I have been in the San Francisco Bay Area for almost a month already and I feel strong enough to express my opinion about the rental housing market here and to summarize my experience.
1) Get used to the usual suspects of the online rental market:
There are many other websites but in my experience these four feature 99% of the best places to lease in the San Francisco Bay Area. Craigslist should make it to the top of your favorites by the time you move to San Francisco and should be your number one tool to find your new home. Craigslist was born in San Francisco long time ago. However I sometimes get frustrated with it because even if I run a very specific search, I still get a very long list of results and I don’t get extra tools to redefine my search. That’s when I then leave the site and check LiveLovely, Trulia and Zillow, which usually give me shorter lists that are easier to handle.
2) You are the weaker applicant, do something about it! You are and you have no leverage in the rental application if your answer is “yes” to the following three questions:
- Have you recently moved from Europe to the US?
- Have you recently started your first job in the US?
- Are you looking to lease a place under $3500?
Your three “yes” mean that you have no credit history in the US and that you are competing with probably 90% of all new comers into the area, 50% of them are probably Americans, which means that they have a credit history in the US while you don’t. So what can you do to win the lease agains your American competition?
There are a few things you can do to support your application and gain some leverage:
- you can ask your former landlord in Europe to write you a reference letter explaining how good you were as a tenant; how well you behaved with the neighbors; how on time you paid every single of your rents for the past years and how nicely you took care of the place.
- you can also offer to pay a few month’s rent in advance: as a proof that you have a solid financial situation.
- US landlords usually require a employment verification letter which is a letter signed by your employer verifying: that you work for them, what job you do and what’s your annual salary. But can you go further and complement this letter with a reference letter from your current boss in the US.
- Of course, please use all other assets and investments (i.e. stocks, saving account, funds, etc.) that you have in Europe as a proof of your solid financial situation.
3) Expressing your interest about a property. The rental classifieds usually offer you two means of contact:
- to respond via email through Craigslist, Rental Method or similar;
- or the ad displays a telephone number.
In both cases, I suggest you are careful with this first contact.
- Be polite (the first impression is the one that counts): start with a “good morning” and finish with a “thank you in advance for your time” if you have space in an email or plan well what you say in the SMS;
- Introduce yourself: “Hi, we are a young expat couple that have recently relocated from Europe to the US…”. Don’t be afraid to tell a bit about your story.
- And provide details and call for action: “Please text/email me your availability to schedule a visit to your property at xxxx”.
4) Stay away from school and visa seasons: apparently there are some months in the year when looking for a new place goes from “difficult level 7” (which is the one I’m facing right now) to “difficult level 99”.
August – September – October are the worst months in the year to look for a new place in Silicon Valley. Why? firstly because the school season is about to start and secondly because a large wave of new visa workers are usually approved in October.
This means that the rents go higher; the application gets more competitive and your chances to lease that wonderful place you’ve found go down.
5) Yes, they have carpet everywhere… deal with it!: we’ve been trying to find a place without carpet and it simply does not exist. At some point I gave up the hope of finding a place with hardwood floors in the bedrooms and instead I started researching for professional carpet cleaning companies.
According to “the carpet and rug institute” the benefits of carpet and rugs are:
provides warmth and confort…adds beauty and style…soften slips and falls…reduces noise
I believe them, I simply doesn’t share their passion.
6) Houses made of wood
My poor German husband is very upset with the properties in Silicon Valley. He loves what the Germans call “Altbau” which in English translates to “old building” and refers to a building that has very thick walls and high ceilings. In Germany this is a very desirable property and we used to live in one.
In contrast the majority of the properties in Silicon Valley are nothing like the “Altbau” in Munich. If you knock at the main building’s wall, it sounds like… wood…. why? because it’s wood! which means that:
- you do need a modern and updated fire alarm system inside your home;
- you will hear your neighbors for sure; (wood doesn’t isolate noise) and
- if an earthquake/tornado happens, you need to find yourself a good scape plan, ’cause your house will fall down/fly away…
One advantage of the housing market in the US over the one in Germany is that here they usually lease the properties with the kitchen and appliances. In Germany the standard is that you rent the house unfurnished (including the kitchen). The kitchen room will have the hook-ups but you need to built in your own kitchen or buy it from the previous tenant. In Munich, we invested a lot of money in a new kitchen for our last home and what happened? that after three years we had to move out and sell the kitchen (to a lost).
What’s your experience looking for a property in San Francisco Bay Area? What’s your experience leasing a property in San Francisco Bay Area?