Finding Your Rental In San Francisco

Finding Your Rental In San Francisco

So you’re moving to San Francisco?  Welcome to one of the most beautiful and desirable cities in the U.S.!  Finding the right rental can be a daunting task in one of the tightest rental markets in the country.

First Steps

To prepare, start looking at listings on well before your arrival in San Francisco so you can recover from sticker shock before your actual search begins.  Follow a rental agency’s Tweets or Facebook page to start learning about the market.  The best agents post video tours and photos of units, but do keep in mind that online images are no substitute for seeing a unit in person.

Consider timing.  Most rental units are not shown until they are vacant and often they go to the qualified applicant who will start a lease the soonest.  Know exactly what date you’d like a lease to start.  If you are looking more than 30 days before your move date, you’re probably looking too soon and you will likely not be the successful applicant.  Two to three weeks before your move date is the ideal time frame to conduct your in-person search.

Decide What You Want

The most successful apartment hunters know what they want and act quickly when they find a rental that meets their needs.

Research which neighborhoods you like best.  Take public transportation lines to and from your workplace.  Hang out for a bit and get a good feel for the area.  You won’t have time to waste looking at rentals that are too far from work or don’t have the neighborhood look and feel that you want.

Newcomers to San Francisco often find they aren’t able to identify a property that has everything on their wish list, and it becomes a game of give and take.  Prioritize your wish list into “must haves” and “nice-to-haves”.  Consider the following examples:

  • Reserved parking in some neighborhoods is tough to find and some apartment hunters decide against bringing their car to San Francisco and instead use one of the car-share services.  With this alternative, you will save money and the environment at the same time!
  • Personal washer and dryer in unit are common for $3,000+/month rentals but not so much in the lower rents.  Even so, many buildings have nice laundry facilities with card readers, so there is no need for quarters!  Consider the benefits of Laundromats (there is one on almost every block here): quiet time to read a book, catch up on email, and you’re likely paying a lower rent than if you had onsite laundry.  There are also plenty of wash and fold services for the busy professional; some of these companies even offer pick-up and delivery.

Often people think they need a two-bedroom apartment until they see some of the massive one-bedroom units available in buildings constructed in the 1920s.  Some of these units are over 1,000 square feet.  One bedroom lofts built in SoMa in the last ten years are often even larger.  So if you would like a second bedroom for an office or nursery, look instead for large one-bedroom units, which sometimes have bonus rooms that don’t qualify as a true second bedroom, yet still meet your needs.

A note on pets: When you find a unit that will work for you, don’t hesitate to apply.  However, it is important to come prepared:  Bring photos of your dog to the showing or have them ready to email with an application.  At this writing, only 13% of the available rentals in Pacific Heights will consider a dog, 20% for cats.  Finding a home with a dog over 60 lbs is not impossible…but it is difficult. Also be aware that landlords customarily request an additional deposit for a pet – usually $500.  This is fully refundable at move out if there is no damage.

Last but not least, don’t hold out for the “perfect apartment”—it doesn’t exist—and you risk losing a near-perfect fit.  Leases are typically 12 months.  If you have regrets about the choice you’ve made, you won’t have to wait too long to move on to something better.  So relax and don’t forget to enjoy your search.

Viewing Units

Be sure to view units during daylight hours.  The sun can shed the light needed to discern the condition of a unit.  Take a day off of work to look for your new home.  Applying for rentals during the week will give you a leg up on most applicants who wait until the weekend.  When open houses are advertised, ask for private viewings prior to the scheduled events.  You’ll beat everyone else to the punch, but just as importantly, you’ll meet owners and agents one-on-one so you can dazzle them with your charm!  Open houses are often chaotic and individual attendees blend with all the others when owners and agents later review applications.

Be Prepared

Order your own credit report and bring it with you to showings.  If there is anything negative on your credit report, have a written explanation ready and a payment plan arranged.  Those applicants with accounts in collections, judgments, or bankruptcies will find it difficult to compete for a rental in San Francisco.  Other items to have on hand are recent paystubs, bank statements, offer letters from new employers, and phone numbers for your last two landlords.  Having this information ready and organized will give you a step up against your competition.  The more documents you can provide to a potential landlord, the more comfortable they will be with you as a tenant.

Last tip: Have move-in funds ready for immediate withdrawal.  A delay in the first payment can cause you to lose a unit to someone else who is ready to go.   Typical move in costs are first month’s rent plus security deposit (usually equal to 1-2 months rent).

Good luck & happy hunting!

Tracy Ballard, Leasing Consultant, DRE 01870837,, has rented more than 200 homes to happy tenants in San Francisco.  Prior to moving to San Francisco 10 years ago, Tracy obtained her business management degree at University of Alaska, Anchorage.

Anthony Harkins, Leasing Consultant, DRE 01513284,, has extensive experience in renting apartments in San Francisco and brings a unique viewpoint to the process with 20+ years in property management.  Anthony holds a degree in Finance and is also a California Certified Resident Manager.