Noe Valley Voice October 2012

A Porch of One’s Own: Our fearless reporter made all the steps needed, in heels no less, to get the perfect Noe Valley rental.    Photo by Pamela Gerard

From Day to Duncan, with All My Cash

The Tell-All Diary of a Noe Valley Apartment Hunter

By Heidi Anderson


Unless you’ve been out of the country the past 30 years, you know how hard it is to find a place to rent in San Francisco. Hordes of fleet-footed apartment hunters fight to the death over crate-sized studios costing half their pay. This summer, I found myself in this hard-luck group. Not only was I searching for a rental, but I’d put myself up to the task of staying in Noe Valley. This is my story.

February: Landlady leaves me a voice­mail saying, “We need to talk about the apartment.” This is not typical patter between me and my landlady, from whom I’ve rented a perfect little in-law studio on Day Street for eight years. We’re like family. I’ve watched her three children grow and her amiable husband grill countless meals out my back window. She knows my kids (I’m divorced, kids live nearby with my ex), and I get free access to the washer and dryer in the garage. Anyway, she says, standing next to the washer with a bottle of wine for me, they’ve outgrown their place upstairs and it’s time. They need my place back. I thank her for the years of cheap rent and beautiful English-country backyard views.

March: What the hell was I thinking? That as summer got closer it would get easier to find a place? Weekly Craigslist perusals show me I was wrong, very wrong. There are fewer apartments with each passing day.

April: Lame romantic rush of moving-in-togetherness with my boyfriend proves to be lame. We look at one-bedroom places. In Noe, that’s $2,700 a month. Boyfriend, who lives in the suburbs, follows me on a few tours (“Oh look, it has a stove!”). Then he hightails it back to his split-level ranch house and free parking. Relationship fading.

May: Hokay, back to the studio idea. I know Noe Valley has a lot of studios with a little “A” on side doors next to the garage. Craigslist says they go for about $1,500. More if I want windows. No worries! I will network. It’s time to put the word out. PTA buddies, colleagues at the office, random people I used to know: I need a cheap studio apartment with a stove and a window! Under 2K! Why is everybody laughing?!

Mid-May: This is getting kinda scary. My apartment hunt is cutting into my day job. I’ve accrued a few weeks’ vacation and my boss agrees: get outta here and find that apartment. Christmas vacation with the kids? Schmishmas.

Late May: Ah. I am brilliant. Days off and nothing to do but find and secure an apartment in Noe Valley. I dub myself Apartment Girl. Smug in my newfound freedom, I enjoy time on Craigslist sitting next to people at Martha’s Coffee, soaking up the sun.

Late Late May: Now I am truly scared. It dawns on me, after several emails and calls and go-sees, that I do not understand this process. JESUS, I text to my best friend. IT’S LIKE TRYING TO GET A JOB. OR A DATE. This calls for serious action. I can hear my landlady’s kids playing upstairs, and I remember my promise: I’ll be out by the fall. Plus vacation is running out. Why oh why is it such a cutthroat business trying to find a home? Late at night, among half-packed boxes, I feel like crying.

Okay, shake it off. Pull the resume together, get the credit score regardless of how marginal it may be. Ask my landlady to write a letter of recommendation, put the stuff in snazzy clear-plastic report binders, and label each binder according to landlord’s address and favorite color (kidding).

Get back out there. Forget Noe Valley. I need to find a place so long as it isn’t Utah.

Fulton Street: Can’t find parking. Circling the block, I find myself falling in love with the charming Lower Haight crowd—all of which seems to be streaming into the front door of desired apartment building, rental applications in hand.

Page Street: Parking’s a breeze, building a bit shabby but who cares? Potential landlord and I hit it off. We both currently live in Noe. We like the same bars. I turn in my application and sleek renter’s resume. It’s placed on a pile. I never hear back.

Divisadero: Now this is a nice a studio I can get used to. I really like the landlord and his wife. There’s laundry in the building. Other tenants are pleasant. I’ve got this game down, so I have my checkbook (note: life savings transferred). I say I love the place and write a deposit check. He says great, he’ll check my references and credit score and maiden aunt’s employment history (kidding, maybe).

I walk to my parking space, past the housing projects next door, and watch an open Saturday afternoon drug sale. I think of my kids coming over. I mean, they’re teenaged boys and probably know better than I do about navigating these kinds of things, but still.… I close my car door, put the key in the ignition, and burst into tears.

Cole Street: Oh, my love. There you are. Edwardian details, gas stove, bathtub. Groovy neighborhood. A steal at $2,200 a month. I cannot afford this. But it’s perfect. I call the agent. I confirm online. I go. I flirt with the grocery store attendant next door waiting for the landlord to open the doors. It’s a bit dark, and oddly no closets. We’ll buy armoires! Deposit check written, business cards exchanged.

Extremely Late May: Call from Divisadero-next-to-projects landlord. The apartment is mine. My heart sinks. It’s like the guy you like okay but honestly don’t want to date seriously and you have to tell him the truth, even though you’re once again stranded on a Saturday night. I turn it down.

June: Returning from Daly City after looking at apartment complexes, I instinctively reach for my phone and check Craigslist. There’s something interesting, on Duncan about four blocks from me. Sounds drab, no photos, but it just got posted. Lists at $1,600. My spine tingles. I fumble with the phone and email a standard “Hello, my name is…and I just saw your posting for the apartment on…” Then I call the number. A gentleman picks up.

“Hello, I saw your posting and wonder if I could see the apartment.”

He says, “My goodness, I just posted it about 20 seconds ago.” 

“Cool. When can I come over to see it?”

Next Day: Get there early, shake hands with the landlord, and joke around with his grandson. I’m led to the stairs leading up to the apartment. Heart sinks as I ascend the creaky wooden steps.

At the door, I step into a lovely large two-room studio with a bay window and big kitchen (gas stove!) all flooded with sunshine. There’s a young couple already there, who are looking around doubtfully.

“Nice place,” I say, underselling it a bit.

“They want sixteen hundred dollars for this?” the guy asks. Oh, sweetheart, I think. You all must be new here.

Skipping back down the stairs, I find the landlord on his way up and stop him, smiling.

“I love the place. It is close to my kids. I’ve lived in Noe for nearly 20 years, and I can’t bear the thought of moving away now. Here’s my resume, my credit score, my current landlady’s cell phone number. I’ll fill out any other paperwork you’d like.”

Two hours later, the phone rings. The place is mine.

Noe Valley Voice writer Heidi Anderson stands in the sunny kitchen of the studio apartment she finally landed after four months of scanning Craigslist and schmoozing landlords in Noe Valley and parts unknown.    Photo by Pamela Gerard