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How to Find an Apartment in San Francisco, CA 2021

By: Susan Finch
May 26, 2021

Moving to San Francisco brings opportunities for culture, outdoor recreation, and nightlife. The industry is booming from the tech sector to textiles and aerospace. You can build the career of your dreams while living in the middle of the action or find yourself a quiet enclave.

It's possible to find your own apartment in San Francisco, though you can also use our guide to find the best place to suit your budget and needs. Ready to start your apartment hunt? Here's what to do to find the best neighborhood and apartment amenities in San Francisco.

1. How to Find the Best San Francisco Neighborhood

San Francisco boasts a long history of diverse settlers, from Native Americans to Spanish and French explorers from the Mexican-American War. It was also home to the 1848 Gold Rush, which led to a population boom, as well as a new immigration wave and the hippie counterculture during the 60s.

Today, each neighborhood boasts a different vibe with unique amenities. Here's where to start looking.

Pacific Heights

The posh residential neighborhood of Pacific Heights offers sparkling views of the Bay. Hilltop park provides a reprieve from city living. Fillmore Street is lively with high-end boutiques and cafes.

Russian Hill

The quaint and upscale Russian Hill is home to the crooked Lombard Street, which draws visitors year-round. The hilly neighborhood offers views of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges. Polk and Hyde Street boast trendy restaurants and pubs.

Haight Ashbury

Haight Ashbury has a counterculture history where the free love movement reigned during the 60s and 70s. Today, it's a popular option for young professionals and millennials looking to live in a hip neighborhood. Enjoy pubs, restaurants, and proximity to the rest of the city.

Mission Bay

The 303-acre neighborhood of Mission Bay offers waterfront living. You'll find the China Basin to the north and Dogpatch to the south. You'll also find scores of green space, as Mission Bay is home to the San Francisco Bay Trail.

Nob Hill

The swanky Nob Hill neighborhood in San Francisco boasts the Cable Car Museum, Huntington Park, and the Gothic-style Grace Cathedral. Locals dine at Michelin-star restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.

Telegraph Hill

Telegraph Hill is among San Francisco's 44 hills. Its iconic postcard-perfect setting is home to Coit Tower and some of the most photographed landscapes around the city.

Lakeshore

Lakeshore offers a quiet backdrop to city living. With a residential vibe, it isn't known for its nightlife, though it is close to everything you need. You're never far from green space and recreational opportunities in Lakeshore.

South Beach

The quickly growing neighborhood of South Beach offers a central location and easy transit access to the rest of the city. Live in transformed lofts or stop by the uniquely shaped South Park.

2. How Much Are Apartments in San Francisco?

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

Average Rent in San Francisco

San Francisco rents have increased by 3.04% compared to last month and are down by -19.45% compared to the same time last year. Like most metropolitan cities, rents in San Francisco 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 San Francisco

San Francisco's rents are among the highest in the nation, though they decreased during the pandemic. The trendiest neighborhoods are once again seeing steep rent increases. However, it's still possible to find some apartment deals if you're determined and have some flexibility to look. Move-in specials are one way to lower your overall expenses. Although not as common in San Francisco, rent specials are sometimes available during December and January. Rentals are usually less competitive.

There are also expenses to consider beyond your apartment rent. A budgeting checklist can help keep track of all of your apartment essentials like moving costs and utilities.

San Francisco's most popular and expensive neighborhoods, like Nob Hill, are the least likely ever to offer deals. The farther you get away from the heart of the city on the outskirts of public transportation, the cheaper your rent will be. Of course, you'll face a long commute and need to hop on Lyft and Uber to make the most of the nightlife.

Ready to start bargain hunting? Come prepared with these eight tips for finding a San Francisco apartment you can afford.

4. What's the Best Time to Find an Apartment in San Francisco?

You could end up saving some money and time apartment hunting if you choose the best month to move. Rental seasonality1 trends show December or January may be a more reasonable and less competitive time to move to San Francisco. You'll pay the highest prices during the summer season and face the most competition to score affordable apartments.

  • In recent years, rents in San Francisco have risen an average of $82 each summer, a 3% price increase, which is an additional $984 in rent annually.
  • In recent years, rents in San Francisco have dropped an average of $66 each winter, a 2% price drop, which is $792 less in rent annually.

What drives this seasonality?

More people move during the summer because:

  • Weather doesn’t get in the way
  • School is not in session, so it’s a convenient time for college graduates and families with children to move

Fewer people move during the winter because:

  • Inclement weather can get in the way
  • Moving can be expensive and winter holidays already consume a lot of discretionary spending

You're almost organized and ready to go out and find the San Francisco apartment of your dreams. Here's how to get the budget process started.

5. Determine Your Budget: Can You Afford to Live in San Francisco?

Affordable apartment hunting in San Francisco requires some persistence and strategizing. If you’re not sure where to start, use the 30% rule to find an apartment you can afford.

Here's how it works. Aim to spend only 30% of your pre-taxed monthly take-home pay on rent. The pre-taxed take-home pay is also called your gross income. You can also divide your gross annual salary by 40. It's the same number!

Suppose you find a trendy San Francisco apartment for $2,000. Your gross income should hit right around $6,000 per month or about $72,000 per year. You can also look further outside the city or find a roommate to help with costs.

You also need to consider all of the extras that go into renting an apartment in San Francisco. Here are just a few of the costs of renting an apartment that people frequently forget.

  • Security Deposit: The standard security deposit is usually one month's rent. That figure can vary from property to property. You should get your security deposit back if you take care of your apartment.
  • Pet Fees: San Francisco is pet-friendly. However, you should prepare to pay additional costs. Most apartment buildings require some form of a pet deposit, pet fees, or pet rent.
  • Parking: You may be able to find an apartment with a reserved parking spot in San Francisco, but it will come at a premium. Otherwise, you'll need to factor in the cost of a public parking garage with a monthly membership.
  • Amenities: San Francisco is hilly and provides excellent workout spaces. Some apartment complexes may also offer on-site gyms.

6. Set Your Apartment Priorities

Come ready with a plan to find an apartment in San Francisco. You might need to compromise on space, amenities, or location when it comes to finding an apartment you can afford in San Francisco. Choose a studio apartment to live in the trendiest neighborhoods, like Haight Ashbury, Or live farther on the outskirts to find more affordable rent prices.

Decide what your apartment priorities are to determine the best apartment and neighborhood for you. It will make your apartment hunt in San Francisco easier.

7. Consider Your San Francisco Commute Time

Plenty of people drive in San Francisco, but public transportation makes it easy to get around. Parking is scarce and will add to your overall cost of living. Uber and Lyft are also readily available. The SFMTA offers Muni transit, biking, walking, and iconic cable cars.

San Francisco is highly walkable and bikeable. Its gorgeous backdrop also makes it the perfect place to get some exercise. You'll need to get used to the hills, however, which can challenge your daily routine. Overall, San Francisco boasts a walk score of 99. Its bike score is also 99.

8. Prepare for SF Apartment Tours

Now that you're armed with everything you need to start your hunt for your next San Francisco apartment. It's time to begin your search, tour, and apply! Remember to always visit the apartment in person before signing a lease and talk to the apartment property management or the landlord to feel the situation. You'll find it's easier to decide whether or not you should move forward.

Come prepared with the right 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 your San Francisco apartment, the better. Bring cash, a credit card, or a checkbook to pay for the application on hand. Have your ID, proof of income, and a few references ready. Landlord references are preferred, though you can also use personal references if you don't have a rental history. If you're new to renting, learn about the apartment application process.

9. Applying for Your San Francisco Apartment

San Francisco apartments are competitive. You'll need to act immediately if you find a place that's a good deal. Come to your apartment search prepared to fill out an application. You should expect to pay a non-refundable application fee for any apartment you're interested in. If possible, call the broker or landlord ahead of time to inquire about the necessary documentation for the application. Some people may require specific documents and want everything in hand to accept your application.

10. Protect Yourself from Rental Scams

Unfortunately, rental scams are an issue in most major cities. According to a report by Apartment List, 47.8% of San Francisco renters have encountered fraudulent apartment listings while < 1.0% of those 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 San Francisco Apartment

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

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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