Renting a house in Houston was both easier and weirder than doing it in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s rental market is fiercely competitive. I always say it’s like finding a job in that you really have to network to find a place.
We found our place in San Francisco when my wife posted on Facebook that we were looking for an apartment. It turns out one of her closest friends knew someone who was moving to DC and would be leaving her apartment. She connected us to the landlord and we negotiated it before he even listed it on Craigslist, which is the only way to find a place in SF. He turned out to be a great landlord and didn’t charge us what he could have given how expensive this city is.
We had already looked at so many places and they were all pretty terrible. My favorite was a 2 bedroom apartment that had holes in the wall exposing piping in the kitchen for $3500 (this was in 2013)! The guy showing the place didn’t even bother taking 5 minutes to take a fucking broom through the place. We looked at another place where the owners said they would be actively working on remodeling the apartment until they sold the unit and you’d have to vacate in a year. People were tripping over each other to hand in their application. The San Francisco rental market is fucking hell.
So Houston, TX. The land is bigger and the rent is cheaper. We were actually just going to buy a house because why the hell not. We ended up deciding to rent for a year so we could get a better understanding of the neighborhoods and schools. So anyway, our experience started a little similar. We met a rental broker through a friend of my wife’s. Wait. What’s a rental broker? So the Houston market has a ton of volume and I assume less demand because buying a house is much easier. I wouldn’t say it’s the polar opposite of Houston but I guess there’s just less people looking on Craigslist in Houston. In the areas we were targeting, there was probably 2 listings along with a couple of spammy looking listings for brokers.
Instead of Craigslist, you use HAR.com, which has all the listings. However, unlike Craigslist, you don’t just contact the owner. You contact their broker. Or, in our case, which I assume is much easier, our broker contacted their broker. “Have your people call my people.” She was amazing. She showed us the neighborhood we were interested in and the adjoining neighborhoods (she lives in one of them). She also listened to us about what we were looking for and was able to pick some places or tell us some of the ones we thought looked good weren’t right for us.
But when we found the place is when things got a little weird. When we found our SF apartment, we met the landlord once, he showed us around, and we negotiated the price. We agreed, signed the lease, and got the keys when we moved in. For our place in Houston, we would do that process but it would go from us, to our broker, to their broker, to the owners, and then back. This took well over a week to get to a signed lease with payments made. We still have never even talked to the owners and it’s not clear we ever will.
But at the end of the day, it’s bigger and cheaper than what we had going on here. San Francisco has (much) higher friction in the search and almost none in the closing. Houston has no friction in the search but a weird amount in the closing. I can imagine that this will be one of the 80 million differences between these two cities.