San Francisco is having a bit of a housing crisis. It has surpassed New York City as the United States' most expensive city to live in. Long time residents have been forced out of town and families stay squeezed in studio apartments because that's all they can afford.
Blame is often laid at the feet of the tech employees who seem to have taken over the city, and certainly their high salaries contribute to the problem. But the reality is that San Francisco's laws have made it very difficult to build new housing for decades, so you have a classic supply and demand problem: more people want to live in the city than can be accommodated, so prices have skyrocketed.
Nonetheless, there are pockets of the city that are more affordable than others. You'll just have to put up with a longer commute or fewer amenities within walking distance.
RENTING IN SAN FRANCISCO
Competition is fierce for rentals in this city. That means that speed and persistence often make the difference between your rent application being accepted or getting tossed in the trash bin with a few dozen others. You need to mentally prepare yourself that finding a rental property in San Francisco is going to be a challenge.
It also means it's a good idea to spend a week (or two) in the city before you start a job so you can be flexible with seeing properties as soon as they become available. You should also plan on looking for a place to live 2-3 weeks before you need it; any earlier than that and most of what you see online will have a rental start date that's too early for you.
So, where to start? First, try to narrow down your search to several neighborhoods based on what's important to you. Maybe you want tons of restaurants and bars nearby, maybe you want to be near good public schools, maybe you want a short commute to work, or maybe you want all three. Our Neighborhood Explorer for San Francisco can help you narrow the search down using several criteria.
Next, make sure you've got all your paperwork ready to go before you start looking for a place to live. If you find a place you like, you don't want to lose time pulling it all together because in the time it takes someone who is better prepared could get the apartment. You should have this paperwork ready to hand over when you see a place you like. You'll need to have the following documentation:
The next step is to start the home search. Apps like Padmapper are great for searching because they aggregate listings from many sites. Craigslist, which started in San Francisco, is also a good resource for finding an apartment or finding a roommate to share the cost with. As with all things in life, if something appears too good to be true on these sites then it likely is. If an apartment or home is particularly cheap compared to others around it, chances are it's not real. Also, be careful when you see creative use of language: if something is "cozy" then assume you'll barely have room to move; if something "has lots of character" then assume it hasn't been updated in 100 years.
Make sure to ask whether the property will include key appliances, like a refrigerator, washer and dryer (if there's a hookup), and even – though it's rare not to have one – a stove. Not all homes have these items included and it can be an unpleasant surprise if you move in only to find out you'll have to buy one.
The only real consolation for the high prices and competition is that once you've found a place, San Francisco has very strong tenants rights law. These laws apply even if the unit you're renting is not legal. Here are several things to be aware of:
More information on your protections as a tenant can be found on the San Francisco Tenants Union website.
HELPFUL REAL ESTATE WEBSITES
Padmapper.com - Padmapper pulls in rental properties from over 100 sources and displays them in a map view. You can easily filter the results based on home size, cost, and whether pets are allowed.
Zillow or Trulia - Similar in functionality (and owned by the same company) both sites can be searched for properties for rent or for sale. They generally have the exact same listings; the main difference is how they display the results based on your search criteria.
Craigslist - This is not just a place to find a home: you can find pretty much anything you can think of on Craigslist. But it can be a great place to find a rental or a roommate. Just be more careful with the properties you see here since there is not a lot of quality control.