Mint Plaza 2BR Loft Edging Out Competition

It’s got concrete floors in which you can see your reflection, integrated raw materials and artful finishes, and almost 2,000 square feet of space. I’m liking 410 Jessie #602 in the Martin Building.

Current competition is a 2BR unit in the Heublein Building at 601 4th Street #223—similar square footage, but without the Mint Plaza cache, glossy floors, and high-end finishes. List price: $1,580,000:

My money’s on 410 Jessie.

Ken Rosen: Take Advantage of Low Interest Rates Now!

The low interest rates we’re currently enjoying will be higher by the middle of 2010, according to economist Ken Rosen. I attended yesterday’s First Republic holiday luncheon in San Francisco, where Rosen presented his thoughts on the state of the current residential real estate market.

Realtors love to tout low interest rates as a way of encouraging buyers to get off the fence. So coming from a Realtor, this sentiment is looked upon by consumers with a grain of salt. But when it’s coming from a well-known economist, the news should make consumers take notice.

In other parts of the economy, we have a long road to recovery. On the positive side, Rosen pointed out capital markets improvements and the stimulus package. But the “foreclosure tsunami,” continued credit losses, employment weaknesses and high oil prices are still dragging everything down.

There have been small housing price increases of late in San Francisco, but those have taken place in the entry-level part of the market, according to Rosen. In the last three months, averages in this market segment have gone up 2-3%. He expects the tax credits and low interest rates to spur purchasing activity in the new year, and the jumbo loan market to pick up again in—when else?—mid 2010.

So buyers, get busy while you still have the advantage. Rosen’s belief is that the best loan to get is the one given at the bottom of the market. That, apparently, means now.

“Euro-Style” Condos Hit the Inner Sunset

I stopped by 1327 7th Avenue last week during my broker tour. This is a newly renovated property featuring eight residential units and a commercial space in a front building, and three townhomes in the rear, with a courtyard in between. There’s an elevator in the front building, and parking is underground.

I was quite impressed with the property (though the bedrooms are on the small side; the king-size bed crowd should stay away). And I was into the idea of the “design that echoes Europe’s terraced cottages.” Prices start at around $1,175,000 for #11, a 2BR/2BA, 1272-sq foot corner unit. I actually liked this unit a lot, due to the numerous windows and outlooks:

List prices top out at $1,395,000 for the two-level, 3BR/2BA, 1631-sq foot unit with two private patios and vaulted ceilings. (The listing office had received an offer on this unit at the time of my visit.) The three townhomes at the rear of the lot in a separate building are priced at around $1,225,000. They feature living/dining/kitchen areas on the main level, and bedrooms upstairs. Downside is that your main living level looks right out onto the courtyard, which doesn’t offer much privacy.

HOA dues are between $500-$600 per month.

So far, one unit in the front building and the commercial unit are in contract. Not bad for only being on the market a couple weeks. It’s a bit of a challenge to find accurate comparable sales; for example, the most expensive condo in the Inner Sunset that sold this year was on 8th Avenue at Kirkham—a remodeled, Marina-style, 2BR/1BA with sunroom and two-car parking that sold in February for $850,000. And in terms of single-family homes, you could’ve bought 1530 8th at Lawton for $1,225,000. This was a remodeled, 1600-sq foot, Arts & Crafts-style 3BR/2.5BA with two-car parking.

With 1327 7th Avenue, you’re got top-notch finishes and presentation, as well as a wildly convenient locale. These properties fall between a condo and a single-family home, and they’re ready to go. So you don’t have to worry about having to install a new roof, take care of termite work, or upgrade to copper plumbing (which is not the case when it comes to those old Edwardians, right?).

Cut Down Your Water Bills at Albion Castle

One of the few properties in the Bayview-Hunters Point area that isn’t going into foreclosure is over at 881 Innes. This former brewery—and later, water company—is now a 4BR/2BA home with 1,436 square feet and underground caves. It was reportedly built in 1870. List price is $2,950,000, and the property has been on the market since September.

Along with your ’70s kitchen and pano bay/bridge views, you get water rights to underground springs that produce 10,000 gallons of water daily. You also get the rights to the name Albion Castle Brewery, in the event you want to undertake that venture. The property received landmark status in 1974.

I’m thinking the price tag is a tad high, given the location. Sure, the property is unique, but it’s also very specific. Not sure I see someone paying $3M to live in Bayview.

Top 40 San Francisco Deals for 2009

Reside has just put together its Top 40 San Francisco transactions for the year. The list features the most opulent sales above $4M throughout the city.

My favorites: 300 Sea Cliff Avenue for $18M (rumored to have been purchased by everyone from Tom Cruise to Larry Ellison); 2510 Jackson for $11.5M; and 2430 Broadway for $9M.

Reside—as well as a lot of real estate crystal ball holders—are anticipating a much stronger 2010 for the luxury market.

Do-It-Yourself SoMa Penthouse Combo at 601 4th St

Two penthouses at 601 4th Street are currently on the market with the suggestion that someone purchase both for $2,313,000 and combine the units. (The small print also says that the listing agents can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to get approval for such a combo from the city or the HOA, but why sweat the details?)

You can buy them separately, of course, and 601 4th, also known as The Heublein Building, is one of the better loft properties in the neighborhood to consider. It was the first large loft development in the city.

Penthouse 2 (above) is being offered as a 1BR/1BA, 1184-square foot unit for $815,000. It was on the market for a bulk of last year at $949,000, and the current owner paid $815,000 in Sept 2000.

Penthouse 3 is a 2BR/2BA, 1792-square foot unit:
It’s listed at $1,498,000, and features sweeping views from a private patio, 11′ ceilings, a 110″ high-def projected video and screen, and two-car parking. The unit was last sold for $1.5M in Oct 2006, and before that, for $1,425,000 in Oct 2000, proving that SoMa appreciation levels are not what they once were. It’s being sold by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, who recently purchased a home in Noe Valley on Duncan Street.

Yours Truly Quoted in the NYTimes on FHA Loans in Expensive Areas

I had the opportunity recently to speak with New York Times reporter David Streitfeld, who was working on a story about FHA loans in high-priced cities. The piece is running today: With FHA Help, Easy Loans in Expensive Areas. (And I’m quoted!)

The upshot of the story is that there’s growing concern that FHA loans—particularly if the loan limits increase—could end up causing the next housing crisis. Streitfeld profiles three San Francisco buyers who got an FHA loan to purchase a two-unit building in Hayes Valley.

Check it out, and let me know if you have any comments at

More Condo Lottery Craziness

Tickets for San Francisco’s annual condo lottery go on sale Monday. And there’s something you should know, as per my friends at Plan C: The City may be denying additional lottery tickets to buildings that qualify with the minimum qualifications. (Generally, this means one owner-occupied unit for each of the last three years in 2-4 unit buildings, and three owner-occupied units for each of the last three years in 5-6 unit buildings.)

Historically, lottery priority and the issuance of additional tickets have required that one of the qualifying owner-occupants have been owners (but not necessarily occupants) during each of the previous lottery losses.

The change for the last couple of years and for 2010 is that the Department of Public Works (DPW) appears to have a new interpretation of written law. To establish priority credit (additional tickets), DPW is requiring that each of the qualifying owner-occupants be the same original owner occupants that were unsuccessful in past lotteries.

Simply put, your building might qualify for the 2010 lottery and receive one ticket, but unlike in years past, may not be entitled to additional tickets based upon unsuccessful previous lottery participation.

Plan C is reaching out to see if there are other TIC groups where this situation is likely to have an impact. If you’re facing the same issue, or would face this issue if one of your fellow TIC co-owners were to sell their interest, let Plan C know and they’ll put you in contact with other similarly situated people. Send them an e-mail at

Buyers Hit the Holiday Home Stretch

We’re approaching Thanksgiving, and I’d say the San Francisco real estate market is officially in its annual home stretch.

It’s important to check out recent sales activity, as this data will help guide your house hunt from this point forward. Condo sales were fairly brisk from Nov 1-18th, with 81 units selling at a median price of $710,000. Of the 81 sold, 21 sold for over the asking price; eight sold for at asking; and 52 sold for under the asking price. There are currently a whopping 629 condos on the market, ranging from a below-market-rate (BMR) unit at Symphony Towers on Van Ness listed at $186,538, to 59 condos listed at more than $1.5M. But a bulk of available condos—481—are listed at or below $1M.

On the single-family home front, 98 homes sold in the same time period at a median price of $823,750. 49 sold for over the asking price; 44 sold for under asking; and five sold for the asking price. There are 500 available single-family homes at present. Try your luck at the “fully detached TOTAL FIXER” probate sale on Keith Street in Bayview, or scoop up one of the 119 homes listed at $1.5M+. (Don’t forget 2845 Broadway for $65M, on the market for 1356 days and counting.) However, you’ll have plenty to choose from for under $1M; there are 296 homes listed in that range.

Though many of these homes will likely sell by the end of the year or at least will go into contract, there’s bound to be excess inventory that spills over into 2010. I’m anticipating that the winter real estate market in San Francisco will kick in around mid January, as plenty of sellers will want to get moving again. But as always, between now and December 31st is the time to get your deal done.

Final Word on Federal Tax Credit

President Obama extended the $8,000 tax credit last week, allowing it to remain in effect through next spring. Based on several conversations and questions I’ve had and heard since then, there seems to be some confusion about the tax credit’s details.

The Wall Street Journal has a great primer by Laura Sanders on the subject. Here’s the upshot:

– First-time home buyers will continue to get a credit of 10% of the purchase price, or an $8,000 max;

– Those who do claim the credit have to stay in their home for at least three consecutive years (skip the flip);

– To be eligible for the credit, buyers have to be in contract no later than May 1, 2010 and close their sale no later than July 1, 2010;

– For purchases made after November 6, 2009, no credit is available for any home costing more than $800,000;

– There’s now a tax credit for repeat buyers, as well as first-time home buyers.

Again, check out the full article for more very helpful details.

Glen Park's Latest Luxury Home Lands on the Market

337cheneryThe latest property to hit the market on the heels of a slew of Chenery Street listings is 337 Chenery.

The owners have added horizontal and vertical additions to the existing two-story building, as well as remodeled the existing spaces throughout. So now you’ve got a main level with a living room, dining room, family room and half bath; an upper level with 2BRs/2BAs (that includes one master suite); and a lower level with 2BRs/1BA. It all adds up to a total of 3,000 square feet with a list price of $1,749,000.

And while the private, stone terrace off the master bedroom makes me expect to see Leonardo & Kate perched on the edge…

…I’m digging the kitchen and its wall of windows. Happy to wash a dish there any day:

And were this home in Noe Valley, you’d probably be looking at a list price closer to $2M. We’ll see how the current list price flies; it’s somewhere in between 223 Laidley’s $2.3M June sale, and August’s 165 Randall sale of $1,675,000.

Recovery Act Hits the Streets

Nancy Pelosi’s office has mapped out the areas and businesses that will benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that President Obama signed into law on February 17th, 2009.

Among the beneficiaries are:
– a long list of housing complexes, schools, medical concerns
– many arts organizations
– $3.2M for repairs along Divisadero (yay!) from Waller to Geary
– more than $200,000 for an emergency food and shelter program
– substantial amounts for small businesses. (Hey, even Paxti’s Pizza got $450,000!)

Check out the list and map for more details.

Yes, SF Home Prices are Improving–Thanks, Forbes!

It’s Forbes’ opinion that San Francisco home values are on track to increase 14.3% by 2011. On the flip side, they’re predicting an 8.3% drop in prices by next June. Apparently, we have to work through all our foreclosures before things start heading up.

But is this foreclosure wave really ever going to arrive—to the extent that all the buyers who’ve been waiting for “deals” on their centrally located dream houses in San Francisco are finally satisfied?

There might be steady foreclosure or short sale offerings in the more affluent areas (see The Chronicle’s article on the subject). But for one thing, there aren’t many people out there buying properties for above $1M. Additionally, those who are buying properties in the below-$1M range all seem to be competing for the same homes. What would those be? The 2BR condos or single-family homes in walkable neighborhoods that don’t get too much fog and are near public transportation or freeways.

And there never seems to be enough inventory to meet these demands.

What You Get For: $650,000

The market is definitely busy for those buyers who are working with conforming loans (up to $729,000). I thought I’d check out three very different offerings listed at $650,000. Today, we take a look at a condo in Lower Pacific Heights, a big loft in SoMa, and a cottage in Eureka Valley.

Let’s kick things off with 1309 Baker, a 2BR/1BA condo located on the outskirts of Lower Pacific Heights, at Post Street:
This 1400-square foot flat has 12-foot ceilings, one-car tandem parking, and a recently added rear sunroom. There are also two huge, deeded storage rooms. HOA dues are $200/mo. The property is in close proximity to Kaiser Permanente and some housing projects, so it’s not exactly prime Lower Pac Heights. Last sold in March 2006 for $710,000, the unit initially hit the market in April at $775,000, and the sellers have been trying to find that selling sweet spot ever since.

638minna 638 Minna #8 is in the “transitional” part of SoMa that may or may not ever dramatically improve. However, this 2BR/2.5BA, tri-level loft has 1622 square feet, two fireplaces, a shared roof deck, parking and storage. The HOA also recently settled an issue with the developer, so maintenance work is being completed and will be out of the way. HOA dues are a bit on the high side at $550/mo.

#8 went on the market in May at $715,000, briefly went into contract in July, and is now at a much more palatable $649,000 list price.

yukonThe very charming 169 Yukon recently came on the market in the Upper Market/Eureka Valley area. It is an adorable 1BR/1BA property with a paved driveway and garden. There’s a formal dining room, and the house does need some work. But for the money, this is a great condo alternative.

540 Delancey Penthouse Units Hit the Market–Again

del_exteriorThe latest offering at the historic Cape Horn Loft building concerns the penthouse units at 540 Delancey #402 & #403, now on the market for $3,295,000. The property was last sold in October 2008 for $3.1M.

In case you missed it last Fall, the two-bedroom, four-bath units have a 1200-square foot, walk-out deck, “reclaimed gymnasium floors” (perfect for in-home basketball practice), and a stone dining table for 12+ guests. There’s also air conditioning, walls of Soji-style screens, exposed wood beams, and two-car parking. The previous owner purchased both units in 2004 for $2M and completely overhauled the property.

The current owner is relocating for a job change, according to the listing agent. The units are not legally combined, though a wall between the units was removed with a permit (though there are still two parcel numbers in city records).

I leave you with some impressive photos of the kitchen with its glorious communal table, living area, and one of the bathrooms: