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Self-Improvement

How to Move to San Francisco: Flying 2,300 Miles to Live the Buffer Values

“You choose to be at the single place on earth where you are the happiest and most productive, and you are not afraid to find out where that is.”

This beautiful sentiment comes from the Buffer culture slidedeck, the document that defines the values behind everything we do at Buffer. One of the 10 Buffer values is to “Live smarter, not harder,” and this involves finding that single place on earth where you can be your best.

A few months ago I made the move to San Francisco, Calif., from Louisville, Ky., in search of that place—a place where I could be not only happier, but also more productive in my work as one of Buffer’s Weekend Warriors. Here’s the story of what I learned on that journey.

The biggest step: A one-way ticket

Sometimes, deciding to move can feel like the hardest part of a move. Is it going to be the right place? Why not stay put and save up? Is ‘city life’ for me? There are a ton of questions to ask—and for good reason, moving is a big thing!

A favorite quote of mine is from Alan Watts:

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

What a beautiful, inspirational thought to live by!

At Buffer, we work remotely so no matter where I am, as long as I can get online, I’m set. And because we try to live our values as fully as we can in all aspects of our lives, finding that perfect place to call ‘home’ is encouraged.

With deciding on this kind of lifestyle, I’m a bit lucky to have no ties, no obligations to stay in any one place. I’m 20, single, and can get by so long as I have a comfortable place to call home, good coffee, wifi, and people I can get along with.

There was no question I’d be moving to New York, Berlin, London or San Francisco (and I still have total intentions on living in all of them). To kick off my journey, I figured why not start in San Francisco?

In late June, I booked my one-way ticket with about a month to get my ducks in line.

Daniel plane ticket

This was the best feeling; sort of like the butterflies in your stomach right before your first basketball game, or before you give a big talk. Anxious, excited, nervous—all the feelings, mixed into one.

This move was the beginning of the next chapter in my life.

Viewing apartments in my target neighborhoods

My biggest challenge was finding the perfect new home. When it comes to living in San Francisco, picking the right neighborhood is pretty crucial.

Each neighborhood has different vibes, people, food, and shops so picking the right one, with the right culture, is key. I picked the brains of all the people I knew in San Francisco and read up on all the articles there are online to find the right area for me.

After asking (and reading) around, I decided to start my search in the Mission and Castro areas.

In the days leading up to the big flight, I hit Craigslist to start lining up some apartment viewings.

With almost instantaneous turnaround time on places in San Francisco, you have to set up viewings pretty much a day or two beforehand; otherwise you’ll probably miss out.

I lined up viewings within about an hour of my planned landing in San Francisco, through the evening and some the next day. (Don’t be afraid of emailing any and all places that look even remotely possible — the more viewings, the better.)

San Francisco house

Writing the perfect “Can I be your roommate?” email

The email you send to folks for viewings and to show interest in an apartment/room listing is critically important—and as it turns out, most people aren’t too good at it (including me!)

I emailed a ton of potential places in the days leading up to the big move and got about one response out of every 10 emails I sent. Not bad, but not too encouraging, either!

My secret to moving turned out to be an awesome email template I found online. With it, I was able to get about seven responses for every 10 emails (yes, really). (If you’re ever someone I email in the future looking for a place to call home and I just so happen to have sent you this email, I am so sorry! I really am interested in your apartment :-)

How could such a thing make such an improvement? It’s because this email is the one and only thing you’re being judged on. You have to stand out! When someone posts a listing on Craigslist for a spare room in San Francisco they’ll get hundreds of replies—even the ones without any images! With so much competition standing out is a real challenge. Luckily for you, it turns out most people write pretty much the same email; something along the lines of my first (homemade) email:

Hey there,

I just found your post on Craigslist and it really stood out to me. My name’s Daniel and I’m moving to San Francisco (from Louisville, Kentucky) August 6th to be closer to the company I work for. Personally I’m a 20-year-old laid back guy who enjoys photography, exploring, relaxing with friends, and cooking. Keeping things clean is also a big thing for me.

The company I work for is in SoMa and, as a remote company, I’ll probably end up working from a local coffee shop or home on most days.

If you’re interested in having me, I’d love to setup a time to chat with you!

Hope you’re both having an awesome week!

Cheers,

Daniel

P.S. Oh, and here’s my Facebook: [Facebook link here]

I thought this was pretty good! It has pretty much all the information in a clear, straightforward way. I think that was also its downfall. Looking at it after the fact, it doesn’t have too much personality or story, and I can totally see how it could (and did) fall through the cracks for someone getting hundreds of emails.

So, with the $29 email template at the ready, I changed things up to stand out a bit more in people’s inboxes. Here’s just one change that made a phenomenal impact: a new subject line.

  • Old: “Your spare room”
  • New: “tl;dr I’m that amazing roommate you’re looking for”

Saying yes to a new life

Right after landing, I quickly Ubered (so great!) to the office to say hello to all the awesome people I work with who currently live in San Francisco, dropped off my bags, and then caught a Lyft (see what I did there?) over to the Mission to start checking out listings.

At each viewing, I tried to immediately put Dale Carnegie’s ideas to work by genuinely finding things to compliment, being interested in the home’s occupants and their story, and finding common ground to relate on.

While the book has 30 different ways of ‘winning friends and influencing people’ (I totally recommend reading it if you haven’t) I’ll point out the few that apply most in this sort of situation (looking for an apartment or housemates).

  • Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.
  • Give honest, sincere appreciation.
  • Become genuinely interested in other people.
  • Smile.
  • Remember that a person’s name is to that person the most important sound in any language.
  • Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.
  • Talk in terms of the other person’s interest.
  • Make the other person feel important—and do so sincerely.

On my third viewing, it all clicked. I found an awesome group of guys who’ve been living here in San Francisco for years, a brilliant location (right next to some amazing burritos, too!), and above all, a reasonable rent. Without hesitation, I said yes, handed over my check and became a proud new citizen of San Francisco.

Daniel apartment key

My new life in San Francisco

So far, the change has been great. I’ve found incredible places to get coffee, am surrounded by some of the best food (so many burritos!) and couldn’t be happier.

Being near the office means I always have a place to work from, although admittedly I mostly stick to coffee shops near where I live.

Getting out there and meeting people’s a challenge, but made a bit easier with so many events, meetups, and other happenings here. Did I forget to mention all the organic food? Yeah, there’s that, too—a lot of it.

With research and the help of a lot of friends, I was able to land an amazing apartment at a good price and location, spending just slightly more on groceries and everyday items than I would have in Kentucky, all while having an incredible time.

All told, I’m happy living the Buffer values in the place I not only feel happiest, but also most productive.

Additional San Francisco resources

If you’re thinking of making a move to San Francisco (one of the greatest cities on earth), I leave you with a few additional links:

Where are you at your happiest and most productive? Have you ever made a move like this before? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts in the comments!

  • nikipayne

    Thanks for sharing your story! I tried moving to Portland a couple weeks, and like you bought a one way ticket there. I’m back home in LA, but rather than seeing the experience as a failure, I saw it as reaffirming that I can indeed have the life I want working remotely for a company that shares my values. I had never done anything like it before and discovered the next time I try to move anywhere (still considering Portland since it was such a nice change of pace compared to LA), I’ll need to plan it better. Very smart about planning viewings a few days in advance and brilliant insight on the whole “Can I be your roommate” email template. Thanks again for sharing.

    • So glad you enjoyed it! Wow, what an awesome story you have and it’s so incredible of you to view your Portland adventures as such a positive experience :-)

      • nikipayne

        Buffer Value #1: “Always choose positivity and happiness.” ;)
        If there is one thing my dad ever taught me, it was to never lose sight of the good by focusing on all that is bad.

    • Sam Parr

      Here’s the email template: https://gumroad.com/l/craigslisttemplate

  • Deff Valtez

    I have family members in Louisville. What’s so bad about home? Anyways great post.

  • Tony Tyson

    Read your post due to the SFist mention. Very well done. Welcome to SF!

  • Matt Quanstrom

    Welcome to the Bay! Great post Daniel.

    Have fun in your exploring. Be sure to check out the East Bay, Mount Diablo is a great hike!

  • Sam Parr

    Two things, Daniel –

    1. I live in SF and am from Tennessee…high five we’re both Southerners in SF!

    2. That’s great that you came across my email template (I’m the creator). Happy it helped!

    Sam

    • WHAT?! Sam, you created the template that helped Daniel move to San Francisco? That is amazing! What a small world. :) Thanks for sharing that, love how the story comes full circle!

      • Sam Parr

        Yes mam – look at the author of the doc :)

    • piotry

      @samparr:disqus
      I can’t buy it from my location (gumroad doesn’t allow me) :((
      Is there another way to buy it? :)

      • Sam Parr

        Howdy! what region are you in?

        • piotry

          Middle east. I’m in Lebanon.

  • Jillian Dretzka

    I did something very similar! I was living in Southern California where I was born and raised and itching for something totally different. I didn’t want to have a car, I wanted to be closer to my extended family and I wanted to live in a place with real seasons. So in April 2014 I bought a 1 way ticket to Chicago and it is easily the best decision I ever made!

    San Francisco is an amazing place I really hope you love it! I would love live there one day, it is on my to-do list, right next to working for Buffer!

    Congrats on your big life change!

    • Dana

      Hi Jillian, are you still loving life in Chicago? I picked up and moved here from Denver a little over two years ago. It was a huge leap of faith and so not even remotely my style as Im not a huge risk taker. But I’ve made a great group of friends. The winters bum me out for sure, but looking forward to another great summer. If you are interested in meeting up for coffee or a drink let me know. In always looking to meet new people in the city!

  • That is definitely bold. I applaud your courage.

  • Jay Wilson Fisher

    You “ubered” in from SFO? And you took a Lyft once you arrived in The City? So you didn’t even bother to learn how to use BART or MUNI? You know nothing about San Francisco and you really need to go away. You’re not welcome here amongst those of us who have given our blood, sweat and tears to The City and quite frankly it doesn’t sound as tho you care about discovering our culture beyond coffee shops and organic food. The influx of people like you has ruined the lives of so many who came and thrived here for decades. And they came for reasons which are clearly beyond the grasp of entitled, teenybopper tech rats. Your boom will bust, they always do. And many of us who have and will remain here will be more than happy to graciously bid you adieu. Until then. Cheers!

    • Sam Parr

      HA!!! Too funny. 10/10.

  • Cooptown

    Moving to San Francisco was no joke!!!! I did so much research, took so many notes, but nothing could compare to the difficulty of finding an apartment geesh….I did have one book that helped me out though…..

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01C69BLHS?*Version*=1&*entries*=0

    If you’re having trouble this guide will get you through

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