Finding housing in the US might be a very stressful task for some Atlas Corps satellite fellows due to various reasons including budget and time restrictions, being new to the city or not having an experience living abroad…etc
In this article, I am going to share some of my experience and best practices about looking for a place in the beautiful city of San Francisco. While this article is specific to the SF, many tips are applicable to all the other states.
First of all, use your network: If you have any friends living in SF don’t hesitate to ask them for help looking for a place to stay, use your network as much as you can. Talk to your host organization and ask them if they can provide temporary accommodation or if they know of any available room within your budget in the area. Contact your ambassadors and the other fellows.
Start looking for a place before moving to the US: It is very important to start your search before you beginning your US journey, you can contact people on Facebook groups or Craigslist. While it is very rare to be able to find a place without being physically in the city -as usually things happen very fast and landlords require the people interested in renting to visit the room very soon-, this will allow you to get more familiar with the types of rooms available, locations, requirements, the amenities and all.
Book a hostel in SF: You have arrived in DC and you are attending orientation but you are worried because you still didn’t find a place yet? No problem, Atlas Corps provides you with a temporary housing allowance that will be sufficient for booking from 10 to 14 nights in some hostels such as San Francisco International hostel and European hostel. Once you have booked your room and moved to the city, time for the next step.
Preparing your template: As explained before finding a place while not being in the city is almost impossible, but now that you have arrived it’s time to contact people and visit some rooms. Before sharing the websites or Facebook pages with you, I would like to highlight how important is the content of the email or the message you are going to use to contact the landlords, here’s a template that was based on the one provided by Atlas Corps that you can use or enhance:
I saw your ad on Craigslist, and this place sounds perfect for me as it is very close to work. My name is (Your name) I’m (your age) old (your gender), nonprofit worker from (Your country) and I will be on a management fellowship with (Your host organization) in San Francisco, starting (Start date). In my free time, I enjoy playing soccer, hiking, hanging out with my friends and live music (add your own hobbies). I’m responsible and always pay rent on time. I am clean and respectful of others space. I’m looking for an affordable place in the city, so this place caught my eye!
I am a non-smoker and never use drugs.
Can you please advise if the room is still available? Does the rent include utilities? (Add any other questions you have relating laundry, proximity to public transportation, lease type, utilities per month, type of room: private, shared, converted..etc)
Please let me know when you will be available to show me the room.
I would be available for a lease beginning on (suitable date for you) for a year.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Your phone number.
Your Linkedin profile
Attach a cool photo of you.
As you can see I have included a lot of info as for instance some people only prefer to host a certain gender or locals, some of them will run a background check on you as there are a lot of scammers out there so providing Linkedin profile will be helpful, it is also preferable to send the emails using your Atlas Corps email. Providing your phone number might make things go faster as some of the landlords will use the number to text you back and finally a photo can make the email more like a face to face experience rather than just some text from a stranger.
Websites and facebook groups to use:
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of Facebook groups or websites you can use for you room hunting.
1- Craigslist.com: Try refining your search by location, rent rate and check both room shares and sublets.
2-Kangaroom.com.: Create a profile first, this website uses mainly the ads from Craigslist and put them in a very interactive map that shows you the rent and of course the location.
B) Facebook pages:
The conscious community pages are my favorite.
Now that you have got the template to use for contacting landlords and the websites/Facebook pages to use, the next thing to do is to start spamming.
Things might take some time, landlords receive a lot of messages from people interested in the same room as you, so don’t worry if no one answers you during the first couple of days. Another important point is that you shouldn’t limit your search to long term leases, remember, you are only staying in that hostel temporarily (if you have opted for the hostel of course, other options are Airbnb, being hosted by another fellow or colleague or being provided by temporary accommodation by your host organization), in other words you should also contact the people who are subleasing their rooms for a month or more as if you could secure a room for month for instance (that you will be paying your first stipend) then you will have plenty of time to look for a more permanent place under less stress.
Visiting a room:
You have got an email from a landlord and agreed on the time/date for visiting the room, here are some useful tips:
– Be in time: I have visited many rooms and many of the owners appreciated the fact that I arrived in time.
– Ask a lot of questions: Reconfirm the monthly rent, ask about the amenities, ask about the other roommates and their habits (like what they do and at what time they go to work in the morning,(you might need to wake up early to use take a shower) ask about the lease, security deposit and termination.
-Check the room/house thoroughly: Is it clean, does it have enough natural light, is it furnished, is the shower working…etc
– Don’t rush, I know maybe this is the first person who got back to you and you feel that if you don’t take the place then you might not find another one, well this might be true because with your current budget you won’t get a fancy room in an expensive city like SF but should you feel that the room isn’t good for you or the roommates doesn’t seem to have the same mindset as yours then better take your time.
– The rent: rent in SF varies with the type room and the location, to give you an idea, the price of renting a big private room in West Oakland might be equivalent to renting a shared room in SOMA. The rent varies from $750 for shared room to $2000 or more for a private one. Capping your rent budget is a personal choice some people don’t mind sharing a room as in the end it’s only a place to sleep, some others need more privacy.
Another thing to consider is the distance from work, in order to compare between two rooms you need to know that:
Total rent cost = monthly rent + utilities + transportation cost to work.
Here’s an example:
Room #1 is $800 a month including utilities, you will need to take Bart (SF underground) and commute for 40min and which will cost you $150 a month.
Room #2 is $975 and is very close to work, you only need to walk.
So what’s the best room?
Room#1 total rent = 950.
Room#2 total rent = 975
The answer is room#2, as despite the fact that you will be paying $25 more, you will be commuting less, which means you will be less tired by the end of the day, on the contrary, you’ll be more healthy as you’ll be walking every day to work, but again this is a personal choice, I have given this example just to show you that distance from work counts.
– Safety first:
You have found a private room in the 6th Street, it’s only $600 you visited it and all seemed fine? now wait a minute! Have you checked the neighborhood? In some cases, landlords reduce the monthly rent because no one wants to live in that area due to security reasons. Before signing a lease ask some locals about how safe is the neighborhood and if it is worth it to live there. You may also want to ask Atlas Corps staff to checks some ads for you or to get in touch with the landlords if you suspect a scam.
Now that you have liked the room and both of you and the landlord want to move forward, you’ll hear probably a term that is new to you “Credit check”. A credit check is an examination of someone’s credit history or the record of paying debt. But you have never been to the US and you can’t have a credit check, what to do? Don’t panic. If a credit check is required by your landlord then advise him/her that Atlas Corps will be your sponsor. Please contact your program manager should you face this issue for more details.
Reading the lease:
Everything went smoothly even though it took time, now you have the lease that you need to read before signing, but it is full of legal terminology and you don’t seem to understand some of the articles in the agreement, what to do?
Don’t panic, the most important parts in a lease agreement are the rent rate, rights and responsibilities, security deposit (make sure it is refundable), end of lease and termination. So if you got those clauses then you are fine, but if you have any questions your first point of contact is the landlord himself, go to the leasing office and ask all the questions that you have, don’t hesitate to ask the question again if you didn’t understand.
Once you have signed the lease ask when you will be able to move and then congratulations!! for finding a place.
Voila I hope that this is helpful, please don’t hesitate to contact me should you have any questions, remember things take time, I have more than 70 messages or emails to landlords even before coming to the US but only heard back from few or them and only visited fewer rooms so don’t panic, everything is going to be fine if you are well prepared and know how to use your network efficiently.