How to Find an Apartment in SF (Or Any Other Difficult Rental Market)

March 18 2017, 11:37pm

Finding an apartment in San Francisco, let alone any other large city, can be a challenge. According to an article from SF Curbed, available units still fall short of the demand for them. This has caused not only for rents for to hover around $3,860 for a one bedroom apartment, but competition to be fierce. It's not uncommon for units to exchange hands unlisted publicly or for apartments to be rented out hours after an open house starts.

San Francisco life

How does one compete in a situation like this?

The best answer is, of course, you don't. More on this at the end, however, if you have to, there are a couple of things you can do to make your finding an apartment more easily.

Tools are out there to be used

Use Tools

In the old days, people used to use community boards and newspapers to find suitable housing. Though these methods are still viable, they're often more hassle than they're worth. In San Francisco, especially, where housing can come and go in the blink of an eye, information can quickly become stale. Tools like some of the ones below can help augment your efforts in finding an apartment.

Some of these services even allow you to set notifications for specific types of housing you might be interested in. Definitely don't brush these tools aside since many more of the people you're competing with will be using them.

Set-up Alerts

Using technology means that you can harness the power of services always being on the lookout for you. On as many services as you can, set-up alerts and notifications. If you can, send them to your phone and try to get as specific, within reason, as possible. You want to be able to capitalized on newly listed opportunities as quickly as you can and cast a net where the properties you find will be suitable.

One of the more powerful ways which you can set-up alerts is via Craigslist and IFTTT. I wrote more about the awesomeness that is IFTTT in a previous post. In it, I detailed how saved searches can be sent to email. Create a recipe or two like this and change the output to send to your phone while you're at it.

Stack of papers

Okay, maybe this application package might be overkill.

Create an Application Package

When you've found an open house to go to, if you don't know the people offering the rental, you're probably going to have to submit an application. In addition to their own form, you should be prepared to submit a rental application package. A rental application package is an opportunity for you to show off how awesome you are.

In it include the following:

  • A standard rental application
  • Cover letter
  • Verification of income (this can include pay stubs and an offer letter)
  • Copy of your latest credit report
  • A letter of reference from a previous landlord

Some people also include a pet resume, if one is moving in with pets. If you're applying to a place with roommates, you're going to want to have this information on them as well.

Know What You (and Your Roommates) Want

Speaking of roommates, because rental units are won and lost so quickly, knowing what each person can and can't do will make moving on an offer that much easier. Sit down and spec out what kinds of things you absolutely need, don't need, want, don't want, and are ambivalent about. Once you've done this, make sure to specify whether or not it's important to ask for feedback about a specific point before moving ahead with an offer.

Is it necessary to have an attached bathroom? Perhaps, you need a window? Maybe you or your roommate don't care about having an in-unit washing machine?

Knowing where you and your roommates stand can allow you to filter out bad offers and move quickly on ones that fit your needs.

Cookies and flowers

Stand Out

Is there a place that you really like? Many others are probably feeling the same way.

You need to differentiate.

Though you might not want to use this for every property, bringing cookies or flowers to give to the person reviewing rental applications can be a good way of standing out from the crowd. In the same vein, noting that you are willing to pay a little more upfront or even per month can greatly help steer landowners towards choosing you.

Is it sucking up to do this?

Of course it is, but in a city where so much has been built on hustle, bringing your prospective landlord a small token to remember you by, can make all the difference.

Let Your Friends Know

Perhaps one of the easiest and most fruitful ways to improve your chances of scoring an apartment in a difficult rental market is by asking friends. Most people have a strong network of friends who can and are willing to help out—one just needs to ask. Zooming out one or two degrees of separation, and there's probably someone who knows of or can offer a place to stay. Some of these places may be short term, but even this can help greatly in the search to secure housing (especially since you really need to be able to visit places physically to make magic happen).

Not only may properties being offered by friends be off the market, but they can also be easier to score. Most people are going to be more open to renting out to a prospective tenant if a mutual friend can vouch for that person. The lower bar to entry, alone, can be reason enough to explore this to-do. Also, anecdotally a larger majority of friends in my network have found a place to live in San Francisco by asking around.

Finding an apartment in San Francisco or any other difficult rental market can be a challenge, but by making the most of resources out there, including your friends, you can make the feat more manageable.

What's your experience been with renting a place? What tricks have you used to score where you live?