Kicking Bike Safety Up a Notch in SF

It’s no secret that biking around San Francisco is fun—but isn’t always easy. In this month’s MarketTracker, we take a look at what’s in the works for improving bike safety in the city.

Plus, news on the mid-Market corridor, as well as what the heck is going on in the Mission with a certain restaurant owner’s properties. And the most recent sales across the city, too!

Read it all here in the February MarketTracker.

Sunnyside Starter a Magnet for Buyers

The very appealing 3BR/2BA single-family house at 224 Baden is new to the market. But based on buyer activity in this price range, I am predicting there will be a lot of interest in this property.  I previewed the home today on Zephyr Tour, and really liked the space (1500+ square feet). There’s a very spacious kitchen and reasonable bedroom/bath downstairs, as well as two large bedrooms on the main level. Add to the mix a wood-burning fireplace, formal dining room, chef’s kitchen and one-car garage in a convenient Glen Park location, and you have yourself a fine city dwelling.

I particularly liked the garden:

224 Baden is north of Monterey Boulevard, which means it’s in the more desirable part of the street and is further away from the freeway. You’re about four blocks away from the Glen Park BART station, so this is a home that downtown commuters should seriously consider. Ditto that for Peninsula commuters, as you’re a hop, skip and jump away from 280. And of course, you’re also very close to the downtown area, which has a range of restaurants and shops. (Had a great dinner recently at Le Petit Laurent.)

List price is $729,000. Given that the average 3BR home price in Sunnyside since last September is around $705,000, I’d say this home is priced very well (code for: multiple offers). Check it out this weekend—open 1-4 on Sat 1/29/11 and Sun 1/30/11.

UPDATE: After two weeks on the market, 224 Baden received nine offers and it’s in contract as of February 9, 2011 for about $100,000 over its asking price.

Park Circa Aims to Ease Parking Woes

San Francisco isn’t known for being an easy parking city. Though plenty of neighborhoods don’t have parking challenges, plenty still do—particularly those with popular retail areas. Combine that factor with the reality that many homes in the city were constructed before automobiles existed, and you have a bit of a conundrum.

Enter a new company that intends to help city drivers find parking spaces. Park Circa launched last week, and it has an interesting, practical means of achieving its goal. In a nutshell, a homeowner who may not be using, say, an empty driveway, signs up to share that driveway for $1 per hour. A driver establishes an account with $10 in it. The driver uses Park Circa’s site or iPhone app (Android and Blackberry apps are on the way) to find an available space among the spots being offered for rent for specific periods of time. When that time is up, the appropriate amount of money is deducted from the driver’s account and the space owner is paid. It’s that simple, and the idea fits in well with the grassroots city that is San Francisco. If any city can make this work, it’s ours.

The company is kicking things off by focusing on building critical mass in three neighborhoods that have minimal parking—the Haight, Cole Valley, and the Inner Sunset. Not only could Park Circa help drivers find spaces in those areas who are temporarily visiting, but I could see it assisting those who own or want to buy homes that don’t provide deeded parking. This is a huge factor in house hunt. Combine Park Circa with car-sharing companies, and parking in San Francisco may actually become… enjoyable.

“Flipping” Makes a Comeback in San Francisco

It used to be that most buyers would meet with their agent and communicate that they’d be ready, willing and able to take on a fixer so they wouldn’t pay for someone else’s renovation. That approach has obviously declined in 2011. Because it looks like “flipping”–purchasing a fixer, renovating it and reselling at a profit–is alive and well again in the San Francisco market. Case in point: 3719 Folsom Street (above)  in Bernal Heights.

Sold only a few months ago in September 2010 as a fixer in a cash sale for $590,000, the property is back on the market for $849,000 and fully renovated, ready to flip.

There are still three bedrooms and two baths, but the house no longer looks like this:

It’s all spruced up with “solid hardwood floors, recessed lighting, landscaping, & stunning new kitchen & bathrooms w/ Grohe fixtures…that together create an overall design that is fresh & modern.”  The master suite has a dual vanity and custom glass rainshower. There are also pano views from the rear, and one-car parking.

The location on Folsom is good; the sellers obviously made the right call taking a chance on a flip here, because you can’t go wrong with proximity to a popular retail corridor. 3719 Folsom is one block from Cortland, and around the block from Maggie Mudd ice cream.

Contrary to buyers’ traditional apathy toward ponying up for a seller’s renovations (and profit), there are apparently lots of people interested in assuming ownership of this home. The listing office has distributed 16 disclosure packages. That means there are reportedly at least 16 separate buyers who are interested in submitting an offer, and who are potentially qualified to purchase home that’s asking almost $1M.

My guess is that the seller will end up with around seven or eight offers. So whoever says that flips are flopping in the current economy is wrong. I think there are plenty of financially secure buyers out there who don’t have the time or interest to do renovations themselves. And if the renovated home is well within their means and they like the property, they’ll make an offer.

Something for contractors and developers to keep in mind as we move through 2011. Readers, what do you think? Is paying for someone else’s renovation something you’d do?

Sutter Trio Searches for Buyers

For buyers looking to purchase a condo in Lower Pacific Heights, it’s possible to see three good possibilities on the Sutter corridor. I thought it would be fun to take a look at the trio that’s currently on the market:

1980 Sutter #317

The 2BR/2BA condo at 1980 Sutter #317 in The Amelia (a complex also shared with a 2185 Bush Street address) is a nicely remodeled home with just under 1300 square feet. The unit faces south, and features two decks and two skylights on the upper level. There’s also a washer/dryer and a wood-burning fireplace. HOA dues are $754/month, and include garage parking. The location of 1980 Sutter is prime Lower Pacific Heights, right on the Fillmore stretch. #317 was on the market at $795,000 in late 2010 and was withdrawn before coming on the market again in mid January for $775,000. It last sold for $820,000 in 2006.

2609 Sutter #3

2609 Sutter #3  is a top-floor, 3BR/1BA condo with 1,690 square feet and one-car parking. Though the building is closer to the Laurel Heights area vs. the Fillmore epicenter, there’s a private deck with city views and obviously more space for the money. HOA dues are $350/month. List price is $799,000.

2488 Sutter

Though this unit recently went into contract, I included it in the event something falls out and a good opportunity arises for a buyer. The 2BR/2BA, two-level condo has about 1,600 square feet and one-car parking, and is very well appointed. There are two master suites on separate floors (great for those who want guest space) and 18′ ceilings. The building was constructed in 2000, and HOA dues are a low $173/month. The downside to this location is that it’s a block from the local housing projects, which is probably why the unit was on the market a while (initially at $999,999) before it finally went into contract with a list price of $899,000. The previous sale occurred in 2004 for $879,000.

How’s The Market In: Hayes Valley

For urban dwellers who want to be right in the middle of everything, Hayes Valley has an awful lot to offer. It’s one of the go-to neighborhoods I recommend when meeting with new buyer clients who tell me they need to be in close proximity to public transportation, restaurants, services, and parks.

Hayes Valley is bordered by a laundry list of similarly desirable neighborhoods: Alamo Square; Western Addition; the theatre and cultural district, South of Market; Mission Dolores; Duboce Triangle; Buena Vista/Ashbury Heights; the Haight and NoPa. Here’s a quick look at the ‘hood, courtesy of Google Maps:

Hayes Valley is host to a mix of young professional homeowners, renters and long-time property owners. Though it’s not typically a destination for young families, I’ve had many clients purchase condos in the area and have children there within a couple years. They end up staying a while and not fleeing to the East Bay because of the quintessential San Francisco architecture and characteristics of the neighborhood. Single-family houses tend to be very large in Hayes Valley, and there are plenty of condos and multi-unit buildings, as well.

Hayes Street between Laguna and Franklin is the epicenter of Hayes Valley. It features some of my favorite restaurants such as Absinthe, Italian standby Caffe Delle Stelle, Suppenkuche, and Bar Jules. (I could go on, but this isn’t a restaurant guide.) In short, there’s a reason I believe Hayes Valley is among the top five food neighborhoods in the city. 

Alongside those restaurants are clothing boutiques and specialty stores. For public transportation, you can walk over to Civic Center to catch Muni. If you’re closer to the Haight, the N and J are nearby off Duboce Park. The neighborhood is a magnet for cycling, as many of the prominent bike routes run through it. And let’s not forget that you’re right near the opera, symphony and ballet if you’d like to get your cultural fix.

The housing market has been fairly busy in Hayes Valley. For the most part in 2010, condos were limited to resales. However, the LindenHayes new development at Hayes and Franklin sold all of its 32 units last year. That was about the only new construction in the area. The rest were resales in a blend of contemporary or Edwardian/Victorian properties.

A total of nine condos have sold in Hayes Valley since September 2010, at an average of $702,500. The most expensive was a 3BR/2BA unit with 2075 square feet and two-car parking on Waller, which sold for $1,260,000. There are currently five condos on the market, with the newest being 252 Waller. That’s a top-floor 3BR/2BA Victorian unit with 1761 square feet and one-car parking listed at $895,000.

Only 11 single-family homes sold in 2010 in Hayes Valley. The average sales price was $1,557,318, with the most expensive being 50 Carmelita. This renovated property sold for $2.5M in early 2010, and did so within a month. Houses in Hayes Valley tend to be large and filled with period detail—two attributes that command top dollar.

I’m anticipating that the neighborhood will show strong sales in 2011, as more buyers get off the sidelines and take advantage of the inventory that will be for sale. Given all of Hayes Valley’s selling points, buyers will also find the area appealing from a resale value standpoint.

Large Liberty Hill Condo for $1,150,000

Let’s face it, everyone loves Liberty Hill. It offers excellent historic architecture, and is located in one of the most convenient areas of the city (smack dab in the midst of Mission Dolores, Eureka and Noe Valleys, and the Mission).

The hot new condo this week in the neighborhood is 105 Liberty, a 2BR+ den/2.5BA full-floor unit in a contemporary building. So there’s no period detail, but you (presumably) don’t have to worry about an old foundation or outdated electrical. The property was built in 1995, but it was remodeled in 2008. There are 11′ ceilings, and a wall of glass that leads to a large deeded lanai. You also get two ensuite bedrooms, including a master that leads out to a private patio. And oh, yeah, there’s also one-car parking.

This is a three-unit building, and HOA dues are $400/mo for this 1565-square foot unit.

Check it out after brunch. Open 2:00-4:00 this Sunday, January 23, 2011.

Can I Turn 2 Units into a Single-Family Home?

How easy it may be to convert a two-unit building into a single-family home with permits was a topic of discussion among my colleagues last week. As I’ve pondered this question for my own two-unit property, I thought there might be homeowners out there who are also curious about the possibilities.

The short answer: It’s a real challenge to get permission from the city for this sort of transformation. This is because the city ultimately does not want to lose housing stock—particularly when it comes to rental units.

One way to potentially get around this sentiment is if you can research your two units and prove that at some point in the building’s past, it was a single-family home. In this case, if you involve a perfect storm of attorneys, city planners, a permit expeditor and spend a lot of time and money, your single-family house dream may become a reality.

You will also have to to go through a public hearing before the Planning Commission.

For more on the subject, click here for the zoning code for the removal of dwelling units.

So there you have it. Don’t buy a two-unit building if a dealbreaker would be the fact that you will not be able to turn it into a single-family home. Some have raised the question about whether it’s a good idea to go ahead and create your house without city permission. My answer to that is that you probably won’t get far once the neighbors report substantial construction happening (work about which they were not notified).

And if you do slip through and physically complete your transformation, there will be a lot of  explaining to do if you decide to sell. This is the sort of thing that can really complicate a sale and result in very negative results for a seller.

Inner Sunset Home Snapped Up in a Week

The new listing we recently featured at 1522 9th Avenue in the Inner Sunset is a good example of the current market’s mood swings. Though some homes sit on the market for months without buyers transpiring, other homes are snapped up within a week of hitting the market.

1522 9th Avenue is a solid 4BR home that could use some updating. But I could see an owner actually living in the house during the remodeling. Apparently, so could many other people. Listed at $800,000, the property received 11 offers within a week, and is now in contract for well over the asking price. This is not surprising given the overall quality and appeal of the home and location. But what is surprising is that 11 buyers threw their hats into the ring. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing about more of these multiple-offer situations as the year wears on.

Preview: 4BR Cole Valley Condo

I previewed a lovely condo that’s perfect for buyers who need space, parking and a central location.

Listed at $1,050,000, the unit at 215 Carl at Stanyan is on two levels. The attic was developed into two bedrooms and one bathroom, and it’s actually done well. The staircase leading upstairs is narrow, but it’s better than some of the other attic conduits that I’ve seen in the past. There are eight rooms in total, with two additional bedrooms and one bath on the main level. The unit is in nice condition, with 1906 period detail.

There’s also a nice yard, one-car parking and only one other unit in the building. 215 Carl is on the edge of Cole Valley, which means it’s close to the Haight, Golden Gate Park, and the Inner Sunset, too.  The home is on the N Judah line, which means you will hear the train going past the house. But the flip side is that public transportation is easily accessible.

Contact me if you’d like to get in before the masses! And for a quick look at the property and block, click here and then click on “Street View” on Google Maps.

MarketTracker: 1080 Sutter Update

A new feature I’ll be including this year is a link to my MarketTracker Report, which outlines recent sales and hot topics in San Francisco real estate.

This issue provides an update on the ongoing construction at 1080 Sutter, a 35-unit residential development, as well as what’s going on at everyone’s favorite castle in the city (though it’s still not selling).

Plus, there’s the always useful list of recent sales.

If you’d like to subscribe to MarketTracker and receive it in your inbox, just let me know. I can customize the recent sales so you only see those in your prefered neighborhoods.

Click here for MarketTracker.

Sellers Take Hits in the Heights

Two big sales closed last week, both for substantially less than their original asking prices. Though the sellers of these Cole Valley/Parnassus Heights and Buena Vista/Ashbury Heights properties were probably a bit deflated, I’m sure the homes’ buyers ended up feeling pretty snappy. Here’s how things went down:

226 Edgewood is a 4BR/4BA home (above) that hit the market at the end of October 2010 for $3.5M. The sellers did a price reduction in early December, resulting in a $3,150,000 list price. An offer was accepted shortly thereafter, and the final selling price was $2.9M.

Over in Buena Vista/Ashbury Heights, the 4BR/3BA home at 893 Ashbury came on the market in September 2010:

The initial list price was $1,795,000, and the sellers made a couple major price reductions in the ensuing months. The sale closed last week for $1,385,000. Seems about right for a home with no garage.

Trade-offs Key for House Hunters in Trying Times

I came across this toilet in what’s known as a “split bath” in San Francisco recently. For those of you who aren’t familiar with our Victorian- and Edwardian-era architecture, the floor plan often features a bathroom where the shower/tub and sink are located in one room, and the toilet is situated on the other side of a wall, in its own closet. A drawback to this arrangement is that you can’t wash your hands in that closet. This necessitates a visit to the room next door, which may not be convenient if someone is taking a shower.

The “smart toilet” above addresses that issue, though you find yourself standing over the toilet to wash your hands (not a big deal if you’re a guy). In any event, it’s a creative way to consolidate bathroom activities if you don’t have the money for a bathroom remodel at the moment.

This toilet got me to thinking about the types of tradeoffs buyers need to make in order to find homes within their price range. Given San Francisco’s diverse floor plans and architectural styles, nothing is very clear cut. Need a three bedroom but can only afford up to $700,000? Maybe the small room under the stairs really can serve as the office or guest room. Oh, and that kick-ass master suite you’re longing for? The one that usually appears at the $1.2M level? Well, you do have the undeveloped attic space you just saw in the $750,000 condo that may work as a great master. The list goes on.

Most buyers looking for a home in San Francisco are doing so because they appreciate the unique nature of our homes. If you want cookie cutter, ranch-style homes, for example, you’ll have to go to the Peninsula or East Bay for that. But if you’re creative enough—and you let your agent know exactly what functionality you need in your next home—everyone can approach your house hunt in a more strategic and successful way.

You may not be dreaming about washing your hands over the toilet. But you very well could be fantasizing about an easy commute, restaurants within two blocks of your condo, and walking the dogs in the park a few blocks away. For the foreseeable future, buyers need to be flexible and open minded about what they can truly afford.

Preview: Nob Hill 2BR/2BA for $799,000

I previewed a nice condo at 66 Bernard Street #1 in Nob Hill this morning on our Zephyr broker tour.

Located on the first floor of a three-unit building, the property has 2BR/2BA, a deeded private patio and one-car parking. It’s not a huge property–square footage clocks in at just under 1,000 square feet. However, you get a master suite, remodeled kitchen, living room/dining area with deck, and a wood-burning fireplace. Plus, HOA dues are only $200/month and the building was constructed in 1987—so it’s as modern as it gets in Nob Hill without being completely new construction.

#1 was last sold in 2005 for $825,000, so the list price this time around takes the current market into consideration.

For those of you unfamiliar with where Bernard is, click here.  It’s on the Russian/Nob Hill border and you’re therefore close to North Beach, downtown and Telegraph Hill. There are plenty of services and shops nearby, and the Walk Score is 91. Give me a call if you’d like to see 66 Bernard #1, and I can get you in before the property officially hits the market.

Update: This unit was reduced at the end of January to $759,000.

What You Can Buy for $800,000

The under-$1M price range is the most popular in San Francisco, so we’re taking a look today at what you can purchase at the $800,000 level:

2600 18th Street #20
Inner Mission


2600 18th St #20 is a very spacious, tri-level loft with Twin Peaks views. There are two master suites, and easy access to the common roof deck. HOA dues are $412/mo and there are 24 units in the building. You’re within walking distance of cafes and restaurants, and the Potrero Safeway is a few blocks away.

1522 9th Avenue
Inner Sunset


1522 9th Avenue is a good example of the level of house you’re likely to get at this price point in the Inner Sunset. This two-story Edwardian needs some updating, but it’s perfectly liveable as is. There’s a formal dining room on the main level, and four bedrooms are upstairs (with only one bath; therein lies part of the reason for a good update). Muni and the Irving Street corridor are three blocks north, and one more block will lead you in to Golden Gate Park. There’s a low ($3500) termite report on file.

1182 Greenwich
Russian Hill


1182 Greenwich is located in prime Russian Hill. The condo features 2BR/2BA, and parking is leased for $300 two blocks away. The property is on the first floor of a four-unit building and has been somewhat hiply remodeled (not resembling what you’d expect in a 1906-era building). HOA dues are $300/mo.