For twenty years, two factors--rent control and a strong economy--conspired together to create an impossibly tight rental market. [Yes, rent control encourages housing shortages--Econ 101 teaches that a byproduct of rent control is decreased supply.] Now that one of those factors (the economy) has changed, it's suddenly MUCH easier to find a place to live in Berkeley. But to seal the deal, follow these apartment hunting tips from the real experts--the housing providers you're trying to rent from!
Where to look: The online listings at Craigslist are a good (and free) place to start in the tech-savvy Bay Area. (Remember that postings change daily.)
Online platforms have cropped up over the years and offer additional ways in which to adverrtise housing. They include Zillow (which crossposts to Hot Pads & Trulia), Rent.com and Zumper.com. There are new ones popping up every day, but Craig's List and Zillow are the most popular and widely used by both landlord and tenant.
For professors and student housing needs try ehousing or Cal Rentals.
Some real gems can be found off the beaten path like realtors or word-of-mouth.
Be prepared: Be prepared when you attend an open house. Dress appropriately. Don't bring "tag-along" friends, but DO bring anyone who you plan to live with--roommates are a touchy issue in Berkeley, and any good landlord will insist on meeting them. Bring your checkbook and be ready to provide a security deposit on the spot. If you will need a co-signer, have that arranged beforehand. Gather all the personal information needed to run a credit check. Consider assembling a renters resume, including letters of reference from past landlords. If you have a pet, consider assembling a pet resume.
Don't be afraid to negotiate: It really is a free market, and you are part of it. If you really like a place, but the rent's too high, don't be afraid to negotiate. Plenty of housing providers would rather have a good tenant who is excited to live in a place he or she loves than one who feels resentful over a few dollars. Perhaps there's a service or condition you'd like--a pet? A parking space? A shorter (or longer) lease? You never know what's possible until you ask.