Good Deal: 3BR/2BA in Pac Heights for Less Than $1M

Despite the current economic downturn, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of buyers interested in three-bedroom condos in the tonier neighborhoods of Pacific Heights, Russian Hill and the like. If you can find such a condo for less than $1.2M with parking, I’d call that a good deal—and then I’d write a contract fairly quickly, because you just know there’ll be another buyer looming shortly.

That’s why I’m calling the three-bedroom/two-bath, top-floor condo at 2950 Clay #302 a good deal. Initially listed at $995,000 in May, the sellers just reduced the price to $740,000. The unit has 1300 square feet, which isn’t huge, but it gets good light and also comes with storage. HOA dues are $400/mo and actually include earthquake insurance. There’s a common area laundry room with coin-operated washer/dryers, but there are some things you have to trade off when you’re working with a budget.

Update: 238 Olive Condos Return with Refreshed Prices

I stopped in to see the newly built condos in mid June over at 238 Olive. I liked the overall finishes and spaces, but questioned just how many people would want to live on that particular street.

Two of the eight 2BR/2BA condos are in contract, and one is closing next week, according to the listing agent. Prices originally ranged from $739,000-$819,000. However, the remaining five condos took a summer hiatus; they’ll be back in mid September priced from $699,000-$789,000. Though the location isn’t the most desirable in the world (I’ve never yet met a buyer who preferred to live on the “Van Ness/Civic Center” corridor), it is convenient to a lot of other neighborhoods, and the new pricing may make up for that factor.

Updates: Warfield Condos Crash, Blue Church Condos Pray for Cash

Things looked promising for the hip “office condos” at The Warfield building when they hit the market in mid May. Seven of the eight floors were being offered as commercial office condos with a special use that would allow for residential dwellings. Prices for the spaces ranged from $1,339,000-$1.4M. Thrown in with each purchase were eight tickets to all performances at the Warfield Theatre.

But unfortunately, the Planning Department has squashed potential buyers’ rock star dreams. Shortly after Pacific Union International started marketing the properties, according to one of the listing agents, city planners decided that they didn’t agree with the seller’s interpretation of the “accessory use housing” designation which allowed for 25% of the space to be used for residential purposes. The result? The units can only be sold now as commercial condos. There are two companies currently negotiating to lease several of the floors.

In other news, the infamous “blue church” condos as the corner of 28th and Church in Noe Valley are officially on hold once again:

The former church was demolished in October 2009, after a protracted battle between the church’s pastor and the property developer. But then…Nothing happened. Rumors recently began circulating that the property was going to revert back to the pastor.

Here’s the latest: J Branch Development is currently trying to obtain financing for the project, according to lead architect Tony Kotas at Kotas/Pantaleoni Architects. Unfortunately, lending is at a premium, and this has become a huge challenge. In the meantime, the developer is planning to maintain the site by cutting back weeds and cleaning things up in response to growing complaints from neighbors.

Dog Days of Summer: Price Reductions Up, New Listings Down

New condo and single-family home listings over the past month have declined steadily. Indeed, this trend is reflected in my broker tour lineup for Tuesday; there haven’t been many new listings in the past couple of weeks. At this point, sellers are waiting to bring their properties on after Labor Day.

And that strategy could be fueling a price reduction fever among sellers of existing available properties.

With many buyers finishing up their summer vacations and existing sellers getting nervous that all the new inventory will undermine them in September, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the timing if you’re a qualified buyer who’s ready to make a home-purchase decision.

A Visit to the New Condos at 83-85 Brady in SoMa/Hayes Valley

I toured the six new units at 83-85 Brady this week. The building replaces a much smaller property that was demolished to make way for the current five-story structure.

I sold a condo across the street at 74 Brady several years ago, so I’m familiar with this unique street that’s a mix of residential and commercial spaces. Though Brady falls into the South of Market district, it also rides the cusp of Hayes Valley. You walk three blocks up to Market and there’s Zuni, and Muni a few blocks further. So for those who want the affordability of SoMa with the conveniences of nearby, more pricey Hayes Valley, Brady is a no brainer.

83-85 Brady has two studios; two 1BR+/1BAs, one 1BR+/2BA, and one 2BR+/2.5BA. They’re all spacious enough (though one of the studios clocks in at a tiny 320 square feet–listed at $285,000). The 1BR+ floor plans have a bedroom up front with a closet (and somewhat odd angles, which makes it challenging to fit a bed), as well as an additional “plus” room without a closet that would work for, well, a second bedroom, office or guest room. What we noticed about this floor plan, however, was that the only closet in the unit was in the bedroom. Given that there’s no additional storage in the garage, this could be a problem for many buyers who have…coats or other things they’d rather not display.

The studios are nice enough, though it’s important to note that the really cool deck just outside unit 2 is shared. So if you’re planning on getting some sleep, you better hope your neighbors don’t decide to hang out at your doorstep.

A couple of the condos occupy their entire floor. However, the kitchen is somewhat oddly configured, so part of it disappears en route to the living area, which in the case of unit 6 below, is off to the left:

Finishes are nice, with CaesarStone counters in the kitchen and travertine tiles in the bathrooms. Each kitchen has its own individual cabinets, countertops and backsplashes. I was stopped in my tracks when I came across this jiggy ‘splash in the rear studio:

There are six parking spaces in the garage. Two are located on the side of the garage, and the remaining four are stacked. So you will have to deal with raising and lowering your car on the lift mechanism in the event you don’t score one of the regular spaces.

I think the Brady condos are priced relatively competitively (studios are $275,000 and $375,000; one bedrooms are $575,000 and $585,000; and two bedrooms are $749,000 and $825,000). HOA dues range from $404-$573/mo. The good: Convenient location, nice finishes, two common-area decks, nice finishes. The bad: Stacked parking for a majority of homeowners; somewhat oddball floor plan features; limited closet space.

Pac Heights Smackdown: Two Condos on Pacific Avenue

It’s not often that two very different properties come on the market in the same price range, on the same block. Today, I’d like to know which of these condos you’d prefer if you had around $1M and had to buy one of these.

First up is 2016 Pacific #204, a 2BR/2.5BA with one-car parking, located within a 1980s building:

Tax records show 1,150 square feet, and the unit is on two levels, which is nice. There’s also a private outdoor space, as well as a washer/dryer and storage. The unit is located at the rear of the property. There are 14 units in the building, and HOA dues are $321/mo for this unit. List price is $995,000.

Next up is 2090 Pacific #702:

This is a larger, 1500-square foot condo—but it only has one bedroom/bath. However, it’s located within a more charming, 1920s Spanish Mediterranean style building on the penthouse level, and it has city and bay views. The living room has soaring cathedral ceilings, as you can see, and there’s a wood-burning fireplace, too. There’s also a large formal dining room and one-car parking. The building has 36 units, and the HOAs for this unit are $575/mo. List price is $949,000.

So which one’s for you, readers?

Cole Valley Construction Project Hits the Market as REO

It seems like the math was all wrong for the recent purchase and down-to-the-studs renovation attempt from the start. Purchased in a private sale in May 2008 for $1,280,000, the 2,000+ square foot house at 1124 Stanyan at Parnassus, the home’s new owners quickly embarked on obtaining permits for a major renovation.

But things went awry with construction within four months, and the project was stopped. It went on the market for $899,000 in its down-to-the studs condition, with no walls, toilets, sinks, or light fixtures. And was withdrawn shortly after.

But now 1124 Stanyan is back as a foreclosed construction project, listed at $1.3M. Based on the current, unfinished condition, I’m guessing the new owner will need a fair amount of cash to complete this house. Is it worth it? I’m not entirely sure. The block is nice, but is situated near the firehouse, as well as on the busy stretch of Stanyan that’s also impacted by busy Parnassus. If you purchase this project for $1.3M and spend $200,000-$300,000 to finish the project (not an exaggeration by any means on this 3,000-square foot home), will you be able to get at least $1.5M in this location down the road?

Yerba Buena Gets Its Own Neighborhood

One of the more major revisions to the San Francisco Association of Realtors’ district map is the inclusion of the Yerba Buena area as its own official neighborhood. (Click on the image above to enlarge and see what’s now known as 9G—and then click again to magnify the district.)

I’m liking this new designation, because I’m already used to differentiating South of Market and Yerba Buena. SoMa below 5th Street has always had a different feel, anyway, so we may as well make it official. And with the emergence of Yerba Buena Gardens over the past several years, as well as an improved Moscone Center and other local amenities, the area deserves individual recognition.

So what are the latest stats for Yerba Buena? There are 36 active condo listings (no houses in this part of town), many of which are located in the St. Regis or Millennium luxury buildings. It’s important to note that these properties will always jack up the averages, because they typically sell units in the $2-$4M range. There’s also BLU at 631 Folsom, which is also among the pricier mid-range condo properties (in the $800,000-$1M range for 2BR condos), as well as Museum Parc at 300 3rd. This is a ’90s property with around 237 units that still has appeal due to solid floor plans and a great location.

A total of 32 units has sold for up to $1M this year in Yerba Buena, at an average price of $561,238 for this price range. For homes above $1M, there’s only one reported sale in the MLS at BLU—a 2BR/2BA, 1100-square foot unit that sold in June 2010 for $1.1M. Another key factor in the averages in Yerba Buena is that the newer developments that are still selling exclusively via their sales offices (One Hawthorne, BLU and the aforementioned luxury buildings) don’t report every sale in the MLS. One trick to sleuth out actual sales? Have your Realtor look up the tax records for the properties. For example, only six units have been reported sold in the MLS for BLU, but there are many, many more units showing up as sold in the tax records. It’s a great way to get a handle on the true values in a district like this.

How’s the Market In: Cole Valley

I’ve met two new clients over the past few weeks who mentioned Cole Valley as one of their strongly desired neighborhoods. The area continues to be a popular choice among buyers—particularly those who need spacious single-family homes or flats in a charming neighborhood with a good retail district and easy public transportation access.

Cole Valley is a small neighborhood that doesn’t have tons of turnover. So the homes that do come on the market are typically sold fairly quickly, in comparison to many other areas in San Francisco.

Home prices are higher than in many other neighborhoods. A total of 16 single-family homes have sold in Cole Valley this year, at an average price of $1,923,000. (Six of these homes sold in two weeks’ time, a testament to the appeal of the neighborhood to those with deeper pockets.) Eight of the 16 homes were sold for $2M+, and were an average of 2,548 square feet. There are currently four houses in contract as of this writing, with two available—including a very cute 3BR/1.5BA on Carmel with about 1,470 square feet and two-car parking for $1,295,000.

Condos are a popular and more affordable option in Cole Valley. To date, nine condos have sold for an average of $799,222, and one condo is currently in contract. Five flats are on the market, including 1131 Shrader, which I profiled recently as part of a Walk Score Winner feature.

Pricing trends in Cole Valley have remained fairly steady over the past year, with a slight uptick for single-family homes.

It’s important to note that many of the properties sold this year have changed hands for under or at their asking prices; for example, eleven houses and six condos went below their list prices. Sellers in Cole Valley may initially be overestimating how much buyers can realistically pay in the current economy. However, I do believe that Cole Valley is one of the neighborhoods in the south part of the city that will undoubtedly continue to hold its value, due to all it has to offer.

High-End Sellers Chase Steadily Shrinking Buyer Pool

While I was seeing properties this week on my broker tour, it struck me that there were some amazing homes simply sitting on the market. I didn’t think these homes were overpriced; in fact, I thought a fair amount were very well priced and seemed to offer good value.

Then it hit me: There are simply less qualified buyers out there for single-family homes, condos, and TICs in the $1.5M+ price range. Upon further investigation, I found plenty of data to back up this trend.

First, the numbers. Here’s a look at how many of these properties sold over the past few years:

2005 574
2006 516
2007 605
2008 540
2009 357
2010 256 to date

High-end purchases in San Francisco hit their peak in 2007, and have gone downhill since then. No surprises there—the economic downturn and mortgage crisis were in full swing by then. Though the luxury market is not dead by any means, it’s definitely hurting. Current stats bear this out: Though there are 54 houses, condos, or TICs in contract with $1.5M+ list prices, there are also 170 active listings in this range. And 123 such listings have been withdrawn since January. So there’s a very low absorption rate right now. Moreover, most homes in San Francisco are selling for less than $1M. Of the approximately 2,692 houses, condos and TICs that have sold this year, a total of 2,120 were sold for below $1M. Only 572 such properties have sold for above $1M. This certainly indicates where the 2010 market is.

What this all boils down to is that loans for $1M+ are simply more challenging to obtain. Though lenders such as Bank of America, First Republic and Wells Fargo are offering such non conforming and super jumbo loans, the lenders are also quite strict about their requirements due to recent economic and employment trends. For example, one lender explained that a buyer applying for one of these loans will need at least 10% of the loan amount in cash reserves in addition to the closing costs and down payment. And the cash reserves can’t be held in any sort of retirement account.

The reason? Buyers at this price point are usually very tech focused, well educated and rely significantly on stock options within their company. Many of these individuals have C-level jobs that aren’t readily available should they be lost. And financial advisors are, in some cases, counseling underwater homeowners to walk away from their mortgages if need be. So lenders are safeguarding themselves against making large loans to clients who may be at risk of losing their jobs. Which explains the importance of the cash reserve requirement (something that wasn’t happening in the boom years).

If current luxury property owners don’t absolutely have to sell their homes, it might be best to hold off until things settle down a bit. But if you have to sell, it’s important for your home to be competitively priced and presented so you can stand out from the crowd.

Home Inspections: To Skip or Not to Skip

Yes, that is the question when you’re a home buyer who’s newly in contract on a property. And the answer usually is: “Have your inspection.”

With few exceptions in San Francisco, I think it’s always a good idea to spend the $500-$600 on a general contractor inspection conducted by a reputable, local inspection company. Even if an inspector doesn’t find any alarming new discoveries, it’s always beneficial to walk through the property with a professional who’s seen hundreds of houses. Checking out the major systems and roof, as well as components such as the furnace is key to your understanding of the overall condition—and how much you may have to spend in the near future to maintain the home.

Inspectors are not structural engineers or termite/dry rot experts. They’ll let you know if they see any red flags where these items are concerned (for example, large foundation cracks or obvious dry rot). And if they see anything that looks like it warrants further investigation from the appropriate professional, they’ll say so.

Many times, sellers will have a recent termite report on file, which is great to reference during your general contractor home inspection. And if there’s a particular issue on which you’d like a second opinion, it doesn’t hurt to pay the few hundred dollars in order to have your own termite inspection.

Inspections in condo buildings are limited to the unit itself, as well as the common areas. But if there is anything that was not done with permits within a unit (say, a kitchen or bath remodel), it’s a good idea to have an inspector see what’s under the sink or in the electrical panel to at least get a sense for any obvious issues.

When you get your written inspection report, you’ll notice that there are no dollar amounts next to any findings. (There are usually estimated repair costs in a termite inspection, however.) A home inspector can generally give you an idea of ballpark figures for, say, correcting a drainage issue or replacing a furnace. But if you are concerned about cost (and who isn’t?), it’s always a good idea to bring in the property corresponding professional so you can get a grip on upcoming costs.

Next Monster Home in the Works for Noe Valley Wife Swapper

It was late last year when Wife Swap star and now infamous Noe Valley resident Stephen Fowler sold his 4,218-square foot home at 4218 25th Street (above). The 6BR/4.5BA home changed hands in a confidential sale, with a list price of $2,925,000. (Tax records show a sales price of $2,822,800.)

There was some speculation as to where the venture capitalist Noe resident would land next. Wonder no more. It seems he’s stirring up trouble in Eureka Valley—specifically at 479 Douglass, a 2BR/2BA, 1,480 square foot home he purchased in a trust sale in November for $850,000:

Plans for a vast expansion of the Douglass house were filed in April, and the neighbors are currently contesting Fowler’s plans. The proposed project calls for a horizontal rear extension with a roof deck above the addition; a music room; guest room; new kitchen and vanity; three new bathrooms; and a master bedroom on the third floor, among other plans.

As one neighborhood group opposing the project objected in a letter to the Planning Department: “It is a massive project that will severely impact adjacent homes by blocking out light, air and privacy…This house would be so much taller, deeper, and bulkier than neighboring homes…We are asking that the project extend less into the mid-block open space and have major setbacks on the second and third floors. We are also asking that the placement of some of the windows facing neighboring homes be reconsidered, as they will destroy the privacy of these neighbors. It is understandable why the adjacent residents are freaking out. We would be, too, if this was proposed next door to us.”

Get Your Smart Car on Sacramento

“In recognition that parking is at a premium in Pacific Heights,” say the listing agents at 2205 Sacramento #303, “and in an effort to promote the ‘greening’ of our fair city, the buyers of this fashionable condo will receive a 2010 Smart Car!”

It looks like small-car giveaways are back (Mini Coopers were big when certain developers were trying to sell SoMa condos a few years ago). But I will say that this 2BR/1.5BA condo that’s located next to Lafayette Park in Pacific Heights is a very nice property. I like the overall building, which has 16 units and an elevator. It’s got a very stately entrance:

And the unit is large, with almost 1600 square feet. I also like the outlooks from the living room:

There’s also an office nook, in-unit washer/dryer, huge storage area, and a leased parking spot nearby at $300/mo. HOA dues are $585/mo, so you’re looking at a hefty monthly fee for both. But consider skipping the leased parking and giving it a go with the Smart Car.

When you’re getting into the high $900,000s and above for 2BR condos of this level in Pacific Heights, parking is usually included. So this unit is priced higher than the typical comparative sale range based on what’s sold this year. But if you’re interested, make an offer. Seller sometimes need a reality check.

Walk Score Winners: Cool Condos in Eureka/Cole Valleys & Nob Hill

If you’ve recently started looking for a home in San Francisco and need a “walkable” location, I’m here to help. Today we take a look at properties with high Walk Scores. Here’s a sampling of what’s out there:


45 Hancock #2
Eureka Valley
List Price: $949,000
2BR/2BA
HOAs: $276/mo
1-car pkg
Walk Score: 91
This is a spacious unit built in 1998 and is a stone’s throw from Dolores Park. It’s got an elevator, fireplace, and patio, as well as a chef’s kitchen and laundry room. A great property for a buyer looking to be in walking distance from Mission Dolores haunts and the Castro. The J Church stop is about three blocks away.


1355 Pacific #104
Russian/Nob Hill
List Price: $949,000
2BR/2BA
HOAs: $419.64/mo
1-car pkg
Walk Score: 95
Located in the newly built 23-unit property at Pacific and Hyde, this condo is about 1,091 square feet and has a large, private patio. There’s a Viking range in the kitchen, a furnished common roof deck with Golden Gate bridge views and a bbq. Also included are a washer/dryer and storage. 1355 Pacific is a great building for downtown commuters who want high-end finishes.


1131 Shrader
Cole Valley
List Price: $1,049,000
2BR/1.5BA
HOAs: $250/mp
1-car pkg
Walk Score: 95
This lower flat in a two-unit building is pretty spacious, clocking in at around 1,564 square feet. It’s got all the classic 1920s details, along with a modern kitchen, fireplace, formal dining room, laundry closet and shared yard. You’re in the heart of Cole Valley, so you’re near all the shops and Muni station.