Living In America: The Housing Search in San Francisco

When Christoffer Thygesen moved to the Bay Area, he knew the housing search would be challenging, but he had no idea how hard it would be. A data scientist at Square, Christoffer grew up outside of San Francisco, near Palo Alto. After spending four years in Pittsburgh for college, he returned to Northern California to take a job in San Francisco.


Craigslist Madness

He began his housing search in early July, combing through hundreds of Craigslist ads. He quickly realized that the housing market was even crazier than he anticipated. It took him and his two roommates, a fraternity brother from Carnegie Mellon, now working as an engineer at Google, and a childhood friend who is now at LinkedIn, two full months of concerted effort before they found a place.

Part of the problem was the rapid pace of the San Francisco housing market. Christoffer described going to open houses and seeing ten other groups there with their credit reports and paperwork prepared, hoping to sign a lease that day. He and his roommates applied to four different places before finally being approved.

The other challenge of the search was finding the right balance between quality and value. "A lot of places are two times the rent for 1.2 times the quality," Christoffer described. While there were many options for expensive, subpar housing, Christoffer and his roommates were determined to wait for the right place.

Eye on the Prize

On their list of requirements: no shared walls. Though all of the roommates work in tech, they are also musicians, and it was important to them that they would be able to practice late at night without worrying about disturbing their neighbors. They were also hoping for a place with parking, and a garage for storage. These stipulations narrowed their search to single family homes. This was an added challenge to an already difficult search, as only about 10% of the available rentals in San Francisco are single family houses.

Initially, they focused their search on The Mission, Potrero Hill, and Lower Haight, but quickly expanded their search. Christoffer and one of his roommates work in the southeastern area of the city, and the third roommate takes the Google Shuttle to work. They wanted to be a short commute to their workplaces, but also have easy access to the rest of the city. As they all had friends living in north SF, they refocused their search on more central locations.

Both of his roommates have cars, though one is considering trading his in for a motorcycle. Christoffer is considering leasing a car but says that he doesn't think the house really needs more than one. As parking is prohibitively expensive, none of the housemates drive to work. Both Christoffer and his roommate working at LinkedIn commute via public transit and the third roommate uses the Google Shuttle.

Landing a Gem

Christoffer is glad they waited it out though. They ended up scoring a three bedroom house with a garage between Inner Ridgemont and NOPA (North of Panhandle). Similarly sized houses run anywhere from $4000 to $8000 in SF, but with a prime location, three common rooms and a backyard, Christoffer considers his place a great deal at $6000 per month, split between three housemates. On a quiet cul de sac right off of a bustling, social street, their new place gives them easy access to the best of San Francisco.

Mostly, Christoffer is thrilled to be done with the search. "I can't describe how good it felt to close all those Craigslist tabs after signing the lease" he says. Though the housing search dragged on for two full months, its conclusion was rapidly paced: he and his roommates signed the lease on a Friday and moved in that weekend.

Looking Ahead

Though he is happy to have finally found a place, the future remains uncertain. Under San Francisco law, only apartments are required to be rent controlled. Single-family homes like the one Christoffer and his housemates moved into are unprotected. There is a very real possibility that they will be priced out of their rental if the housing market continues to fluctuate.

As for the long-term future, Christoffer acknowledges that renting isn't a good long term investment. He's been following the reports that house prices are going to continue to rise in the Bay Area, and that it is better to get in on the market sooner rather than later. Right now however, buying a home isn't in the cards. "I feel like the only people my age that can buy a house have rich parents that are basically buying one for them," Christoffer explains. As a recent grad starting his first real job, he isn't quite sure where he will end up. For now, he is more than happy to rent, for a few years anyways. Moreover, as he unpacks his boxes and settles into his new life in San Francisco, he is just glad to be done searching.

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