In the middle of February I received an offer to work for Altimeter Group in San Francisco, CA. This was an excellent opportunity to take the next step in my career and work with a very talented, intelligent group of social media experts. The only thing that kept my excitement in check was the prospect of relocating to a city I had never visited before. The first time I ever set foot in San Francisco was actually for the last round of interviews, so moving somewhere so unfamiliar was daunting to say the least.
I had already made a major relocation once before when I moved cross-country from Chicago to Los Angeles three years ago, but that move wasn’t as intimidating because I had a very solid base of friends who moved to LA after graduation. Three of my four best friends lived there along with a large number of friends I had from the theater department at Northwestern University who were trying to succeed in the entertainment industry. It was stressful, but having a network of friends there made the transition much easier.
I knew three people in San Francisco before I moved here and one of them was studying in Japan for a semester. That coupled with the fact that I had never set foot in the city meant I needed to get creative and use every single tool at my disposal to make it work. The following is a list of the most important tools, websites and apps that helped me make this transition as smooth as possible.
Leverage Your Networks
This might seem obvious, but it was an important first step for me so I had to include it. Hopefully you know someone in the city you’re relocating to, and if not, then hopefully the rest of the tools I list will help you. The biggest question mark for me when moving to San Francisco was where to live. Every neighborhood has it’s own character, traditions and style, but I only had two weeks to find an apartment and move in, so the first thing I did was reach out to the three people I knew there to ask them which neighborhoods I should look at in my apartment search. This helped immensely. Even if you don’t know someone in the city you’re moving to, you probably know someone who grew up there or lived there at one point. One tool you can use to help this is searching your friends list on Facebook by hometown and current town.
All I can say is thank God for Craigslist. I can’t imagine apartment hunting without it. I was also lucky that the San Francisco Craigslist pages allowed you to narrow your search for apartments by neighborhoods. This feature is available in New York City, but not Chicago or LA. You can always work around it by searching for the neighborhood’s name, but it can be tough when neighborhoods have nicknames or if the posts only mention a street.
UPDATE (2/17/12): @JulesFaas made a great suggestion in the comments to use PadMapper. Couldn’t agree more with her. One of the more frustrating things when comparing Craigslist apartments is that you can’t compare locations on a map. For those like me who are more spatially and visually inclined, this website really helps augment the Craigslist experience.
One of the best new websites I discovered in this process was WalkScore, which rates neighborhoods on a hundred point scale based on how walkable they are. Scores under 50 mean you’ll be dependent on a car and anything above a 90 is a “Walker’s Paradise” where your daily errands don’t require a car. It was really important to me that I lived somewhere very walkable, so this was incredibly helpful. It also provides you with lists of restaurants, bars, coffee shops, grocery stores, parks, and other lists of places nearby that can give you a better idea of what’s in the neighborhood. My current apartment’s score is a 97 and I’m thinking about getting rid of my car now. My old apartment in Venice was an 78, which is “Very Walkable”, but the difference between the neighborhoods has definitely made my move much easier. I LOVE how convenient my new neighborhood is and the scores pretty accurately reflects that convenience. Even if you aren’t apartment hunting, it’s interesting to see how your neighborhood scores.
Craigslist and WalkScore gave me a bird’s eye view of possible apartments and what their neighborhoods has to offer, but Google Street View rounded out the experience by giving my the ability to virtually walk down the street. Almost all apartments on Craigslist include a link to Google Maps and from there you can zoom in far enough and actually move around the neighborhood as if you were just out for a walk. It’s a great tool for getting a feel for what the neighborhood looks like without ever stepping foot in the city. This was especially helpful in my search considering how little experience I had with San Francisco before moving here.
The second weekend after I got my offer I drove up to San Francisco to check out apartments. I had been looking at Craigslist nearly every day for potential apartments, but decided the best way to save my favorite ones for follow up was syncing them with my favorite note-taking application, Evernote. Using the Chrome plug-in, I clipped full page craigslist ads to my account, which synced with the app I had installed on my iPhone. That way I had access to the pictures, links, phone numbers and addresses in each post on my phone without having to re-search Craigslist. It’s true you could create a folder of bookmarks and then sync it to your phone’s web browser, but Evernote allows you to write your own notes above the webpage that’s been clipped. So after I’d check out an apartment I’d give it a rating and type in any important things like “Windows look out onto an ugly brick wall. Feels like a prison.” or “Landlord is really friendly and street parking nearby is pretty easy”. If you aren’t using Evernote yet, I’d strongly recommend checking it out. It’s simply the best note-taking application I’ve used yet.
Apartment Application + Credit Report
One of the most annoying parts of any apartment search is filling out multiple applications that ask for the same details. Knowing that I was going to check out at least 10 apartments and that I might want to apply for up to five or more of them, I decided I’d create my own application. I google searched “apartment application” and found this document. Applications can vary between management companies though, so I just used it as a guideline and created word documents for each section. Looking at a couple applications will let you know what to include in the document, but mine included previous addresses (including the dates I lived there, management company contact information and monthly rent), my employment history, professional contacts and personal references. I also included a credit report so I could avoid some of the application fees, but most management companies will require you to submit to a background/credit check anyway. Only two management companies accepted my credit report, but it only cost me $15 and ended up saving me about $40. Put all these documents into an envelope that you can hand to the landlord when he’s showing you the apartment and you come off as very prepared and responsible. Plus, it’s great to just have all that information saved in a document that you can update and use in the future.
One of the most intimidating aspects of moving to San Francisco was the fact that I’d have to rebuild my social life from the ground up. I’ve made a very concerted effort to get out of the apartment and explore the city, but exploring isn’t enough. I generally find it pretty easy to make friends, but it’s tough when you don’t have other friends to introduce you to their social circles. Meetup.com is a website where you can signup for “meetups” which are basically groups that schedule events open to the public. Think high school clubs for adults. There’s a meetup for nearly any interest you could have: meditation, yoga, photography, writing, professional networking, sports team fans, religion, live music…. and if the meetup you’re looking for doesn’t exist, go ahead and create it! It’s a great way to meet people with common interests and everyone who joins is usually very friendly because the whole point of it is to make new friends. Just be careful about your email communication settings. Joining a bunch of meetups can quickly flood your inbox, which can discourage you from seeing the value in the service and using it.
One of my favorite TV shows is Diners, Drive-ins and Dives on The Food Network. The food always looks incredible and the restaurants have a ton of character. ”Flavortown, USA” is one of the catch phrases from the host, Guy Fieri, as in “Wow, partner, that meatloaf sandwich is a trip to Flavortown, USA.” He has a ton of great catch phrases like that, but someone turned this one into a website that maps out all of the restaurants he’s featured in the show on a searchable google map. Each restaurant has it’s own page with details and most include the actual video clip from the show so you can see their signature dishes and what it’s like inside before you visit. This website is now one of the first places I go anytime I have a road trip planned and I’ve never been disappointed. In a new city, it can help you explore new neighborhoods and many locals usually know about the places, so it can often be a nice conversation starter.
This is a San Francisco-specific tool I’ve been able to use, but it’s been one of the most useful iPhone apps I’ve ever downloaded. It contains over 50 different apps, including tools to locate Wifi hotspots, tours, restaurants, bars, nightlife and guides to help you navigate public transportation, find local events and read local news among many other things. It’s a jack-of-all-trades app for living in San Francisco that would be helpful to anyone in the area, not just those of us who are new. If you aren’t moving to San Francisco, just try searching your phone’s App Store for your city’s name and see what comes up. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.
What did I miss?
Those were the most helpful tools I used during my relocation to San Francisco and I’ve been very pleased with just how smooth a transition it has been. I’ll keep adding websites, apps and other tools as I find them, but I’m curious to hear what other people have used. Do you have any suggestions for people moving to San Francisco or relocating in general? Please leave any feedback you have in the comments section below!
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