- Download our Moving to San Francisco Guide (PDF)
As a city surrounded by water on three sides, San Francisco’s real estate is limited by the same geography that makes it such an appealing destination.
Finding a house or apartment in San Francisco is one of the biggest hurdles new arrivals face when moving to the city. With the rise of Silicon Valley and the influx of techies from all over the world, the cost of accommodation has become eye-watering.
That said, there are many accommodation options in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, where newcomers can opt for an apartment or house within a short distance of the thriving metropolis itself and get to work via an easy commute.
Types of accommodation in San Francisco
The constricted and compact nature of the city has given rise to apartment buildings and divided houses rather than free-standing houses. Detached houses are difficult to find and extremely expensive, although apartments can also be very pricey.
Most expats in San Francisco prefer renting rather than buying property. Nevertheless, buying may be a good option for those planning on settling down in the city, since mortgage payments are sometimes less than the equivalent spent on monthly rent.
Factors to consider when house-hunting in San Francisco
Rents in San Francisco vary considerably between neighbourhoods. Expats on a tight budget should avoid affluent parts of the city such as Russian Hill and instead look for more affordable housing in areas such as Inner Sunset and Chinatown.
Other factors to consider when choosing where to search for a home in San Francisco include access to public transport and road links, distance from schools and work, facilities available in the area, and safety.
Finding accommodation in San Francisco
After deciding on a suitable neighbourhood, the best place to begin a search is online. Forums, social networks, property websites and community messaging groups are all popular ways of finding accommodation. Local newspapers can also be a good source for apartment listings.
Of course, house hunters can also drive or walk around an appealing neighbourhood looking for 'For Rent' signs, or approach an estate agent who would be able to give them the lowdown on a particular neighbourhood and shop around for the right specs. They do charge, often substantial, fees though.
Renting accommodation in San Francisco
Newcomers to San Fran should act fast once they find a suitable apartment. Since the rental market in the city is so competitive, apartments are often snapped up shortly after being advertised.
Application and lease
It's vital to put in an application as quickly as possible for the best chance of getting the apartment. It's best to always be prepared with proof of a positive credit history as well as funds for the rental deposit. Having these elements pre-organised can speed up the process, meaning the lease can be signed as soon as possible. The typical length of a lease is 12 months.
The deposit is usually the equivalent of one or two months' rent. In addition to this, tenants will need to pay the first month's rent upfront.
Utilities in San Francisco
Unless otherwise stated, expats should assume that utilities aren't included in rental cost. Generally, utilities are an extra expense on top of rent. It is important that expats make allowance for this in their budget.
►Get an overview of the city's neighbourhoods in Areas and Suburbs of San Francisco
"Since the market is so tight, any available space is put out for lease or rent. That means there are some pretty dodgy places out there. A lot of them don't have kitchens or owners specify 'light cooking' which means using a microwave or an electric burner. Expect apartments to be tiny. The housing stock is older than Sydney's so they're a little more run down as well. Here they call granny flats 'in-laws' and they can either be attached to the main house or sometimes (very rarely) they are detached. Otherwise it's apartments or house shares."
Read more about Aussie expat Katherine's experiences in San Francisco.
Are you an expat living in San Francisco?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to San Francisco. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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