Before even moving away, we knew that finding an apartment in San Francisco again was going to be a chore, and that prices would make us gasp because a one-bedroom is about three times the cost of my parents' monthly mortgage payment, but that didn't prevent us from getting to the absolutely-discouraged state during the process. A lot of that had to do with the drama of dealing with our quirky old landlord.
Since our previous landlord had been so sad to see us go/loved us so much, and we had loved his building, we wrote him an email very ahead of time saying that we were coming back and asking if he had a place available. It turned out that the apartment we loved the most was to be available about the time we would be back, so we said we were interested. He, however, was un-budge-able on the price, which was higher than we were expecting. His reasoning? He'd just had the building repainted and had put a laundry room in the basement (which wouldn't have happened if I hadn't cleaned out the basement for him), as if he wanted us to single-handedly pay for those things.
We finally told him that we'd go for it, but every exchange had us feeling very condescended upon. First he said that he didn't like that Michael was still in school and that at least I needed a local job first. It seemed absolutely crazy to me to ask me to quit my job to rent from him. Clearly landlords in San Francisco are feeling high and mighty with the ridiculous market. He also asked us how he could trust that we would stay for the entire term of the lease, since last time we left early. I checked, and we left just ten days early. Never once had he mentioned that us leaving early was a problem; if he had, I would have just stayed another ten days and sent Michael off to Shanghai. I felt like he'd forgotten how pleased he was with us when we left. We went more than the extra mile for him and it felt so horrible for him to have forgotten that. After seething for a few hours, we offered to pay six months of rent upfront. After Michael arrived in San Francisco and went to meet with this landlord, not only was I majorly disappointed to find out that the garden I'd worked so hard on had fallen into disrepair, but the monthly rent was being raised another $195 from the price we had already struggled with and finally agreed to! Michael and I spent several hours chatting that night, I in St. Petersburg, and he in San Francisco. We had the hardest time making a decision, and a few days later we finally emailed the landlord to tell him so. His response? "A studio would probably be better for you until you both have jobs." I wanted to write him and say, "We will still be looking for a one bedroom, thank you very much." Once he told us that the apartment was rented, there were some moments of regret, but mostly we said, "Well, at least we don't have to deal with him anymore."
Michael tore up the town looking for an apartment, but it didn't help him that I have no tangible ways to spot an apartment that is "charming" by my definition. After we lost one place due to the quickness of the market and another because we were waiting for my boss to send some documentation, we were very frustrated. By this time, I was back in California with him and we were staying at his parents' house 45 minutes away from San Francisco. We spent our mornings and evenings driving to and from San Francisco in Michael's mom's car. While Michael attended classes and meetings, I worked on my laptop at Hult and re-parked the car every two hours. We went to a lot of apartment viewings, but there was always enough wrong with the place that we weren't all that excited about taking it. We were finally happily surprised to be approved for a place that, as Michael put it, "Was really a studio with a wall installed in the middle to make it into a one bedroom." The price was great, but I asked if we could see it one more time before deciding. The manager told us that we could, but we'd have to sign immediately after or she'd contact the next person. We were supposed to meet her that evening, so we felt the pressure of needing to decide before then.
And then something unexpected happened. Michael found a new posting on Craigslist, and as we looked at the pictures, we both said, "We have to get this one." It was in Pacific Heights, which is known for being one of the nicest places in the city, the rent was lower than a lot of places we had seen in Lower Nob Hill (which is usually cheaper), it had calming green walls, the kitchen was big enough for a table and it had a large, new oven, there were lovely windows (twelve of them!) that let in a lot of light, and wood floors. To make things unbelievably good, there was parking included! (Even though we don't have car, that was an amazing plus that few in the city ever get.) Michael immediately wrote a very nice email introducing us and asking if we could see the place early. Unfortunately, we couldn't see the place until the following weekend, which was a whopping four days away, so we had to take a leap of faith and let go of the studio-with-a-wall-one-bedroom.
During the following days, we filled out the application for the place and printed it out, collected multiple supporting documents, cut Michael's hair, and nervously twiddled our thumbs. The day of the showing, we got dressed up, found a nice folder for our application and documents, and headed into the city. There was a Hult barbecue that morning, and though we left the barbecue thirty minutes early, the combination of dropping off a friend and trying to find parking made us a few minutes late. I was so worried that we'd missed our chance to make a good impression, especially when we found that the door was locked and no one was answering the doorbell. After many frantic minutes of trying to reach someone at the management company, someone left the showing and let us into the building.
The place was packed, but we could still see that we loved it, so we found the man taking applications. Someone was monopolizing his time, so we went and stood right in front of him. Finally, I stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Michelle." Michael forgot to introduce himself, but the man seemed to remember us from our email and accepted our application. There wasn't much more to say after that, so we headed downstairs to take a look at the laundry room and garage. It seemed so anti-climactic, like we hadn't had a chance to stick out among the crowd. So we went back upstairs to ask some questions. This time, we seemed to connect with the man from the property management company a little more. Just at the point when we thought the conversation was over, Michael realized that the man had jerked his head to the side to say, "Follow me." We met him in the hallway and he said, "Right now it's basically between you and one other person." I have no idea how he could already know that. I put my hands together and asked, "If I tell you a joke, will you give it to us?" At least that got a laugh out of him. Even though I had warned Michael not to ask, he threw out there, "Why is the place so cheap? Is there something wrong with it?" I winced, but the man just kindly said that he'd looked at the market (I thought, "Maybe a year ago") and it seemed fair and that he didn't want to rip people off. We sent him a thank you email with an Uncle Al joke included.
The next day, we received an email asking for a copy of another pay stub. Since I was already in San Francisco, I couldn't pull out my folder with such documents until late that evening, and when I did, I saw that I only had one pay stub; the others must have been packed away somewhere. I frantically emailed my boss, but he didn't answer the next day, so I contacted his partner, who said he'd get on it, and I sent a very firm message saying that I absolutely had to have it or I would lose another apartment. That whole night, I was sick to my stomach with worry. I tossed and turned and checked my phone more times than I can count. In the morning, there was still nothing from my boss or his partner. Michael and I drove into the city, very disappointed and quiet. After his class, Michael came and sat by me and though we were both really down, he held my hand and offered up a pleading, last-hope prayer. We decided we both just needed to look for local jobs as quickly as possible and then maybe we'd be able to find a place. We sat there, dejected. Finally, at some point, I checked my phone and realized I'd missed a call from the real estate company. I nervously called back, and the man we'd met at the showing said, "Yes, I thought I should call you, because there's a lease here with your name on it." WHAT?!? He went on to tell me that he'd convinced the company that we were a "cool couple" (his words, not mine) and that they could wait to get the other pay stub from us.
And that is how we ended up in this place:
Of course, no place is perfect. We realized after we moved in that the apartment is right on the corner of two busy streets (one of which is the street that my mom's grandparents lived on and is the surname of good friends), and because the windows are old and because those two streets seem to be on the ambulance and fire truck route, it's pretty loud. (I'm hoping to make it a little quieter using sound-absorbing furnishings.) After a week of parking Michael's mom's car in the garage (while she was out of the country), we found out that there's a building-wide waiting list, and the spot vacated by the previous tenant of our place actually goes to the next person on the list. Fortunately, the rental company then lowered our rent $150 per month to amend the mistake. Also, for some reason the place is plagued with mosquitoes, so I often have to conduct a mosquito hunt before I can sleep. The location is really close to a clean, nice park, and I love to walk around looking at beautiful Victorian houses, but it's six blocks farther away from downtown than our old place was and biking up the last hill is a killer no matter which direction you come from.
I love the calming greens and all the light (I've even thought I needed to turn off a light only to find that it wasn't on). I love the crystal doorknobs and French doors. It's great that I've been able to fill the place with air-purifying plants and that the rental company sent out a repairman to put new seals on the windows. It's so nice to have laundry in the building, and the kitchen and bedroom have more storage than we need.
You can't really see the plant on the table, but I thought it was some kind of lavender when I saw it and am now so happy to know about Russian sage. Its colors make me so happy.
(Apparently English ivy absorbs fecal matter from the air so of course I put it in the bathroom.)
This gorgeous succulent (an Echeveria "Tippy") matches the wall perfectly, and the tasteful shelf built over the heater is nice.
Quite honestly, though, I have NO IDEA what to do with a whole extra room! It seems so luxurious and it's still quite empty. Filling it up has been a slow process as I've tried to use Freecycle and Craigslist for everything and we've needed to rent cars on Getaround to pick up furniture. We still need some rugs (which are shockingly expensive!), a desk, a sofa cover that matches the color scheme, and some kind of seating, and then maybe it won't feel so empty and overwhelming. Here it is empty:
Once I figure out what to do with the living room, I'll post another picture.
Hurray for a lovely new home!