5 Tips for Scoring An Apartment in San Francisco

Moving into a new apartment in San Francisco, either from another city or from another district in San Francisco, is no small feat. If you find that you are not having any issue at all finding good apartments in decent areas of the city for a reasonable price, then you are either 1) extremely well connected 2) outside of budget constrained category (lucky, you!).

I’ve opted to live with roommates during the 6 years I’ve lived in the city for both financial and social reasons. My multiple apartment searches have required me to be creative and persistent, and have included sending off multiple emails, attending apartment showing and open houses and talking with everyone I know in order to get referrals for new places.

Like a job search, you need to be exploring multiple avenues at once in order to get a good place that will be a fit.

Here are 5 tips for getting a great apartment in the City by the Bay:

1) Prepare to spend at least a month for your search. Keep your weekend open for the month prior to move in – or block off your weekdays during that month. You’ll need to set aside a few hours at least a week in order to find something, assuming you’re looking for a shared situation (whether it’s for that connection who is your second-cousin’s-friend’s-neighbor or a completely random Craigslist stranger).

It can likely take time for this search – consider it a nice gift if the search takes less than a month.

Apartment viewing schedule

Scheduling your apartment viewings – essential to keeping organized during your apartment search.

2) Create a list of desirables (must-haves and want-to-haves) in your new living situation. Before you talk to anyone, you need to make sure you know what you want out of a living situation, and can communicate this to your potential future roommates. Know that you wouldn’t want to live with a cat? Need someone who can handle having overnight guests on the couch once every few weeks? Have a short list of these must-haves (and include a few nice-to-haves).

It will help you in the long run to avoid a situation that you’re not happy with (which would eventually re-launch you in the apartment search).

3) Create your “rental portfolio” before meeting anyone in person. 

This includes:

– Rental resume (like a resume but includes addresses and contact information of landlords from past 5 years)
– Credit reports (available for free download once every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com) with birthdate, social security number and any account numbers blacked out
– Check book in hand (although I’ve never put down a check at a showing, it’s a good fall back item to have – especially if you’re looking to move on a very tight timeline)
– References (again, may not be applicable right away, but it’s good to have 3 people you know agree to be references – including old landlords, colleagues or friends that could act as a reference for you)

4) Use multiple online tools to track availability of new places:

Craigslist (be discerning and though don’t overlook places without images)

Apartment List (apartment hunting resource)

Apartment List robot

The Apartment List robot.

PadMapper (aggregates Craigslist data)

Going through a realtor for your rental is another option. As a renter, you don’t have to worry about realtor costs – the landlord is the one who is paying for the cost of the realtor.

5) Have a back-up plan. If all else fails: where would you go if you aren’t able to find a place by move-in day? Give up, move outside the city or to a neighborhood that you really don’t want to live in?

Short term options exist, such as sublets (commonly found through Craigslist) or weekly rentals. Airbnb in a less expensive part of town might even be in option, since it will allow you to commit for a shorter amount of time.


Oh, and read this Bold Italic article, too – “The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying to Rooms on Craigslist.”


Remember: the search takes time! Good luck in your search.

These are some tips I’ve picked up through the years. What advice do you have for the tough apartment hunt?


Jen Burstedt

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