We spent the last week hunting for an apartment. The rental market here in San Francisco is fierce. We showed up for open houses at 1-bedroom apartments in a good neighborhood going for $2500/month, and 20 people were already there early. Everyone has a printed packet with their credit score, proof of employment, and landlord references. (It's a very good thing I got a job before we arrived, I don't know how we would have done this otherwise.)
We looked far and wide: in a dozen SF neighborhoods; in Oakland (we liked the Rockridge area but couldn't find any rentals there); and in Berkeley (similar to Oakland). Like everyone else, we wanted the perfect combination of location, size, layout, ambient light, weather (the western third of the city is foggy most of the time), and MUNI (bus) access. Bonus points for a porch or yard (to grow some plants and have a BBQ), parking (we're considering buying a motorcycle), laundry, and a dishwasher.
We eventually found three places we liked and had a decent shot of getting. The first was in Ashbury Heights, near Cole Valley (with a very nice stretch of small shops). It was high up, with a great view over the whole city, and a huge yard. Problem was, the ceilings were 6' high, and the unit was illegal (they divided a 2-floor into 2 units). We seriously considered taking it anyway - we're not tall people - but then changed our minds, and someone else got it anyway.
The second place we liked was in Upper Market. The apartment was very nice, and the price wasn't bad (relative to everything else). But while it was a 15 minute walk to Castro, Noe Valley (the "hipster dads with strollers" neighborhood, as a friend put it), and Cole Valley, it wasn't actually close to anything.
The third was bigger, in Cole Valley, with a yard. But behind the unit was an ugly gray building that cut off 2/3 of the sunlight, so even on a sunny day it didn't feel bright.
We ended up taking the second place, in Upper Market. We decided to take it after walking from there to Noe Valley and liking the walk (in good weather). It has a walkscore of 78, good enough for people like us who like to walk. By bicycle or motorcycle we wouldn't be too far from groceries to make last-minute dinner runs. We also haggled the price down $150 from the first price we saw (which was $100 lower than its first-listed price - history available thanks to WalkScore.com).
Our stuff (shipped via the DoorToDoor "pod" service) arrives on Friday 9/21 at the earliest, so we signed a lease yesterday to move in that day. (There's a good chance we'll be in sleeping bags for the first few days, but we have all our camping gear.) I start work on Monday 9/24.
The lease signing was anti-climactic: After all the crowded open houses and absurd prices, we got a place that wasn't pushed aggressively, we set the terms on price and move-in date, and signed without any fanfare. (It's managed and possibly also owned by a company that probably handles much more expensive properties, so we surmise that it's just low-priority for them.)
Hooray! Today we're catching up on some work and "administrative" stuff, and then tomorrow morning we're going to rent a car and go on a road trip through Northern California for the rest of the week.