Theater Around The Bay: Making The Move

Our guest blog series continues, with some tips on making it work in San Francisco, from the ever-in-demand, determined to make it work, you can’t keep her down, Allison Fenner

So you want to move to San Francisco proper? I mean none of this outer mission/sunset/Richmond BS? Techies aside, there is space out there for us middle incomer (or less) artist types. It’s just not for the faint of heart. I went through the process of finding a place twice last year- here are my tips and tricks.

Embrace the insanity. This is going to be like a second job. By that I highly recommend setting aside specific time to directly focus on sending email inquiries and then FORGET ABOUT IT for a few hours at least every day. If you have a smart phone, it can become worse than a boil on your butt, checking and rechecking emails and CL posts. Give yourself a break and don’t over work yourself. You may send out over one hundred different personal statements, and receive three responses. It’s worse than auditions! Realize this and be prepared to keep trying! At the end of my search I had sent over three hundred separate inquiries and about five percent ever got back to me. Don’t be surprised, just keep trying.

Be careful with extra-long form letter responses. I sent more than a few people basically a long form essay about myself as an artist and got snubbed. This made me feel extra bad on account of how I felt like I had poured my soul out for a place to lay my head- but gross, no one likes a long winded room romantic. I am almost certain that going over two five sentence paragraphs comes off as too desperate and over eager. Choose the three best things about living with you, make it clear you read their ad, and have a few basic assurances like employment, normal interests and keep it at that. After making first contact, if someone responds, then try to engage with them over email as much as possible- I don’t mean by sending tons of emails counting down the days to the open house, but send a follow up with some more cool benefits of sharing a home with you and only respond to their emails, don’t build up unanswered essays. Be conversational and friendly and light- ask a different question about the place the people each time, droping in subtle personal stuff- this is your chance to stick in their minds before twenty faces mull around in their living room for an hour. Keep it light and positive.

Hopefully you’ll get to meet one on one with your prospective home sharers, because The Open House Interview is one sick joke of a way to find a housemate. This why I recommend trying to have an involved email exchange before seeing a place, so even if you must attend on, you’ll have an extra edge. With renters’ limited time to meet everyone in person, you will most likely find yourself in a room of strangers in a strangers room, trying to not be too strange. I think it’s cruel. I don’t know how to not be a weirdo in this setting and usually just made a lot of lame jokes and ate a ton of whatever snacks they set out.

Put out a personal ad in rooms wanted! It’s is excruciating to try and articulate how easy you are to live with, but so much preferable for apartment mate hunters to find you than you finding them- When you start considering the amount of responses a room offered will generate, of course people will want to skip the avalanche of emails from putting up their own ad. This also gives you the leg up of having more space to describe yourself and the opportunity to see a place before the renter branches out. This is how I eventually found the wonderful little room in the Hayes Valley that I can just barely afford. You can (and should) be specific and clear about details like budget, noise levels, area and shared space- with that, stick to your ideals! It’s never good when you start considering the couch of an outer sunset self-described ‘bungalow’ with three dogs and ‘weird plumbing.’ I found that creating my own ad helped me realize not just what I wanted but also the minimum needed in a place. Take an hour to write out the ideal living situation for you. It makes it much easier to search when there’s a clear idea of what you want. Is it essential to have a yard? Large common space? Kitchen? Think about what you do at home and how much time you would spend there. Do you actually have time to contribute to a vegan greenhouse group house?

Careful about claiming to be an artist on Craigslist! I noticed quite a few ads specifically stating ‘no artists’ and I think this is because of the sad but true inclination for self-professed ‘artists’ to be difficult, have drug issues, sucky partners, loud lifestyles and whatever else. I understand. It’s an unfortunate stereotype. Even though those blatant ‘no artist’ ads are pretty obviously not good fits, think about the message you may be sending with that easily misinterpreted title. I wouldn’t want to live with someone who thinks working on their craft is getting stoned and filling their pinintrest wall while learning how to sing Adele’s songs, and this may be what comes to mind for some, so my recommendation is to describe specific projects and involvements, especially if they can show that these pursuits mean you’ll be out in the world doing stuff, not being weird at home.

Talk to everyone! Especially strangers at cafes and restaurants. Work the fact that you are looking for a place into every conversation with a new friend. Be aggressive but not desperate. This really produced some leads for me, and I think it’s a lot like having your own ad on CL, people really want to skip the process of sifting through a million emails. Be sure to keep your ears up and stay positive. There is room for you here!

I conceded on different things as I searched for a home base that was centrally located and affordable. At the beginning of my search I thought it was important to have a place that I could do yoga in, and a place with lots of people to share with. I dug deep and realized the reasons behind me wanting to live in SF are so that I could spend very little time commuting to my job here downtown, be close to all the theater happening around the city and essentially, I didn’t spend a hell of a lot of time at home anyway. So, my small room with one other art-inclined flatty makes it possible to rush through after work, cook and shower and maybe someday I’ll find that artist spacious co-op in the sky, but I’ll probably go to West Oakland for that.

I wish ya’ll the best, and can surely say that living in SF is fantastic. Happy Hunting!

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