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Can’t-Miss Apartment Search Websites for Living in San Francisco

April 13, 2015
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Finding housing in San Francisco can feel hopeless, especially if you’re new to the city. Competition is fierce, and rents jumped almost 11% from 2013 to 2014, according to real estate website Trulia. So how do you make living in San Francisco a reality in such a tough market? We’re here to help. Check out our list of the best resources for finding an apartment in San Francisco.

>>MORE: What You Need to Rent an Apartment


Think of it as a necessary evil. Craigslist has a huge inventory because it’s been the go-to site for apartment hunters for years, but you’ll have to sift through spam and exaggerated apartment listings to get to the good stuff. The key is to search smart.

  • Take advantage of miscategorized posts. If you’re looking for a room in a house, don’t limit your search to the “rooms/shared” section. Comb through “apts/housing” and “sublet/temporary,” too, just in case a landlord or potential roommate labeled their ad incorrectly. The same goes for neighborhoods. Search by a landmark you want to live close to, like “Lafayette Park” or “University of San Francisco,” to make sure you cover the whole surrounding area, no matter which neighborhood name the landlord chose to use.
  • Don’t skip ads without photos or posts that have just a few sentences about the apartment’s features. The landlord might simply be unfamiliar with Craigslist. If you’re one of the few to respond, you could nab a diamond in the rough. But always be wary of ads that ask you to send personal information over email.
  • Post in the “housing wanted” or “rooms wanted” boards. Give your post an eye-catching headline and include your preferred neighborhoods, apartment size and the maximum amount of rent you’re willing to pay. Make clear that you’re reliable, have a steady income, and note your hobbies to show off your personality.
  • Use the pipe symbol (“ | ”) to combine search terms within Craigslist’s housing ads. If you want an apartment in Haight-Ashbury with a patio, search “patio | haight” and only the apartments that meet that criteria will appear. Type the symbol using Shift + backslash, below the delete button on a Mac or backspace on a PC.


If you want a more visual way to search for a room or apartment, overlays housing ads on Google Maps to let you search by neighborhood. It pulls ads not only from Craigslist but also from Airbnb, ApartmentFinder, and its own apartment listings site, PadLister. You can filter results by full leases, sublets, rooms and vacation rentals, or by apartments that allow cats or dogs. Click on “no-fee” for housing options that don’t require a broker’s fee. San Francisco is one of the cities where PadMapper has made available a few “Super-Secret Advanced Features,” which pop up when you click “Show More Filters.” There’s a neighborhood overlay that includes more specific neighborhood information than is available on Google Maps, as well as a Walk Score feature that shows the walkability of each section of the city.

Living in San Francisco means you’ll have to deal with cutthroat competition for housing. To give you a leg up on other apartment hunters, PadMapper offers hourly or daily email alerts that notify you whenever apartments that meet your search criteria are posted. Resize the map on PadMapper so it covers the neighborhoods you want alerts for, and set the filters to the features you need — like your desired number of bedrooms, your budget or whether you want to avoid a broker’s fee.


If you’re looking for a full apartment, Lovely does everything PadMapper can — but with a prettier interface. pulls ads from Craigslist, other apartment listing websites and management companies and groups them on Google Maps by neighborhood. If there are five apartments available near the 16th Street and Mission Street BART station, for instance, click on the number “5” and pull up a drop-down list of those apartments with thumbnail images. You can set filters and create email alerts like on PadMapper, but an added bonus is the ability to contact landlords directly through Lovely. If your landlord allows it, you can even pay him or her through the site once you find a place.


Hotpads says it was the first map-based housing search tool on the Internet. The site’s user-friendly layout brings up photos and apartment details in a right-hand sidebar that also displays additional listings in the same apartment building. The map features layers for nearby bicycle routes, public transit and a satellite view of the neighborhood. Like Lovely, Hotpads lets you contact landlords and brokers directly through the site, but a bonus for recent grads is that Hotpads also includes corporate housing listings. They’re a good option if you don’t mind staying in short-term housing in San Francisco while you look for a long-term place.

Your social networks

Never underestimate the power of a well-timed Facebook post. Maybe a college friend of yours is living in San Francisco and needs to break her lease. If she refers you to her landlord, you’ll avoid a broker’s fee and she’ll leave her apartment scot-free. Post on Twitter and Instagram, too, to make sure you reach your Facebook-averse friends and family.

Just like on Craigslist, include in your post your maximum budget, the number of bedrooms you’re looking for and any neighborhood preferences. Don’t be shy about reaching out to friends of friends (or connections even further removed) and follow up on leads right away. Looking for a place in San Francisco can be a pain, but with some savvy — and a lot of patience — you’ll find a home to call your own.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer covering education and life after college for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter.