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Apartment Living , Moving Tips

Apartment Hunting Checklist for San Francisco


One of the most romantic and historic cities in the United States, San Francisco, California, has lured optimistic people to its shores since the Gold Rush of 1849. These days, people come to the city more for job opportunities, weather, and progressive culture, but the appeal is the same. The Bay Area is an amazing place to visit. It's an even better place to live. If you're making a move to San Francisco, or if you're already a renter with a San Francisco apartment, but you're looking for new a new place to call home, we have a comprehensive apartment-hunting checklist for anyone entering the rental market.

But wait. Why do you even need a checklist?

For hot real estate markets like San Francisco or New York City, getting the apartment you want is as much about preparation as it is about hustle, luck, and good timing. Without the right information and documentation on-hand, odds are you'll miss out on that perfect one-bedroom in North Beach to someone else.

Pre-checklist Preparation

As you get ready to present the necessary information to rent a San Francisco apartment, you'll need to start by getting two things straight. First, set your budget and stick to it. Unless you've been living on a desert island for the last four decades, you already know that San Francisco is one of the most expensive places in the United States to live. However, it is also a high-paying city known for job opportunities in the always-growing technology industry. Recent market changes have made this an ideal time to find the San Francisco apartment of your dreams.

However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't set a rental budget and set your mind to stick to it. Few things are as stressful as moving to a new city and fretting over your bills month after month. Before you even set foot inside that one-bedroom apartment with views of the Golden Gate Bridge, decide on a number you won't go above. Whether your budget is a $1,500 per month apartment or a $6,000 per month apartment, commit to only considering spaces you can afford in your apartment search.

Secondly, be open-minded about which neighborhood you want to live in. San Francisco has a lot of iconic neighborhoods where many new-timers and old-timers alike would love to rent. While you may have your heart set on Haight-Ashbury, Nob Hill, or Pacific Heights, open your mind about other possibilities. Like most places across the US, the Bay Area is rapidly changing. The possibilities are endless when it comes to neighborhoods to choose from, so make sure also to consider suburbs like Walnut Creek, Oakland, and San Jose. They might not have that San Francisco vibe, but they have other charms that make them good options for some renters.

The Checklist

Proof of Income

Income verification is a must for any apartment in San Francisco that isn't owned by someone you're related to. Options to prove you have a job and can afford the monthly rent include pay stubs, W-2 income statement, tax returns, bank statements (be sure to blur or black out any account information) receipt of retirement, or investment income. If you freelance or work for yourself, gather up invoices and your client list. For people moving to the city for the first time to accept a job, be sure to have the offer letter with your salary information on it.

Photo ID

You need to prove you are who you say you are. Bring your driver's license or passport with you every time you look at an apartment. If the landlord likes you and you like the place, you'll want to seal the deal in real-time, and you'll need government-issued proof you're the one signing the lease.

Credit Report and Score

It’s not enough that you provided income verification. Many apartment communities will run a credit report for you for a fee, or some places may allow you to send a recent credit report. If you know your credit score is below average and your move isn't happening for six months to a year, spend the effort and money to improve it. It will bolster your chances of landing an apartment.

Renters Insurance

A good renters insurance policy is important and required by nearly every apartment community. It protects not only you and your possessions but also your guests in the unlikely event of an accident, fire, or other unplanned emergency. Most apartments set the minimum amount of coverage you must have in order to move-in, but you can always purchase extra coverage to protect highly valuable items. Policies generally cost between $12-$15 per month, based on the coverage you’ve chosen and the location of your apartment. Our guide to renters insurance is a helpful tool for learning more about this very important component of your apartment search. 

Letters of Recommendation

Just like getting into college, getting into a San Francisco Bay Area apartment requires that other people vouch for you. You need to prove you're going to be a good tenant. The most coveted and valuable letter of recommendation for you to bring on your apartment search is a letter of recommendation from your current landlord. If that's not an option, get a letter of recommendation from someone you've rented from in the past. Beyond that, a letter from an employer or the director of a non-profit where you volunteer will do nicely.

Pet Resume

First of all, if you have a pet, only look at apartments that are pet-friendly. Secondly, yes—a pet resume is a real thing. Even in pet-friendly apartments, the landlord is going to want a pet that's as well-behaved as you are. Drafting a pet resume to highlight your furry friend’s excellent qualities will show the landlord that you take the role of pet owner seriously. For tips on how to write a pet resume, check out this guide from Curbed. Essex communities are the perfect fit for pet owners, as nearly every property is pet-friendly, and while we don’t require pet resumes, our teams are eager to get to know you and your four-legged friends.

Cover Letter

This can be considered optional, because if you make a great impression in person and have all the other documentation required, a cover letter isn't going to matter much. Though not required, you can give yourself a boost to help you stand out to potential landlords. Draft a cover letter highlighting your best tenant qualities, like how much you like quiet and cleaning and keeping to yourself.

There are a few other things to look into when searching for that perfect new home. With more people working from home than ever before, you don’t want to get caught without a proper connection. Ensure that there is good cell phone signal in the apartment and inquire about internet speeds as well. Another item to double check is available parking, if applicable. Finding an apartment in San Francisco is a challenge no matter what your budget or where you want to live. But if you make sure you’re prepared and gather all the materials on this checklist, you'll find yourself happily housed in no time.

Find Your Essex Apartment

Our apartment communities span from San Diego to the Pacific Northwest in some of the most sought-after locations on the West Coast. Whether you're looking for life in Los Angeles, settling down in San Jose, or relaxing in Oakland, we can help. Choose from bustling city life, quiet comfort in the suburbs, sun and sand at the beach or outdoor adventures and a wide variety of on-site amenities and floor plans that span from studios to two-bedroom apartments to townhomes. Whatever your style and budget, we have a community that’s right for you.

Explore our nearly 250 apartments, such as 500 Folsom and Park West in San Francisco, and learn more about current leasing or move-in specials.