Posted Jun 12, 2012

Nine to Five: The Magic Window for San Francisco Apartment Hunting

Due to the extremely high demand for rental apartments in San Francisco, timing is everything for apartment hunters. While we knew there was a clear first-mover advantage, we wanted to understand exactly when apartment hunters should be hitting the web to look at apartment listings.

We analyzed over 35,000 apartment listings posted to Craigslist between February and April 2012 and found some interesting–and helpful–trends.

Key Insights:

  1. Focus your search between 9am – 5pm when most new listings are posted: Almost 3/4 of all apartment listings are posted between 9AM and 5PM.
  2. The highest concentration of listings are posted between 10am and noon. Nearly 1/4 of all apartment listings are posted between 10AM and 12PM.
  3. Search when other people aren’t searching: Only 12% of listing views occur between 10AM and 12PM; and only 47% between 9AM and 5PM. Searching during this time means less competition.

Being among the first to respond to a new listing is crucial to beating the competition

As most apartment hunters quickly learn, demand for a relatively low number of rental apartments in San Francisco is extremely high. Over the past few years, demand for rentals has risen steadily while there has been little increase in the number of available units. This has driven up not only rent prices, but the competition for each unit to hit the market. For example, it’s not uncommon to have 50 people apply for a single unit.

The most important step in navigating the competitive rental market is to line up a viewing. Most viewings are first-come, first-serve, so being prompt to respond is imperative. Viewings are typically either open houses or private showings hosted by the landlord or leasing agent — and you better believe that if the apartment looks good to you, it also looks good to the dozens of other people who also saw the listing.

Not only is it important to be the first to contact the landlord as soon as a listing is posted to arrange a viewing, but also, many listings are removed within hours (or minutes) to limit the number of people attending an open house (full report on this topic to come at a later point).

Be first to respond by searching when listings are posted: between 9am and 5pm

Image of when apartment rental listings are posted in San Francisco

On an average day, 67% of the almost 400 new apartment listings posted in San Francisco are posted during normal business hours: between 9AM and 5PM. If we dive in a little deeper, we see that 10AM to 11AM is the most popular hour for landlords to post their apartments for rent with nearly 12% of all listings going up during that time period. For time-pressed apartment hunters the best time to be looking is between 10AM and noon, during which nearly 25% of all listings are posted.

Postings by Hour plus Cumulative Postings

Most apartment hunters aren’t looking during the peak posting hours of 9AM – 5PM

Unfortunately, most apartment hunters aren’t looking for apartments during the peak hours of 9AM and 5PM (or even 10AM to noon) when the highest concentration of landlords are posting their listings. While most landlords tend to concentrate their activity to a relatively small band of time, an analysis of our site use logs shows listing views to be distributed more evenly throughout the day and into the evening.

In fact, only 12% of all listing views on LiveLovely take place between 10AM and noon (when 22% of all listings are posted); and only 53% between 9AM and 5PM (when 67% of all listings are posted).

Percent of Apartment Listing Views by Hour

As a result of the mismatch between when listings are posted and when apartment hunters are viewing listings, many people are viewing listings that are hours (or days) old — all but eliminating their chances of being first to respond. The white space between the two lines in the graph below visually represents this mismatch.

Cumulative Percent of Daily Views vs. Posts

Searching at the right time is crucial for getting the edge in the San Francisco apartment rental market

Given how competitive apartment hunting in San Francisco has become, every little advantage counts. Here are the top three ways to get the edge based on our analysis of when listings are posted and when apartment hunters are looking at listings:

  1. Time your search to match when landlords are posting. That means being active throughout standard business hours of 9am – 5pm, when landlords post almost 70% of all postings for the day.
  2. Focus your efforts between 10am and noon. Pack your lunch and get to work early so you can take an early lunch break, then park yourself in front of your computer between 10am and noon. Almost 25% of all postings for the day go up in this two-hour window of time. Don’t miss out on this opportunity.
  3. Set up email alerts and respond right away.  Too busy at work to stay on top of new postings? Set an email alert with LiveLovely and get real-time notifications of new listings that match your search criteria. Then be the first to respond, every time. Another plus of email alerts: less time wasted while at work during your apartment search. This means a happier boss and less of a chance your apartment search will contribute to the loss of your job – heaven knows you’ll need it to pay the rent.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions, as well as any tips and tricks you’ve found for getting the edge while apartment hunting.


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15 responses to “Nine to Five: The Magic Window for San Francisco Apartment Hunting”

  1. Jake Konoske says:

    great analysis

  2. Zachary Reiss-Davis says:

    Great post; it’d be really interesting to see a followup cutting this data by price per bedroom or location; I’d bet that the 25% most and least expensive offers (on a per-bedroom basis) behave differently, and it wouldn’t surprise me if larger apartment complexes (proxy by saying Nob Hill and Downtown) also act differently than small buildings.  

    • Blake P. says:

      Thanks Zach, that’s something we’re interested in and thinking about as well. Surprisingly, the data is fairly consistent across neighborhoods. We assumed (incorrectly) that the posting behavior in say SoMa (with lots of managed buildings) would be significantly different than say the Mission (with lots of individual landlords) but that wasn’t the case. Would be interesting to see if there are any large variations based on price point. We’ll take a look into that sometime soon. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Quora says:

    What are the best criteria when choosing an apartment in San Francisco?…

    A new data analysis view on apartment hunting:

  4. Really quite an informative source in regards to the apartments and condos in the city.

  5. RandomName says:

    Very useful information.  Those responding first definitely have an advantage. I think it is also helpful to write a sentence or two about your situation in your initial email respose to start building your story in the landlord’s mind (e.g., where you live now, the type of work you do, etc.).  Don’t make it too long, but a generic reply email stating only “If the unit is still available, I’m interested” gives the landlord nothing to work with.  You may get to see the place with a short generic response, but the decision about who to rent to starts early so you are doing yourself no favors being anonymous.If there are pictures of the apartment in the listing, and you like what you see, show a little enthusiasm for the place in your email.  Not over the top, but landlords want to rent to someone who will be happy with the unit.

    As mentioned early in the article, willingness to take the unit as soon as it is available is important.  Paying double rent is tough but may be necessary in really tight markets for the right place.

    • Blake P. says:

      These are great tips and something something most tenants begin to figure out only after sending 30+ emails and receiving 0 replies. We actually had a quick meeting this morning here at to discuss content for quick 1 minute videos with tips and tricks for apartment hunting in San Francisco and how to communicate with landlords (including how to respond to postings) is one of the first ideas for which we plan to create a video post. So great to hear you agree and thanks again for taking the time to share your advice!

  6. Gette says:

    Nooo! Now everyone will know the secret! Just kidding. This is great info! Hopefully it’ll help me find a new place to call home. 🙂 Thanks for the awesome blog

  7. Jane Mei says:

    Sounds to be a great idea to find an apartment in the city like that of San Francisco also its not that difficult in finding an affordable vacation stay in the city with NYC rental of furnished studios.  

  8. […] Tip: Learn helpful tips and tricks in our Survival Guide to San Francisco Apartment Hunting, such as why you should focus your apartment search between 9am and 5pm. […]

  9. IanBell says:

    Great piece of analysis done..This will be surely helpful in finding your choice of apartment and condo in the city..

  10. Thiago says:

    Awesome data, and well organized! I’ll definitely pass this along to my girlfriend as she’s looking at apartments for rent in Worcester, MA, and they’ve been going through a lot of the same trends.

  11. OMG this is by far the best guide I’ve found so far. We’ve been trying to find a better place for a while now but all of our favorites keep getting scooped up. Thanks for the great resource, hopefully it helps!

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