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Renter’s Guide to Moving To San Francisco

San Francisco is one of the most sought-after cities in the country, and there are plenty of reasons why. From its incredible start-up scene and role as a tech hub—also home to the famous Silicon Valley—to its rich culture and love for the arts, this city has it all. Being one of the most populous cities in the country, San Francisco is still quite small when it comes to its land, and that’s why it is a highly walkable city, with gorgeous views and a tight-knit community feeling. 

While it offers many opportunities, the city is also among the most expensive housing markets in the country, and that results in many people choosing to rent instead of buying a home. For this reason, competition is fierce, and finding a rental apartment in San Francisco might be a challenge even for experienced renters. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide for renters looking to relocate to SF, so here’s everything you need to know: 

San Francisco Real Estate Market Overview

It’s most likely that you will choose to rent when first landing in the city, and SF has typically always been a renter’s city. However, you need to know how to hunt for your apartment to get the best deal, so get ready to research the real estate market and learn about the various neighborhoods in the city. Let’s first look at the cost of housing. 

  • Average rent & median home prices

The average rent in San Francisco is $2,999, according to January 2021 data. However—depending on where you choose to rent as well—studio apartments can start at even $850-$950 a month, whereas a more affordable 1-bedroom apartment would start at $1,000-$1,600 and a 2-bedroom at around $2,000. Location will play a big part in this cost difference, so get to know the neighborhoods you could call home. 

If you’re looking to become a homeowner, a home in San Francisco will require you to spend a generous amount, as the median price is somewhere around $1.6M.  

  • Neighborhoods

Seeing how this is a rather pedestrian-friendly city compared to other large hubs in the country, there are many convenient options for a renter when it comes to choosing a neighborhood. If you still worry about commute time, try to find an option that is close to your office; however, if your company has embraced remote work, you can be a bit pickier and choose a neighborhood based on its amenities and overall feel, rather than proximity to workplace. 

Make sure you research the price brackets for each neighborhood before choosing one, as there will often be significant differences. Use a rent calculator tool to see how much you could afford in SF, and then create a budget around that number. After that’s done, you can start checking neighborhoods and consider your actual options. 

Many of San Fran’s neighborhoods will have a mix of single-family homes, Victorian-era buildings, duplexes and low-rise multi-family, which makes for very close-knit communities. Some neighborhoods are predominantly home to owners (such as Bernal Heights or Bayview), but many are renter-dominated, so you’ll feel right at home. Most neighborhoods are diverse and progressive, welcoming people from all around the country and more, so don’t worry about feeling like an outsider.

If you’re moving with family and kids, think about destinations such as Pacific Heights or Presidio Heights, both close to SF’s huge park the Presidio. Young families can find a fitting home in Noe Valley or the Marina neighborhoods, whereas young professionals might enjoy SoMA, which is home to many startups and sees high-rise apartment buildings blending in with commercial and office spaces. 

Dogpatch is the perfect place for those who love a trendy, artsy neighborhood, whereas the bohemian souls might enjoy the Mission or the Castro neighborhoods.  

  • Tips for finding an apartment

Now for the tough part—actually finding your home—you will want to make sure you are using a platform where you have access to 100% verified listings, to reduce the risk of falling victim to a rental scam. Start by creating a budget for your housing needs and establish a concise price bracket. Then, think about what you need from your home in terms of location, number of rooms and amenities. 

Decide whether you want to rent alone, with your family or with roommates, and divide the costs in each case. If you’re renting with pets, you’re in luck, as San Francisco is one of the most pet-friendly cities for renters, with over 75% of the apartment stock being pet-friendly. Expect, however, to pay an extra $50 on average for the monthly pet rent, one of the highest in the country. After you’ve decided to move to SF, make sure to also take a look at your credit score, as the city is very competitive when it comes to the rental market, and the average credit score to rent with is at around 710. 

Cost of Living, Employment and Education in San Francisco

San Francisco is known to be one of—if not the—most expensive cities in the country, so when you’re thinking of moving here, you need to keep that in mind. However, if you’re moving here for a job, then it’s likely that your income will also be higher. San Francisco has an incredible job market, being home to Silicon Valley and many tech giants, including Google, Apple, Facebook and more. It is easily one of the most fruitful tech hubs in the country. It also has very strong legal and medical sectors. Banking is a strong industry in the city, and Wells Fargo is among the top employers, yet the government employs most people in the city.

Education is a top concern for SF, and you will find some of the finest universities in the country here, including USFCA and UCSF, and being close to Stanford University in Palo Alto, and Berkeley University of California, only 30 minutes away. The school district is one of the best in the state, and there are also many private school options, including the Drew School, the Urban School of San Francisco and the San Francisco University High School. 

Things to Do in San Francisco

San Francisco has something for everyone, no matter whether you’re a foodie, a sports fan, a lover of culture and arts or a nature afficionado. The city is home to the famous San Francisco Ballet and Opera, as well as the San Francisco Symphony, and over 80 museum options including the San Francisco MOMA, the California Academy for Sciences, and the Exploratorium. 

For those who love the culinary arts, San Francisco is home to many unique restaurants, from local, niche businesses and bistros, to Michelin-star, high-end restaurants, such as Saison, Benu or Acquerello. The farmers’ market is rich with local produce, and the seafood and shellfish in the city come fresh from the ocean. Bars and wineries are also a strong staple of the city, home to Buena Vista Café where drinks such as Martini and Mai Tai were first introduced in the country. 

Besides the Bay itself—which is home to Angel Island—that allows pedestrians to walk along the Land’s End Trail and enjoy the views of the city, SF has over 470 city parks for residents to enjoy. Close to the city, you will find Mt. Tam and the Muir Woods National Monument, where you can see the giant redwoods and be in awe of nature. 

However, the city itself is a sight not to be missed, and simply going for a stroll on its many crooked and twisted streets will give you a first-hand feel of the city’s eclectic vibe. If you’re thinking of calling SF home, there will be many areas for you to explore and fall in love with.

No matter your reasons for moving here, San Francisco will definitely welcome you with arms open wide. Being such an eclectic, diverse city, you sure need to live there a while to truly get a taste of it, but hopefully this guide has helped you in navigating the surface of SF and preparing for finding the perfect apartment to call home in this golden, rich city.