The Overwhelming Reality of San Francisco Apartment Hunting

Moving is a stressful event no matter how many times you’ve done it. Moving to a new city is exciting and scary at the same time. Moving to San Francisco can be completely overwhelming!

A move to San Francisco requires a little more preparation than you might think. This is one of the most fabulous cities in America to live in, but planning your move thoughtfully will ensure your experience is a stress-free and positive one.

All your essential moving to San Francisco advice is laid out in this ultimate guide. From neighborhood characteristics to the parking and transportation to dealing with those hills; it’s all in here.

So many neighborhoods…

Decide on a Neighborhood

If you already have a job lined up then you probably want to use the location of your future employer to decide where to live. If you plan on getting a job when you arrive then you will at least want to research the city to see what area you are most likely to find employment with your qualifications.

You will also want to make sure you are choosing a neighborhood in your budget. If you really are not familiar with the area, the best way is to ask your leasing agent for a tour of multiple properties.

Richmond and Sunset neighborhoods cover a large area and are family-oriented, are colder and foggier, and have a much longer commute to Financial District. The Marina is relatively flat, sunny, and a little bit more pricey, while the Mission is thriving with Dolores Park, bicyclists and street lined bars, restaurants and coffee shops. Downtown San Francisco is the most affordable and convenient. You can walk or jump on public transportation to go anywhere. South of Market (SOMA) is a super trendy area close to downtown, but very quiet on the weekends. Nob Hill has many of the iconic buildings and hills that San Francisco is known for. Pacific Heights is a little more traditional, The Haight, with its hippie pedigree, has its great shopping and tourist attractions while also being close to the panhandle for exercising and running.

Public Transportation

Trains, buses, cable cars, oh my!

Don’t bring a car to San Francisco unless you’re prepared to spend $300/month on a parking spot. A recent study showed that Uber & Lyft drivers have heavily impacted driving in San Francisco. The plus side is that you can get driver quickly. Being close to a Bart or Muni line is an easy way to get around to the major hotspots. Both use a clipper card along with Caltrain so you can autoload it.

I also like using Scoot, which is a electric scooter rental for $3 for 1/2 hour. You can pick them up and drop them off in almost any location. Ford has a new bike rental system with similar pickup and drop off points all over the city as well.

Down to the Brass Tax

We all know that San Francisco is the most expensive rental market. So what do you get for the money?

Location, location, location. Just like anywhere else, prices on apartments are based on location first, then amenities, and floor level.

How can an apartment 2 blocks down the street change so much in price?

A lot can change in 2 blocks. Working with an agent that has access to most apartments in San Francisco is a huge advantage, because you might not like the neighborhood that an apartment is in. Having to wait for a landlord to get back you can take valuable time. When I show an apartment, I am able to show 3 or 4 more if the first one doesn’t work out.

Old Building, New Apartment

Most of the buildings were between 1906 and 1930. The earthquake and fire of 1906 devastated the city and almost everything had to be rebuilt. Lucky for you, most of the apartments I show are newly renovated with modern appliances and remodeled bathrooms and kitchens. Hardwood floors are the norm in the apartments. The architecture is timeless, but your apartment modern.

View on a Weekday

Everyone is looking for apartments on the weekend, which means you won’t get the same attention as you would on a weekday. Take an afternoon off from work and contact a leasing agent and let him/her know that you would like to see multiple apartments and you are find a place that day. You will save so much time by using a weekday to find an apartment.


If you see an apartment that you like, than so do hundreds of more people. Once you see an apartment apply immediately! It’s first come, first served — so have your ID and proof of income (paystub or offer letter or 1 year rent in savings) ready. Go to the application link online and take the 10 minutes to fill out the application. Several times I have seen disappointed people take too long to apply and miss out on the apartment of their dreams.

Rent Control, Finances, Deposit, and Utilities

Most apartments in San Francisco built prior to 1979 are under rent control. What does that mean for you? It means that in 2017 rent went up 2.2%. So if you start a lease on an apartment now, you can plan on a minimal increase in a year. After the year lease, it goes month to month.

The deposit is usually equal to 1 month rent. You won’t find out until your application is approved, based on credit risk. Sometimes it’s only 1/2 month rent with great credit. Often times our firm runs a special on the deposit for a low entry fee.

Utilities are the tenants responsibility. Water, garbage, electricity, and gas. Studios will pay less than a 2 bedroom unit.


Who’s a good boy?

The majority of RentSfNow buildings allow for dogs (up to 40 lbs) and cats. There’s usually an extra deposit for you furry friend as well as additional pet rent. San Francisco can be a tricky place for pets. There are so many parks to walk your dog, but at the same time, most of the apartments don’t have backyards for your pup to do his business.

Property Management

Before you sign a lease, make sure you know who to notify about potential issues. Buildings with 16 or more apartments are required to have a resident manager on site. Get to know that person! All of the resident managers I know are friendly. Get to know the property management group as well. Greentree Property Management won an award for their efforts in 2016. Make sure to pay rent on time each month! Paying online is a no-brainer.

I look forward to helping you start a new chapter in your life. Message me if you are looking for an apartment in San Francisco, or would like a list of available apartments.

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If you enjoyed this check out my other story: I Tried to Touch the Sky

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Mike Simpson, Author & Leasing Agent at RentSFNow

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