35 other well-dressed and affluent looking individuals that all seem like people you could both enjoy and imbibe a cocktail with. Many of them are carrying a folder, though – and you realize, shoot, I didn’t even think to bring a blank check, a credit report, references and an already-completed standard lease agreement.

Better yet, try and avoid the open house altogether and secure a one-on-one meeting. But be sure to bring the folder.

3. Don’t settle

It’s hard to even fathom when you’re mid-hunt, but suddenly you might find yourself with one, two – even three offers. In the same 24 hours, I was offered two rooms, each in a big house with four housemates in a desirable neighborhood. One offer was $165 cheaper than the other. I went for the more expensive. Why, you might wonder? Well, when the master tenant for the cheaper room informed me that each housemate ate together, and not just ate…but the exact same thing, every day, always, with no room for divulgence – I knew something was very, very off in this household.

On that note…

4. Meet every housemate before you move in

Every housemate. Not only because you want to make a good impression and get them talking about you. Just as importantly: you want to be absolutely sure that living with these people is something you cannot only manage, but most preferably, enjoy. “Is there anything you else you think I should know about the place?” That’s my go-to closing question. Little did I know that the one housemate I missed – and would share a wall with – had a penchant for relentlessly loud and uncompromising 5am sex with her live-in girlfriend.

So ask questions, show interest, and engage with the people you may be spending the next few months or years of your life with. They don’t have to be perfect – but you had better at least appreciate them. You have every right to ask your questions, too, and it shows them that you are serious about the room. Just be sure you say what they want to hear, too.

5. Follow up, just like after the job interview

First of all, tell them you want the room before you leave (even if you’re only mildly honest).

Now you’ve had time to reflect. Did you find the drop arches in the backyard moving, the outdoor patio the perfect place for your morning coffee, or the collaborative environment perfect for your latest themed-costume party idea? Tell them. Tell them all, immediately, with an email and text message. And if you don’t hear anything back from them in two days, tell them again. And kindly ask them to inform you of their decision, because you simply cannot wait to hear back from them, and you think you would all get along famously, and you can already see all the potlucks you will do together…

Good luck. The near-perfect place will come, and all the sooner, if you follow these steps.


One Comment to “5-Step Guide to a San Francisco Apartment”

  1. The question “Is there anything else I should know?” must be asked more frequently throughout life in general. In fact, that’s my new mantra.

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