House Hunters: Bay Area

We’re trying to move. It’s taking over our minds. Trying to come up with the ridiculously large deposit, trying to figure out timing – when can we give notice and when we can exactly have the money for a deposit (turns out we have a 2 week window… which is just not working for me), trying to find an apartment that’s less than what we’re paying now, but not as crappy.

When we were trying to move just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, we did drive-bys past the apartments we had thought (via craigslist) were doable. And thank god we did. We realized there was a lot of tricky camera usage and smoke and mirrors happening. The apartments were mostly right next to the free way or in housing developments miles from the outside world.

So this weekend we mapped out a route to all of the apartments we thought were keepers in Berkeley and headed across the bridge. It wasn’t all bad (ok, some of it was pretty bad), but none of it was awesome. And Kamel and I took turns moaning about how much we hate the rental market here, how much we don’t want to be faced with these choices because they suck, how hard and frustrating this is, and how the rental market is just getting worse and worse.

The good parts were that we found the neighborhoods we need to look in, the areas that would be good for us and saw some complexes that had leasing signs that we hadn’t found on craigslist. The bad parts were the neighborhoods we can’t live in (so very many), and the acceptance that we probably weren’t going to be able to give the notice to our current landlord that they demand. That means we’ll be forfeiting our deposit, but the truth is, it wasn’t going to be useful for us anyway. If we give the notice they demand we’ll be paying rent here, and then in a few weeks scrambling to pay a 1500-2500 deposit for the new apartment, and then possibly a few weeks after that paying rent at the new place. And that’s the best case scenario. The worst case is that we don’t find an apartment until days before we have to be out of our current place and then I die of stress.

We’ve had to limit our choices (even though the rent for the apartments we want are $200 less a month than what we’re paying now) because the deposit is way beyond what we could ever afford. I mean, who has that kind of money sitting around that isn’t meant to be spent elsewhere? We’re trying to build savings but we don’t have 3 grand that’s disposable. For a 1 bedroom apartment that’s $1200 a month? It makes no sense. And I want to slam my head against a wall. And I feel like everyone is is finding deals and steals, has a better and cheaper apartment than we do, in a better area. And I don’t understand how they do it. How do you do it? We cannot go through another winter with ants. And if we could trim some fat from our rent bill, that would be awesome. But I’m not sure how we’ll do it.

19 thoughts on “House Hunters: Bay Area”

  1. It took us at least 2 months to find a new place. It had to be cheaper than our current one, accept our (very) large dog, and not be in the ghetto. This was also in an area we had never lived in before, so each time we drove 1.5 hours to look, it was blindly. When we finally DID find a place and send them a $800 deposit, they told us “Just kidding! That apartment will not be available on time. Have fun being homeless for a few weeks.” Needless to say, there was a lot of swearing and forced politeness until they fixed it.

    I’m just trying to say that it sucks and it’s hard, but there is hope. And moving totally sucks, even after you find a place to live! I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you and sending good luck thoughts your way.

  2. God, we had this same issue. I’d told my roomate we were leaving. We gave notice. And THEN we started to look. Only to NOT. FIND. ANYTHING. within price range or with a deposit we could afford. When we found our current place, they said 2 magic things that got me to sign a lease then and there: “Yes, you can paint.” and “We do not require a deposit.”


    Sending ALL my good-apt-hunting vibes your way. Luck has to shine on you at some point soon, right?

  3. I can’t offer advice but I can commiserate. We moved into our current place 2 weeks before our wedding after 2 months of looking at 5-7 places/week. We’re in Boston and it was SO FRUSTRATING. I felt like such an a**hole but after a while I just had to ask for the exact dimensions of the bedrooms (7×7 feet doesn’t count) and whether the “bedrooms” had at least one window and closet. REALY!?!?! It blows. The one thing that helped in Boston re Craigslist was filtering by apt by owner only. We were originally looking at all no fee places and all of the “great” realtor places were bait and switches. The often didn’t tell us until we met them and they took us to some sh*thole in a worse neighborhood that was $300 more/month than the apts we were scheduled to see. I’m sure there are good realtors out there but in my experience, they don’t post on craigslist (at least not in Boston). Clearly, one year after moving, the frustration hasn’t died. Hang in there!

  4. Moving sucks. Trying to keep deposits sucks. And everyone has to do it sometime.

    Good house finding thoughts are with you. (Hurray for the good things though…sounds like you’re on your way to knowing where to look. That’s HUGE!)

  5. ugh, the deposits! I don’t know if you’d find this in your area or not, but we ended up not even paying a deposit on our current place. We live in a condo community and rent from a person, instead of property managers. Sometimes that’s bad when it comes to maintenance issues and whatnot, but our landlady is pretty good about that. maybe you could identify some condo communities and do a drive-by or two, to see if any of them have For Rent signs in windows..? :-/

    I hate moving! I’m sorry you have to go through all this. Good luck!

  6. Anything we can help you guys with, you can count on us.

    Also, there are pretty good neighborhoods in South West Miami!

    We’ll help you move too!

  7. Man oh man, do I feel your pain. Three years in a row we moved cross country, each time having to find an apartment in a city we’d never been to before we got there. It’s beyond stressful. And the reason we’re sticking with our shitty apartment until we can move into a house!

    Here’s hoping there’s a lot of luck and a splash of alcohol in your future!

  8. As another bay area resident I feel your pain!! I moved this spring, but I went south to the peninsula. I am in San Mateo and LOVE IT! It is more affordable, the weather is amazing, the downtown is great, there are farmers markets and it is super easy to get into the city via public transportation or driving…I didn’t think I wanted to move south, but once I looked outside of my original choices I felt like I had so many more options. Are you and Kamel dead set on that area? Could you expand your search radius a bit to open up some options?
    But for hunting, craigslist was my best friend. I obsessed over it so that I could be the first person to call on a new place each day. And wine. Drink wine. (and when you do move call Old Navy, ask what day they get shipment and then ask when you can come pick up the piles of brand new boxes they recycle)

  9. I totally second searching craigslist like it is your job. When we were looking I would seriously look on an hourly basis for things. I would also say to look at literally everything in your budget that looks remotely ok. The flat we ended up with didn’t have great pics and the square footage they listed seemed small (and I think was clearly wrong) and I LOVE it. Admittedly our budget was a bit larger than yours but this was also at the bottom end of what we were looking at.

    One other thing on the deposit is that in CA they cannot legally ask for more than 2x the rent – so if they are then don’t do it. Also – I don’t know what your situation is but if you have good credit then a deposit may be something that you can negotiate about.

    1. What happens when our window of having money to afford such a move is tiny? I check and i check but then i think “well, we can’t move right now anyway, so what’s the point?” 🙁

      1. But – you never know what will come up that might coincide with your window – so I would say it is worth it just for that alone. Also, is there any way to strike a deal with your current landlord that you could try to advertise it and rent it so he doesn’t have a gap? If so that might give you more leeway in terms of timing and also not losing your deposit. The rental market in SF is super tight right now so I imagine you could find someone without too much of a problem.

        About the two week window – assuming it is just a cash flow issue with the timing of rent payments etc. Wouldn’t you have the same window each month? And over time it would also ease as you were able to save a bit so that maybe you could do it in a couple months if the timing didn’t work out this go around?

  10. Apartment hunting is so, so bad. Are there any no-fee brokers in your area? They usually don’t show the best apartments, but sometimes there are good deals out there that they know about and that aren’t always on Craigslist.

    Also, what about subletting your current place? If you don’t want to break your lease or forfeit your security deposit maybe you can sign on for another year and then sublet it if you have to? Or maybe I didn’t quite understand your situation there, I’m not sure.

    I know the whole thing sucks, though. I feel you.

    1. We are on month to month but we HAVE TO give notice on the first of the month otherwise we don’t get our deposit back, but we can’t afford to move until at least midway through the month, leaving us two weeks to find a place since deposits are holding fees and there is no negotiating when that can be forked over. It’s really a race to the bank when it comes to landing a place. So we might just give notice mid month, or whenever – AFTER we’ve found a place and tell the guy our deposit can be our last month’s rent. It’s all a dance.

  11. Finding a place is so hard – I feel your pain. Last time I moved I kept looking at it is basically a map of the craigslist (and other websites) apartments. The selling point is that you can see where an apartment is located instantly without going back and forth from craigslist to the map tab. Good luck!

  12. I second the recommendation. What neighborhoods in the East Bay are you looking at, if you don’t mind my asking? I can keep an eye/ear out for you as well (lots of friends have had good luck in the North Berkeley area north of Cedar).

  13. ah it’s awful. We are in the same spot, just in NYC. Our lease is up December 31st but we are at wits’ end with the place we’ve been in for the past four years and are trying to get out early without being left with two rents and a brokers fee. The list of problems is so long but in the last few weeks it’s grown to include mice. I wish I had advice, instead I’m just in the same craigslist searching madness that you are in! I will wish us both luck!

  14. Ugh. Moving is so stressful. I can’t offer much advice on the financial side of things, although I will say that in my experience, it’s been much easier to work with independent landlords over the years than with management companies and big complexes.

    What I CAN offer advice on is location. I live in N. Oakland (Piedmont Ave area, which you should consider, BTW), and my boyfriend lives in Berkeley. If you need advice on whether a place is in a good area, I can totally help you out. Some general ideas: First, you’ll find that Oakland is cheaper than Berkeley, in general, and has less annoying landlords. As long as you stick to North Oakland, it’s just as nice as Berkeley, too. I’d look in Rockridge, Piedmont Ave, Temescal (though parts of Temescal are a bit ghetto — you’d want to stay as close to the 51st and Telegraph area as possible). Or maybe Adam’s Point/Lake Merritt, which is super-affordable and has some nice areas and some not-so-nice areas. If you’re willing to be a bit farther out, you could also look in Montclair, which is more up in the hills. The Dimond and Laurel districts also have some decent areas, although I don’t know much about them. In Berkeley, Elmwood is really nice (it’s where my boyfriend lives), but not cheap, and you have to be careful not to end up, like, right next to an obnoxious frat house. N. Berkeley has lots of cute in-law apartments, but is pricey and the apartments tend to be quite small. S. Berkeley (near Berkeley Bowl, in the “Golden Gate” area along San Pablo, etc) is hit or miss. It’s definitely affordable, but there are also lot of places that are pretty dumpy. That being said, one of my friends has an amazing 2-floor, 2-bedroom apartment with laundry, a garden, parking, a huge kitchen, etc there for, like, $1300/month.

    Anyway, that’s the quick preview, but if you need more detailed advice or need to ask me “Yo, is this in the ghetto?” you should totally email me. bookgeekgirl at gmail dot com

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