How Much Does It Cost to Live in San Francisco?

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How Much Does It Cost to Live in San Francisco?

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May 26, 2011
By MICHAEL CHANG, Contributing Columnist and Editors, zoomhealth

Often dubbed as a contender for the "most European city" in the United States, San Francisco has an allure that draws people from all over the nation and all over the globe. People come in droves, seeking that break from their small town or to fulfill their aspirations. San Francisco is a city of dreamers; a city full of transplants and transients. In fact, It is a city that is quintessentially American because it is a melting pot of cultures. Apart from the masses of tourists pouring into onto Market street, which according to the San Francisco Travel Association ranges around approximately 16 million visitors annually, you will hear a number of different languages as you stroll through the city. San Francisco is a worldly city of cosmopolitan characteristics, scenic beauty, and historic architecture.

The city with its mosaic of cultures and styles contains within it many neighborhoods: the Mission, the Castro, Lower Haight, the Marina, among a number of others-each with its own characteristic and its own flavor. Full of people striving for independence and individuality, San Francisco is a city with defiance for status quo, a haven for liberals. It sits on the bay with the iconic Golden Gate Bridge looming in the skyline, full of its funky charm, its world-renown Ghiradelli chocolate and its Boudin clam chowder. The myriad of cultures and styles ensures that there is a niche in this enchanting city for just about everyone. It is no wonder that many strive to make their move to this Californian city.

However, the question is: can you actually afford it? According to Eurocost International, San Francisco is the third most expensive city in the United States and, according to Mercer 2010 Cost of Living worldwide city ranking, it is the 34th most pricey. ranks the City by the Bay at 90 out of 300 international cities for most expensive for expatriates to live in.

While it is expensive to live in this city, whether or not a move is feasible depends lot on your lifestyle and personal choices-- do you have to have filet mignon or will a hamburger do? Here is a rough guide to an average budget you should prepare to meet in San Francisco:

Monthly Budget

Rent: US$1,150 lowside to $1700 highside per month
Utilities: US$150 per month
Food: US$300-500 per month per person
Transportation: US$75-100 per month

Housing Costs

Like any city, the cost of rent depends on where you reside. If you are expecting to live in the quaint Victorian homes that adorn the traveler brochures of San Francisco, be ready to shell out big bucks. In order to live in a more posh area of town, such as the Marina or Nob Hill, you are looking at least US$1000 to share an apartment and up to US$1900 for a one-bedroom for yourself. In more crime-ridden neighborhoods, such as the Tenderloin or the Mission, the price range would begin at US$600-700 to share an apartment. Unless you want to share a room, you will most likely be paying from US$1,150 to 1700 per month.

Since the financial crisis of 2008, rents have fallen in San Francisco.

According toRealFacts of Novato, an apartment specialist in the San Francisco metropolitan area, the average monthly rent in the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area in the fourth quarter was $1,502.  That's  down from $1,627 a year ago, a decline of 7.6%.

And, more apartments are vacant. The apartment occupancy rate went from 95.4 percent in December 2008 to 94.5 percent last month.

In the less expensive but nearby San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area, the average was $1,484, down 11.6 percent from a year ago.

How bad have things gotten in California? Well, according to a 2010 Real Facts survey, 60% of landlords in Southern California are offering incentives to lure tenants, such as a giving you the first month's rent free, ipods or even flat screen TVs.

Another great way to find more affordable or cheap housing is to locate just a bedroom in a home or apartment with roommates. You can find rooms as low as US$400 in neighborhoods like the Mission or as high as even US$1000 in the Marina.

If you want to share accommodations and lower your rent costs, but do not know anyone in town, Craigslist is a great resource to find potential roommates and apartments. While this classifieds site is used worldwide, it was actually started in San Francisco and its usage in the city is prevalent, particularly as a way to find your new home!

Another resource is the local newspaper the San Francisco Chronicle, and its online version, which feature apartment listings.

While housing costs are relatively expensive, San Francisco has rent control laws in place that ensure its tenants are not subject to totally arbitrary rent increases from landlords. This means that rent prices can only increase a certain amounts per year, tied to inflation. 

These rent control laws prevent landlords from arbitrarily imposing rent increases and affecting your ability to survive in this costly city.

Transportation Costs

When you think of getting around in San Francisco, you might think of the well-known trolley streetcars. However, it is not actually how most San Franciscans get around. Most natives get around through the city's highly efficient public transit system.

Because San Francisco has one of the best public transportation systems in the country, perhaps only surpassed by New York City or Washington DC, it is likely that you will survive without a car. In fact, given the high costs of parking (around US$200 per month one way or another) and the mayhem on San Franciscan streets, you might opt to talk or to take the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) subway system or the Muni (short for Municipal), which the San Francisco public transit system comprised of railways, trolleys, and buses.

BART fares range from US$1.75 to $3.50 each way. It is a reliable way to not only get around the city, but also to get to other destinations in the Bay Area, such as Berkeley, Richmond, or even Fremont.

The Muni costs US$2.00 for any ride, which includes a transfer ticket. For those residents that take these forms of public transit regularly, you can opt for a monthly Muni only passes, which are US$60. For a Muni/BART monthly pass, which includes only the BART stations in San Francisco, it will cost US$70.

Lastly, you might take the occasional taxi ride when going out with friends to a bar or restaurant, but because the taxi system is surprisingly inefficient for a large city, it is difficult to hail a cab, unless you are in a busy part of town. Even so, you should budget US$20-40 for the occasional cab ride each month.

Food Costs

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