February 2013

Potrero Hill Rental Market Competitive, Pricey

Sasha Lekach

Finding that elusive San Francisco apartment can be challenging without substantial connections, budget and time to hunt. Securing a space to rent in Potrero Hill is almost as difficult as the most desirable City neighborhood, with strong demand to live in the sunny community.

Prices for a room in a Hill house, flat, or apartment generally start at $1,000 a month, and go up from there. One-bedrooms cost at least $2,000 monthly, with higher rents for units on the Hill’s North Slope, close to Caltrain, or with views. Data from rentjungle.com, which culls its statistics from thousands of online listings, puts rent for an average San Francisco one-bedroom at $1,845 a month, with two-bedrooms averaging $2,364. Average rents for one to three bedrooms in Potrero Hill is $3,389.

Tim Vanderet, 24, a City of Sunnyvale transplant, lives on Arkansas and Mariposa streets with two other 20-something men. It’s their first post-college apartment, which took them two months to find. Armed with a map of San Francisco neighborhoods, Vanderet had scoured Craigslist. He started at $1,000 a person for a three-bedroom apartment, but quickly learned that he’d have to pay more. 

Potrero Hill emerged as a viable option for Vanderet and his friends after apartments in other neighborhoods proved beyond competitive, and prices continued to jump. Three-bedroom apartments in the Marina and North Beach were renting for almost $5,500 per month. Sunset and Richmond district rentals were available for $1,000 a month per person, Vanderet said, but his housemates wanted to stay Southside for easy freeway and Caltrain access. They discovered that the Hill was centrally located, with more spacious rentals than other neighborhoods. Vanderet said his worries about the community having too much of a young family vibe have been unfounded.

Through Craigslist, the group secured a lease and moved into their apartment near Jackson Park last November, at a reasonably affordable rate of $3,600 per month, though it “went above what we wanted to spend,” Vanderet said. He theorized that rental prices are rising “because demand goes up and the supply isn’t changing.”

The search is the key element to finding a living situation. The Internet provides the most access to rental listings, with Craigslist a prominent site. Padmapper.com takes Craigslist listings and other online sources, organizes them into a more visually attractive display, and provides a comparison of rental prices in an area. Other sites, such as myapartmentmap.com, lists Potrero Hill, South of Market, Mission and Downtown apartments for rent in condominiums and other multi-unit buildings and luxury developments. Similar sites include hotpads.com, forrent.com, and mynewplace.com. Driving around or walking a neighborhood can yield slim results, with the occasional “For Rent” sign posted on an apartment window; this method seems more productive for finding homes or units for sale.

Vanderet said he browsed through Craigslist posts up to three hours a day for seven weeks, to the point where he knew when a new listing was up and could pounce on it right away. An extreme example was a Mission District home that first posted online at 1 p.m. Vanderet immediately contacted the poster, who said a showing would be at 6 p.m. that night. Vanderet and his housemates arrived at the apartment at 5:45 p.m., holding applications, pay stubs and other materials, along with three other groups just as prepared to grab the spot. Over the course of the open house, Vanderet estimated that as many as 35 different parties came through expressing interest. By the end of the night, the notice had been removed from Craigslist. Presumably a lease was signed the next day. “There’s very quick turnaround,” he said. At another instance, at a possible Noe Valley apartment, Vanderet arrived at an open house to be told other prospective tenants had offered to pay the first month’s rent in cash upfront.

Hill resident Dan Couch, 25, experienced a similarly competitive field before moving from his parent’s Menlo Park home to his 23rd and Kansas streets apartment in 2011. He spent two months searching for a place in Potrero Hill, Mission, Bernal Heights and South of Market because of their proximity to Caltrain, which he takes to work in Mountain View every day. Couch was warned how stressful San Francisco house hunting can be, but in retrospect realized that at the start of his search “I was pretty lackadaisical about it” and that “at the first open house I thought I was prepared, but realized I was severely under prepared.” He had to up his game, and “from then on I was pretty diligent about bringing all the necessary paper work” to open houses and showings.

Couch even turned to a real estate agent for advice, through a family connection, and was pointed toward the Sunset District for apartments within his price range; an upper limit of roughly $1,200 per month per roommate. Determined to locate something Southside, he and two other friends managed to find a landlord ready to take on the trio through a persistent Craigslist search. But, according to Couch, as they were closing the deal the landlord called suddenly and said that he had until the end of that day to sign the lease or it’d go to someone else. Couch was at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park; he left the concert and headed across town to make the deadline. 

Richard Schelin, 54, a new student at the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine on 455 Arkansas Street, is determined to live in the same neighborhood as he’s studying. He moved from Seattle in December, and has a temporary sublet in Bayview for $900 a month as he searches for a more permanent living situation. He doesn’t have a car, and plans on walking to school. However in his two months of looking he’s discovered “it’s quite expensive in Potrero.” 

Schelin has been using the online NextDoor Potrero Hill community forum for rental leads, to no avail. Others in the past few months have used the site as a place to search for housing or offer availability, such as one December post that advertised a $1,000 per month room in Dogpatch with two other housemates. View writer LeeAndrea Morton posted on the site before Christmas that she was looking for a room in the coming months, “I want to stay in the Hill! I work here and love the community so much,” she wrote.

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