San Mateo, California Read Guide >
May as well get the bad news out of the way early! If money “talks” in most cities, it absolutely screams at the top of its lungs in San Mateo, where the cost of living index (which includes factors like tax rates, cost of consumer goods, and utilities) is roughly 70 points above the national average. The typical San Mateo apartment (1BR, basic amenities, 800-ish square feet) is likely to cost you $1500 a month minimum, and even studios are tough to find for under $1200.
Sorry, Left Coast leasers, but it’s true. Apartments are generally available in some capacity, but unlike much of the country, San Mateo isn’t experience a massive housing surplus at the moment (less than 2.5 percent of residential buildings are currently vacant). Because the supply and demand for rentals is about even, landlords very rarely offer dynamite move-in specials or other bargain-bin incentives to attract new leasers. On the bright side, it’s not like it’s impossible (or even all that difficult) to find available apartments, lofts, or even condos in San Mateo; it’s just pretty much impossible if you’re not willing to cough up some serious greenbacks (which should come as no surprise to longtime Bay Area dwellers anyway).
Property managers probably won’t admit it, but the greatest amenity of most San Mateo apartments is the city itself. True, there are some quality digs in the city, and more than a few feature snazzy amenities like balconies, vaulted ceilings, scenic city views, and live-in maids (not really on that last one; just checking to see if you’re still with us). However, you should know that, as a San Mateo renter, you’ll be paying more for what lies outside your walls than what lies within them.
Not only is San Mateo home to a wide range of residents (more than 30 percent of the population is foreign-born), but the city also boasts a number of diverse and distinct neighborhoods. San Mateo Park is perhaps the most affluent and attractive part of the city, but it’s dominated by single-family houses. A few apartments can be found in the area, but they’re typically among the city’s most expensive, so plan on digging deep into your pocketbooks if you’re targeting San Mateo Park. The downtown area puts renters in the hub of the city’s shopping and cultural destinations and is also located close to the BART and Caltrain stations that haul commuters expediently to both San Francisco and Palo Alto (where many San Mateo professionals work). San Mateo Hills showcases a mixture of freestanding houses, apartments, townhouses, and high rises and is a popular living locale for middle-income residents. Hillsdale on the southern edge is a quiet, suburban stomping ground that features multiple high rise apartments in the $1500 range, while other popular ‘hoods for renters include Hayward Park, Baywood, and Sugarloaf. Generally speaking, the more modern units are situated west of El Camino Real, while East San Mateo apartments are generally a bit older (and, in some cases, beginning to show their warts). The supply of east side rentals outweighs the demand, but be careful that you’re actually getting what you pay for, because the price tags on many of these apartments don’t quite gel with the amenities offered.
Because very few San Mateo residents work in the city itself, it’s important for the workforce to have easy access to the surrounding communities, which the BART and Caltrain rail services provide. The SamTrans fleet of city buses do an adequate job servicing the city itself, so it’s quite possible (especially if you live in the walker-friendly downtown or near a BART or Caltrain station) to survive in the city without a car. Traffic, unfortunately, can get ugly on the El Camino Real getting in and out of the city (especially during rush hour), so do yourself and your blood pressure a favor and hop aboard one of the rail lines for your daily commute if at all possible.
San Mateo is custom-geared towards married couples, families with children, and other “settled” adults. Family-friendly attractions include a vibrant downtown shopping district, an arboretum, Japanese tea garden, performing arts center, numerous scenic hiking and biking trails, and a pair of beachside parks. Night owls, au contraire, might not be too impressed with the city’s modest after-hours scene, but then again, if you can’t find anything to do at night while living on San Francisco’s doorstep, we’re sorry to say that you must be a wee bit loco.
When an attractive apartment at a decent price becomes available, it’s usually not on the market for long before someone swoops in to claim it. In other words, if you’re lucky enough to find an amazing apartment deal, don’t hesitate too long to fill out a leasing application or wait around for the price to drop, because it’s not going to happen. As always, have the basics in tow when submitting a leasing app, including proof of income, banking info, and a list of previous residences.
And now it’s time to hit the streets and scour the interwebs for the perfect apartment for you, so best of luck and happy hunting!
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