Wow. I’ve been busy. Between working, planning my move, and socializing, I’ve completely forgotten to blog for about a month now. Before when I neglected my writing, it was always “I’m too busy”, “I’m too lazy” or “I’m not sure what to write about next”. This time, it was just out of my mind for a solid month. Can’t let that happen again!
Anyhow, the upcoming relocation feels very real now. Last weekend, we dashed up to San Francisco claiming we could find an apartment in just one weekend, much to guffaws and chagrin from friends who know how hard it is to find an apartment in San Francisco. We did the unthinkable: we got the apartment.
For the past few months I’ve been perusing Craigslist to see what the apartment hunting scene is like. As everyone knows, if you are trying to find anything on the cheap and are using the internet, Craigslist is your first stop. As many may not know, Craigslist started in San Francisco, so I was hoping it would be The Place to go to. I quickly realized that apartments in San Francisco are expensive, but finding one in our budget was not impossible. Right now we pay $1175 a month, which is even cheap in LA, so to keep our present standard of living we did not want to go above $1300 a month for rent. We also wanted to live in the city, not across the bay, so that Zac could easily get to school at SFSU and I could easily get to work at whichever Sephora store I transferred to. Narrowing down the price on Craigslist revealed that we could live in a few areas: the Tenderloin, Bayview Heights, or the Sunset District.
According to the Let’s Go! California guidebook I have, the Tenderloin is “economic light years away from it’s neighbors. . . Sporadic attempts at urban renewal have done a (small) bit to improve the poverty of the quarter and it’s residents. Nevertheless, avoid walking here alone”. Yeah, no thanks. And despite countless Craigslist listings stating that “Bayview is the place to be!” Bayview Heights looked a little to close to the freeway and a little to far from SFSU to be truly desirable. The listings for Sunset District stated that it was quiet and residential with plentiful street parking, plus I had heard good things from a few different sources. So Sunset it would be.
As it got closer to last weekend though, it didn’t really look like there were too many listings for good apartments on Craigslist. I checked out a couple of different sites, apartments.com being one of them, but most of the listings we could afford were for senior citizen retirement buildings! Um, we’ll stick with Craigslist, thanks. We made some calls and sent some emails, but already it was Thursday and we only had two appointments. We woke up, bright and early at 5:30 am Friday, thinking if we drove up and got into town in the afternoon we could do some searching then.
If you talk to various Los Angeleans about driving to San Francisco, everyone says a different thing about how long it really takes. Depending on who you talk to, it takes 5-9 hours. But I think on this time we found a great way to go. Leave at 6 am so you are traveling against traffic. Drive about 5-10 mph above the speed limit the whole way. Take the 5 freeway to Santa Nella. Get off the freeway for lunch at Pea Soup Andersen’s in Santa Nella. After lunch, take the 152 to the 101 to the 85 to the 280. It take slightly longer than just taking the 5, but you get some pretty farm country and rolling hills to break up your drive, and you don’t have to pay the toll over the bay bridge to get into the city. Once you get to San Francisco, you will look at your clock and realize it’s only 1 pm and you have plenty of time to look for apartments.
Our plan was this: drive up and down every street in the Sunset District looking for “for rent” signs. That was how we had found our apartment in LA, so it stood to reason that looking for signs could work again. After perhaps and hour or so of aimless driving, we realized that it wasn’t going to happen that way. We needed to hit Craigslist hardcore. Later that day, at my friend Holly’s place, we called or emailed every place that looked as though it could be a possibility or had an open house listed. At Holly’s suggestion we also placed an ad stating who we were and what we were looking for, since some landlords prefer to find tenants that way so they can weed out the shady ones.
We actually got a call back right away and went to look at a place Friday evening. The type of apartment we were looking for and is pretty common in San Francisco is an “in-law unit”, or secondary suite. These are small apartments built adjoinng larger ones. The name is from people building these dwellings to stash their in-laws. A lot of these types of units are illegally built in peoples’ garages and basements, but some are more like small duplexes attached to another apartment. The one we looked at on Friday was the bottom floor of a duplex, with lots of light and a separate entrance, but it was tiny. As in easily half of the size of the apartment we are currently living in, but almost as much. We wanted to consider it in case we didn’t find anything better, but to move in the guy was asking for first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit of $1000, which is way more money than that shoebox was worth. Thankfully, with all of our craigslist hunting we had lined up 7 more places to look at over the weekend.
Saturday morning we rose bright and early to see as many apartments as possible! The first one was. . . ok. It had it’s good points and bad points. You had to wind through a dark garage with lots of random crap to get to the unit. Once you got there, the size wasn’t bad, and it actually had some light in the kitchen and one of the two small bedrooms. There was both a yard and washer and dryer that we’d have access to. It wasn’t terrible, and would do in a pinch, but it just didn’t feel like home. We took an application and told the landlord we’d call him later either way.
The next place was an appointment I had made earlier in the week. I had a good feeling about it, it looked nice from the pictures the guy I talked to about it was really nice. Once there, we loved the location (two blocks from the beach and Golden Gate Park), lots of coffee shops and a major tram line to downtown just a block down, and ample street parking with little restrictions. Johnny, who I’d spoken with on the phone, took us back to see the apartment. This lot had four units on it, two in a house in the front, and two in a house around back, separated by a small garden area. Our prospective apartment was on the bottom floor of the back house. Once inside, it was definitely the best we’d seen so far. You walk into a large tiled kitchen and dining area with two small bedrooms off to the sides and a bathroom. Every room had a window and was well lit, it was smaller than our present apartment but large by SF standards, and I loved how each room had been painted a different color. Johnny had a great vibe to him, and had been about to shampoo the carpets in the bedrooms when we arrived. His parents live in the front house, he lives on top of the back and helps them maintain and show the place. He said that if we were interested in cleaning up the back of the apartment and putting in some plants he would help us out with that.
The one downside was that there were no closets, but there was this random storage nook under the stairs to go to the top house. And at $1250, it was within our budget. We wanted this apartment, but it was only 11:30 am, so figured we should keep looking for a bit.
The next place was on 19th avenue, the busiest street in Sunset. We were wary about this one, but it was only $1100 so we had nothing to loose. Once again, we were led on a winding path through a dark garage to see the unit. Inside, it was amazingly quiet. Somehow it was far en0ugh back that you heard none of the street noise at all. That was pretty much all you could say for it. It was small and boring. There was an ugly yard that nobody used. It was still habitable, and if it had been all we had found we w0uld have taken it, but as soon as we got back to the car we called Johnny about the other apartment.
Man, I was nervous on that phone call. We wanted the apartment so bad and he’d shown it to some other guys as we were leaving. I finished my spiel about us how much we wanted it and then Johnny spoke : “Actually, to be frank, I really like you guys, and would love to have you as housemates”. Score!!! The conversation got better. As it turned out, he’s an artist and his art was being shown in a gallery that night in the Mission, one of the hippest districts of SF. Why don’t we meet up with him and his friends, hang out, and we can exchange the lease and deposit? In my dreams I did not imagine we’d get so lucky.
The rest of the day we ran off of our euphoric high. We walked around and made a killing at a Goodwill, finding clothes for Zac, rainboots for myself, and some killer records for 50 cents each. Got to remember that Goodwill! I’m sure we’ll be doing most of our shopping there.. We met up with Johnny in the Mission and realized that he will be the coolest housemate/landlord/new artist friend ever. He showed us some new shops that were cool, including Paxton Gate, purveyors of fossils, taxidermia, and other oddities. His art was at a show at a gallery called Fabric 8, which had some amazing stuff and was serving some appetizers and drinks. His art is incredible too and he gave us some magnets which were the first to go on our new fridge.
All in all, we had an amazing, incredibly lucky, and abnormal apartment finding experience in San Francisco. If you or someone you know is relocating there, feel free to share this story, but warn them that this does not happen to everyone. I don’t know what we did to get off this well!
Good Luck and Happy Travels,
PS- I apologize about the pictures, I realize that I should have taken more but these were hastily snapped on my cellphone. More will surely come in the future.