Home hunting in Berkeley: Lessons learned

Craftsman cottage for two? A girl can dream...

Berkeleyside contributing writer Kim Weisberg is looking for a new home to rent. Today she kicks off an occasional column in which she reveals the dark underbelly of house hunting in our city.

My boyfriend and I have been looking for a new home for a few months, mostly casually, with the occasional “two open houses in one evening after work” or “can we really see that many places in one weekend?” marathon. We are mainly focusing on Berkeley (from about Alcatraz to North Berkeley BART, and from Sacramento to College) and Rockridge, though we are investigating the Adams Point neighborhood of Lake Merritt as well. Our situation is not unique by any means, but we do have several…  shall we say, “stipulations” that make our search a little challenging.

First and foremost: laundry hook-ups in-unit. We own a stacked washer/dryer, and finding an apartment that can accommodate even our small machine is a challenge. It’s hard to imagine going back to shared, coin-operated facilities when you are used to your own private machine in your apartment. And after dropping over $1,000 for this machine a year ago, it just doesn’t make much sense to sell it for half its value and go back to hoarding quarters. Hard truth: Most Berkeley-area apartments come with coin-op laundry in the basement. Some have fancy, clean (coin-op) laundry rooms (the ad will usually mention this). Very few have hook-ups in unit.

Second, there is the parking/transportation issue. I own a car — he doesn’t. We need either one off-street parking space, or safe, easy street parking.  We also need to be close enough to BART so that he can safely ride his bike to and from the station. Hard truth: Apartments that are close to BART are either affordable and in sketchy neighborhoods or expensive and in fantastic neighborhoods.  Many places have off-street parking, though often it comes at an additional monthly fee. Tip: Always ask if the neighborhood street parking requires a permit.


Third, quality of the rental. The main reason we are looking to move is that our current building is very poorly maintained by a nearly absent landlord. We’d like our new place to be managed by someone who takes enough pride in his/her property to make repairs as needed and in a timely fashion. Hard truth: Unfortunately, Berkeley is known for having some pretty gross apartments. This has a lot to do with the fact that many places within a few miles of campus are likely to be trashed and/or poorly maintained (and will still come at a hefty price). Landlords do not have strong incentives to provide affordable, nice housing when there is such a high turnover due to a significant student population.

Finally, we have the “storage situation”. Currently, we have 640 square feet in a one-bedroom apartment, plus approximately 50 square feet of garage space that we share with our landlord. Our new place will either have to contain more square footage (an extra bedroom, perhaps) or a similar garage/storage type space. Many places in Berkeley are, well, small.  Finding a place that is large enough not only for us and our furniture, but also for the things we’ve acquired as we’ve become “grown ups” is tricky. Hard truth: Places with garage/extra storage do exist, though they are not common. Tip: Landlords are sometimes flexible; it doesn’t hurt to ask if additional storage is available, even if it is not mentioned in the ad or apparent at the open house.

These are our four must-haves. Of course, there are the things we’d love to have… hardwood floors, a large kitchen, lots of natural light, yard space for gardening/BBQing, ample closet space and a building with character. Oh, and did I mention that we’re trying to stay under $1,600 a month?

We might be a little bit nuts, but since we are not on a time crunch, we can afford to be picky.

Will we find what we’re looking for? What will we end up sacrificing? Will apartment hunting drive us insane? Stay tuned to find out.

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