Apr 2

Apartment Dealbreaker List

Few people would disagree that hunting for an apartment is the worst. I’m now on my eighth city apartment so I’m pretty opionionated about what’s important to me. The first thing I look for is something within my budget but after that my deal breaker list goes like this (in order of importance:)

1. Location: Must be in a fun location, with a fast commute. We don’t get out as much with kids so it is important to live in a fun neighborhood, the easier it is to go out the more you’ll do it.
2. Light: I lived in a cheap but dark apartment for three years and will never again. Natural light is higher on my list than a large apartment or laundry! My mood depends on it.

Click through for the rest of the list.

3. Space: Our family needs two bedrooms or sleeping areas. We currently live in a small apartment but I don’t think we could do a studio unless it was huge.
4. Architectural Details: Wood floors, moulding etc. This stuff makes such a difference in making a house look good.
5. Parking: This wasn’t as important to us before we had kids but now it makes us way more likely to get out and enjoy the city if we know we already have a parking spot.
6. Dishwasher: I haven’t lived in a house with a dishwasher since I left home at 18! I have dreams about them.
7. View: I would love an apartment with a view but I’ve never lived in place with a really great one.
8. Laundry: Coin laundry costs our family about $20/week and hiring out wash and fold costs about $50/week so we do the math and see if it is worth it to get laundry in our apartment and pay a little more in rent. (Sometimes hiring it out is cheaper and then you never have to do your laundry!)
9. Backyard: This is nice but lower on our list.
10. Fireplace: I had an awesome apartment with a fireplace and it made the grey winter so much better!

I have friends who only care about the size and other friends who won’t move in a place without parking. For me Location and Light are at the top. I think it is important to make a list because when you are looking at places you can figure out what you are willing to negotiate on and what is really important. For us we ended up compromising on space size in order to get a lot of other perks. What about you? Whats on your apartment deal breaker list?

ps: If you are new to SF and are looking for neighborhoods my personal favorites are: The Mission near Dolores Park, Cole Valley, Hayes Valley, The Castro, Duboce Triangle, Lower Haight, and Noe Valley. These neighborhoods are nice but not too fancy but have stores and restaurants nearby.


Photo by Heather Zweig for Oh Happy Day


  • natural light is rapidly climbing to number one on my list!!! (can you tell i don’t get much currently?) hardwood floors have always been a close second.

  • Hi there! I am moving to SF this summer with my husband. We currently are in NYC. We are excited about the move! You’re post was very helpful and I definitely agree about the light. That is my #1. What do you think about Russian Hill?

    • jordan says:

      Other neighborhoods in the city are great! I usually prefer ones near the trains (neighborhoods mentioned above) for easier access to downtown.

  • Lisette says:

    Living in Seattle, I would have to agree with the light, but view is also right up there for me too! I have to have something nice to look at my window at whether it is a big tree or the water.

  • meg says:

    #8 is a must for me!
    We live on the 3rd floor of a three flat. Not having to run down to the basement to do laundry (that is shared with 6 other tenants) is a dream.


  • Mary P. says:

    I moved to downtown Indianapolis within the last year and remember the downtown apartment search so vividly! in my compromise, I chose gated parking, hardwood floors, and huge windows over a big kitchen and laundry in the unit. and I couldn’t be happier with my decision almost a year later! I’m walking distance from one of my favorite downtown neighborhoods and I have the prettiest commute to work everyday. win – win situation!


  • Kelsey Keefe says:

    I really want to live somewhere where I can hire out Laundry/Folds. Man. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

  • Joscelyn says:

    Your list is very close to my own. We were very fortunate in that we got almost all of our wants in our current place. We live in between Glen park and Bernal Heights and love it. We’ve lived in 5 places and have never had a dish washer either, someday! If you feel like it check out my blog, we’re painting right now so there’s lots of pictures up right now.

  • Ceci Bean says:

    Oh yes, lack of natural light is definitely a deal breaker!

    I just adore how charming your new place looks in the photos. It looks like you really scored well on most of your list! Moreso after you were able to renovate.

  • I love this list!! I also love the before and after pics from the other day. Your list is also very close to mine, when we were purchasing our home 5 yrs ago. We were on the hunt for a historial home with lots of character and architectural details. We ended up with a 1920 brick Victorian. All the time when new friends come over and we introduce them to our home (she really needs a name) — they ask if we put in the stain glass or the moldings. That seems to be the case these days. Our moldings, stain glass, hardwood, rod iron fence, etc etc — they are just as old as she is. Cheers! Thanks for sharing.

  • I’m with you on the light. I live with a cave-like living room that bums me out. With the wonder that is wash-and-fold, I couldn’t care less about having a washer/dryer.

    My other deal breaker is no backyard, which is tricky in Brooklyn. But i have two dogs that would be sad without it.

  • emily says:

    light and location are at the top of my list too! The light in my house is the thing I notice the most all day, above any color or pattern or piece of furniture in my house. I moved my family into a spacious 3 bedroom, when I thought that space was at the top of my list)…i quickly found out that a dark apartment made for a very moody family. My husband thought I was nuts when I moved us out just 6 months later…but, glad to see I’m not the only one who needs natural like like I do.

  • Nancy says:

    I *LOVE* the cost comparison on wash&fold to washer/dryer. I always felt guilty when I’ve gone that route but have never felt frivolous paying more for a washer/dryer… no more guilt!

  • We did the dark apartment thing too, and it was absolutely miserable. Lots of light is now forever at the top of my list, along with location, parking (we’re in LA), and wood floors. Our current apartment has no storage, so I think that will be a bigger priority for the next one! =)

  • LIGHT! I feel you on that one. My mental health depends on it too! Last year, I saw a gorgeous apartment with pretty finishes and exposed beams, but it had only two windows with another building right outside them. It was like a cave in there. I’m so happy we kept looking! Our place now has tons of light and I love it.

  • lynn says:

    Location is big for me – I have never had more than a 15 min. commute and can’t imagine doing the hour drive my coworkers do. And not to sound like someone on HGTV, but character!

    How does everyone feel about garbage disposals in the kitchen? We just renovated a rental unit and the kitchen is all new, with stainless steel appliances and even a laundry nook. However, my boyfriend refused to put in a disposal. I can live without one, and I understand (from past experience, ha) that people tend to put things like forks and bottle caps down them, jamming them, but I also think it’s a nice addition.

    Just curious to see what other people think.

    • jordan says:

      Interesting question! I think they make clean-up easier… but most of our places in the city haven’t had one, so we’ve learned to live without.

  • Dana says:

    I’m on the hunt for house #3. I’m finding it harder to find what I like as the hunt continues. More experience has left me awfully picky! Wish you had a list of great places in Dallas. ;)

  • Wittyburg says:

    I just moved to NYC, so I couldn’t agree more on light. It’s too depressing in the long winter months to have your living space drenched in gray shadows!

    We have a dishwasher in-unit and jumped at the chance. It’s a little further up than we wanted, but express trains make the commute painless.

    Great tips for any big-city lifestyle! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Jennie_hi says:

    We just moved to New York….and yes light was important. Our place has tons of light but a horrible view. LOL We are on a 5th floor walkup and I don’t mind the walk as we are both losing weight. However, for my next place I would really like a deck/outdoor space, dishwasher and washer and dryer. But for the cost I am not sure it is worth it. We are 1 block from the library, 2 blocks from the grocery store and 1 block from the subway.

  • SARAH says:


    • jordan says:

      Yes! We’re lucky that our current place has a fair amount of counter space and kitchen storage.

  • Lottie says:

    i have moved far too many times and location comes first every single time for me too. you can do a lot with a place but you can never change where it is.

  • Ana says:

    I so agree on light! We saw so many cool apartments, but they were so dark and I couldn’t take them because I new I will hate it with out light. Our current apartment is big enough, but the best thing is we have view of SF’s downtown, Alamo Square and we can see a piece of the GG Bridge.

  • Angel Y. says:

    This list is very similar to mine! After learning what we like and don’t like, my top three outside of budget are location, parking, and space. I love that my current place has plenty of light and great architectural details so I would be sad to give that up if I move.

  • Autumn says:

    @Amanda Smith: I live in Russian Hill. It’s really expensive but amazingly beautiful. I live on top of the hill and I have views from the Golden Gate to the Bay Bridge. I’m lucky to live in a building with a garage because parking is nightmare around here. I also live on a cable car line so that can be really loud and annoying…not to mention the tourists that think my street is an amusement park. Other than that I love Russian Hill!

  • leah. says:

    every apartment and home i have owned, other than one (a weird basement apartment with “hobbit windows”) has had great lighting. our home that we live in now is very spacious, and has a finished basement that we use for the toy/play area and television. i never thought i would avoid the area as much as i do – i guess the natural light must be pretty important to me too!

    one of my favorite apartments was a tiny converted first floor of a row home – all open space and still original fixtures. i put my bed in the old “dining room”, and had a retro chandelier over my bed. i loved it. however, it did have a kitchen sink the size of those at the dentist office… when i cooked i washed my pots and pans in the tub and then scrubbed the tub… eh, at least my tub was always clean.

    • jordan says:

      Ha! I love this story! Trust me, we’ve definitely been there. Oh, the little things we do to make our itty bitty city apartments work…

  • We used to live in the Marina neighborhood which was great because it was walking distance to Kara’s Cupcakes and restaurants (and even a grocery store or two) and was by the water/bike path and easy to get across the Golden Gate Bridge. But the main reason I chose it was because it wasn’t a hilly neighborhood — I know myself and knew that if I had to battle a hill on foot or bike I’d never leave the house!

    It was great for that, but got sooo cold. Might be fun if you did a post about SF neighborhoods that are the warmest and sunniest since it varies so much. If we moved back, that would be at the top of my list (sunshine!). We had great natural light in our Marina apartment but around 4 or 5 everyday the fog rolls in and it’s blanket time.

    • jordan says:

      Good idea. I might have to fit it into my calendar! The micro-climates are definitely an important thing to consider in this city. Luckily our little place isn’t too affected by that pesky fog.

  • Kate says:

    Location, space, light, laundry and KITCHENS. So important!

  • Di says:

    I agree completely with light and location. I cannot live somewhere without great light and my current south facing flat with the large bay window is just perfect….oh and the view is pretty spectacular, and having lived in the same block for 10 years now (2 different flats) I would say that I don’t think I could live without a view (well I am sure I could but I do love it). And for location, I need to be able to walk to work. My current commute takes 8 minutes…..

  • Heather says:

    If I was moving, I would definitely put a few things I hadn’t thought of before high on my list: 1. open spaces (we currently have boxy rooms); 2. high ceilings; 3. storage; 4. not a huge number of trees (sounds crazy, but I’m allergic!)

  • Ohhh a dishwasher is a dream! I’ve lived in San Francisco for the past 3 years and have to say that having a dishwasher is hard to come by! haha :)

    I’ve also decided that having experienced both the bus and metro…. I prefer a place that is close to the Muni Metro lines!

  • Sarah says:

    location! this is my main regret in living where we do – it’s not bad, but i’d give up our yard and a bunch of space to be right in the middle of things.

  • Alex says:

    Totally agree- location and light. Two very important Ls.


  • Lindsey says:

    We got our first dishwasher when we moved to Switzerland. We live in a city apartment in Zurich with a mini dishwasher and I could never, ever go back to not having one. I have thought about when we’re back in the US and I think I’ll buy one and have it installed at my own cost if necessary. ;) xo

  • Nichole says:

    Location is also our number one. My husband and I had reserved an apartment that was beautiful, but we couldn’t walk to anything except a gas station. We never moved in and although there are things I dislike about my apartment, we can walk to all out favorite spots! Less carbon footprint and more healthy, definitely worth the wait.

    I also did not know about the hiring out laundry. That sounds wonderful. Do you have to be in a building that does that or do companies do that?

    Somewhere in my top 5 is layout. We loved this unit, but the bathroom was off the kitchen on the opposite end from the bedroom. It didn’t seem like a big deal until I thought having guests that I have to walk past to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night and people cooking while you use the bathroom. Awkward layouts can be worse than size.

  • morgane says:

    i have the exact same list. And your 500 square feet apartment gave me hope again. Because i’ve been apartment hunting for a while (in paris) now and you proved me that a small place can be beautiful and feel homey. Thank you.

  • Jen L. says:

    Jordan – I am coming to San Fran for a conference for about a week in mid-April. Can you write a post on your fav shops, restaurants, and places to walk? I am a newer reader, so if you posted on this before, please direct me to your post.



    • jordan says:

      Hi Jen!

      We’ve definitely been talking about posting something like that, but I’m not sure that we’ll have it finished by the middle of April. In the mean time, my favorite part of the city is The Mission District. I think it has the best restaurants: Pizzeria Delfina, Bi-Rite Market (& Ice Cream!), Tacolicious, Mission Cheese, Tartine Bakery, & Craftsman and Wolves are some of my favorites. Mission Dolores Park is a fun place to spend an afternoon. Hayes Valley has a ton of great shops. And, if you’re closer to the Financial District, we really like the Ferry Building. I hope that helps!

  • melissa says:

    I have had to face this fairly recently. For me the #1 dealbreaker is, are they pet friendly? And not just pet friendly, are they 4-cat friendly? When I was looking for an apartment here in Houston, I emailed tons of apartments and that was the first thing I asked – and only ONE was willing to be flexible on their 2-pet limit. (I’m sure that private rentals would have been more flexible than apartment complexes but I was short on time) I’m willing to pay a pet deposit and pet rent if required, but I am not parting with any of my cats under any circumstances.

    Washer and dryer in-unit or hookups are also must-haves, as well as a functional kitchen.

    A good location and access to public transporation are also important and going to be even more so when my British husband joins me.

    I think everything after that would be “really nice to haves” (I can live without a dishwasher if I have to but I’d prefer not) or “nice to haves”.

  • Nina says:

    We moved to SF last year and my only requirement was in-unit washer/dryer. We ended up finding a place a few months before we were supposed to move that was such a good deal that we signed the lease site unseen (and paid 3 months double rent). Best decision ever. We now have an old apartment with a washer/dryer, tons of light (except for the kitchen), space to spare, parking… we cashed in on some serious housing karma.

  • sofy says:

    I was so lucky when I had to find a new place to live, that my parents were paying. Hurray for that.
    We didn’t go for expensive apartment, but found a completely rundown apartment. to be transformed.
    First of all, pets are allowed – I have a cat.
    Secondly,total renovation of apartment. I could mold it just as I wanted it, who doesn’t like that!?
    Thirdly, the renovation meant, totally new bathroom and a new kitchen – with a dishwasher
    fourthly, the apartment is close to a train station
    fifthly, there is a laundry in my building
    And somewhere in between them all, is light. ever important.

  • Renuka says:

    I definitely agree with natural light being a must! Your well-being depends on it!


  • Debbie says:

    Pretty much similar for me – but living in Brisbane, Australia – parking and laundry’s are a fairly standard commodity, and you’ve got to be super lucky to get a place with interesting architectural detail.

    But my number 1 is North facing patio or balcony. This may be different in different cities, but I need to have a garden space that is going to get enough sun that I can grow some vegetables. I’m living in an apartment with a South facing patio and I can’t grow anything… it drives me insane!

    Also pets… I need to know I can keep a dog :)

    • jordan says:

      We don’t have pets. But I could see how that would be at the top of the list if we did!

  • Brooke says:

    I have found it interesting that over time the items on my list have changed and/or changed place on it. My first home choice was about affordability. After 8 years there I realized that having outdoor space of my own and a good kitchen became the priority. Outdoor space wasn’t even on my list the first time around.

    Now after just over three years in my current space I’m finding that light is quickly moving to the top of the list. I have a ‘den’ in my place that I was so excited about when I bought the place. The thing is, it doesn’t have any windows! I recently relocated my office/art studio into my bedroom that has a wall of windows and natural light. It feels SO much better!!! Now the ‘den’ is a walk in closet/storage space :)

  • Jen says:

    LET THE SUNSHINE IN! Having lived on the dark side of a building and now in a place where I can rely natural light for most of the day, I will never go back.

    I much prefer a space with character vs. a brand new building. Some added bonuses would be high ceilings and having a super who will receive packages. Don’t forget the ultimate city bonus, a dishwasher and washer/ dryer…a girl can dream!

  • lyndsay says:

    natural light is the most crucial, location too (although we’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 12 years- right off a very vibrant main street)… and i love hardwood floors and vintage details!

    totally agree with the living somewhere close to “things happening”… when i’m hanging with my baby at home and feeling restless it’s so nice to just walk a block to the main street and enjoy some people watching, and we always run into someone we know…


  • Jenn says:

    My must haves: parking, laundry on premises and a shower over a tub. I lived without the tub once, and missed taking baths so much. So many new lofts and modern spaces go for glasses in, sleek showers, but give me a bubble bath and I’m happy.

  • I’m with you about location and light! I take a lot of pictures so I want a place that has nice natural light and interesting things outside to photograph! xx


  • deana says:

    lighting, Architectural Details, and nice neighbors? yes please :)
    -Deana, from BirdsandOxfords

  • Boise ID says:

    I would never have thought about including architectural details when looking for a home, but you’re right about considering it. Renters can design their homes appropriately with the right architectural makeup. I suggest seeking advice from professionals about it.

  • mosey says:

    Location and light are also my top 2 requirements. My husband and my pregnant self live in a very small 1 bedroom in Brooklyn. But huge south-facing windows and a subway station only 1 block away, means we get amazing light throughout the space all winter long and can be in manhattan in 10 minutes. This is something I can appreciate daily.

  • lulu says:

    Ok, so I never comment here, but I am compelled to because after 10 amazing years of living in our tiny Cole Valley flat- my husband, 3 yrd old and weiner dog are moving to…. the Presidio.We just put in our notice today! My list of priorities was exactly your list for years. However, the conveniences of being near businesses is now slightly outweighed by the quiet and the nature of the presidio.
    In the presidio we’ll have space, a dedicated parking spot, laundry and dishwasher in the unit… and a backyard that is a forest.

    I’d love your thoughts on this… because i am worried this city girl has lost her mind. thanks for the great post!

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