As someone who has lived in Texas all her life, I was beyond ecstatic to get to move to San Francisco for my full-time job after graduation. But to be honest, the excitement was equally accompanied by fear as I read up on blogs detailing housing horror stories in the city where the average one bedroom was $4,000+/month. Most of the blogs converged on one theme: you can only choose 2 amongst price, location, and quality. In my mind, I’d be prancing around beautiful San Francisco with its gorgeous views and year-round 60 degree weather, while eating nothing but ramen and living paycheck to paycheck with $0 in savings. Fast forward one month, and I’ve finally got some downtime to reflect, exhale, and laugh at that scenario 🙂
A Couple Months Prior
I read up a ton on the distinctly unique neighborhood culture that comprises San Francisco, and started looking through the apartment posts on Craiglist (the most common way to find an apartment in SF) just to gage what kind of places I could possibly get. Since there are constantly people coming and leaving SF, most apartment listings were good to move in as soon as the lease was signed. My preliminary search wasn’t looking that great, which led me to consider for a split second whether it’d be more worthwhile to buy instead of rent as an investment, until a search on unit ownership prices (HAH) quickly changed my mind. Since I didn’t know many people in SF, I was mentally prepared to move in with total strangers found on Craigslist for cheaper rent, thinking at the very least, I’d get some good stories out of it. Luckily, I found a classmate from my major who was also moving to SF around the same time with the same budget, so the roommate situation worked out perfectly. We got on the same page on apartment priorities (safety, in-unit laundry, a well-lit space, budget ceiling) as well as things that could be compromised (parking, room size, etc). I took this opportunity of moving to minimize my possessions; I sold my books to Half-Priced Books, sold some clothes to a neighborhood consignment store, donated what I could, and threw away the rest. Since all my college apartment furniture was from IKEA, I sold it all in Austin and decided I’d just re-buy my furniture in SF. I found a lot of great deals for quality furniture on Amazon like this, this, and this, and saved it in a “shopping list” to buy after I found my apartment. My mom decided to tag along for some fun (but more importantly emotional support), so we booked our flights.
5 Days Before
As the date of my flight got closer, I booked a temporary place to stay while apartment hunting. I compiled a folder of documents like pay stubs, an offer letter, credit score, bank statements, and reference letters to show potential landlords (a great tip from many blogs to show responsibility and speed up the process). I started seriously looking through the Craigslist apartment listings and downloaded an app called Zillow, which is essentially Tindr for homes. Seriously, it let me swipe right and left on homes, as well as contact the real estate agent. I compiled a long and growing list of potential places on a google spreadsheet and noted the contact information for each property. I tried to set up some viewing appointments, but because the housing market is so hot, I really had to be in the city and make appointments the day of in order to be shown. It was definitely stressful not having a place locked down, especially since apartment hunting in Austin basically required us to have our places signed 9 months ahead. There really wasn’t much else I could do until I got there (besides packing, of course).
After arriving in SF
By the time I arrived, a lot of the apartments I had previously saved were already off the market. I started making appointments my first full day in the city, and showed up to the properties dressed in smart casual with my folder of documents (responsibility points!). It was so much fun seeing the different apartments, and we were surprisingly able to fit in a lot of sightseeing. Apartment hunting turned out to be a great way to explore the city 🙂
In total we saw about 7 different properties sprinkled in different neighborhoods throughout SF. My roommate and I narrowed it down pretty soon to selectively looking in the Richmond neighborhood (not to be confused with Richmond the city), which was the best combo of price, “homeyness”, and size. The neighborhood is relatively generous with parking, and very residential and quaint. When we walked into our dream apartment, we instantly fell in love! We ended up finding our dream place through Zillow, which was a 2 bed/1 bath condo with plenty of storage, bay windows, bright and spacious rooms, and hardwood floors in a traditional Edwardian home. It was under our budget, and right off a bustling street with plenty of restaurants, mom and pop grocery stores, and a weekend farmers market. We signed the lease 3 days later, and I bought a roll up mattress and moved in. I immediately bought the furniture I had picked out on Amazon, and I’d say it was a pretty seamless move-in overall. I was so happy with the place I almost don’t remember the couple of days when I had no internet, ate my dinner on cardboard boxes, and spent my time building all the furniture… just kidding, it really wasn’t that bad. I actually love assembling furniture.
Tips for future SF migrants
Before moving, I really managed to freak myself out with stories of people paying $2,000/month to live in closet sized rooms and some even worse housing horror stories. While those situations do exist, I don’t consider myself “lucky” to have found the deal I did on my apartment. Finding your perfect place is honestly very achievable if you have an open mind and give yourself enough time to do a thorough search. Apartment hunting in SF has a bad rap, but only because you have to jump through more hoops than you would in other cities, not because it’s impossible. Here are some other tips to make the hoop-jumping a little easier:
-Start to build your credit as early as you can. I applied for a credit card my freshman year of college and only used it for small monthly charges I knew I’d be able to pay.
-Look into the SF rent control law and know which properties apply.
-Filter for a realistic price range on Craigslist to weed out the scam listings. Also, never send money through the internet if there are any “landlords”or agents asking