Rachel Kam, a program manager at a large tech company, started working from her small studio apartment in San Francisco with her husband, a scientist at a biotech company, during the pandemic last year.

When it became clear in the fall that remote work would continue, Kam and her husband decided it was time to upgrade to a larger apartment in a different neighborhood.

“When I had to work from home full-time, it soon began to feel unsustainable for a healthy work-life balance,” Kam told CNBC Make It.

Kam wanted floor-to-ceiling windows and lots of light.

Photo: Jason Blalock.

The couple’s lease expired in October, and they began looking for a one-bedroom apartment on a budget of $ 4,000 per month – a significant increase from the $ 2,300 per month they were paying for the studio . “It was definitely a big change, but still within the budget we had,” she says.

Kam wanted to live in a high-rise with lots of natural light, which she thinks is “crucial” during her work day. “I wanted to find a place with floor-to-ceiling windows with a great view in front of us,” she says.

They decided to buy a one-bedroom apartment for $ 3,850 a month in the Rincon Hill or East Cut neighborhood, right near the financial district and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

According to Zillow, the average rent for a one-bedroom room in San Francisco as of May 23 is $ 2,895.

From a small studio to a luxury high-rise

The couple looked at around 15 different homes in what was a “rigorous process,” says Kam. Due to the Covid security restrictions at the time, they had to do some “self-guided” apartment tours, which means they were given a set of keys to inspect an apartment on their own without the presence of a realtor.

That was a challenge. “Sometimes we were given the wrong key so we couldn’t go into the apartment, or sometimes we weren’t given the right direction to find those apartments,” says Kam. “Or sometimes we got the keys and the apartment was actually occupied.”

But looking for an apartment during the pandemic also had its advantages. “Since the beginning of Covid, many of the luxury skyscrapers have started giving lots of discounts,” says Kam. In their case, the landlord offered them three months of free rent if they signed the lease within a week of viewing the apartment. “So we had to make a decision very quickly.”

Kam bought stools for the kitchen island.

Photo: Jason Blalock.

Once they landed in the building and neighborhood they liked, there were three available units to choose from, with rents ranging from $ 2,800 to $ 3,850. The higher the floor, the more expensive the rent. “We had the option of going 20 floors down for about $ 600 less a month, but we chose this one because of the view,” she says.

To secure the apartment, they had to pay a total of $ 8,700 in up-front costs, including the first and last month’s rent and a security deposit. “Covering the up-front costs in one fell swoop was definitely a huge burden for us, too,” says Kam. “We had to transfer part of our savings to pay for that.”

High-end equipment

Kam chose the current building because it was the newest and “had the best decor of any building we visited,” she says.

“The bathroom is one of my favorite features in the unit because it’s so big and there are so many mirrors,” says Kam.

Photo: Jason Blalock.

For example, the in-building gym was curated by upscale fitness chain Equinox. With the gym available to all residents at no additional cost, the Kams were able to cancel their previous $ 400 per month gym membership.

The apartment house has an indoor swimming pool.

Photo: Jason Blalock.

The building also has an indoor pool as well as a shared outdoor area on the roof with furniture, a fire pit and a barbecue. “There’s also a lounge with an even better view of the Bay Bridge and the water, and an indoor theater room,” says Kam.

Kam pays an additional $ 450 a month to use the building’s parking lot. “It’s definitely on the high end in San Francisco, but it’s because it only offers valet parking,” she says.

‘House Hunt Mode’

Kam admits they are currently paying a lot of rent, but sees it as the last rental building she and her husband will live in.

Kam’s couch is the most expensive item in the apartment at $ 2,000.

Photo: Jason Blalock.

“After this lease, we’re considering buying a property in this neighborhood or in the Bay Area,” she says. “So we wanted to afford to live in a nicer building and just have fun until we had to be homeowners.” (Kam also owns a two-bedroom apartment in Boston that she rents.)

The average value of homes in San Francisco is $ 1,453,455, according to Zillow. “We’re definitely going into apartment search mode with the aim of saving as much as possible,” says Kam.

To save on a mortgage, Kam says they cut down on travel, which “was our biggest expense before Covid”.

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