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.

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

  1. Jan

    Thank you I quickly omitted my lovely ripe old age of 60 yrs young after reading your advise.

    So many thanks great I will be sure to leave the scooter at home also.


  2. Lisa Gaetano

    Great tips from a fellow renter. In this age of social media it is helpful to be able to visit Facebook n such sites. However,as in most situations, especially the subject of advanced technology n internet access to people’s Facebook account there are also cons. As you mentioned, ALTHO ethically inappropriate to make a judgment based upon someone’s musical interests, movies of choice or even other social interaction, it’s a daily occurrence. In many areas besides apartment rental. But being that that is what we are discussing here, I will stay on point. I hv found that for the moment of apartment searching u as a would b tenant, if it entire life is not totally socially based upon media communication delete any used social accounts first. Why hv extra stuff not needed TAKIN up space anyways. Second tone down anything you think cold n can be a controversial subject or issue on your website, for the moment until at least finding an apartment. You can always add them back. You can never replace a missed apartment because of a quote u posted. Just my opinion. Not adding your Facebook link at all first. HOWEVER many will look for as a screening means anyways. See what I mean. Do it myself when renting. And try not to lets unrelated things influence my decision, but admittedly the constant site of half naked women or controversial quotes Do stick in the back of my mind. Take it or leave it. Second totally agree with the age concept in “Theory”,however, most people either ask for age, or WLD prefer to hv an idea of an “Age-range”, perhaps a more ideal response. Then showing by your actions if invited to an open house or one on one, that you are in fact a younger 50 or older 20, whatever the case may be. Just my sense of the rental industry. As I said, take it,leave, or adjust to fit you. Happy Hunting.

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  4. Tracy Author

    Hi Sis, do you mean buying advertising? Or posting on Facebook that you’re looking for a room/roommate? For looking for a roommate, you can just make a regular post and share it. To create ads, log into your Facebook account and then in the top right navigation bar area there’s an arrow that points down, next to the lock symbol. Click on the arrow, and halfway down, choose “Create Ads” or “Advertising on Facebook.” Hope that helps.

  5. Jalyssa

    Hi, Tracy. I came across this link when looking for tips when I was planning a move to Portland, OR and saved it to my laptop. I’m returning to this list as I’m planning another move out west. If you don’t mind me asking because I’m trying to master where temporarily stay while looking for apartments/roommates. Did you live with family, friends, sublet, AirBnb, extended stay hotel or something else while you were looking for places and doing interviews during your first year in SF? What kind of tips would you give for an out-of-towner moving to a new city that are options outside of hotel stays? Thanks.

    1. Tracy Author

      Hey Jalyssa!
      Congrats on your move, that sounds exciting! For the first week or so I stayed with a junior high school boyfriend. I just did a Facebook search before I moved, and got in contact with anybody I knew who was in the area.

      Then I stayed for about a month in an SRO – it was full of international students, chefs, and some long-termers. So that gave me a month to find a place, and a bit of a starter community. I had a friend who stayed at the YMCA until he found a place, but that sounded a little depressing honestly.

      My first apt was a room sublet found on CraigsList, and then I had another sublet before I finally got my own place with a friend who moved to town.

      AirBNB wasn’t such a big deal when I moved, but I would say that these days that would probably be the best way to go, either get a room or a whole apt. It’s flexible and definitely not as competitive as finding a permanent place. Try to talk to the host and see if you can negotiate a discount for a longer stay. It’s worth a shot.

      Good luck with your move!

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