Posted Mar 29, 2012

Survival Guide to San Francisco Bay Area Apartment Hunting


Apartment hunting in the San Francisco Bay Area is notoriously difficult, as illustrated by these tweets (between Feb. 25 – Mar. 4, 2012): 

  • “A somewhat dubious rice product became “the San Francisco treat” because “soul-sucking apartment-searching” didn’t have the same ring to it.” – @rakeshsatyal
  • “I’m kind of surprised SF apt applications don’t ask for blood samples and medical records….about the only thing they don’t ask for.” – @Evanish
  • “If you’re feeling joy, happy, and upbeat in life, and no longer wish to feel these things try apartment hunting in San Francisco.” – @Padbury

Fortunately, with a little preparation-and a lot of perseverance-you’ll soon have a place to call home in our beloved Bay Area.

Pre-hunt Preparation: Skip this step at your own risk.

Before looking at any listings or attending any open houses, we suggest taking a few steps to ensure your hunt is efficient, and once you have a perfect unit in your crosshairs you’re ready to rent. Unfortunately, many apartment hunters skip this step and end up losing their dream apartment because another renter was better prepared.

  • Determine your housing needs: Figure out how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, as well as any amenities (dishwasher, in-unit laundry, parking, etc) your require.
  • Set (and stick to) a budget: It’s easy to be drawn to units *just* outside of your price range, but we suggest avoiding this slippery slope for your financial well being, and the fact that landlords are often hesitant to select an applicant who’s overextending them self financially.
  • Prepare a Renter Resume & cover letter: Standard rental applications make it tough to stand out from the crowd and make a positive impression on the landlord. You can easily make one with LiveLovely’s Renter Resume Generator, or get creative with Word, InDesign or other program of your choice. Be sure to include your employment and housing history, education, financial documents (redact any sensitive information such as account numbers and Social Security numbers). Some nice color photography and attention to design never hurt either…
  • Arrange temporary housing if you’re outside the Bay Area: Apartment hunting from afar is much more difficult, and can be a disadvantage. Consider securing a temporary place (sublet, AirBnB, Corporate Housing by Owner, etc) so you can hunt while you’re here.

Hunting Time: Organization is the name of the game.

  • Setup email alerts: Odds are you have better things to do than refresh a website 100 times a day waiting for new listings to appear. Instead, setup email alerts and let the best listings find you. But don’t forget to stay on top of alerts and pounce on anything that looks good.
  • Save favorites — and follow-up: When you find a unit you love, save it to your favorites on LiveLovely, and it’ll be there waiting for you when you come back. You can add notes, track whether you’ve viewed it, applied, etc., and help you stay on top of the follow-up game. Don’t wait until the landlord contacts you (but don’t be creepy, either).
  • Email your Renter Resume: Include that beautiful Renter Resume you built in preparation for the hunt in every email to the landlord. That will help them get to know you and remember you. Which bring us to…
  • Connect with the landlord: In San Francisco, the average rental agreement represents a ~$30,000 annual transaction. Strike up a conversation with the landlord on a personal level and get to know them, and help them understand that you’re committed to taking care of their investment. Credit score doesn’t always win.

First Aid: In case things get rough — and you still haven’t found an apartment:

If you still haven’t found an apartment after thoroughly preparing for the hunt, applying to a bunch of units and diligently following up, consider these ideas:

  • Look in less competitive neighborhoods: Seemingly everybody and their dog want to live in the Mission, Noe Valley or Hayes Valley. Consider trying less competitive (read: further out and less sunny) neighborhoods such as the Sunset, Richmond District and Parkside. In addition to the units being easier to secure, they’re often cheaper, have easier parking, and in close proximity to green spaces such as Golden Gate Park.
  • Make a deal: If you’re at the top of the applicant list, consider making a deal such as paying a few months worth of rent upfront, or offering additional rent. We hate that it sometimes takes this, but having a few tricks up your sleeve can make the difference between keys in the hand and more weekends at open houses.


Community and Marketing Manager at

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