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How to Find an Affordable Place to Live: Tips from Bay Area Residents

| November 8, 2012
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San Francisco's most iconic homes are probably out of reach for many local house hunters. But it is possible to find a place to live in San Francisco. Photo by Monique Glimmerveen/Flickr.

San Francisco has been called the most expensive place in the country to rent housing, and average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is now $2,673 a month.

It’s a source of frustration for many residence-seekers. A few weeks ago we shared horror stories by those upset over high prices and intense competition for Bay Area housing. Those stories spread quickly online, and we wondered who else wanted to publicize their tales of woe. We put the call out online and heard from Bay Area residents like San Franciscan Danielle Weintraub, currently looking for a bigger place in the city.

“I just got back today from looking at a small one-bedroom that is going for $2,100, no parking and no laundry,” she wrote. “It’s a bit tough to really take in at times. On one hand you really want to start a new chapter in your life and get a bigger-nicer place to live because it’s really the natural progression, though, on the other hand we feel that if we did pay that insane amount that we are really being taken for a ride.

“It makes for a challenging lifestyle,” she added. “Saving for retirement suffers, traveling becomes almost non-existent, and the overall stress of having to pay such a high rental fee will always be on the mind. How are couples able to move into larger units to start a family here?”

Emily Strawn of San Francisco is holding off on finding a bigger apartment for now. She noted she and her boyfriend “looked for months, standing in lines at open houses, taking time off work to be the first person with an application in hand, and anxiously waiting by the phone for that call that never seemed to come.

Finally, we found a place that we thought was the one. It was a large one bedroom in a great neighborhood. Later that night, we got a call from a cantankerous old man who said he was rejecting our application because we had a cat. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I know I said the apartment was pet friendly, but I’ve got a dozen other couples just like you who want the place and don’t have animals. Sorry.’ I cried. Was it a lost cause?

After picking ourselves back up, we continued the hunt. Eventually we found a small but charming one-bedroom just up the street from the site of our defeat. Sometimes we dream of a bigger place, with a yard, with parking, or without crazy neighbors, but until we can afford to buy our own home, we’re staying put.”

But if it’s so challenging to find housing, why live in the Bay Area at all?

“I have art galleries, music venues, awesome museums, amazing food, a strong community activism, block parties, street fairs, and more….all within walking distance,” Derek Schmidt wrote in a comment on Facebook. “We live here for the same reason anyone does in a vibrant city: to live deeply.”

And not every search for local housing ends in frustration and failure. Some Bay Area residents posted comments on Facebook describing how they successfully found apartments in the area. They also offered tips for those still in the hunt for a place to live.

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Category: Real Estate, San Francisco

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  • Whatever

    Tricky headline and no real answer in your content…

    • http://www.kqednews.org/ Ian Hill, KQED News

      A fair point. We updated the headline.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vijayrajendran Vijay Rajendran

    Your interesting headline got me to click on an article that didn’t bare any relevance. Headline should read “SF Pricey.. Good Luck Out There”

  • Ryan Bethencourt

    I found my answer, I moved to Oakland (Adam’s point) and love it! My suggestion for those struggling to find a decent/affordable place in SF is to look at Oakland, there are some great neighborhoods worth looking at that you’ll love and many have easy access to public transport:
    - Jack London (Great loft lifestyle by the Marina)
    - Uptown (North of 17th street in Oakland and close to Bart, lots of bars, restaurants and galleries)
    - Lake Merrit/Adam’s point (close to whole foods, walking distance to downtown, BART, weekend farmers market and great for runners who want to run the lake)
    - Rockridge (very upscale, easy walkable BART access and safe)
    - Lakeshore (Great walkable neighbourhood, trader joes and easy bus access to SF)
    - Temescal (BART, funky, edgy and super hipster)

    • km2012

      Super hipster…how can I resist?

  • FoolioD

    This is moronic , and being driven by people who have a neurotic obsession with living in san Francisco. after living in SF for 4 years, My wife and I just bought a place in Oakland 1 block from bart and our 2bd mortgage is same as as a 1bd in SF. We still have theaters, awesome food spots, and toms of art galleries out here. Not to mentio n we still make it to happy hours in Sam Francisco earlier than any of our SF friends do

  • cnm

    Many of these commentators brag about their low rents. I also pay less than $2000 for a 2 bedroom 2 bath in the Castro, but I moved in nearly 4 years ago! Things have changed drastically in the last year.

  • Doint

    People need to stop comparing NYC rent prices with SF. Here’s the thing: Sure Manhattan rents are pricey but the proximity to other boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens is MUCH closer than Oakland or the Peninsula to SF (Astoria, Queens is still one of the more affordable areas in NYC and only 15 minutes to Midtown).

    Combine this with the exorbitant cost of BART once you leave the City versus the MTA monthly pass — $100 and you can go anywhere in the metropolitan area (Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, etc.) Within those places you’ll find a lot of affordable places, sure they’re not in the hippest areas but culturally rich nonetheless.