At one point or another, I’ve heard every single one of my friends has had apartment troubles. Woes of roommates, crazy landlords, insane rent prices are constantly upon us. Now in my fifth year in San Francisco, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I’m in my 6th apartment. Yes, sixth.
I’ve detailed all six living situations I’ve been in since I moved to San Francisco and what I’ve learned from each. Do me a solid and avoid my mistakes. Capeesh? Capeesh.
I know that having an affordable home, or a normal home at that, can be hard to come by. I *hope* the tips below will help you make wiser decisions, even when choosing to live with roommates or in a small apartment.
APARTMENT ONE: STILL LIVING AT HOME…BASICALLY
As I mentioned in my article about moving to San Francisco, I lived with my uncle when I first arrived in the city. This was a mess of a decision. I hadn’t seen him for 10+ years and even though it was beyond generous for him to take me in, I was still miserable. I had just graduated college, was craving a social life and friends and unfortunately, gave myself the opposite.
My rationale was to try to get to know the city and find a roommate before jumping into an apartment.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
I somehow failed to check my commute to work. Silly me. I assumed that all cities were just like New York, where the trains were fast and easy to use. But no, San Francisco’s public transportation is very, very different (and often unreliable). I took three forms of public transportation, an hour and a half of travel, each day. Yikes.
My commute made it impossible to socialize or get to know the city. I couldn’t even interview for apartments because I couldn’t make it there in time.
I started leaving work early (screw a good first impression, right?) and found a way to interview for apartments. Also, I was only 21 at the time, so no one wanted to live with me for assumptions I was not aware of.
It took me a while to figure out that if I avoided talking about my age and pretending that I hadn’t just moved to the city (so I wouldn’t be clingy in the apartment), I could get interviews off of Craigslist.
I finally interviewed for an apartment in the Lower Haight with a guy roommate that was 10+ years older than me. It didn’t matter though. I was out of my uncle’s house!
If you are moving to a new city, check your commute. Is the public transportation reliable and easy? Is it safe? How long will it take you in actuality vs what Google maps said it will take you on a perfect day? If you have the chance to visit your city before, I would do a test run of your commute just to see how easy it is. This is something you’ll do EVERY DAY.
Right out of college, living with family may not always be the right choice. Is saving money worth it, when your mental health is going to shits? Are you able to create the life you want for yourself?
If something’s not working (like the fact that I could not get apartment interviews), try to figure out why and change your narrative. You control this and people may have preconceived notions about you that are completely false.
APARTMENT TWO: FLEA CITY
Living in my new apartment was refreshing. My neighborhood, although eccentric, wasn’t the safest.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
Lower Haight is an amazing neighborhood, but I didn’t personally vibe with it. Once I started to make friends, I was constantly Ubering up to a neighborhood called the Marina.
I didn’t exactly mesh with my roommate either. From the myriad of pills and plants he had around our kitchen (fill in the blanks here), to the older friends he had over, to sharing a bathroom, it was overall dirty and uncomfortable.
About two months later, I started to notice that my feet and legs constantly had bug bites. One night I found myself Googling different types of bug bites and I found one that looked exactly like mine. Fleas. OMG. The carpet in my apartment had fleas. I was livid. Although we got an extermination several times, they wouldn’t go away.
I found another place to live with a new SF friend so I could luckily move out. My current roommate paid me my security deposit back in cash, which made me think he was ‘dealing’ with something beyond the fleas in our place.
Is the apartment clean? This may seem silly but if the apartment isn’t great when you are viewing the apartment, how is it going to be when you are living with it?
Does your roommate seem normal and trustworthy? Looking back, I should have seen a mere red flag with the fact that this 30-something dude wanted to live with a 21-year-old girl. Ew.
Do you feel safe in the neighborhood? Have you walked around at night, at times beyond just the viewing of the apartment? Definitely, do this before moving in if you can.
APARTMENT THREE: THE WORLD’S TINIEST HOME
I was thrilled to move into my new apartment. It was tiny (500 square feet for a 2 bedroom, 1 bath, 1 living room, and 1 kitchen) with ceilings that barely spanned 6 feet, but at least I was living in a great neighborhood (the Marina!), with a super nice girl, and without fleas. Who cared if the room was the size of my full-size bed.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
Looking back, it probably should have occurred to both of us that the apartment we moved in to was definitely illegal by normal regulations. A first-floor apartment that was likely formerly a garage, one of the bedrooms had no windows.
Our landlord was also kind of weird and creepy. All the people who had lived in this apartment past seemed to be young girls as well. He came into our apartment once or twice unannounced. I should have stood up for us letting him know that it is illegal to show up unannounced.
Does your lease protect you from a creepy or weird landlord? My leases now all state that I need 24 hours notice before a landlord comes into my apartment.
Is your apartment in a space that’s legal? What is the cost per square foot? Value this before moving in.
APARTMENT FOUR: LIVING WITH 4 BEST FRIENDS (not mine)
A group of best friends invited me to live with them, which at the time felt so generous and kind. These girls had been best friends since they were babies so I didn’t think there would be any major conflict in our apartment.
I should mention that a few months into our new living situation, one of these girls best friends from home was dealing with some life troubles and they asked me if she could live with us (for free). They told me that she would only be with us for a few months, but she ended up being there for the duration of the time I was in that apartment. So now I was living with 4 best friends. I was the odd one out, so I couldn’t really voice my opinion.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
The only mistake I made in this apartment was the roommates. I ended up making my own group of friends and was ok with constantly being the odd one out at home. After about a year, I noticed that the conflict or any apartment issue ended up being directed at me. Was I a bad roommate? Was I doing something wrong?
The free-floating roommate was still there and even though she had lived in a place that I was paying rent and she wasn’t for now 18 months she was a huge cause of the gossip. In my opinion, she should have been thanking me.
Eventually, I had a heart to heart with one of the other roommates. She told me that it was easier to get annoyed with me than at each other because they didn’t want to rock the boat in their long-standing friendship. Because that makes sense.
Will the people you are living with allow you to make this your home? Will you feel nervous or scared, or outside of the group? Your roommates should be willing to treat you as an equal and not as an outsider.
APARTMENT FIVE: FIVE DOORS WITH THE HEAT ON
My next apartment consisted of fantastic roommates.I also loved the neighborhood. The apartment room was relatively nice, but I was living in a converted living room. With five doors…and none of them closed completely (damn converted living room)! The second thing wrong with this room was that the heater never turned off. It was literally always 80+ degrees in the room.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
I didn’t test the doors in the room as well as I should have prior to moving in. I also didn’t ask about the heater.
Is there anything odd about the room? Doors that don’t close or a heater that won’t shut off, maybe? Check this before moving in too. Is it something you can deal with?
APARTMENT SIX: HOME WITH ROOMMATES
I went over to a new friends house to watch The Bachelor one day. Her apartment was the most beautiful apartment I had ever seen. A 4 bed 4 bath, with every amenity I could hope for at a reasonable price. What?! Did this even exist? It hadn’t been that long since I had previously moved (and everyone thought I was crazy), but I didn’t care. She had two roommates moving out so this was my change. My opportunity to live in my own apartment (and have my own bathroom). I trusted my gut and made the jump. It was definitely the right decision. Having my own bathroom is a game changer. And even though its a 4 bedroom (which means sharing a kitchen with a looooot of people), it’s just about as beautiful of an apartment as I could ever imagine.
WHERE I WENT WRONG:
I didn’t! Finally.
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
EVERY 20-SOMETHING HAS APARTMENT TROUBLES. It is normal. It is part of growing up. If you knew everything to check for prior to moving in, you wouldn’t be in your 20’s. That being said, there ARE a few things you can do when moving into a new apartment to make sure you are not making the same mistakes as me. Follow the advice in this article and you’ll be one step ahead of where I was.