Finding Housing: Not Mission Impossible

Thursday, May 30, 2013

There are many great things about summer.  However, for most people, housing is not one of them.

According to RentHop, a company specialized in apartment-searching, there isn’t a  time worse than summer to find housing.  

As June rolls in, incoming students, rotating students, recent graduates all storm the city competing for that “south-facing sunny room with a view.” The good news is there are lots of listings and openings because of terminating leases.

After two months of researching and interviewing, I’ve finally found a unit I’m happy with.  I hope that each year, my living situation will upgrade a bit. This year, I rented a small 10-foot  by 10-foot room featuring a window that faces a wall, with a shared bathroom, all for $700 a month.

Next year, I’m upgrading to a large room, with a window that faces a wall that’s further away (what an improvement!) and my own bathroom (with two sinks), for $850 a month.

How did I score a master suite with two sinks for such a low price? Keep on reading and you’ll become savvy enough to have separate sinks for your morning and night skin regimen as well.

Basic Steps to take two months before desired move-in date:  

1.     Have the “housing conversation” ASAP. Figure out what you and your roommates want  to do for next year.  

2.     Decide who you want to live with (i.e. no one, classmates, students in the same program but different years, UCSF people in different programs, random people, 58-year-old with a cat, etc.).

3.     Set your priorities. Do you value price, quality, privacy or proximity the most? Are you looking for a crash pad or a home feel?

4.     Talk to people. Start casually asking your friends and acquaintances if they have or know of any openings. I may have been a little aggressive about this. One time, I asked a person I had just met at a party if they needed a roommate. 

5.     Get on Craig’s List. Filter search results by neighborhoods. Have a template email ready that introduces you, your job, your typical schedule, and what you are looking for in roommates and an apartment. You’ll be replying to a lot of listings. Other websites include:, and

6.     Search online in the morning.  According to San Francisco-based, the ideal time to look for apartments online is between 9 a.m.-5 p.m., when most new listings are posted.  Renthop suggests specifically between 9-10 a.m.

7.     Call whenever possible. When given a telephone number, call and set up a viewing appointment.

8.     Update your renter’s resume and have a recent credit report. Showing up at open houses with these materials wins you bonus points.

9.     See the place. It is so important to view units. Notice the current residents’ levels of cleanliness, talk to your potential roommates and ask questions. Also, take pictures so you can compare your options later.

10.  Go for it. Let’s face it. In San Francisco, you get what you pay for. If you find something at a good price that meets most of your criteria, but it has carpet instead of hardwood floors, just put the deposit down. You can keep looking, but now you won’t be under as much stress!

Also, don’t be surprised by:

1.     Paying double rent for a month. It happens all the time. It’ll guarantee that you won’t be homeless.

2.     Awkward and personal questions asked by people interviewing you as a potential roommate  (I.e. How many partners do you bring home? How would you react in this given scenario? Are you going to turn my apartment into a library?).

3.     Not getting responses from places you’ve emailed.

4.     Converted dining rooms. If the rent price is surprisingly cheap, it’s most likely a makeshift bedroom.

5.     People not excited about you being a responsible UCSF student.  We have advantages when considering cheap, somewhat dingy rooms. But, it’s hard competing with mid- to high-earning professionals and families for remodeled flats and houses.

6.     Landlords insisting on money and signing a lease right away. Hold your ground if you need more time to think.

7.     Windows facing a wall.

8.     The gorgeous one-bedroom your engaged friends who work for Apple and Yelp have in Lower Pacific Heights. They pay $2,600 a month.

Finding housing can be frustrating, but also exciting. You can explore new neighborhoods, find something you really like, and potentially be happier. Next year, I’m determined to find an affordable room with a view … even if that means giving up my extra sink.

Once I found my place, I started looking for my friends. Now I want to help you, so send me your questions on Synapse’s Facebook page!