Since we just went through the exhausting process of finding the prefect sublet in San Francisco I figured I’d share a few tricks we used to weed through the options and find the perfect place to live. There are lots of sites for this, but in San Francisco EVERYONE (and their mom) uses Craigslist.org. You are about to read thousands of posts and see lots of strange and interesting things so make sure you are mentally and physically prepared for this. While the process is tedious and time consuming, it’s also fun. Casi actually got craigslistitis, aka an addiction to Craigslist. I still catch her browsing for places and we’ve already moved!
The process begins about a month before you are ready to move. Pick a weekend about a week or two before your move in date for scouting out all the potential places and meet with potential roommates. Most subletters are looking for someone to move in yesterday, so planning things a few months in advance won’t do you any good. If you can’t afford to visit for a weekend before the move, there are lots of cheap hotels and places to stay for a couple weeks while you find a place. If you are going to drive a Uhaul, they actually give you a month of free storage at their facilities so you can store your stuff while you house hunt. Before you start diving into Craigslist you need to write the email you are going to send to all the places you like.
Email Response Template
There are a lot of people using Craigslist to find a place to live so if a post is good, chances are they will get A TON of responses. The most important part of finding a good place is having an awesome response. When you respond to a post, you need to stand out and make a good first impression. Casi and I were at a total disadvantage because we are a couple looking to share a place but we still had people begging to meet us because of the awesome email we sent everyone.
The format we used for our email template was as follows:
1) Custom Intro – Make sure to describe in detail what you like about them and why their place will be a perfect fit. This is the only section you will be customizing.
2) Meet Date & Move In Date – When can you meet and when are you moving in?
3) About Me – This is the most important part. This is not like a job application, these people can discriminate all they want! But it is important to tell them as much as possible because its best to get this stuff out of the way early. Do you wake up for work at 4:30am? Are you a vegetarian? Do you play an instrument? Put it all in there.
4) About You – What are you looking for in a roommate? Do you want to be friends or be left alone? Should they be clean freaks or party animals? Let them know what you expect.
5) What You Win – This part is just for fun and gets a lot of positive reactions. We have a big TV, awesome couch, Xbox360, AppleTV, Wii and a ton of other cool things that potential roommates might want to have too. Let them know what you are going to bring into the house and that they can use it too.
6) Footer – Put your name, email, phone number and link to your facebook/myspace. If they like you, they are most likely going to friend you up on a social network and dig through your posts.
7) Pictures – Make sure to attach a picture or two so they can look you in the eyes and gaze into your soul.
One last trick is to customize the subject line of the email. When you click the email address in the post it will automatically fill in the subject line for you. It usually looks something like: “$750 Summer Share – 1 or 2 rooms (noe valley)”. Most people just leave it like that, but I recommend adding something catchy in all caps just before it. Try something like: “BEST CANDIDATE YET!? $750 Summer Share – 1 or 2 rooms (noe valley)”. This will catch their eye in an inbox full of responses.
So, now you are armed with a professional email response and you are ready to start browsing places. Hopefully you have an idea about which neighborhood/district of San Francisco you want to live in. If not, I have a theory that might help you out depending on your budget and proximity preferences. So head on over to the rooms & shares area of Craigslist. Since there are literally thousands of posts you want to be very specific about the area you are looking to live in. 1) Click the tab at the top that corresponds to the general area, 2) click the “all neighborhoods” dropdown and choose the neighborhood you want to live in and 3) put the maximum amount you are willing to pay.
If you are a super geek like me, using the Craigslist website might not be the most efficient way to browse the posts. I like to add this list to my Google Reader by clicking the RSS icon at the bottom right of the Craigslist page. If you are looking in multiple neighborhoods, repeat this process multiple times.
Now you are ready to start responding to posts. I sent out our email template to HUNDREDS of posts and had about a 1:20 response ratio. Now we were at a major disadvantage being a couple so this is probably the worst response rate you will get. But don’t be shy. Send you’re email template to every post that seems even slightly intriguing. Start a conversation with the person. Ask a few questions and setup an appointment for the weekend you are coming to visit.
Judging A House/Roommate By The Post
You can usually tell whether the post was written by a rental company, landlord or the roommates. Companies usually use crafty colorful html posts with lots of pictures of empty places and leave phone numbers. Landlords write about how amazing the place is and barely mention the roommates. Roommates usually describe themselves and the rest of the gang in detail but don’t talk much about the place. We preferred to deal with roommates because we could get a feel for who we will be living with (even though we thought our roommate Lee was an Asian landlord, turns out shes a 20 something blond chick). You will build up lots of random preconceived notions about the people you talk with and what the place will look like, but don’t expect it to be true.
For the most part a lot of the posts are similar but you will definitely see some crazy things. We noticed a lot of places will have pictures of everything except the room for rent. We also saw a lot of posts where the only picture was of the hallway (so weird). Almost every post mentions that they don’t do drugs, but “420 ok”, so if you are against drugs and you consider weed to be one, good luck. The weirdest post was probably the guy offering free rent to anyone willing to clean his place and give him a daily massage.
At first I just started responding, but I quickly realized that I needed to organize which posts I responded too and which ones I didn’t. It gets a bit overwhelming. When you are browsing and emailing your template around, make sure to bookmark the posts you respond too. If they respond and want to meet, move the bookmark into a “Potential” folder. If they tell you to get lost, move it into the “Rejected” folder. Most people will not respond at all but keep them all organized. Make sure to print out the posts in the “potential” folder because in a week, their post will expire on Craigslist and the bookmark won’t work anymore. I like to print posts to PDF so I don’t have a ton of paper everywhere.
The main goal here is to make appointments to meet with potential roommates and see their house. Make sure to add any appointments you make to a calendar using the person’s first name. For example: Meet Eric at 12:30pm. You can then use a custom Google Map for mapping out all the places you plan to see. I wrote a separate post about using Google’s “My Maps” feature for house hunting in San Francisco.
Send A Reminder
A couple days before you visit San Francisco make sure to send an email to everyone you made an appointment with to confirm. Some of them will have already found someone and others may have completely forgotten about you. This is also a good time to change any appointments because maybe you will be in the same area looking at another place or maybe you want to cancel because you found a lot of better places. Keep your options open and pack as many appointments as possible into that weekend. We met with 12 different potential roommates in 3 days and it was quite an adventure! Make sure to check out our post about our crazy weekend of house hunting in San Francisco.
That just about covers everything. Hopefully this helps you get a jam packed weekend full of appointments. Let us know if you have any other tips or crazy experiences with house hunting in SF. One last tip, don’t refer to your potential roommates as “roomies”, they hate that! =)