On the hunt for a home

DeAnna Hettinger , Staff Writer

Recently, in my search for a room to rent in Santa Rosa, I came across a Craigslist ad that made me chuckle. The ad read something like: master bedroom for rent, $1,250…killer home looking for ‘sick’ roommate,” indicating to me he was looking for someone crazy, cool and insane. Keep in mind this is a guy in his 20s who just bought his first 4-bedroom home. According to the ad, a smartphone controls the washer, dryer, air conditioning and heat. Considering it to be a “chill place to live,” he wants someone who is clean but not OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and 420 friendly.

Today’s rental market is standard is some ways and surprising in many others. The language is clearly different with new twists and codes. If you’re a smoker, it may be OK depending on what you smoke. Good thing I know what 420 friendly means so I can make the right choice to fit my lifestyle. These changes, along with the sky rocketing rent increases make house hunting somewhat of a bumpy ride.

I moved to Santa Rosa three years ago to pay a couple hundred dollars less in rent because I could no longer afford to live in Marin, the county I grew up in. Sonoma County rates have caught up. And like affluent Marin there is no rent control policy currently in place. Back in the day, Marin teenagers used to move back home after age 18 or stay longer due to the high cost of living, a trend in today’s Sonoma County renters market.

Building new rental properties is costly, requiring available land that is extremely short in supply. Non-commuters, people who don’t work in San Francisco for example, are considering moving to Lake County as an option. The prices are lower for housing and the county offers more usable land. There is just not enough housing to go around. The tenant occupancy rate has hovered somewhere around 90 percent.

Elece Hempel, executive director of the Petaluma People Services Center of the Fair Housing Authority, said society needs to look at the unintended consequences, such as the county being historically a beautiful place to live and raise a family and the downside of that is more and more people are choosing to live here. “The seeds of change have been planted but businesses continue to feel the impact of qualified employees who can’t find homes. Senior citizens and families are struggling to stay housed,” Hempel said.

Recently needing to move myself, I perused Craigslist’s share rentals up to five times a day. In response to one ad, I was asked to watch a motivational speaker/activist spiel on you-tube before I sent my inquiry.  Go figure. We live in Northern California and movers and shakers live here, you know the entrepreneurs, elite and the type “A” kind of folks.

The room I decided upon cost me a total of $1,500 (first and last) to move in. Ouch. For two months I had pursued this rental diligently by keeping contact with the landlord who traveled for her job and was pregnant. I needed to be open-minded and consider a new kind of living arrangement. I live in a three-floor townhome where people literally live on top of each other. Being flexible is a valuable asset if you want to save some money on rent and have a smooth house-hunting process. Best case-scenario you have to only choose between Netflix and cable.

This means you need to be on top of your game, creative, and financially prepared to pay top dollar for a new home. Have your financial affairs in order. Offer to pay two months rent in if you’re able; landlords may choose you over the person who has the best credit. Exchanging work of some kind for partial rent can be hard to find but a life-saving option, especially if you’re a struggling student.