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Really useful and scary article about the current state of the rental market in SF.
I have to find a place of my own in 30 days, and this article has instilled some fear about what i will be up against.
He talks about having references from past landlords. I lived in a home which i owned in Miami, FL. What do i show the landlord in this case?
One thing he says which is scary:
Pro Tip: NEVER go to an open house for an apartment. You will be competing against as many as 100 other people. Some sketcky landlords will even try to get everyone to pay an “application fee” so they can squeeze money out of all the people coming in addition to the rental fee that will invariably be bid up with all the frenzied lookers.
I see most craigslist listings have Open House. Should i really be avoiding those? That's like 90% of the listings!
Another scary thing is that it sounds like i may have to miss work while looking for apartments:
If your employer gets annoyed about missed time looking at apartments, just remind that how much more productive you’ll be when you stop worrying about this and sleep in your own bed at night.
My budget will be up to $2500 and i have no pets or any other special considerations. My credit is excellent as well. I'm just hoping the author had so much trouble because he had a tight budget and maybe very strict requirements.
I'm the author and want relieve some of your concerns. I found a place at the 2nd place I looked. Literally. By focusing, being aggressive, having all my stuff together when I went to look and following the tips I outlined, it was a quick effort. It was a surgical strike.
I'm surprised that the article suggests NARROWING your search. If anything, I think it's important these days to expand the search, although of course still having a firm idea of what it is that you want in a place and what types of locations will work.
We had a very tough time finding a place, and ultimately ended up in the East Bay. It would have been nice to return to our old neighborhood in SF, but we LOVE where we ended up, and are paying much, much less in rent, and have just as quick of a commute to the financial district.
I wouldn't avoid open houses (they give you a good sense of what's out there in your price range), but yes, you probably will run into the situation where dozens of other people are also all putting in applications. We burned through a ton of money in application fees for SF apartments. There are also scams out there where they'll let it sit on the rental market for a long time and collect a bunch of applications; we ran into that. And definitely don't believe that the first qualified person gets the place (that may be the law, but it's certainly not enforced!) although with luck you WILL be the first qualified person, and the owner will just go with you because how are they going to otherwise decide from all the other hundred equally qualified people out there also wanting to rent the place? (and there are a lot of owners/agents out there who will collect applications from many people, even if not in open house format, before making a decision.)
Be flexible and be prepared. You can do all of that and still not find a rental right away, but keep plugging away, be organized, move fast, and eventually you will find something. I think it's useful to know what you're getting into, though, and the rental market is incredibly rough these days. We've rented in a bunch of different cities (including in Manhattan, and in SF a few years ago) and have never experienced anything like that. But when things finally DID fall into place it happened fast (that's another thing -- tell them you can move in immediately; most places seem to want someone who can start paying rent right away), and I'm writing this email sitting in my Bay Area (albeit not San Francisco, but I think it's best to keep an open mind!) apartment, one of the cheapest that we looked at, and one that, so far, I like very much. Eventually you'll be sitting in your own place, too.
Hi Uptown, great post. Where do you live currently? I am open for East Bay options but need an easy commute into Fin District as well.
Pretty much all of Oakland and Berkeley (and Alameda) are really quick commute to the Financial District. You can either live near a BART station or take the commuter bus. Depending on where you are the commute via bus or BART is 15-35 minutes.
If you want a more urban/downtown vibe: live around 12th St or 19th Street BART
If you want a denser area, walkable with amenities and no tall buildings: East of Macarthur BART (Temescal or Piedmont Ave areas, west is sketchier), Downtown Berkeley BART. Further from BART: Grand Lake or Adams Point in Oakland, Cleveland Heights,
If you want a less dense, more upscale area: Elmwood in Berkeley, Rockridge in Oakland (Think more trendy, expensive boutiques)
If you want slightly suburban/walkable: North Berkeley, Albany, Alameda
These are the easiest, more walkable choices. If you want suburban in the East Bay, there are other cities with BART stations, but they aren;t walkable or transit friendly on the whole.
Any of the places on the list above will have bus or BART access to the financial district and a range of restaurants, shops etc in walking distance. Most of the East Bay neighborhoods actually feel pretty similar, with similar types of people walking around and similar amenities and restaurant types.
If i had been living in a home i owned for the past 3 years what document do i show the landlord?
You can just put the address and that you owned it. They might want to see some kind of mortgage payment statement. (Mine was owned outright so I didn't even have that to show, but it wasn't a problem.)
The vast majority of landlords do open houses in SF, I really don't know how you would avoid them. It's just the way things are done there, whether the market is hot or cold. In 8 years of living in the Bay Area and going to dozens and dozens of apartment viewings, I only ever dealt with two landlords who did a 1-on-1 appointment. Here are my tips, as someone who lived in SF for several years on about $32,000 a year:
- When you go to a viewing, show up early, at least 15 minutes early. Once I got an apartment because I was the first person to show up for a viewing. If a landlord is overwhelmed with applications from 50 to 200 people with identical credit and proof of decent jobs, they'll try and pick someone based on who was first. Or they'll try and pull some shenanigans like waiting for someone to offer to pay more. Maybe you'll see an apartment for $2,200 that you like, why not offer $2,400 or $2,500, it will make the landlord take notice, though you can be sure other people will do the same.
- Try and be quick about taking the place, if you get a good feeling about it. It's not like other rental markets where you can look at a place leisurely, then go spend two weeks looking at other places before deciding you'd like that first place you looked at, because it will be long gone by that point. Try and be the first person to tell the landlord you want to take it. Be pushy but not super obnoxious. Ask if you can put down a deposit, they'll probably say no but sometimes will say yes because they just want to get it over with. I guarantee you that even if you kick all the tires at the apartment there will be some huge flaw with it that you missed because you were rushed, but unfortunately you have to rush. If you really, really want to live in SF this is what you deal with.
- Bring your own credit report. Go to one of the free credit report sites, print one out that has your score clearly marked in a big number, and make a bunch of copies so you always have some spares on hand. It's possible landlords are getting even greedier than ever and are making everyone pay for an unncessary credit check, but bring your own and see what happens. The one you run yourself is identical to what they'd get for $35 and it's available for them to look at immediately.
- Go online and get a basic rental application form. Basic stuff like where you work, past apartments you've had, etc. Fill it out, make a few copies and bring it with you. Generally landlords will have their own stupid forms that they will want you to fill out, but filling their forms out will go a lot quicker if you already have all the basic information on your own form, just copy it over. And some landlords will accept the basic form you brought with you--many of them use those ones anyway.
Those are my tips and I think in general they should work better than the ones in that article. There is no way you're going to get around having to deal with the open house viewing system. SF is not like suburban Florida where you can go to an endless series of leisurely one-on-one viewings at big apartment complexes with a ton of vacancies.
SF is just a really competitive rental market no matter what, but especially now. The main thing is to go to as many viewings as you can, to be aggressive about asking if you can take a place, to have all your documents with you, and to be quick about everything. The open house viewing system sucks balls but you just have to deal with it and just keep going to places, and eventually when you're ready to give up and move back to Dubuque or whatever, you'll get a place.
With all that said, I think on a budget of $2,500 you'll do ok if you're looking for a 1 bedroom or a studio. It will be competitive but you'll have a lot more options than if your budget was more like $1500. And if all else fails you can always move to the East Bay, if you work in downtown SF then riding BART from the EB is super convenient. Should be able to get a 3 or maybe even a 4 bedroom apartment in nice parts of Oakland or Walnut Creek. If you work elsewhere in SF or on the Peninsula or Silicon Valley, I'd seriously check out the market in San Mateo County, I don't think prices there have shot up as dramatically as in San Francisco.
there’s apparently a law in San Francisco that says a landlord has to take the first qualified applicant for their place.
There is no such a law. Wondering where the author got the idea. Laws don't tell people how to run business. And if it does exists, the seniors, disabled, and low income advocacy groups would be up in arms; because it gives all the advantage of landing rentals to people with computers, Internet access, and/or cars to drive around hunting for fresh rentals; and some demographics can't afford those. It'd create an unfair advantage to some people so there's no way this is or can ever become law.
The rest of the article is pretty good. Though I do concur that a renter should expand the area, not narrow it down.
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