The Hunt

The apartment scramble is in full swing. It’s more like an apartment dance. The dance has 4 parts: The search, the find, the bone crushing disappointment followed by rage and frustration. Sometimes this becomes despair until the dance starts all over again. It is… awesome. Doesn’t that sound awesome?

I thought I would share our little hell journey with you. Up first was a “house” that was listed for 1950/month. A little two bedroom thing with a cute fenced-in front yard. I called on it the second I saw it – I knew that a bunch of people would be clamoring for the application. The only viewing time available was at 7:45 pm. So once dinner was done we packed up the car and away we went to see this “house.” I planned to carry baby around as a cute-shield. No one can resist baby, so we were guaranteed to pass the first round, right? Well… things were not quite as they seemed.

Cute little house in the front:

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Whole slew of hidden apartments in the back:

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This we could live with. The price was right (can you even imagine that I’m saying this? A little house for almost 2000 and we were jumping all over it.), and if it seemed contained, we were ok with the apartments in the back. And upon first glance the inside was cute.

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The kitchen was really cute, but the bedrooms were very, very small. And the little house had less storage than our 1 bedroom apartment. Even these things I could shrug off.

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But the windows were weak, and the edges covered in mold. And the hardwoods had mold spots from water damage on them.

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And we have seen these things before and didn’t recognize them and then suffered the consequences. And with the baby rolling around on the floor soon, we didn’t even submit an application. We had to say no. No “house” for us. Strike 1.

Next up we found an apartment on the top floor in a little town we would love to live in. It is located on a eucalyptus lined street and boasted larger-than-average-rooms. It was 2150/month. And I can’t believe we are even considering spending so much. Truly… it is insanity. Again, we did the apartment hunt dance. We had high hopes and then…. and then…

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To get to this breezeway we had to walk up 3 flights of very narrow stairs in a very dark hallway. You can’t tell in this photos but the walkway there actually tilted outward. It sloped terribly and made me want to hug the wall. I the idea of lugging stroller and carseat and baby up and down and up and down almost made this an instantaneous no, but we went in anyway.

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Everything was dirty and small. The carpet hadn’t been replaced or cleaned, the ceiling was popcorn style and threatened asbestos. Nothing had been updated since maybe the 70s? Nothing. The bathroom sink was worn down from water dripping from the tap. The closet doors in the bedroom were covered in weird vinyl that was peeling off. The baseboard heaters were begging to be fiddled with by baby hands. And the kitchen was smaller than the one we have now. For two THOUSAND one hundred and fifty dollars.

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It may not translate quite right in the photos, but while wandering around the apartment hoping that things would be better, I whispered to the baby, “this is what they call a shit hole, sweety.” We left without talking to the grumpy lady landlord.

Up next… round 3. And the best round so far, to the point where I may regret not jumping on it… anyway, this is the story of what we have done and I can’t change it. The third apartment we looked at was 1950/month and located about a block from the freeway. Sigh. It was located in a building similar to where we are now, a boxy thing from the 1940s. Except these units had not been so well maintained and their windows were old, cracked, single pained, and covered in spiders.

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And another steep set of stairs.

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The apartment was clean and smelled lovely. The eat-in kitchen was small, but had a lot of room to move around and more counter space than I have now. Plus the little linoleum spot where a table could go would be perfect for what we have and I could see a high-chair sitting the corner, Gabe’s chubby face covered in pureed peas.

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But the windows were single-paned again. And I knew that in the winters when it would for sure be window and raining and cold they would rattle and cause drafts and I would hate them. And the location, was it worth almost 2,000 dollars? By the freeway? I just… can’t. I can’t have something that is less than what I already have but costs 100s more just for 1 extra bedroom. I can’t do it.

And then yesterday we took a risk. When I fall in love with an apartment I can’t contain myself. I have no poker face. And I was afraid I would fall in love with this one because it was 2200/month and had promises of a washer and dryer in unit! IN UNIT! Kamel and I were nervous it would suck and be another let down, but equally nervous we would love it and then be absolutely unable to afford anything else in our lives. Are we really paying this much in rent? Really and truly? This is what we’re doing now? I hate it. But… here we are. The apartment was in a condo community that reminded of photos I’d seen of Greece. The buildings were white washed with blue accents. And there were well manicured gardens between each building. I kept mumbling, “I like this. I really am liking this, Kamel.” But… as the apartment hunting dance goes…

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This 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom, washer and dryer included apartment was …. gross! The bathrooms were yuck. And the apartment was oddly laid out. This was the master bedroom:

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Nothing was clean and everything was mismatched. The bathroom cabinets had been updated but the showers were cheap and covered in soap scum. There were spiderwebs and debris all over the windows and the balcony was filthy. Let alone… I would never ever ever let my kid go out there.

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Nothing made any sense. I got lost just walking around it. The kitchen was oddly placed, the washer and dryer were in a weird breeze way with random storage and there were mirrored walls everywhere.

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For 2200/month it would have to wow me, and instead I was disappointed, frustrated, amazed at the ridiculous expense.

Making this post I am self-conscious that the photos look so much better than the apartments were in real life. You’re going to think I’m crazy for saying no to these. I worry about people rolling their eyes and telling me I’m being picky like those fuckers on House Hunters. But… yeah, I guess I am being picky. That is a lot of money! And for what? For moldy floors, shitty windows, and a nook of a kitchen? It sucks. We have to tell our current landlords whether or not we are for sure leaving by July 20th. And … I dunno. Kamel keeps saying, “We NEED a two bedroom. We cannot sleep in the same room as the baby forever! We need it, this has to happen!” But our place now is clean, with double pained windows, excellent water pressure, a car port, and I can walk to Trader Joes. He’s right of course… a 1 bedroom is not sustainable. In another year we’ll be in the same boat if we stay. Except I’ll have an 18 month old. Housing should not be this complicated. If we move farther away from our jobs the price of commuting will make up the difference we save in rent, and it will take me even longer to get home to my baby. I would love to be able to move to a different city where housing isn’t this horrific, but we can’t just live anywhere because Kamel’s career is involved in a handful of specific companies.

It’s a mess. This whole thing is a mess. And in the end we are all just bleeding money and cursing single-paned windows. The hunt continues.

41 thoughts on “The Hunt”

  1. Omg. That second apartment? OVER TWO THOUSAND?? Don’t worry, you can TOTALLY tell from the pictures what a shithole it is. I mean, it looks dirty in the photos. That is gross. How can they justify that price??

    Sigh. Apartment hunting sucks. I hope it gets better from here on out…oh, and side note: I dream of a day when we have double-paned windows. Single-pane suck.

  2. $2k for an apartment blows my mind (never lived in a really big city), so I’m definitely not judging you for nixing those place! Living in a place that feels CLEAN and bright and not scuzzy is hugely important to me. More than location, really. I hope you guys can find something that makes you feel happy and doesn’t give you a horrendous commute.

  3. Holy guacamole I am so empathetic about your apartment hunt troubles. I have done this dance many times and it suuuuuucks. (I have lived in 7 different apartments in the past 11 years.) I don’t think you’re being unreasonable at all! Every time the Chicago rental market makes me weep, I just think about NYC and the Bay Area.

  4. if you don’t mind me asking, how much of your family’s monthly budget do you spend on rent? it’s crazy how much rent is! I dream about moving to LA and living with my friend and spending literally 1/2 what I do now on rent.

      1. holy crap! being in our 20s is hard. when will we have our loans etc. paid off and be financially secure?! Sigh. I believe in you!

        1. I was thinking about that yesterday and I realized: we are almost 30 – Kamel IS 30… and I feel like we have better jobs than when I was 25, we are better educated, we are smarter about the world and I no longer live with room mates and worry about someone eating my peanut butter…. but I’m really just as poor, struggling just as hard, scrambling just as much. When does this get better?

          1. I have to believe that every year things get a little bit easier and a little bit less shitty… just having the experience of scrambling around for money and being stressed about that is a learning experience…right? Every year we know more and get better at managing our lives.

            I’m glad that the economy tanked when we were at the beginning of our careers–can you imagine if you were about to retire and your 401k lost half of its value?? And now for the rest of our lives, we’ll all be really cautious and smart about our finances.

          2. The money situation is a constant worry of mine. I am what I now refer to as “financially stable” and have been for the last four years or so (during which time my husband and I got married and combined finances entirely, so that helped. Um, also we left New York. Which REALLY helped). But from the time I was 17 until about 27 I was poor. Can’t Pay My Rent On Time Poor. They Shut Off My Cell Phone Because My Bill Isn’t Paid Poor. Choosing Between a Single Ride Metro Card or a Slice of Pizza For My Only Meal Because $2.00 is All The Money I Have To My Name Until Next Paycheck Poor.

            I worked as many as five jobs at a time to keep afloat, and at one point in time worked for four straight months without a single day off.

            Even though I have a career now, I am constantly scared about returning to that level of poverty. I don’t believe our student loans will ever, ever be paid off. I feel faint when I start to look at daycare pricing in our area (while at the same time knowing that we can’t afford to be a single income household, so one of us staying home is not an option).

            My parents had a house and two kids when they were in their early twenties! But they also had no debt. Zero. Largely because they never went to college. Sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever be able to afford a house at all…

  5. Wow for those prices, I can’t believe the shitholes that you are finding! I mean, the Boston area housing market is bad (similar prices), but at least the selection of apartments in that price range is more decent. Unbelievable what you have to deal with. I really hope you find something awesome (a hidden gem?) soon.

  6. Although the cost of living is far more manageable here n Minnesota, I’m still haunted by years of apartment hunting in NYC. I spent so much money for absolute SHITHOLES and it was so, so stressful and depressing.

    I’m a Cancer and am very much the poster-child for my sign (yup. I am totally bringing up the zodiac in conversation). Having a secure and comfortable home is SO vital to my personal stability and happiness. We just finished a round of apartment hunting ourselves, after deciding that we just couldn’t afford–financially and mentally–to buy a house and have a baby at the same time. Finding a place that was affordable while still making sure that it meets our standards (which are by no means extravagant) was so exhausting.

    I hope you find a good housing solution for your family soon.

  7. Oh my goodness, I am so sorry! What a frustrating process. 🙁 I hope you guys find something amaaazing soon, for less than $2K. <3

  8. Every time someone asks me why Jeff and I didn’t go back to SF I say, “Because we couldn’t afford to live there.” I should probably just start sending them to this post.

    Fingers crossed for you! It is hell, for sure.

  9. oh my gracious! i just sent a million internet hugs your way!! your apartment hunt sounds unbelievably awful. best wishes as y’all continue your search!

  10. Wow. My heart goes out to you, girl! Your pics do it justice. Also? It’s one thing to have a clean, but little bit dated place. And another to have dated and dirty. ESPECIALLY for the dollars you guys are shelling out. Lordy. Sending you good vibes.

  11. Oh lady, I’m so with you on this. DC is just as bad. Our last place was tiny with old appliances, chipped counters and floors etc. For the proximity to things (and the w/d in unit) we were ok with paying $1800 … but then they tried to up it to $2100. Um, no. Even though we could afford it, it was not worth that much money. Period.

    We pay $2200 now or our 1 bed. Which hurts my soul, but considering our location in the city, it’s actually a pretty good deal. Which hurts my soul even more.

    1. where do you live? I live at grosvenor in a new building (worth it!) and pay $1775 a month. It’s fine being so out of the way because i’m basically a hermit now, but i’ve found that anywhere in DC proper is CRAZY expensive.

  12. Geez some of those places really were quite shitty. Maybe you and Kamel should wait until the winter months to look? Is there ANY way possible to negotiate a month to month? Typically summer months are when everyone is looking and it becomes that much harder to find a place. That’s the only nugget of advice I can offer.

    Unfortunately the housing market in the bay area isn’t going to get better anytime soon. I read an article recently that said it would take about 5 years to stabilize (but that’s being *very* optimistic). And what is barely affordable now may be completely out of range within a year. I know folks at tech companies with high paying jobs who fork over the 3-5k rent to live in decent areas that are close enough to their jobs—and it’s outrageous and excruciating painful for them. The middle class is starting to suffer. Its really unfair. (time to get off the soap box before I go on and on)

    This is not meant to scare you into settling for a shitty place at all. I’m confident you guys will find something soon. Keep looking and as soon as you find a place you like put Gabe front and center. His cuteness is your edge to land the apartment. 🙂

    1. It would make my life so much easier if we could go month to month. But if we do that the rate is almost double! They change the rent depending on the lease. The shorter the lease the more expensive the rent. :/ If we weren’t renting with a big company things would be more flexible.

      I feel like everyone finds that 1 amazing deal except us. But we are still chugging along and pushing through. What other option do we have? Aside from moving to a different city…

  13. Also, is the number 8 in the first photo of round three for real taped to the wall? Like it fell off at some point and they just…slapped some electrical tape on it instead of bothering to actually screw it in or whatever?

  14. De-lurking to say this… While it may be a tight squeeze, you could probably make a one bedroom work for another year. If you don’t hate your current apartment, and if it would give you a little breathing space financially, it might be worth it.

    1. Sadly, it wouldn’t save us much. They are raising our rent by almost $200 to $1890ish for our one bedroom apt. Plus our utilities also went up to about 120 a month. So all in, it’s the same as paying 2kish for a 2 bed.

      They pretty much priced us out. 🙁

  15. (I followed you from your APW intern time, so yeah, I’m a stalker).
    I just did this dance, but alone with the lurking possibility of moving in with my SO in less than a year, so I needed close to work and possibly 2 people’s worth of space, or a flexible lease if I move out instead. craigslist to the rescue, but seriously by the skin of my teeth. The prices in the Bay Area are insane!
    I know you might not want to hear it, but I’d say stay. You have a nice enough space that you like and that meets your needs. Can you go 6-months or month-to-month while you look? If not, it might be worth staying anyway.

    Seriously, mold? Shit holes indeed. Good luck!

    1. all lovable internet stalk-age is welcome and encouraged. 🙂 As far as staying – I’m open to it… but we shall see. If we can move into a two bedroom that is in our price range and that isn’t a shit hole that would be ideal… we have until the 20th to figure it out.

  16. I followed you here ages ago from APW. As an internet stalker, I know that you’re in San Fran, with you being an author and your husband a video-game-maker/photographer. I live in Pittsburgh. I’m an event planner and my husband works for Apple as a software developer. I have a local friend who is also an author, as well as a social-media guru, and she and her husband (also an Apple developer) and two children do not at all struggle to live here. (FWIW, she would modestly complain about the “guru” label.) I have no clue as to your willingness to relocate. However, I currently own a rental property. It’s a 3BR, 1 bathroom, single-car attached garage, fenced-in backyard property, for $800/month. My husband and I have a monthly $1800 mortgage for the following house: 4BR (with main-floor office, not counted as one of our bedrooms), 3.5 bathroom, 2-car attached garage, fenced-in backyard, 3-season porch. Given your current location, finding an acceptable apartment will be a pain in the ass. Having lived in a shit-hole in NYC, I totally get that and sympathize. And if you’re set on staying in your area, I also totally get it. But if you’re willing to branch WAY (almost-trans-coastal) out, there are other options.

    1. I also live in Pittsburgh! I moved from Chicago 8 months ago and we were like, “whoah!” at the rent prices. But yours sounds great even by Pittsburgh standards! I’m not yet to the point of telling family and friends they should move here, but having been here a little bit, I can totally see the appeal and why people stay.

  17. I wanted to jump in on the money/rent/life position thread earlier but it was glitchy. SO! Pictures ALWAYS look better than the real thing :-/. I always get my hopes up on craigslist only to have them dashed when I go see the place. (SN: Kamel, I totally agree with your tweet about craigslist. It used to be this awesome place where individuals who owned houses and apartments would post and now, in Austin anyway, its all huge companies w ridiculously priced places or scams). Spending a fourth of your income on housing is hard to swallow, especially when its only RENTING!! grrr. As far as money goes, B and I are both finally in two really lucrative grownup jobs buuuuuut we are living a plane ride away from eachother. Im so excited to move to Austin after the wedding but Im terrified to quit my first grown up (benefits, paid time off, etc) and move with no guaruntee of finding this jobs equal. I am sending you hugs and good dwelling-finding wishes!!!!!

  18. God, how terrible. This is why literally ALL my friends who are still in the Bay Area have lived with their parents for significant periods of time, or continue to live with them into their 30s, despite being educated, hard-working people. I just arrived back here from Mexico, and I’m looking for a job, which is profoundly discouraging in and of itself…yesterday I made the mistake of looking at apartment listings on Craigslist (with the faint hope that once my husband has his visa and gets here, we can have our own place…)–but WHOA…rent has nothing to do with what I could reasonably expect to make at any of the jobs I’ve applied for or interviewed for or looked at. So scary. Living with your parents: it’s the new living on your own! Sigh. Good luck to you guys and darling baby Gabe.

  19. I’m sorry you have to deal with this! We moved out of San Francisco last year, and are now realizing how much our rent payment sucked. We paid $1800 (plus $200 for parking) for a 550 sq. ft. loft (yes, one room) in SOMA. It was great while we were there (aside from the whole “one room” part of it), but now we’re having a kid and no way would that work. Plus, when we moved out the landlord raised the rent to $2600 a month – for a one room loft! Crazy. SF and the Bay Area is really the worst for apartments, especially now. I totally feel for you guys. Here’s hoping you find a reasonable non-shithole soon!

  20. Prices of rentals aside – you should never settle on a shit hole apartment. Besides work, you’re going to spend the majority of your time at home, and you should be able to have that be a place where you feel comfortable, safe and clean. When my husband and I were looking for a new place to live in the city I work in, I saw quite a few horrendous homes. I’m talking mold, windows that looked like they were about to fall right out of the house, and one had a shower that was so small neither of us would have been able to stand up in it. And you know what? I reserve the right to be picky with the place I live, and the money I spend on it. We lucked out finding the place where we ended up moving, but if we hadn’t, we would have stayed where we were.

    I don’t care if you were only spending 10% of your income on a place to live, you should still be happy to come home to it every day. There is nothing worse then living somewhere and hating it. It makes days that much harder, and now that you have little Gabe to worry about, I can understand how the decision is a much bigger deal when you have to take his safety into consideration.

    I am sending you good home hunting vibes. I hope that gem does come along and you can jump on it and be happy with how it all turns out. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for all three of you!

  21. We’re in NoMA, a block from the red line … just on the east edge of “downtown”. We definitely understand that we’re paying for convenience.

  22. De-lurking to give you hope…my husband and I recently went through this in around the same areas you may be looking I think (better parts of Oakland, Alameda, Berkeley) in around the same budget and while we saw some POS places and there were always a ton of applicants at the showings for good places we did find a few 2 bedrooms that seemed nice, were well maintained, and had non coin washer dryer (a must in my book with a baby) and hopefully a dishwasher, and good windows. We ended up finding a cute place in Alameda with all of the above for $2,200. It’s crazy expensive I know but the market will probably be worse in a year. We move in two weeks! Keep looking, you can do it!

  23. Ugh. Sorry you’re having to go through this again. We just moved away from the Bay Area and are now paying a THIRD of our old rent for a mortgage on a huge, old farmhouse in Maine. I am so relieved to not have to deal with the Bay Area housing market anymore!

    For whatever it’s worth, I think there are gems out there in the Bay Area housing market, but it does take some time to find them. In the 7 years I lived there (2006-2013), I paid $1275 for a gorgeous 1br converted carriage house loft on a ranch in Petaluma, $950 for a 2br flat in Petaluma, $1150 for a 1br flat in a 1906 Victorian in Oakland, and most recently $1630 for a 2br Edwardian flat in Oakland with a garage and huge yard. In my experience, I’ve always found better deals with individual landlords vs. big complexes and companies. (Also, a lot more flexibility, generally.) I also found that if you could move in the late fall or winter, the prices tend to be a lot better and there’s way less competition. All of my great deals were found in November through February. Maybe it’s worth sucking it up and paying a little more in order to sign a 6-month lease and be looking for a new place at a different time of year? Can’t remember exactly where you guys are at / need to be, but Oakland still has some decent deals, as do Alameda, Albany, and El Cerrito. Another tip: I tend to ignore ads without pictures, but sometimes those ones are hidden gems that just have landlords who aren’t very tech savvy. (A friend recently found a 1br right next to Lake Merritt for 1050 a month using that trick.)

  24. Thought you might be interested: there’s an article in the Wall Street Journal today about how Bay Area rents have doubled. Crazy. Good luck on your hunt.

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