4 Steps to Getting an Awesome San Francisco Apartment

by Kevin


It’s pretty well known that getting a good apartment in San Francisco is a difficult task. There is plenty of information about how to choose your neighborhood, or how to find good listings. But once you find that perfect place, it is highly likely that there will be 6-10 other couples also applying for the same apartment, all of which are financially qualified. Very few of the existing apartment hunting guides give strategies to maximize the odds that you are the chosen applicants amongst many.

The Key to the Game

As we have hunted for apartments in San Francisco, I have talked to a lot of landlords, and they all said the same thing. They are looking for tenants that are a good fit. They want people who walk in wide-eyed and say, “This is the place”. All other things being equal, that attitude is going to be the deciding factor.

With this in mind, here are the 4 steps to signing the lease on that perfect place.

Step 1: Deal with Horrible Craigslist

Let me just save you some time. I tried to find other places online that do a better job of apartment listings and they simply don’t exist for renters in San Francisco. Craigslist is the place landlords post, so you’re just going to have to suck it up and use its horrible interface. It will be easiest if you bookmark the exact search page and hit F5 over and over and over again every hour or so.

The best time to look is Friday night and Saturday morning. The number of listings will triple in rate, particularly on Saturday morning.

Once you have hit F5 a million times, internalized what the market is supporting for by price range and neighborhood, and found your perfect listing, move on to step 2.

Step 2: Show Up Late to the Open House

It seems quite rare that a landlord uses the time you show up to decide who gets the place. But most people show up exactly at the opening time of the open house anyway. This creates an awkward situation where 5 couples walk around, whisper quiet observations to each other, and pretend the other people don’t exist. A few people will surround the landlord to quickly try to become their best friend. It’s a weird scene. It’s a lame passive aggressive competition, which is forced and no fun. Showing up early makes you a face in the crowd, and it makes it difficult for the landlord to remember you.

Instead, show up late. You’ll get one on one time with the landlord where you can leave a more lasting impression.

Once you have found your perfect place, shown up late, and gotten the landlords undivided attention, it’s time to move on to step 3 of the plan.

Step 3: Impart an Impression of Extreme Excitement

Landlords want tenants that get excited about the place and the neighborhood. So you should memorize and repeat these words.

“Oh my god. This place is awesome!”

Rehearse them if you must. But you should say it no matter what, because the goal is to get the apartment first, even if you don’t like it. You can always say no later.

Try to dress so you look like you blend into the neighborhood. Don’t wear a suit to see an apartment in the Mission. Tuck those dreads away if you are looking in SOMA. When we found our apartment in the Mission, the landlord told us that we looked like we had gone hiking before coming to the open house. I think our dirty appearance definitely worked to our advantage for the Mission.

Walk around and gush about the place. If you see something that is an obvious shortcoming, make a mental note and keep it to yourself. Pointing out things like, “No dishwasher? That sucks.” Will only make the landlord think you’re not that excited.

If the landlord asks you questions that may go against you, just bend the truth a bit. One landlord asked Geraldine if she plays any instruments. “uhhhh…..nope!”

20-Aug-2011 22:45, NIKON CORPORATION NIKON D700, 4.0, 28.0mm, 0.006 sec, ISO 640



After sufficiently showing your enthusiasm, it’s time to move on to the final step of the plan.

Step 4: Close the Deal

You don’t want to walk out the door without making it abundantly clear that you will do anything for this apartment. You need to close the deal. Make eye contact and use one of these lines.

“We’ve looked at a lot of places, and this is the first place I really think I can make home”. (Editors Note: Soooooo lame. But it worked)

“What can we do to put ourselves the front of the list? How can we make sure we get this? We’ll name our first child after you!” (Editor’s Note: Our first-born son is now named Kahn.)

After that, you’re at the mercy of a landlord’s 15 minute reading of your personality and potential to pay rent on time without destroying the place. When done well, it can have some surprising outcomes. We had a landlord call us back and offer to lower the rent if we would take their place because they didn’t like any of the other applicants.

If you get rejected, don’t take it personally. Landlords’ impressions of you after such a short time can be way off. We lost out on a place because one landlord thought the neighbors’ parties would be “grating” on us. Ohhhh, the irony. If only she knew.

In all cases, just keep hustling. You will get a spot, and you will master your apartment hunting technique eventually. But these 4 steps should get you started.