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How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco [2024]

Ready to move to San Francisco but not sure where to start? We have you covered with these insights into San Francisco's rental market, including where to snag the best deals as well as the most exclusive neighborhoods.

How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco

How Much Is Rent in San Francisco?

As of May 2024, the overall median rent in San Francisco is $2,673 a month, making San Francisco the fourth most expensive large city in the United States for renters. For a one-bedroom, expect to pay a median rate of $2,698, and for a two-bedroom, most renters will spend around $3,198 a month.

How to Find the Best Neighborhood in San Francisco

Rental prices, lifestyle, commuting options, and other factors all fluctuate greatly between neighborhoods. What you're looking for will largely depend on your budget and the type of rental you're looking for. If you want to see everything, consider our longer guide to the best San Francisco neighborhoods. Otherwise, we've broken down our top neighborhoods into affordable and luxury options:

How to Find Affordable Neighborhoods in San Francisco

Affordable neighborhoods can be hard to come by in San Francisco. That's why we've rounded our favorites for your to consider. Note that while some averages may be high, we've included these neighborhoods because they have many listings below the median rent.

North Beach

If you like pasta, cannolis, and seafood, you’ll love North Beach, aka the Little Italy of San Francisco. North Beach is a foodies haven, as well being home to the iconic City Lights bookstore and Coit Tower.

Speaking of delightful cuisine nearby - not only is this neighborhood is full of Italian history and charm, it’s also adjacent to Chinatown. You’ll find older historic buildings here and be within walking distance to the piers as well as the famous Fisherman’s Wharf. North Beach is connected to the city though multiple bus lines so getting around shouldn’t be an issue.

Civic Center

Civic Center will place you close to many government and cultural institutions, including the Civic Center Plaza, United Nations Plaza, Asian Art Museum, SF Symphony, SF Opera House, and the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium. It’s close to Market Street and borders SOMA, the Tenderloin, and Hayes Valley. SF’s main public library is also in the Civic Center.

While Civic Center has gained many new residential high rises and buildings (with a Whole Foods to show for it), it's still a place where you can find a lot of listings well below the median rent, making it a great option for renters with a budget to consider.

Noe Valley

If you want to live a bit further out from the city, particularly to take advantage of the area's natural beauty, then Noe Valley might be for you. Noe Valley is a quaint neighborhood with a small town feel made possible by its many Victorian and Edwardian homes.

There’s no nightlife here, but you’ll find a lively farmer’s market every Saturday in the Town Square. This is a great spot for people who prefer a quieter neighborhood that has a community feel and is still within the city.

How to Find Luxury Neighborhoods in San Francisco

If you have a little more money to spend, then why not try on of San Francisco's upscale neighborhoods? These are some of the local favorites that you might not know about unless you spent some time in the area:

Nob Hill

Home to the cable car line, Nob Hill is a great iconic neighborhood to consider if you want to live in "classic" San Francisco. It's also where you'll find some of the fanciest hotels in the city. As a historic neighborhood, Nob Hill mixes affluent vibes in some parts while a more casual and completely different vibe in other parts. For instance, on the hill, you’ll get a fancier and older vibe, while near Polk Street, you’ll find tons of great eateries, a younger vibe, and some great dive bars.

Cow Hollow/The Marina

  • Average one-bedroom rent (Cow Hollow): $3,089
  • Map of

Though Cow Hollow and the Marina are technically two different neighborhoods, they are adjacent to one another with overall similar (crunchy) vibes. Cow Hollow, being the older sibling of the Marina, is a little more mellow, but overall, you'll find a lot of the same types of services: yoga, Barry’s Bootcamp, green juices, and brunch are the sort of things you'll find in this area. Look for food especially on Chestnut Street and shopping on Union Street.

Presidio Heights

Presidio Heights is an affluent neighborhood away from the city buzz and has some of the city’s most expensive homes owned by tech moguls and celebrities. Thing lots of green spaces, upscale apartments, and big families.

If you want luxury with the option for outdoor adventuring, Presidio Heights is your neighborhood. You'll find hiking trails, the Walt Disney museum, a golf course, tennis courts, and beautiful redwoods throughout the park. There’s not much nightlife here, but you’ll find lots of peace and quiet in this more residential area.

2. What’s the Best Time to Find an Apartment in San Francisco?

According to the rental pricing data that Apartment List has collected over the past few years, San Francisco rents have historically been lowest in December and January. That is consistent with national trends that show rental prices dip across the country in the winter months. Conversely, rents have been highest in San Fran in July and August.

Many renters choose not to move in winter because of the chance of inclement weather and also because it's mid school-year. However, the winter months are your best time to find deals on rent. The summer, by contrast, will generally see more availability. So the "best time" to rent depends on whether you're looking for better deals or more selection.

3. How to Budget for Your San Francisco Apartment

Where you live in San Francisco is almost certainly going to be determined by your rental budget. The recommended 30% rule is one method you can use to calculate your rental budget. According to the 30% rule, your rent should not take up more than 30% of your gross income or pre-taxed monthly take-home pay.

An example of the 30% rule would be looking for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco with an median rent price of $2,673. Based on this rule, your gross income should be about about $108,000 annually to afford an apartment in the city.

The 30% rule is designed to help you cover your necessary expenses and set aside some savings. These typical expenses tend to include:

  • Rent
  • Cable/internet
  • Heating and gas
  • Electricity
  • Car payments
  • Groceries
  • Savings

As you begin putting your expenses together, you might start feeling a bit overwhelmed. However, there are plenty of ways to reduce your expense. Consider taking advantage of some cost-saving tricks like continually seeking out different move-in specials or being mindful of seasonality when renting.

Understand the Trust Cost of Renting

It’s important to remember that the 30% rule works best as a baseline rather than an exact picture of what your rental budget should look like. The 30% rule does not account for the hidden costs of renting when forming your complete budget for your San Francisco move.

Take a closer look at some of the hidden apartment expenses if you’re wondering how much apartment rent you can afford. Some of the everyday hidden apartment expenses include:

Your specific financial circumstance will also play a factor in determining how much rent you can afford. Additional financial needs, including medical expenses, student debt repayment, etc., may impact your budget drastically, proving that the 30% rule might not quite fit your budget. If this is the case, you’ll have to adjust your budget accordingly.

You can also utilize other helpful tools, such as the Rent Calculator, to determine how much you can afford to pay, including additional expenses. This tool will help you better understand what type of rental budget you are working with for your move to San Francisco. Best of all, this beneficial tool has been put together with renters like you in mind.

4. Consider Your Commute Time

One of the undeniable advantages of living in NYC is the world class public transit system. The downside to that, however, is the costs of parking are sky high, and availability is low. If you plan to commute to work, you need to carefully plan where you'll live according to whether you'll need a car or public transit. Check out the MTA's Metro Map in order to get an idea of which subway lines are closest to the neighborhoods you're considering.

5. Prepare for Apartment Tours

Before signing a lease for your new NYC apartment, you’ll want to take part in an apartment tour. While it might not seem that important to see a space if you've viewed pictures online, you should be aware that there may challenges (or benefits) that go along with living in a specific location. For instance, you will learn about the neighborhood, the ease of access to the building, and other aspects of the apartment that won't be in pictures but will impact your quality of life. Plus, you can make sure that the apartment matches the description.

Find out how the application process works before going on your apartment tour. You’ll have a better idea of what to expect and know how to prepare yourself this way.

Never feel rushed during your tour and remember to enjoy yourself. Take your time and ensure all the amenities in the listing are functioning correctly. Additional questions you may have about the property that comes up when reviewing the listing can be jotted down and brought with you. Crucial questions about the apartment should include things like painting, pets, and other building rules.

Check out our list of 20 questions to ask when renting an apartment to get a better idea of what you should be asking the property manager during your apartment tour.

6. Applying for Your San Francisco Apartment

The application process should come relatively easy, considering you already have the necessary materials gathered from your tour. But, in addition to those materials, other things such as rental references may be required for your application.

For rental references, most landlords will want to see previous landlords listed. However, it shouldn’t be an issue if you don’t have any previous rental history. Be sure to clarify ahead of time so you can get your contacts in order since property managers may also accept personal references in some instances.

Either way, make sure you reach out to your rental references ahead of time so that they can anticipate the call. Speed up the application process by giving them a heads-up and allowing them to respond more quickly on your behalf.

7. Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

According to a rental fraud report by Apartment List, almost half (47.8%) of renters in San Francisco have encountered an apartment listing they suspected was fraudulent. Unfortunately, 1% of these renters have lost money from one rental scam.

Follow these tips for avoiding rental scams to stay on the safe side and keep yourself protected by ensuring you are always cautious.

Finding Your San Francisco Neighborhood

Each area comes with its own character and history. Once you've decided on the best New York neighborhood for you, it’s time to start comparing average rent prices, and examine the cost of living.

Ready to start your apartment hunt? Take our quiz and start narrowing down your wish list of amenities, San Fran neighborhoods, and rental prices to fit your budget.

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Dr. Katherine Blake
CONTENT EDITOR
Dr. Katherine Blake is a content editor with Apartment List, where she helps ensure our renter and rental management content is fresh and informed by the latest data. Read More
Tristian Brown
SENIOR CONTENT ASSOCIATE
Tristian Brown is a Senior Content Marketing Associate at Apartment List, where he manages high-quality content that helps modern renters find the perfect home. He brings an immense wealth of knowledge to the team, having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Marketing and European Management from the University of San Diego and EM Strasbourg Business School. Read More

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