Competing for Housing with $$$Techies When You Make $

When I moved across the country, jobless, just to shake things up, I hadn’t been reading up on just how expensive and competitive it is to find housing in the Bay Area; the area in the US that is most notorious for its tech startups. I knew San Francisco’s claim to fame as the most expensive city in the country, but I didn’t realize just how much that impacted the nearby Oakland and Berkeley housing markets, as well. It’s a hustle, man – anyone will tell you. And they’ll probably use that word, too: Hustle.

In the two months that I’ve been here, just about every other person I’ve met has claimed to work in tech.  All of these people have more money than I do and they also need a place to live. The rents are rising – not only in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, but in all of the surrounding areas and the same is true in the other tech hub cities around the world. If you live in Hoboken, Kansas City, MO, Las Vegas, Portland, Boulder, Northwest Arkansas, Long Island City, Omaha, NE, Stamford, CT (not to mention Beijing, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Barcelona, or London), you probably know what I’m talking about. It is appalling and it is nearly impossible to compete.

So here we are. We’re looking for a place to call home on a modest (read: normal) salary.  Apartment hunting apps are a good starting point, but they are not enough in tech-heavy markets when you’re not rolling in dough.

Lower your standards or explore the city outskirts 

If it’s really important to you to be in the middle of the action, prepare to lower your standards. Smaller, less modern, fewer amenities…in some cities, even places like this will break the bank. If that’s the case, or if you can’t seem to stomach the idea of living in a closet, start to look at the surrounding areas. Odds are, these neighborhoods and cities will be up and coming sooner than you think.

Get a roommate – or five

roommate rulesYou basically have two options in these areas if you really want to save on rent: accept the fact that either you will be living with others or that you will be living a considerable distance from the action. You can go with one of two approaches on the roomie front; find the roommates first, then look at available apartments with them or find open rooms in places that are already established. Check to see if there are any communal living situations in your area; these can be great if you like people and community. Craigslist is a great resource, of course, and you can do a Google search and/or ask around to see if there are any list serves or Facebook groups that will steer you in the right direction.

Check Craigslist listings daily – maybe even twice

Respond to every ad that seems like it might work for your budget and sensibilities. Again, this can be a place to find potential roommates or available rooms. If you’re applying for rooms, spending some time to craft a great introduction e-mail is a must. It shouldn’t be so long that reading it is a chore, but it should have enough info to give the posters a thorough and positive idea about who you are and why you’re interested in AND a good fit for their house. These people receive hundreds of responses. It’s a HUSTLE. You have to convince them that you are truly a viable candidate. Write one general letter and then tailor it to each ad as if it were a cover letter. Include a picture that shows you are a normal person (or that you’re weird, if they like weird).

Reach out to your community

You will be shocked to see how many connections your connections have. Write a post on Facebook or send an e-mail to your contact list with details about what you’re looking for (how much you wanna spend, pets or no, proximity to public transit, neighborhoods you’re open to, etc)  and watch the responses come pouring in. One of my friends from college had just started thinking about subletting out his place to save some money when he saw that I was looking for a temporary sublet. He offered me an incredible deal on his studio while he stayed at his parents’ house for a few weeks.

Tell everyone you meet that you’re looking

Even strangers can be really helpful! I met someone at a workshop and within just 15 minutes of chatting, she was on the phone with a friend who had recently posted about an amazingly priced, newly available apartment in his building. The more you talk about it, the more likely you are to help the Universe help you. You can do it! But – it’s true – ya gotta do the hustle.

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Author My First Apartment

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Naomi Finkelstein is an educator and an artist of many sorts who has lived in Madrid, New York, Chicago, and now the Bay Area. She's had as many as four roomies and as few as none. A yoga and vegetable enthusiast in a totally non-annoying way, she loves people, places, things and ideas.

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Comments (2)

  1. Naomi Naomi

    Most people prefer to commute via BART from Oakland to SF. The traffic approaching and crossing the bay bridge can be a serious pain in the butt – it is not a fun commute. If you are riding with more than one person, you can drive in the carpool lane and that makes a big difference. In fact, there are even locations where people gather to give/get rides so they can get to the city faster. Hope that helps!

  2. Avatar Ana

    Since you live in Oakland, is it necessary to have a car to get into the main SF area? Would it be inconvenient to make that commute daily?