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To Have a Roommate — or Not — in San Francisco

April 20, 2015
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If you’ve just spent your college years shacked up with a bunch of roommates, it can be tempting to want to strike out on your own. Living alone means no messy roommates to clean up after, or loud music playing in the next room. There are some circumstances, though, that make it a good idea to share your housing costs and social life with roommates, especially as a college grad new to San Francisco.

What’s your budget?

Before you start the long and arduous apartment hunt, pick a firm maximum amount you’re willing to spend on rent. Take this opportunity to create a monthly budget, useful for any recent grad. Dig up your recent pay stubs and calculate how much money you take home after taxes each month, a figure known as your net pay (gross pay is the amount you make before Uncle Sam gets to it).

The financial experts here at NerdWallet recommend spending no more than 30% of your after-tax income on rent. If you bring home $3,000 a month, your maximum rental budget should be $900. The median price of a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco was $3,120 as of June 2014, according to Priceonomics. So if you can’t afford $3,120 for your own place, splitting rent with roommates is the right move for you.


Learn more in our Recent Grad’s Guide to San Francisco.

How will you pay for other housing costs?

Don’t forget to include utilities like heat, electricity, cable TV and wi-fi in your rental budget. San Francisco consumers paid 60% more for electricity than the national average in February 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, so it’s worth considering splitting those costs with roommates. You should spring for individual renters insurance to protect your valuables, which will run you an additional $185 a year on average.

Moving into a new place also means buying furniture, decorations, kitchen accessories and cleaning supplies. Depending on your budget and how many of these items you already own, an apartment shopping spree could run you a few hundred dollars. Roommates will split these costs with you or might have stuff of their own to contribute.

Do you have friends in the area?

Even if you can afford to live on your own, living with roommates you get along with is a solid way to have a built-in friend network in a new city. You’ll have friendly faces to come home to after a long day of work and a crew to go out with on the weekends. Living in a studio or a one-bedroom in San Francisco could feel isolating without a big community around you, especially if you’re a social butterfly.

Put a call out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see if any friends or friends-of-friends are moving to San Francisco, too. San Francisco is a popular city for recent graduates to live and work in — it even made it high on NerdWallet’s list of best cities for college grads. So it’s likely some of your friends from college might end up there. If not, roommates can fill the void.

Will you feel safe in the neighborhood?

Sometimes working within a tight budget means sacrificing the chance to live in a chic neighborhood. If you’re looking at apartments in areas that might be less safe, living with roommates is smart so you have friends to walk around the neighborhood with at night. Trulia’s San Francisco crime map includes regularly updated information on thefts, assaults and other crimes by neighborhood. Consider living with roommates for safety reasons if areas with higher crime rates are on your shortlist.

Going the roommate route in San Francisco? These resources can get you started.

  • Roomidex: This new service, available only in San Francisco and New York City, links with your Facebook profile and connects you with people in your social network who are also looking for a roommate.
  • Flatmate Meetup SF: This Meetup group plans events, usually at a local bar, for people in San Francisco to meet others looking for roommates. It’s a great way for you to scope out potential roommates in real life, rather than through online services. Check the website regularly for updates on upcoming events.
  • Alumni networks: Get in touch with your college’s alumni coordinator and see if there are any listservs or housing boards you can post on. Chances are there’s someone from your alma mater who has an open room or who also needs a roommate in San Francisco.

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

Image via iStock.