Travel & Living Abroad

Everyone who's been living in California knows how stressful it is to find a place to rent that fits your budget. Now, if you live in the Bay Area as I do, you probably agree with me when I say that looking for a place to rent is one of the most stressful things to do, especially if you are a foreigner who is trying to make it in the Land of Opportunity.

I've been hunting for an apartment for a few months now, and it's unbelievable how expensive the rents are in the Bay Area. And I am not even looking to rent in San Francisco. I work in the East Bay, so I thought finding an affordable place somewhere around work would be cheaper than the Peninsula or the city. But nothing is cheap anymore, not in the Bay Area.  

Not only that, but if you just moved to the United States or you are new to the Bay Area, you need to learn very quickly about all the expenses that renting an apartment requires. I moved to California four years ago, and I've been living in three different places already, this being my fourth time moving to a new home. It's not that I enjoy moving from one apartment to the other, but sometimes life gets in the way, and for one reason or the other I had to find new places to live. 

This time, as I was looking for a new place to rent, I thought I would share with you a couple of the things I learned on the way, and that might help you plan for your next move. 

First things first, can you rent an apartment without having a credit history? 

When I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area a couple of years ago, one of the most frustrating things I found when looking for rent was that everyone was asking for my credit score. I had just opened my bank account a couple of weeks earlier, and of course, I did not have any credit history. If you are in the same situation, don't get disappointed, you can still find a place to rent, but you will probably need to rent directly from the property owner. Most apartment complexes make you go through a standard application process, which includes a credit check. 

Where to search for apartments for rent?

There are so many sites for apartment hunting, it all depends on what you are looking for. If you need to rent directly from the property owner and you need to have a little bit more of flexibility with all the moving requirements, you should definitely check Craigslist. On Craigslist you can find rental units that are posted directly by the property owner, as well as cheaper renting options like sharing a room in an apartment or renting an in-law unit. All the other sites are apartment complexes that are usually managed my leasing agencies. Here are some of the sites I've used most and that I find trustworthy. 

Important things to check when looking to rent a place

1. Utilities

The rent price does not always include utilities (water, trash removal, Sewer, PG&E (gas and electricity)). Make sure you look for this information on the rental posting or ask the landlord if utilities are included in the rent price.

2. Apartment Amenities/Policies

  • Pet Policy
    Many property managers charge a recurring monthly "pet rent" and a pet deposit (the deposit is refundable). Most pet deposits are between $350 - $500 per pet, and the additional monthly "renting fee" is between $35 - $75. I've even seen apartments that charge a renting fee for a bird or fish.
  • Laundry on site
    If having laundry on site is a big thing for you, make sure you check this information on the rental posting. Not all apartments complex have laundry units onsite. 
  • Parking
    Some rental units also come with assigned garage parking or covered parking, but many of them charge an extra monthly fee for this too. Prices vary between $350-$500. 

3. Recurring Expenses

Besides the monthly rent, ask what are the recurring expenses.
Usually, these include:
  • Pet rent
  • Assigned garage parking or unassigned covered parking

4. One Time Expenses
  • Application Fee. It varies between $30-$50, and you can't start the rental application process without paying this fee which is used by the property manager to run a background check on you and a credit report. 
  • Cat deposit and dog deposit. Most places charge between $300-$600 deposit per pet. 

Some of the other things you will find very useful on rental websites are: 

Walk score and transit score 

It provides information on how accessible the area is by foot or how efficient is the public transit.

Sound score

Information on how quiet or noisy the location is, depending on the proximity of the train station or public transit stops. 

As I was looking for a place to rent, I've felt many times like I am going for a job interview. You have to stand out from all the other people that are looking to rent the same place as you are. That's why one of the most important things you need to take care of is your credit score.  Many landlords won't even look at your application if you have a poor credit score, which I know from experience, it does not always mean you are not a responsible person, but instead, it shows that life is expensive and it's hard to make ends meet. 

Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions about finding a place to rent in the Bay Area, or if you want to share with me your experience with renting around here. 

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