Posted Jan 24, 2012
Timing your apartment hunt: Should I stay or should I go
We’ve invited Abby Pontzer, contributor to SF real estate blog CurbedSF, to dole out rental advice and pick out the cream of the crop here on the Lovely blog. She hopes you can think of her as a “trusted advisor on your rental search” and wants “every renter to find the best home they can, and feel comfortable on move in day – with their apartment, financial commitment, and choice of neighborhood.” Abby’s recent rental odyssey was thoroughly documented on CurbedSF, but stay tuned to the Lovely blog for up to the minute rental search highlights and conundrums. Got a question? Email us and we’ll get our rental elves on the case.
Have you been looking at your current housing situation and thinking that it just isn’t working? As it is in life, timing is everything in a rental search. There are a few times to think about when starting a rental search:
Is it time to move? Yes, the first thing to ask yourself before you actually leave is whether it’s actually time to.
There’s a lot of talk about rent-controlled apartments in San Francisco, so if you’ve snagged one, think hard before you start looking for greener pastures. What’s bothering you about your rental situation? If you’ve living with someone you can’t stand then yes, it’s a toxic situation that may even mean sleeping on a friend’s couch until you find a new place. But for anything less dramatic, it’s worth mixing things up before you jump ship. Here are a few ideas:
- Try out new restaurants to remember why you picked your neighborhood.
- Do a serious cleaning and see if you take a new shine to your sparkling apartment.
If you’ve tried everything and you’re still secretly searching Yelp for good mover recommendations, then it’s time to start searching in earnest.
Is there time left on the lease? Can you even leave?
If you’ve got three months left on your lease, you’re going to have few—if any—options. That far out, you can probably look at large apartment complexes with standardized floor plans, though in the San Francisco Bay Area these are fairly uncommon outside of SOMA. Six weeks ahead of your lease end is the absolute earliest you should start looking.
Since property management firms get paid when you sign a lease, they tend to care slightly less about when you actually move in. On the other hand, private owners will be less flexible on when you move in because they have a mortgage to pay.
I found it was better to list an earlier possible move in date and negotiate that later. For example, in my most recent search I listed December 15th, but ended up moving on the 30th. It wouldn’t have broken the bank to move two weeks earlier, but it was nice to pay a lot less double rent.
What time of year is it?
Apartment hunting in the Bay Area tends to follow the seasons, with summer having the most new listings, but also the most people hunting. Searching in the winter typically means fewer apartments to look at, but also (theoretically) less competition.
I’ve found better luck looking in the winter, but in neighborhoods popular with the after-college crowd or the have-kids-in-grade-school crowd you might be hard-pressed to find anyone getting out of a lease any time outside of the summer. Looking for a house rental in Bernal Heights is going to be much easier after the last school bell rings in June than it would be when parents would have to pull Junior out of school in the middle of the year.
When you’re ready to move, it’s easy to get impatient and forget that time is money.
Breaking your lease, paying double rent, paying top dollar because there’s more competition, all of these things will take a serious bite out of your wallet. But, with some careful planning, you can save your money for a better apartment, instead of on the one you already know you’re leaving.