5 Pro Tips to Master Apartment Hunting in the San Francisco Bay Area
Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Welcome to the Move Bay Area blog! Here you'll find tips for relocating to the Bay Area, insider information on the local rental market, and insights into great neighborhoods, local businesses, and amenities. Think of this as your up-to-date guide on everything related to making the Bay Area your home. Check back often to see new posts.
Every now and then, I see an article online stating what many locals (and newcomers) already know: the San Francisco Bay Area is one pricey place to live. For example, Business Insider recently published an article on the top 20 most expensive cities to rent in the U.S. According to the article, 3 out of the top 6 high rent cities are located right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. A booming job market, prestigious universities, an amazing climate (it was 70 degrees and sunny today in mid-February), and the many California amenities draw more and more people each year to this desirable area. What these articles don't mention is that the soaring prices create a cut-throat rental market and renters can't just show up to a Saturday open house and expect to secure their dream rental. It's more complicated than that so I give all my clients the following tips whether they are new to the San Francisco Bay area or are local renters relocating within the Bay Area. I know I can’t make it less expensive, but I can make it easier…
Follow these tips to find a home in your ideal neighborhood
1) Research, Research, Research! (Know your neighborhoods)
Know where you want to and can afford to live. Observe the market for a full month, and at least 2 weeks before you need to move to see how many properties are in each city/area that meets your criteria so you have a realistic idea of where to focus. Have three possible cities to live in (or San Francisco neighborhoods you like, if you will only consider San Francisco proper for your new home). Craigslist is the most reliable source to research apartments and prices in the Bay Area. Surprising, but true. Look at potential rentals in the neighborhoods you want to live in and get a general sense of the pricing and availability. Ask friends or contacts for neighborhood recommendations if you are not familiar with San Francisco and the surrounding areas.
Make a list in order of importance from must-haves to nice-to-haves. Be prepared to compromise on a few priorities or raise your budget.
Must-haves: 2 bedrooms 1 bath, a 40 minute to 1 hr commute to work, hardwood floors, parking, modern kitchen, and a washer/dryer in building.
Nice-to-haves: washer/dryer in unit, patio/outdoor space, bathroom with tub, and 2 bedrooms 2 baths.
Pro tip: consider whether you really need that extra bedroom for visitors (it will end up costing you $500 to $800 more in rent per month) or if it would be more economical/comfortable to put guests up in a hotel when they visit!
3) Make a Rental Resume to Take House Hunting.
It's true what they say about househunting being a full-time job. In fact, you may even have to present yourself to prospective landlords as if you were at a job interview! Prepare a rental packet including everything a landlord might request from you and make 5 copies of each document so you can apply to several rentals. Download a generic California rental application and fill it out in advance. Also, include a copy of your credit report, a photocopy of your ID, income verification (two paycheck stubs or a job offer letter), and proof of renters insurance if possible. If you have pets, consider including a photo, training certificates, and letters of recommendation from previous landlords. Also, be sure to take your checkbook so you’re ready to pay an application fee. If you take this step, you will be ahead of most of the other house hunters in line!
4) Hunt for Homes on Thursdays and Fridays Instead of the Weekend “Open House” Frenzies.
Research on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and call and write agents and property managers on Wednesdays to set up as many appointments as possible for Thursday and Friday. Many high-quality properties are on the market on Thursday and Friday before the Saturday open houses and you know what they say about the early bird...
5) Share the Load ... Delegate!
House hunting in the Bay Area may feel like a full-time job when you are under the gun, working your day job while looking for your new place. If you don’t have time to scour Craigslist, Trulia, and property management sites and set up itineraries, ask a real estate savvy friend or partner to help. Enlist them to do some research for you and send you potential listings while you put together the rental resume. Or, if you aren’t into DIY, you can save time and aggravation by hiring a relocation consultant to do the legwork for you and escort you to a lengthy list of curated potential rentals in your budget.
I know it seems challenging, but living in the Bay Area is worth it! I know you will love it as much as I do once you are settled into your cozy new home enjoying a delicious glass of California Pinot.