Looking for a Good Home

Moving is stressful.  The very act of packing up one’s belonging and migrating to a new residence can stir up all kinds of emotions.  Is it one of the top 5 stresses in life?  Depends on the reason behind the move.  Unfortunately, this weekend, that’s exactly what I’m doing.  It’s the sixth time in the last five years (not a record I’m proud of) but my frequent mover miles mean I have the process down to a science.   I don’t even have to chase my cat into the pet carrier.

Life in a compact state.  Are we really what we own?

Life in a compact state. Are we really what we own?
Photo courtesy of Flicker, Brento

Finding a home on the other hand is a different story.  First of all, the rental market in San Francisco is straight up craziness.  With record low vacancies and rental prices climbing more than 5% in the last year, buckle up for the roller coaster ride to phenomenal cosmic costs for an itty-bitty living space.  Having just spent the last several weeks in the land of purgatory (a.k.a the impending state of homelessness), I can offer you this much: persistence pays off.

1.  Use the Tools
Thankfully there’s Craigslist.  There’s also PadMapper, which offers a convenient mapping tool for the neighborhood conscious.  Haunt the site more than you visit Facebook and you’ll have a chance at getting the scoop on the elusive diamond in the city: the right place at the right price in the right location – it’s happened, I’ve seen it.  Email (or call) as soon as you see something that piques your interest; don’t wait, because the agents do remember who got in touch first.  It doesn’t mean the place will be yours, but getting them to know your name will help your case.

2. Be a Real Person
Give a few details in your introductory email and show a little personality.  Think of it like a resume – you want to stand out from the other hundred emails the agent received.  It’s not enough to have good credit and solid income anymore, so does everyone else.  Mention how long you want to live there, how much you love the area and what about the unit really appeals to you.  Share enough of your life that they can see you living there.  Particularly if you’re talking to an owner and not an agent.

3. If It Looks Too Good To Be True
There are plenty of scams out there.  If there’s no cross-streets given or defined address, be careful.  If you get a reply with a link to get your free credit report, don’t click it.  If you hear the agent is out of town and needs a deposit before they can send you the key, be a good citizen and flag the ad.

4.  The Showing
Arriving on time is good but early (or near the end) is better.  Unless it’s an appointment, know the chance of being alone are slim to none.  Of the twenty-five apartments I previewed, it wasn’t unusual to meet another forty people in one of three thirty minute showings that week.  Competition is fierce out here.  Know what your criteria is going in; establish your deal breakers.

Classic San Francisco architecture - that could be your window.

Classic San Francisco architecture – that could be your window.
Photo courtesy of Flickr, DieselDemon

5.  Get Friendly
Be sure to talk to the agent (or owner) and ask any question that comes to mind; smile if other people stop to listen to the answers.  Take your time if you see the potential.  If you ever saw me at a showing, I’m the woman who takes out her tape measure and tries to figure out where furniture will go before putting in an application.  I also make a point to let them know my interest level before I leave, even if I’m not applying.

6.  Be a Boy Scout
Have your documents ready – this includes credit report (with score), pay stubs, a generic rental application with references – but save the trees, most agents will accept them emailed.

7.  Note the Details
Pictures are eye candy, but fear the wide angle lense.  Pay attention to the key words.  Charming, intimate and character are not your friends.  Always look for water damage, grounded electrical outlets, and if you see signs of recent repair or remodeling, ask what happened.

8.  Price vs. Privacy
Everyone knows the triangle for Good Quality, Low Price, Fast Timeline – for San Francisco apartments, it’s Low Price, Living Alone, and Good Location – you can only pick two.  There are plenty of sites who offer help finding roommates; my recommendation is ask your network first.

9.  Last but Not Least
A house (or apartment) is not a home…  until you make it one.  Good times equals good memories.

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please leave them in the comments below!


  1. Isabelle says:

    Thanks for sharing, Cat. This is really informative. SF real estate market definitely does not make it easy for locals, not to mention people moving from out of town!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.