Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Housing Hunt: OH YEAH!

"Is it... too expensive?" he asked. The man fidgeted with the paperclip between his fingers, pulling it apart and bending it hastily and absentmindedly into abstract figures like a balloon animal. "It's too much, isn't it? Right?" His snappy suit and well groomed hair contrasted sharply with his anxious ticks, but even more so with the apartment. Paint seemed to be somehow melting off the wall in the awkward kitchen, the large wooden floor of the living room warped just enough to make the guests occasionally stumble unexpectedly, a finish of dust had permanently settled into the shelves and the bath, and a single light struggled to cast its rays into the corners of a dim bedroom. I looked out of the one 6x20" windows onto a small cement patio with a sad, crumpled barbecue leaning against the wall.

He stared at me. "Well, I mean ... I wouldn't say..." I stumbled for the words to say yes, without actually saying so. Come on, I urged myself, four years of political studies. This should be EASY. "It's not what we were expecting from the photos, but it definitely has some ... HOMEY character to it. We might be able to work with that."

"Have I shown you the cellar?"

"We were hoping for ... excuse me?"

"The cellar. This floor comes with a basement. Or something."

"A basement or something? Aren't we on the second floor?" This was true, to a point. The apartment was on a steep hill in the Inner Sunset, and this level could conceivably have a 'cellar' of sorts. He walked to a door in the wall of the bedroom, with one of the other prospie renters and I trailing close behind, excited for the promise of more floor space. The man in the suit put his paper clip in his pocket and opened the door.

It was a personal Bat-Cave. The dark 'room' spread into the shadows along a cement walkway. We bowed our heads beneath exposed wooden supports, and turned right into something once related to a large hardwood storage closet that was now filled with dozens of carpets and wires and pipes, and in the back of the room a very small red door stood two feet off the floor. I climbed through the dark mess, gripped the brass handle and twisted. And twisted. And twisted more. The handle spun several times, I pulled back, and it simply came loose so it was dangling in place.

"Oh that door is locked," the manager explained shortly.

"How is it locked?" I laughed. "The handle isn't secured"

"It's locked form the other side."

"Oh does it go to the other units then?" the other guy reasoned.


"Then... where-"

"So this hallway here stretches back to the granite in the hillside." He directed our attention to the black corridor. "I should really put some lights in here now. Anyway, your welcome to check it out." Curious, I stepped carefully down the walkway, then fumbled down the walkway, then followed the wall down the walkway, and all the while the ceiling got lower and lower until I was squatting on exposed rock - or at least what felt like exposed rock.

I walked back to the doorway and stepped into the dim light of the little bulb, and caught Chelsea's eyes. "So, how do you like it?" I asked.


"Yeah. Did you see the cellar?

"It has a cellar?!"

The search for affordable housing in San Francisco is a "trope". It's one of those thing that any Bay Area local will recognize when you drop it into a conversation. Think of it as looking for a particular antique in a market of pawn shops, except you don't quite know how to describe what you're looking for and the sellers are convinced that they have it, and so you have no power in negotiating.

To be fair, this apartment had a nice view, and was actually decent size. It was also almost $1400/month. The first apartment we viewed was a bit smaller. It's actually easy to imagine - think of your usual bathroom in a Starbucks or a Burger King. Now take three of those, put a big window in one, and that's the floorplan for a "Well lit 1BR with Kitchen". We viewed another 1BR in Sunset that was nice. It had new wood floors, soft lighting, and a $4250 deposit required. It's really hit and miss with the landlords too - we met one who managed an incredible apartment with views of GG Park, but he was a carbon copy of Sheldon Cooper, prohibited the lease paperwork from leaving the premises, and required the deposit to be presented in full on the spot to secure the place. Another one showed us around a comfortable apartment in a crappy building three blocks form the projects - with a window overlooking the district police station - but he was by far the friendliest landlord I've met.

After five days of viewings in a week, we finally agreed on a a second-floor Edwardian apartment in the Richmond District. Most days around here see fog or sun with an ocean breeze in the summer, but Fall (crossing fingers!) should be warmer. We move in Sunday morning, and I start work on Monday. So that'll be fun.

(The living room --> bedroom)

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