Finding a home in San Francisco - understanding the market

Marjorie on

three houses in san fransicoSo, you’re moving to San Francisco, and you’re looking for an apartmentor a home to buy or to rent. You’ve read the media reports about howred hot the San Francisco real estate market is(according to a research report, price per square foot for a home in SFOaverages almost $400 per square foot, up 27.3 percent over last year).You know that competition is fierce with historically low inventory and interest rates.It seems like the odds are stacked against you, doesn’t it?No worries. Moveline can help you let some light in.

Knowledge is power - understanding the San Francisco real estate market

In spite of the frenzied reports, there’s no need to panic;all you need to do is to turn yourself into an educated consumer.First, you’ll need to understand what makes the market so hot.Second, you’ll just need to use the online resources that will turn you from cluelessto savvy with a few strategic clicks.

Mallory Farrugia confirms that the San Francisco market is“definitely a tough nut to crack right now,” and she ought to know.Mallory, who moved to San Francisco from the East Coast, is a writer for Curbed San Francisco,one of the best sources for that city’s real estate news.

“Finding an apartment and locking it down was one of the more trying experiences I’ve had-- and all my friends here say the same thing. This point would probably be debated hotly,but I’d say that the market here is actually more competitive than NYC right now-- solely because San Francisco is a smaller city, so there’s just less housing to go around.”

An interesting corollary to the increased demand for rentals in San Francisco,according to Farrugia, is the appearance of more and more brokers who handle rentals.Most rentals used to be handled by the owners themselves, but now they’re being turned overto brokers, which makes the hunt a bit easier. And more good news: in San Francisco,the broker’s fee is usually paid by the owner (while in New York, it’s the renter who pays).

Go big AND go home

Britta Schell moved from the East Village in New York eight months ago.Her home search was made more difficult because she had a dog.

“Most San Francisco landlords do not want dogs. After hearing from friendsthat getting a quaint, classically San Francisco Victorian style house-- our first choice -- was so competitive and a nightmare in terms of maintenance issues,we knew we had to change our approach. We found that our best bet was rentingin a building owned and managed by a national company.Archstone and Related are two, we used Related.The best part of working with a national group is that everything can bedone online and management is very accountable. We’re living in a one-bedroomin the SOMA neighborhood with our dog and access to a gym, pool, roof deck and bike storage.”

Why the Bay Area boom?

Steve Clark, a general contractor in San Francisco, who describes himself as a Bay Area“house flipper” and the owner of three apartment buildings in San Francisco,thinks there are 4 main reasons why his business is booming:

When the economy tanked in 2008, people in the SFO who lost their homesentered the rental market, spiking demand.A few years ago, when San Francisco started offering incentivesfor tech companies to locate there, the 20- and 30-somethings who gotjobs wanted to live and play in the city.The potential to collect high rents in San Francisco attracted foreign investors,most notably from China, who bought properties that had a 15-20 percent ROI.When renters realized that they would have to pay $3000 per month to rent,they decided they’d rather buy their own places.

How to begin your search for San Francisco real estate

Start with the people you know -- friends, relatives and colleagues.Get their advice about house hunting in San Francisco. At the very least, visit, drive around and spend as much time as you can getting to know the city.

Brendon DeSimone, an expert with says,“I always tell people to rent first, even if only for 6 months.Each neighborhood in San Francisco is so dynamic. You may find that you end up spendingmuch of your time in one part of town over another. You need to learn abouteach of the different neighborhoods, what makes them unique and what appeals to you.”(For starters, check out Moveline’s post about San Francisco neighborhoods.)

To get a feel for what’s out there, start with Zillow, Trulia,Padmapper, Craigslist and Redfin.SF Curbed’s Farrugia likes LiveLovely and thinks it’s “a great alternative to craigslistsince it’s in map format and aggregates listings from lots of other sites.They have a fantastic phone app, too. Zumper is another good one and is in easy to use map format.”

Landon Nash, an agent with Redfin, recommends his company’s one-stop-shopping approach.“Our website is updated every fifteen minutes.You can keep an eye on the market from anywhere you are and if you sign up for ourinstant alerts, we’ll let you know the minuteanything in the neighborhood, size and price range you want goes up.”

Another excellent resource is, not surprisingly, SF Curbed, the neighborhood and real estateblog that Farrugia writes for. Start with two of her “Rental Wars” posts:“Closing the deal: what you need to score an apartment in San Francisco” and“Think you’ve found ‘the one? Here’s how to solidify the deal.”

Because the SFO real estate market is so dynamic,anyone who’s house hunting needs to be ready to pounce the minute something good comes along.To do this, you’ll need to get pre-approved by a lender which, according to Nash,“can mean the difference between getting a losing ‘the one’.”’s Open Book feature has a list of preferred and reviewed lendersin the San Francisco area (the list includes recommendationsfor inspectors and title searchers, too).

“Once you’ve made a choice of lender, you can get approved in 24-48 hours,”says Nash. “The process is helpful, too, in order to figure out what you canafford and what you’re comfortable paying. The two are not necessarily the same.”

Whether you’re moving to San Francisco or any other city in the US, let Moveline help.We’ll help you get a complete inventory, compare quotes, and find the perfect mover-- all for free. Get us in your corner and we’ll take the stress out of your move.It’s what we do.