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Here's What You Need to Score an Apartment in San Francisco

Back in 2011, Curbed contributor Abby Pontzer chronicled her adventures in San Francisco apartment rentals, and offered helpful advice for those seeking a lease in the city. Now, a year and a half later, the San Francisco rental market has only gotten crazier. Contributor Mallory Farrugia brings you updates from the front lines as she searches for a pad of her own, with helpful hints for those of you also in the trenches.

This week, we will cover the basics: preparing your application materials and getting your application in, so that you don't get snaked by other potential renters.

Abby's list of materials to include in a rental packet is a great starting point. The fundamentals are: a cover letter, a standard rental application, a pet resume (if you've got a furry friend), income verification, and copies of your credit report with score.

As the market continues to heat up and competition for apartments gets fiercer, it's crucial that you make your application as compelling as possible, so that you really stand out from the crowd of other applicants.

The most important document you can include to up your profile as a great tenant is a letter of reference from a previous landlord (preferably your current or most recent landlord). This saves a prospective landlord or property manager the phone call to the references you provide on your application, and shows your initiative in proving your merit as a renter.

As for income verification – use this documentation as an opportunity to not only prove that you can pay for the apartment, but to demonstrate your overall professional character. For our rental packet, we included my husband's offer letter for his new job in the city and pay stubs from his previous job. I am a full-time freelancer, so I included my complete list of clients, some recent invoices, and a letter of reference from my top freelance client. Landlords especially appreciate this type of thoroughness from applicants who are not on salary, since freelancers can sometimes be riskier tenants than those on payroll.

And for those of you who have pets, we can't emphasize the importance of the pet resume enough. (Check out our guide to writing a killer pet resume here.) Don't be afraid to really pimp it out! Leave no potential question from a landlord unanswered. They will respect you all the more as responsible, proactive pet parents.

Once your packet is in order, don't confuse it with the actual application to rent. Even if you include a standard rental application in your packet, many brokerages or property management companies will not accept this as an actual application to rent their unit, as their official applications must be filled out and submitted online. These applications work on a first come first serve basis, so submitting that online application is what will essentially secure your place in line for the apartment. Independent landlords usually operate a little differently, but if you're dealing with a sizeable leasing company, you have to play by their rules (and aggressively!) in order to have a shot and winning the lease.

As such, we brought copies of our packet with us to every showing we attended, and left one with the leasing agent or landlord of every property we were remotely interested in. Then, if we were really interested in the place, we went home immediately and submitted an application electronically. Once submitted, I either texted or emailed the agent or landlord to give them the heads up that we had applied, and reminded them that they had our packet of supplemental application materials.

In several instances, after I submitted an application for a unit, the agent replied saying that someone else had already applied, so they would have first dibs on the place upon approval. This happened to me twice with units that had been on the market for less than a day. So if you are wary of needless inquiries on your credit, it's totally acceptable to check with the agent before you apply to see if they have applications on the unit already. In each case where there was an application ahead of us, those renters got approved, and we didn't even have a chance at the apartment.

The key is to act quickly. Don't waste time before you submit the application -- because chances are, someone will move on the place before you. Don't be timid when you talk to a leasing agent or landlord. Even if the process feels a bit impulsive, it's the nature of the beast right now. And you can always say no to an apartment once you're approved.