Come prepared… The SD market isn’t cutthroat like the Bay Area or NYC, but it’s still what you would expect from a growing SoCal metropolis. That said, approach hunting like a job interview: do your homework on neighborhoods and complexes you like, bring the necessary documentation (proof of income, driver’s license, checkbook for a deposit, etc.), and—most importantly—be flexible. There may be features you won’t budge on (proximity to the beach, say), but keep those to a minimum and you’ll have an easier go of it.
Types of apartments. Apartment living in SD comes in three forms: your larger, clean and contemporary buildings (expect efficiency but not personality), your smallish, mom-n-pop complexes (think The Big Lebowski), and the classic California cottage (tiny and moldy, but perfect for the Kerouac in all of us). A subcategory might be the “resort-style” or “gated” complex, but these are mainly gobbled up by the retired vacation home demographic in SD.
Cottages ($$$$) are the most expensive and deal mainly in the quaintness department. The floor plans are almost exclusively 1BR/1BA, and you’ll have to elbow out the vacation rental crowd to secure a permanent spot in these babies, but it’s well worth it.
Important perks large complexes ($$$) boast are garage parking and a recreational pool that isn't filled with water from old dog bowls. They also offer sundry floor plans: studio, 1BR/1BA, 2BR/1BA, 2BR/2BA, and so on. Typically built in the 90s and 2000s, such behemoths are found nearest large shopping complexes and commercial strips—busy places, in other words. That thick concrete will keep the noise down to a minimum, but you should love the action if you choose to live here.
The motel-like mom-n-pop joints ($$) consist of mainly budget 1BR/1BA and 2BR/1BA options—but don’t overlook them. On the off chance the owners have actually renovated the place since the 80s, you can find a pretty rockin’ unit for half the price of the flashy alternative. Plus, you’re more likely to get not only a bed, but also a community (and sometimes, a commune…) out of these arrangements! If you're after an inexpensive apartment in San Diego, start here.
Lease logistics. Seasonal economic shifts in SD means lots of complexes offer month-to-month leasing options. This is fabulous news for you, dear renter! But there are heaps of other details you’ll need to be privy to. For instance, in most cases, the deposit required depends on your credit report (yes, credit reports are inevitable). An average Joe with good credit typically puts $500 down on an apartment in America’s Finest City; if you’re nervous about credit, don’t turn tail yet—you just may have to pay a higher deposit. Finally, most leases have utilities included (sans gas and electric) and accept pets (either with a flat pet deposit—say, $300—or monthly pet rent, such as $40/month).
Picking a neighborhood in SD is like participating in an NFL draft. Weigh your options: if you use that early-round selection, make sure it’s for something that can deliver. Alternatively, hold out for something still available in a later round—something less flashy, but nevertheless team-oriented and solid beneath the surface.
Downtown. This is your star wide receiver. He’s consistently a first-round pick. He’ll make some beautiful catches—but he’s fragile, high-maintenance, and pricey. We reckon you’ll be hard-pressed (and that doesn’t have to do with wine… or olives) to find a studio in the Gaslamp District for less than $2000/month.
Hillcrest. The market hits the national average in this area. Think of Hillcrest as the first-string center. He’s well built. He’s got the quarterback’s back if poop hits the fan. But no one notices him until the dog pile clears. If you can manage being more than fifteen blocks from the water, consider a 1BR for $850/month or a 2BR for $1250/month overlooking Balboa Park.
Point Loma. A running back is your most diverse player in football; quick to adapt to new circumstances, he can ensure success—but he takes a serious beating along the way. That’s Point Loma. From the yachts of Harbor Island to the strip of Midway, this place has extremities in spades. Dig diversity? Move here. 1BR/1BAs start at $1000/month, 2BR/1BAs at $1500/month. Oh, and you’d better board that Pomeranian.
Mission Bay and Beaches. Every team has its special element. The fireworks component, let’s call it. In football, that means the kicker. These guys send up that gorgeous arc to score the final meager—but crucial!— field goal. You get the analogy, right? Mission Bay and Pacific Beach bring the funky boardwalk culture to SD. It’s not necessarily an all-the-time kinda sector (well, unless you’re a street mime), but it would be sweet to say you live two blocks from Shamu. Studios can be found for under $1000/month, but you’re more likely to see 1BR/1BA condos ($1400/month) and 2 and 3BR beach houses ($1800/month and $2100/month, respectively).
Old Town. Aha! Finally. The quarterback. Where all (offensive) plays begin and end. Old Town claims SDSU, Qualcomm Stadium, major shopping complexes, and historic architecture. Downtown has glitz; Old Town has all-around charm. The lack of oceanfront real estate makes this central sector of town a bit less expensive: expect studios and 1BRs for under $1000/month and 2BR/1BAs for around $1500/month.
La Jolla. Yeah, yeah—we know we gots to say something about La Jolla, but what? Hmm, let’s see. There’s some beaches there? UCSD? What do you want, people? La Jolla is your second-string kicker, alright?! More of the same funky beach stuff. (But without Shamu; drat!) The market’s gutted here because everyone and their mom think LJ is synonymous with SD. The students help, though: one can find some decent 1BR condos around the university for under $1000/month, but head toward the water and you’ll easily double that.
Got your pick? Terrific. Now pick garage parking or street. Then upstairs or ground level. Then full bath or 1 1/2. Keep going and you’ll have your fantasy league in no time. Just remember to bring your sunscreen. Congratulations, Herr Captain!