Due to the rental market in San Francisco, landlords usually require immediate occupancy. If you plan to move to San Francisco in July, you should begin your search in May. Be prepared to pay rent in June if you find the perfect place.
Get newspapers as soon as they come off the press. The incomplete Sunday Examiner & Chronicle can be found in some newsstands & grocery stores by late Friday afternoon. The weekend classified ads contain the greatest number of new listings.
Agencies can be very helpful especially if you are unable to make a trip to San Francisco before moving. Most agencies will charge a fee for their service.
Once you find a desirable neighborhood, talk to local business owners in the area as they often have the inside scoop on what is either available or coming available. Look for "Vacancy or "For Rent" signs in windows and in front of apartments in the area. Many owners advertise on site so be sure to be close to a phone to call.
If you like what you see, it will help to be the first to offer the landlord a holding deposit, as most landlords are not inclined to "hold" rentals for tenants. Be prepared to pay one months rent as a holding deposit.
Most landlords will want to do a background check before renting to a perspective tenant. Having a copy of your credit report available will make life easier for the landlord.
With the rental market in San Francisco today, often tenants find that making a favorable impression with the landlord gets them ahead of the game. Since most landlords require some sort of application anyway it is best to come prepared. If two of you are looking for a place together, the resume should include information about both of you.
If you find an apartment building that meets your needs, check back with the landlord to remind him that you are very interested in his or her unit. Out of convenience, some will take tenants who are frequently in touch. Please be aware of the fine line between eager and annoying.