Room with a Few

A young San Franciscan’s dream: A room in a nice house, affordable rent, and a built-in social network.

There is no question that the rental market in San Francisco is tight. Everyone also agrees that August is the hardest month to find an apartment, as students have returned for school and people have moved to the city during the summer to start new jobs.

But additional factors have made the rental housing search increasingly difficult over the past several years. Ask three experts what those factors are, and you may get three different answers.

Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, has noticed that whenever real estate sales slow down, rents seem to rise and rental vacancy rates seem to drop. This time, New says, it's due to the mortgage crisis and the uncertainty in the economy.

When there’s an open room at the Tiger House, hundreds of people attempt to live there. There’s only room for seven.
Jen Siska
When there’s an open room at the Tiger House, hundreds of people attempt to live there. There’s only room for seven.
The Danlord, whose parents own the Tiger House, has been through 33 roommates in six years.
Jen Siska
The Danlord, whose parents own the Tiger House, has been through 33 roommates in six years.

Gavin Coombs, a real estate broker and a minor Craigslist celebrity for the number of housing ads he posts, believes the problem is rooted in rent control and people's tendencies to stay put when they find a good place. "There is just not a lot of turnover in desirable roommate shares," he says.

Amore Real Estate leasing agent Jason Quashnofsky doesn't buy either of those explanations. "San Francisco's rental market depends on one thing," he says authoritatively. "Jobs."

When there are plenty of available jobs, many out-of-towners move to the city, oftentimes having scored the best-paying jobs of their lives along with $10,000 moving bonuses. An influx of people with money drives up the rental rates.

The well-heeled can find a good place to live in a week, Quashnofsky says. But a person looking for a deal, or hoping to live with a group in a cheap, shared situation, should allow months.

Quashnofsky has been in real estate for five years and remembers when studios and two-bedrooms cost $900 and $1,700 respectively. In the past quarter, the average studio cost $1,700 and two-bedrooms hovered around $2,300, according to city economist Kurt Fuchs.

As for the six- and seven-bedroom places, well, twentysomethings can rarely afford those in this rental market, Quashnofsky says. Families who can pay $5,000 a month and up are scoring the big ones. When he learned about the Tiger House, he expressed shock that something like that still exists. Since sales value exceeds the small return on a rental, it just wouldn't make economic sense.

The Danlord and his parents are seemingly aware of this. Though the Danlord isn't sure exactly when, a time will come when they will fix up the house real nice and sell it. If Amy didn't get in this time, she might not have another chance.

Hey — My name is Amy. I know that doesn't sound like a guy's name. Primarily because it's not. But your place sounds awesome so i'm going to throw my hat in with the testosterone pool. I'm 25 years old and recently moved back to the city after taking a year off to teach and travel around southeast asia. Typical daily schedule is going to work (I'm going to be working in corporate foundation/philanthropy work out here), doing some sort of outdoor activity or yoga afterwards then either checking out some random event in the city or heading home to relax. the simpsons question is easy: homer because he believes in pie heaven. 

Though she didn't know it, this was Amy's response to another of the Danlord's ads. It had requested a guy, and hadn't mentioned the words Tiger House. However, when she heard back from the Danlord, she recognized the name and suddenly realized that it was the same guy from two years ago. It was the Tiger House.

A double rejection would have been pretty brutal, and not unprecedented. Though Amy wasn't aware of it, a handful of people had vied for open Tiger House rooms multiple times. Not a single repeat applicant had ever won a spot.

With each step she took toward the address, Amy became more certain she was headed back to the Tiger House. When the Danlord answered the door, she gave him a big smile. "Do you remember me?" she asked.

The Danlord said yes, but Amy could tell he didn't. After two and a half years and hundreds of people coming to see the place, it was hard to blame him.

Inside, a few people were hanging out on the couch, trying to be impressive. One guy whom Amy figured for a housemate started chatting her up immediately, asking her which Simpsons character she would be. It struck her as a little strange — hadn't that been covered in her response? — and later she learned this was not a housemate, but a particularly dorky interviewee. It was difficult to distinguish the housemates from the wanna-bes, since all the people in the room were doing their best to look at ease.

Christine Holpuch, a 24-year-old preschool teacher with a pixie haircut and spunky demeanor, was sprawled on the couch telling a story about the time she bit her former roommate during a wrestling match. "The next day there were teeth marks on his stomach," she said, lifting up her shirt to indicate where. Her appeal was undeniable.

Amy made sure to find a little time with every housemate, discussing subjects ranging from backpacking to live music to random cool stuff in San Francisco.

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