Even if you don’t live in San Francisco, you’ve heard how horrible the housing situation is. I’m assuming most rational people would take this as an indication that it’s probably a bad time to move here, but I didn’t. I mean, San Francisco is officially the one of the most competitive and expensive housing markets in the United States. More competitive than NYC. More expensive than London. It’s probably insanity to move here. Insane, yes, and getting settled is a total pain, but I think it’s worth it to be in such a great city.
The key is getting settled of course, because it’s not easy. You are now on the Oregon Trail of Housing. Make sure you give yourself enough time to reach your destination, try not to run out of money, and don’t die of dysentery. It’s a challenging road, but using my method on Craigslist I got over 65 requests to interview as a potential roommate. The goal here is to score some face time, because it’s much easier to evaluate people in person. And honestly, you don’t need 65 people to invite you to move in, you only need one. The benefit of more responses is an increased chance of finding the ideal situation.
The bottom line is, if this works in San Francisco, it will work anywhere. I know everyone’s circumstances are different, but here is the plan I followed when I moved here:
1. Get your butt to California
When you first arrive it makes sense to crash at a friend’s place (if you can) while trying to get on your feet, but you don’t want to wear out your welcome so you’ll have to move fast. You can also use Airbnb or find a hostel. Get as close as possible to where you want to live. I ended up staying with some wonderful family friends in Oakland. This gives you the opportunity to attend any potential interviews in person.
2. Search for a temporary sublet
Find something through Craigslist, word of mouth, or networking. You just need a space that no one is going to try to kick you out of for the next 2 – 3 months. Use this time to search for a job (if you still need one) and a more permanent housing situation.
3. Find a permanent residence
If you want to brave the San Francisco rental market, go for it, but I have no advice for you. I took a different route, looking for someone who already had an apartment and wanted a roommate. Many of the apartments in this city are rent controlled, so it’s cheaper to move in with someone who already has a lease than it is to get your own place. The average rent is currently over $1400 a month but it can be much higher depending on what neighborhood you want to live in, how new the lease is, etc. Word of advice: it is much easier to find something if you have a steady monthly income.
This is where things can get tricky because now you have to find these people. I personally used Craigslist. It can sometimes seem sketchy but it’s a great for finding people looking for a new roommate. In San Francisco, Craigslist is one of the more popular methods for finding housing. In fact, you will see several pages of listings for roommates and sublets, so this should be easy right? Wrong.
It’s not easy, because you are looking for housing at the same time as hundreds of other people. Those who are advertising available rooms and apartments on Craigslist are inundated with emails. Because of the massive volume, there is no way they are going to invite every single person who emails them to come on over and see their place. You want that invitation? Then you are going to have to differentiate yourself from the crowd.
STANDARD EMAILS AREN’T EFFECTIVE
I tried the normal method of sending emails to the listings I was interested in, giving them a short blurb about myself and crossing my fingers that they would write back. Some did, but I had a very low response rate and it was never the apartments I was truly interested in. I viewed a whopping total of one apartment when I was using this method. It was time to try something different.
CREATE YOUR OWN AD
I created a post in the ‘room/share wanted’ section of Craigslist so that people looking for roommates could find me if they wanted. Lots of people actually do scroll through this section so it’s worth throwing your hat in the ring. First thing it will ask you is what location you are interested in, but unless you are really set on a specific neighborhood, skip this part. You don’t want to stop people from contacting you just because they live in a different part of the city than the one you mentioned. Second is make sure you list a realistic number for the amount of rent you can pay. Good luck getting someone to respond to your ad for a $700 apartment in the Mission, the truth is most rooms cost twice that amount.
Most of the ads you see in the Room/Share Wanted section of Craigslist are kind of boring. Apparently absolutely everyone is considerate/responsible/dependable/mature/and (insert overused adjective here). Don’t be one of those people! Try to let them see who you really are. Pictures are great for this (but avoid cellphone pics). I, for example, rock at hula hooping. I mean, I used to dominate the hula hooping competition at all the bar mitzvahs I attended in 8th grade. Granted, no one is going to want me as a roommate just because I can hula hoop, but putting a quirky captioned picture at the top of my ad is attention-grabbing and gives you a sense of my personality.
SHOW WHO YOU ARE
Think about what you would want to know about your new roommate and then put all of that information in your ad. Would you bake your new roommate cookies every week? Take their dog for a walk? Can you fix their laptop if it breaks? Show how awesome you are. Also give plenty of concrete details like what your job is, the hours you keep, if you like pets, smoking and drug habits, etc. Links to social media accounts or personal websites are helpful in giving people a sense of who you are.
Anybody can toot their own horn and make themselves sound great. It’s much more powerful to get past roommates to write a short blurb or caption describing what you are like as a roommate. Their judgement of what it’s like to live with you is probably less biased than yours. Try to get three or four people. If you haven’t had four roommates get some of your friends to write something. Even if they can’t comment on whether or not you keep the common areas clean, they can talk about the kind of person you are.
USE GOOD WRITING SKILLS
You might think you are smart, fun and responsible, but if u typ lik dis or PUT EVERYTHING IN CAPS, no one is going to take you seriously. Save it for your text messages to your best friend. This applies to both the ad you post and to any emails you send.
Keep sending emails to any listings you are interested in, but link them back to your ad on Craigslist while making sure to include the important parts inside the email. Don’t assume they will click the link, because many of them won’t. If they mention in their post that their names are Tom and Jane, make sure you use them in the email you send. You only have one chance to make an impression so all the important information must be included within the email along with any specifics the poster asked for. If they want to know the capital of Australia make sure it’s in your email (apparently it’s Canberra).
It might take you several hours or several days to put your personal information together in a way that appeals to potential roommates, but I promise the increased response rate you receive makes it all worth it. Good luck!