August 23, 2012

723 words 4 mins read

How to find an SF Apartment: Jon Style!

Awhile back I read a guide about finding an apartment in San Francisco that was a bit geared toward newbies. During my recent search for a place, I came up with my own 3 rules.

1. Be Decisive

Being decisive is by far the most critical skill/trait you can have during an SF apartment hunt. You need to know:

  • What it is you are looking for in advance
  • What can you afford
  • What features can you live without
  • Where you want to be
Basically you need to decide everything in advance. It’s hard but you need to be able to walk into an apartment, spend no more than 5 minutes there and be able to make a solid decision. Most decent open houses will have a half dozen to several dozen people in attendance. If they are being wishy washy and you aren’t, you (and/or your application) can get in line in front of them.

Being decisive will also allow you to filter out the hundreds of listings that go up everyday. Once I had established exactly what I wanted, where I wanted, and how much I was willing to pay… I set up an alert on and waited.

2. Be Polite

This is one of the things I see most people missing. They walk into an open house showing, they don’t say “Hi” to whomever is running the showing, or maybe they just grumble out a perfunctory greeting. For all intents and purposes, the apartment viewing is an interview for BOTH parties. You want to see the apartment, and the landlord wants to meet you. The landlord isn’t expecting you to carry on an earth shattering conversation, they know you are there for a reason. At the same time they do want to get to know any prospective tenants. If you ignore the landlord, act like an asshole, or generally make yourself scarce — they either won’t remember you, or worse, not remember you fondly. If you can’t be bothered to be nice to a human, imagine what they think you might do to their property (e.g. the apartment).

This goes doubly so for your interactions via phone and email, especially for someone you think is unimportant. They may have shitty jobs and deal with a hundred obnoxious, pushy, demanding, rude prospective tenants a day. The people who you think are unimportant, may very well be the ones who are running your paperwork, or better yet, they may not be the peon you think they are. Plus, it’s just good karma to be a nice person.

3. Be Prompt/Have your shit together

If you really want a place, get your paperwork done, and submitted post haste. Do whatever it is you need to do with the best possible speed you can muster. Even if you think the place is in the bag and there is no rush, do not dilly dally.

I lost one apartment I wanted because it was a late showing and I was tired… I decided that I would write the landlord the next morning. After all, the place wasn’t even on the market yet and I was the first person it was shown to. Guess what? Someone emailed the landlord and took it sight unseen. Don’t take anything for granted until the paperwork is SIGNED.

Speaking of paperwork, having your information together is CRITICAL. This means that you need to know:

  • Where and when you’ve lived
  • Previous landlords’ contact information
  • Where and when you worked
  • Your manager’s contact information
  • All of your personal financial information of worth (how much money you make, your major debts, where your bank accounts are)
You should also have a copy of your most recent pay stubs (the last 2 or 3), a copy of your credit report, and a copy of your drivers license or other government ID (CCW holders: don’t use a CCW unless your landlord is a gun aficionado). Landlords may not ask for this information specifically, but it never hurts to have it and/or offer it. Non-corporate landlords (i.e. people renting out their own condos) will love to see this information because then they might not need your social and/or have to run your credit report. Non-corporate landlords generally don’t want your SSN and/or other very private information… they just want to know you can pay your rent.