I’ve been renting a condo near Lake Merritt for about 9 years. My landlady is planning to retire soon, so she decided to renovate and sell the property. Unlike other horror stories I’ve heard, she was very understanding and even let me stay an extra couple months until I found a new place.

As a food lover, I was looking for a one-bedroom apartment in a small building, with a decent kitchen and a place I could grow vegetables (preferably in the ground or a raised bed). This was surprisingly difficult to find! Here are some of the kitchens I came across during my search: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Apartment hunting in Oakland was very competitive, which made the process stressful and draining.  One weekend, I went to 12 Open Houses, applied to 2 and didn’t get either one. Here are some things I learned during the 3 month search:


I very quickly realized that I was priced out of my own neighborhood.  What rented for $900 last year is now $1400 because San Franciscans are moving to Lake Merritt. Other competitive (and expensive) neighborhoods include North Oakland, and parts of West Oakland. So I started looking East. The rent for a two-bedroom apartment in East Oakland is about the same as a one-bedroom near Lake Merritt.

Open House

People who post on craigslist usually get an overwhelming response. They might hear from 15 to 30 people, so instead of making individual appointments with everyone, they just schedule an Open House.

My fellow apartment hunters and I began recognizing each other. We talked about how frustrating the process was, and it actually felt better to know that I wasn’t alone.

Some apartments were clean but tiny, and others were large, but in need a professional cleaning and a fresh coat of paint. All of the nice apartments would have a crowded Open House with people furiously filling out applications on the kitchen counter.


I only applied to the apartments that I really liked. Instead of turning in an application later and risk it going to the bottom of the pile, I learned to fill it out on the spot. One Saturday morning, I ran into a woman wearing a business suit and carrying a leather folder of documents. She was not playing around!  That’s when I started keeping copies of my credit report, reference letter and pay stubs in my bag, so I could turn in a complete application at the Open House.


After I filled out the application, I would have a conversation with the property owner. It was an awkward 2-minute “speed date” with the goal of making myself stand out from the crowd. They were usually friendly and would say they were looking for someone that will be a “good fit.” Whatever that means…


One woman told me I came in third place “if it helps.” It didn’t help, but at least she responded. Most people didn’t bother to tell me they decided to go with someone else.

After three months of relentless searching, I finally got an offer. Actually, I got two on the same day! One was a 2-bedroom in the Laurel District with a place to grow veggies in pots and a shared garage. The other was a 2-bedroom in the Dimond District with a small yard and an uncovered parking space. I was leaning toward the Dimond apartment when I asked to see both again. The second visit changed my mind and I decided to go with the Laurel apartment because it had been completely redone since the previous tenant lived there for 25 years. It’s spacious and has a lot of natural light. Here’s my new kitchen.

I asked the property manager why she decided to offer me the apartment. She said eight people applied, and since I have a stable job, good credit and rental history, it was between me and another woman. At that point, she went with me because I would be a “good fit” (there’s that phrase again), and someone she would want to work with.

My New Neighborhood

I just moved to the Laurel District a couple weeks ago.  My apartment is on a quiet street right off MacArthur, and there’s a bookstore, supermarket, cafe and several restaurants within walking distance. I’m excited to get to know my new neighborhood!

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland.
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One Response

  1. David Huber

    Nice post 🙂 Thank you. I currently live in West Oakland. (Lower Bottoms neighborhood) . There is a new “lofts” near 16th st and campbell. I was shocked to hear that a studio starts at $1400. I pay much much much less.


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