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How to Find an Apartment in the East Bay, CA 2021

By: Susan Finch
May 27, 2021

The East Bay area of San Francisco is rapidly growing with millenials, college grads, and families looking for affordable price points and a laid-back vibe. Residents have their choice of small towns living along the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay. Dog-friendly parks, beaches, quaint downtown districts, and good schools are just a sliver of what the area has to offer.

You can dive in and find an apartment in the East Bay on your own or use our guide to find the best place for your budget and lifestyle goals.

Ready to start apartment hunting? Here's how to find the best neighborhood and apartment amenities in East Bay.

1. How to Find the Best East Bay Neighborhood

East Bay includes towns along the eastern region of the San Francisco Bay area, as well as inland communities. East Bay is among the most populated regions in the Bay Area, with over 2.5 million people calling the area home.

Not sure where to start your apartment hunt? Here are some of the most popular East Bay neighborhoods you can call home.

Oakland

Oakland has a reputation as a quiet suburb in San Francisco, but has its own nightlife and cosmopolitan vibe. It offers a new wave of suburbia with a growing food scene and cultural events, including First Fridays downtown. You're never far from festivals, museums, wine, and live music when you live in Oakland.

Alameda

Alameda is a win for young professionals and families looking for gorgeous green space, biking, restaurants, pubs, and a family-friendly vibe. This quaint island town offers a backdrop of old Victorian homes, smaller apartment complexes, and the diversity of a growing urban enclave.

Berkeley

Many automatically associate Berkeley with its namesake University of California Berkeley. The city has an energetic vibe with a vibrant social scene. Mild weather, bookstores, bike-friendly locals, and a thriving arts scene, attract young and old.

Walnut Creek

Walnut Creek is home to culture and arts, like the Lesher Center for the Arts and Bedford Gallery. You'll also find the Lindsay Wildlife Experience that operates an animal hospital and rehabilitation center.

Piedmont

The charter city of Piedmont is located in Oakland Hills overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Locals settle in for a reprieve from big city living while staying connected to Oakland. You're not far from San Francisco in Piedmont. You'll find shopping, live music, and pubs in the Piedmont Avenue area too.

Fremont

Fremont is a suburb of San Jose and the Bay area's most populous city. Locals have plenty of dining options and sweet treats to choose from. On weekends, take a hike around Mission Peaks where the weather is great year-round, or go beachcombing at Montara State Beach and Pescadero State Beach.

Albany

Albany is a suburb of Oakland situated on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. Locals dine out and shop along Solano Avenue, which runs through Berkeley and Albany.

Dublin

Dublin is conveniently situated between Pleasanton and San Ramon in an area called the Tri-Valley area. As one of the fastest-growing cities in California, Dublin boasts rolling hills and two BART stations for quick access throughout the San Francisco Bay area.

Emeryville

The small town of Emeryville lies in a corridor between Berkely and Oakland. Stores, dining, and pubs lie along Bay Street for all the amenities you're looking for.

2. How Much Are Apartments in the East Bay?

Are you ready to make a move to the East Bay and the San Francisco area? Before you start apartment hunting, learn about the local rental market in the East Bay.

Average Rent in San Francisco and East Bay Area

The East Bay and San Francisco area saw rent increases of 3.04% compared to last month and are down by -19.45% compared to the same time since last year. Like most metropolitan cities, rents in the Bay Area took a hit during the pandemic. However, they're on the rise again. Here's more information on how to figure out your rental budget.

  • 0% of apartments in San Francisco cost less than $1,000 per month.
  • 20% of apartments in San Francisco cost between $1,000-$1,999 per month.
  • 33% of apartments in San Francisco cost between $2,000-$2,999 per month.
  • 48% of apartments in San Francisco cost over $3,000 per month.

3. How to Find Cheap Apartments in the East Bay

The Bay area is a notoriously expensive place to live. Rents dipped during the pandemic but are quickly rising again. However, the East Bay is more affordable than nearby San Francisco neighborhoods. You can still find deals and more space if you have some time and patience to look. Keep an eye out for move-in specials to help lower your overall expenses. You're more likely to find rent specials during December and January when rentals are usually less competitive.

Rent barely scratches the surface of your monthly expenses. A budgeting checklist will help you keep track of all of your apartment essentials. You'll need to think about moving costs, utilities, and furniture when you move to East Bay.

You're less likely to find deals on rent in the trendiest areas in Oakland. The farther into the East Bay you get, the more likely you will find rent deals and specials. Make sure to consider your commute time and additional expenses on BART.

Ready to start apartment hunting in East Bay's neighborhoods? Come prepared with these tips for finding an East Bay apartment you can afford.

4. What's the Best Time to Find an Apartment in the East Bay?

The time of year you move to the East Bay could impact the rental prices you find. The apartment rental seasonality1 trends find that December or January may be a better time to move to the East Bay. Renters should expect to pay the highest prices during the summer season and face the most competition to find affordable rates.

  • In recent years, rents in the East Bay, specifically Oakland, have risen an average of $85 each summer, a 4% price increase, which is an additional $1,020 in rent annually.
  • In recent years, rents in Oakland have dropped an average of $55 each winter, a 3% price drop, which is $660 less in rent annually.

Seasonality is driven as more people move during the summer because weather doesn’t get in the way and school is not in session. Therefore, it’s a convenient time for college grads and families with children to move. Fewer renters move during the winter for the opposite reasons. Inclement weather can get in the way and less discretionary spending may be available, as it's consumed by the winter holidays.

It's time to set out and look for apartments in the East Bay area. Here's how to get the budget process started and find an affordable price point for your income.

5. Determine Your Budget

You can still find affordable apartments in the East Bay if you stick to the 30% rule, which can help you budget and find a price point you can manage.

Here's how the 30% rule works: You should aim to only spend 30% of your pre-taxed monthly take-home pay on rent. This take-home pay is also called your gross income. You can also divide your gross annual salary by 40 to get the same number.

If you find a trendy Oakland apartment for $1,500, your gross income should hit right around $5,000 a month. This figure is about $60,000 a year. There are some exceptions to the rule. You may need to adjust that number if you're also juggling student debt or decide to split your expenses with a roommate. You might be able to find a similar apartment in a nearby neighborhood for less.

You should also factor in some additional expenses when you find your perfect East Bay apartment. Here are just a few of the costs of renting an apartment that renters often forget to include.

  • Security Deposit: Your standard security deposit is usually one month's rent. It can vary from apartment to apartment. If you take care of your apartment, you’ll get this money back.
  • Pet Fees: East Bay neighborhoods are very pet-friendly, ready to welcome your dogs and other furry friends. You'll need to plan for additional fees. Most apartment buildings require some form of a pet deposit, pet fees, or pet rent.
  • Parking: Parking can get expensive in the East Bay and other surrounding areas. If your apartment building has a reserved parking spot, you'll likely pay more in monthly rent.
  • Amenities: Many East Bay neighborhoods offer stunning parks and hills. Walking, jogging, and biking could eliminate the need for a gym membership. Some apartment complexes may also provide on-site gyms.

6. Set Your Apartment Priorities

Finding an affordable apartment in an East Bay neighborhood may require some flexibility. A micro-apartment might be perfect if you want to live in your favorite area, like the center of Oakland. Living further away from amenities and public transportation will prove cheaper. The trade-off may be worth it. You might also decide the longer commute time into San Francisco is a deal-breaker.

Chart out your priorities for your apartment. Remember to factor in extra costs, including bedroom furniture, kitchen appliances, and living area decor. You can get creative with your space and budget using multi-functional furniture. Asking your landlord if specific floors of the building are cheaper than others could also result in a better deal. However, you're likely to compromise on the view.

7. Consider Your Commute Time

Some of East Bay's neighborhoods are just a 20-minute drive to San Francisco, though locals will tell you it could easily take an hour or more. Public transportation is convenient yet unpredictable. Depending on where you live, you have your choice of train, bus, or ferry. If you drive, you're likely to sit in traffic on the bridge or while waiting to get into San Francisco. Public parking in the city is also hard to find and can be very expensive.

Some East Bay neighborhoods have amenities and recreation within walking or biking distance. However, the area is still a driving town, especially if you want to make the most of the greater Bay Area. You can get by without a car, but plan for a bigger transportation budget for BART, Lyft, and Uber.

East Bay's walk score varies from town to town. Oakland's walk score is 74. Alameda's walk score is 66. You'll need to do your research on East Bay neighborhoods if you want to walk and bike.

Bay Area Rapid Transit BART provides local, rapid, express, and bus rapid transit to East Bay neighborhoods and beyond. You'll be in good company if you use public transportation. Plenty of people sit in bridge traffic in the morning.

8. Prepare for Apartment Tours

You've got all the information you need to go out and rent an apartment in an East Bay neighborhood. It's time to start your next apartment search, tour, and apply! Visit the apartment in person before signing a lease and talk to the apartment property management or landlord to feel out the situation. It is easier to make a good decision when you have all of the information available.

Come prepared with some essential questions to ask before renting an apartment. Look over the list and prepare thoroughly before your next apartment tour.

The earlier you can apply for an apartment, the better. Remember to bring cash, a credit card, or a checkbook to pay for the application. Keep your ID, proof of income, and a few references ready. Most complexes prefer landlord references, though you can also use personal references if you don't have a rental history. If you're new to renting, get familiar with the apartment application process.

9. Applying for Your East Bay Apartment

East Bay neighborhoods may be less competitive than San Francisco, though many rentals still get snatched up quickly. Act fast if you want to land a great deal. Come ready to apply for an apartment after any tour you take. You should expect to pay a non-refundable application fee for every apartment. If possible, call ahead to the broker or landlord to inquire about necessary documentation for the application. Some people you speak to may require specific documents and want everything in hand to accept your application

10. Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Rental scams are a common issue in just about every major city. According to a report by Apartment List, 47.8% of San Francisco and East Bay renters have encountered fraudulent apartment listings and about 1% of those renters have lost money due to rental scams. Remember to stay vigilant and follow these tips for avoiding rental scams.

Using Apartment List to Find Your East Bay Apartment

Ready to move to the Golden Gate area? Good luck apartment hunting and finding your dream neighborhood in the East Bay and beyond! If the East Bay doesn't seem like the right fit for you, check out San Francisco!

Here’s how it works: First, we get to know you. You’ll answer a few simple questions and we’ll find the best matches – just for you. Then, we mix and match your personalized results, making it easy to discover places with the perfect combination of price, location and amenities.


  1. These estimates rely on data from January 2017 to February 2021. Starting March 2021, price changes break dramatically from seasonal norms as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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AUTHOR
Susan Finch is a freelance writer and content manager focusing on local experiences, travel, and anything relating to really good food and craft brews. Her work has appeared in travel guidebooks and national magazines and newspapers. Read More
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