Cities San Francisco, CA

Stories of survival: The San Francisco Rental Market Edition

San Francisco and the Coit Tower

After spending 5 weeks rooming with a toddler, Nick Facciola knew it was time to begin expanding his horizons in his quest for a San Francisco apartment.

Nick, 29, had recently moved up to the Bay Area to take a job as a Project Manager for a carbon offsets company. New to Northern California, he expected to juggle the demands of adjusting to a new city and new job, but was surprised to find the most challenging part of the move was the apartment search.

Alex Shoor was no stranger to San Francisco, having lived for many years in a small, suburban town in Northern California, but moving back after 12 years away for a job in local government, the state of the rental market in the Bay Area was a frustrating surprise to him.

A Little for a Lot

Nick and his Oakland apartment
Nick at his Oakland digs

For seven weeks, Nick scoured Craigslist and asked friends for apartment leads. The competition for apartments was so intense in some neighborhoods that suboptimal one-bedrooms were going for $3,100.

“I would show up early to the open house and there would already be 20 other couples in line. Before seeing the place you had to commit to signing a lease or else there was no chance you would get it,” said Nick.

For Alex, the competition meant having to alter expectations, “…there is not much available stock at lower price points and the apartments do not offer as much bang for your buck. In LA, my place had a second bedroom and bathroom with more amenities and was $600 cheaper than my one-bedroom, one bathroom in SF. The biggest challenges for me in SF were two-fold: reconfiguring my expectations on what I could afford and being decisive once I found the right apartment in the face of a fast-moving, competitive marketplace.” 

Apartment Hunting Gone Rogue

After getting frustrated with the lack of listings on craigslist, Alex went for some more alternative strategies. “Sometimes, I emailed leasing agents who put their listings on Craigslist to see if they had unlisted openings at which I might have first crack… In my more assertive – one might say, bordering on desperate – moments, I drove around my ideal neighborhoods looking for “For Rent” signs or even the phone numbers of management companies on the front of desirable buildings. I even spotted a moving truck on the street and asked the guy moving if he knew anything about the unit.”

Preparation is key. “You have to already have a check written for rent and the deposit, a credit report printed out, and the renters’ history ready to go,” Nick says, “I also had friends recommend offering more than the listing price.”

Alex in his apartment in San Francisco
Alex found a place with a view in San Francisco

Finding the One

In a hyper competitive market like San Francisco, perseverance, good friends, and altering your expectations will eventually pay off.

Nick moved on from sharing a room with his friend’s toddler, to couch surf at another friend’s apartment in Oakland. The move proved to be instrumental in finding his new place.

“I didn’t know much about Oakland before staying there, but during that time I really opened up to it. The price points were much more reasonable. I could find a two bedroom for $1,800-$2,000 that was nicer, with outdoor space, walking distance to restaurants and shopping, and close to public transportation.”

After seven weeks of searching, he found a two bedroom apartment to his liking in his price range in Oakland. After showing his fiancée the apartment over FaceTime, he submitted his application. It also didn’t hurt that the friend he was staying with happened to be the agent showing the apartment; proving friends in real estate are good to have whether you are renting or buying.

Alex didn’t sacrifice location, but instead adjusted his expectations for amenities, finding a place through Craigslist in San Francisco proper that met his biggest requirement of being close to a Caltrains stop.

“I always appreciate an apartment that has modern conveniences, so I was a tad disappointed that my new place does not have a full-size dishwasher, a complimentary parking space, or a washer and dryer in the unit,” states Alex. ‘That being said, the expansive view of San Francisco and the Bay from my window is the best of any place I have ever lived!”

The moral of the story? Stay patient, do your recon, make friends with couches, and act fast when you find the one you are looking for (or a place that is close to what you are looking for). When you are searching for an apartment in San Francisco, anything is game.

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