Life, San Francisco

So You Need a Place to Live? How to Respond to a Craigslist Ad for Housing Without Sounding Like a Psycho

It’s happened again. Time to search for another housemate. I always get really excited and anxious when this happens because I LOVE CHANGE. I love the drama and the feeling of possibility. I would change my wardrobe, job, family, house, everything over and over again if only there weren’t so many damn hurt feelings and uh… if it didn’t cost so much. Changing roommates is a way of shaking things up that doesn’t totally upend my life.

I’ve been on both sides of filling a vacant room in San Francisco, and either way it’s a competitive jungle.When I was searching for places during my first year or two in SF I had to send out scores of emails, ran all over town every day to interview, and oftentimes my interview turned out to be an open house where I was trying to stand out amongst 15+ people. It ain’t pretty, and while having a room to fill is less stressful, it’s still a lot of work. In our first 24 hours of posting our available room we’ve received 50+ responses. That’s a lot of people to sift through.

I think that over the last four years (5 apartments, 15+ roommates) I’ve gained a sense of what will or won’t work as far as putting up ads and answering ads. Here’s a few tips for the apartment SEEKERS.

When answering an ad for housing...


  • Be honest about what you’re looking for in a home. Do you want a party house? Do you want a calm place? Do you want a cooperative sharing household? It’s best to get that aligned in the beginning.
  • Say that you are gainfully employed and have not had a problem paying rent on time (if this is true). If you are unemployed… most people will want you to be employed, but I feel like if you can pay rent, and have a backup income source (even if it’s mom and dad) that’s okay. Everything is ok as long as the money is coming from somewhere.
  • Talk about yourself- what you do, what you’re into. Emails that are sent to us without any personal information at all are automatically deleted.
  • It seems like everybody in San Francisco is “new to the city and interested in discovering its secrets” and  “into hiking, yoga and wine/food”. Geez these responses are worse than OKCupid profiles! Try to include something you feel is really unique about yourself (a “hook”). Do you draw comics? Do you do improv downtown? Do you own a bunny rabbit?
  • Er… if you DO own a bunny rabbit, it might be best to include a video, link to the pet’s Facebook page, or some sort of “digital resume” so that we can see how cute and well-behaved the critter is. Houses will still have a serious bias against you and your litter-box trained rabbit, but who knows? They might be charmed.
  • State your flexibility as far as move in dates. The house might be flexible as well.
  • Include a link to the original apartment posting within the email you send so that when you receive a response you can remember which apartment you are talking about.


  • Include a link to your art. People will judge you for your nude maternity photography and Biggie Smalls paintings on sneakers.
  • Ask if you can let people couchsurf in our place. We don’t know you yet! No!
  • Mention your age. Let people meet you first before they decide that you’re “too young” or “too old.”
  • Include a link to your Facebook. I’m kind of on the fence about this one, but my general policy is that you’re just trying to get your foot in the door for an interview, so the less information the better. People may decide not to write back to you just based on your musical tastes or profile photo. It’s not nice, but it happens.
  • Talk about what drugs you are or are not into. Just don’t go there.
  • Quote Bible verses. What does this have to do with finding a house?
  • Ask for pictures of the room. If there were no pictures in the Craigslist ad, there are probably no pictures of the room.
  • Ask how close the apartment is to an identifiable landmark (BART, downtown, etc). You can probably figure it out via Google Maps, or ask when you see the place.
  • Obviously show that you haven’t read the ad by asking questions that are answered in the ad.

I could think of a ton more, but these are the things that irked me most in this round of house interviews. Add your own pointers in the comments if you have any extra tips.