Call 311 To Keep Our Streets Clean

If you live in San Francisco, you know that graffiti and illegal dumping are two really common urban nuisances. San Francisco set up its 311 line several years ago so that people could report the mattress left on the corner, or the corner store’s newly tagged wall. And illegal dumping seems to reach a fever pitch around the holidays.

I like to remind everyone annually that it’s important to use the 311 resource to keep our streets clean and livable. Many times, I see a mattress or something else dumped on a corner, and no one doing anything about it. People think that someone else probably already reported the dumping. It actually takes a few seconds to call 311 and provide the location and description of the dumped item. (You can also send them a Tweet, too). The Department of Public Works (DPW) will take it from there. And they work weekends, too!

San Francisco’s 311 Center is also the go-to place for other random things you need, so check it out. Whether you’re a long-term renter or homeowner in the city, please do your part to make our city an even better place to be.

Condo Alternatives for the Holidays

You may be looking for a nice condo in a central neighborhood in San Francisco. Perhaps your budget is somewhere in the $700,000-$900,000 range, which it most likely is if you need at least two bedrooms and parking. But perhaps you should consider a small house instead.

Houses with 1,000 square feet or less are definitely on the small side, but they can be excellent options if what you truly want is privacy, your own garden and washer/dryer and no HOA dues. Yes, you’re compromising on space, but you’re getting location and are avoiding sharing walls and outdoor space with neighbors. Here are three good properties to consider, and they’re all available:

518 Chenery
Glen Park
2BR/1BA, 958 sq feet

518 Chenery is conveniently located about two blocks from the Glen Park retail area and BART station. The home has lovely 1920s details and a remodeled, country-style kitchen. The living room even has a wood-burning fireplace, and there is a patio and landscaped garden. Drawbacks are small bedrooms and bathroom access through one of those bedrooms. But if you can come to terms with that, 518 Chenery could be the perfect place to celebrate Christmas.

1120 Elm
Western Addition
2BR/1BA, 850 sq feet

The Victorian cottage at 1120 Elm is a circa-1890 carriage house has all the period detailing you could want, from high ceilings to crown moldings. The home features a renovated chef’s kitchen, large bedrooms with ample closet space, unfinished basement and outdoor space. It’s situated on a cul-de-sac, which means there’s not much traffic coming through. The home is adjacent to a school and school yard, so you have to be okay with that factor.

221 Foerster
2BR/1BA, 989 sq feet

221 Foerster is a classic 1920s Sunnyside starter home. The main level has two bedrooms, updated kitchen and bathroom, as well as open living/dining areas. There’s a bonus room downstairs, and a large, level yard with apple and lemon trees. Sunnyside Elementary is directly across the street, which could be convenient for that family you may be thinking of starting. You’re a couple blocks south of Monterey Boulevard, and not very far from downtown Glen Park and the BART station. Freeway access is also quite easy from here.

What Are the Resale Prospects for a 1BR Condo?

Yes, a two-bedroom condo is always preferable to a one bedroom. But what happens when you’re preapproved for a loan that puts you in one-bedroom territory? What livability and resale factors should you consider before you pursue what you can genuinely afford?

The average 1BR condo range citywide (excluding below-market-rate or senior-zoned units) was $618,996, in the time period from August-November 2012. The most popular neighborhoods where these sales took place were Eureka Valley, Pacific Heights, Downtown/Financial District, Nob/Russian Hills, the Van Ness corridor, Mission Bay, SoMa and South Beach.

A good rule of thumb is to expect to pay in the range of $400,000-$650,000 for a one bedroom in San Francisco. Amenities such as parking, washer/dryer and overall building appeal will vary depending where in this range you land.

Here are some general tips and insights I communicate to prospective buyers when it comes to making the decision whether to purchase a one-bedroom condo:

One-bedroom condos have their limitations. The lack of space for guests, an office or a nursery is clearly lacking. That’s why there’s a narrower buyer pool in this property category. From a personal standpoint, you have to come to terms with this limitation. But if you can get past that, you may be able to enjoy other amenities such as a washer/dryer or parking that you otherwise would not be able to afford in a two bedroom.

Take advantage of “1BR+” when you can. You can alleviate some of the space limitations of a one bedroom when you purchase a unit that has an area for a desk, or even a pull-out couch. I’ve seen many one-bedroom condos with unenclosed spaces that can be used for guests. These units will typically fare better in a resale situation, as well as provide more functionality.

There’s usually a solid market for one bedrooms in San Francisco. Our city attracts many young professionals, empty nesters and international buyers seeking pied-a-terres. That means there are plenty of people around who could be happy with the space provided. Similarly, one bedrooms tend to change hands more often, as owners stay an average of three- to five years and then move on to a larger home. These factors almost guarantee there will be buyers for your unit when you’re ready to sell.

Choose your neighborhood wisely. The tradeoff you’re making on space should yield you a relatively central location where one-bedroom condo inventory is the norm. And you want to also make sure you’re in a good position to rent your unit should you decide to turn it into an investment property. (One bedrooms are popular with investors due to the price point.) Stick with the hot ‘hoods that attract the aforementioned demographics, such as South Beach, SoMa, Mission Bay, the Mission, Russian Hill, Hayes Valley, and Pacific Heights. These areas are all central to public transportation and services.

Watch the HOA dues. You’re choosing a one bedroom because it’s what you can afford within a location you like. Make sure you don’t get in over your head with sky-high monthly association dues. The dues are not tax deductible, and they can increase over time. I recommend keeping them below $500/month. (It’s a challenge to pay less than that if you’re in an elevator building.)

Avoid buying a one bedroom in a house-heavy area. There are many neighborhoods in San Francisco that were developed with predominantly single-family houses. Buying a one bedroom in, say, the Mission, is a totally different proposition than purchasing such a unit in Miraloma Park or the Outer Richmond. Settle on the areas where you’d expect to see a one bedroom.

Prices Up, DOM Down in San Francisco

Prices are up 11-15% across all property types over the past six months, and days on market (DOM) are down, according to the latest edition of the Zephyr MarketTracker. That means buyers should expect to move quickly, and it’s pretty obvious what to expect where price is concerned.

We also show you a snapshot of recent sales in San Francisco. Plus, news about Bay and Golden Gate Bridge changes, along with investor strategies and their affect on the market. But more importantly, we recap what voters have approved in Prop E and its implications for city taxes.

It’s all here in the latest Zephyr MarketTracker.

Smackdown: Pac Heights Condo vs. Anza Vista House

What can you afford at the $900,000 price point when it comes to a house or a condo in two very different neighborhoods? We look at two options in the current inventory—one in a classic San Francisco neighborhood, and one that’s in a lesser-known but convenient location. Which would you choose?

1950 Gough #201
Pacific Heights
2BR/1.5BA, 1210 sq feet

This spacious condo at 1950 Gough #201 is located in a 1920s elevator building across from popular Lafayette Park. The unit faces Clay Street, with views to the park. There’s a beautiful bedroom with a wall of windows and walk-in closet, and another bedroom with two walk-in closets. The kitchen has been remodeled, and the full bath features classic white tile. One-car parking is included; laundry is shared at the garage level. There are 35 units in the building, and HOA dues are $567.67/month. This condo is an excellent fit for buyers looking for a well-appointed unit with classic San Francisco architecture in a Pacific Heights location that’s close to Fillmore Street, the Van Ness corridor and bus lines to downtown. 1950 Gough #201 was last sold in 2010 for $927,500, so we’ll see what the current market yields.

2070 Ellis
Anza Vista
2BR/1.5BA, 1327 sq feet

Built circa 1900, the lovely Victorian single-family home at 2070 Ellis has two bedrooms plus a double-parlor space (meaning you don’t need to make half of the double parlor a bedroom). There’s a remodeled chef’s kitchen, family/dining area, and French doors to a large patio/garden. And two-car parking, too. The only drawback here is the location, which is sort of between Lower Pacific Heights and NoPa, and adjacent to Western Addition. However, if it’s convenience you’re looking for, 2070 Ellis fits the bill. You can catch the Geary bus downtown, and walk to the aforementioned neighborhoods.

What You Can Buy in Cole Valley

Cole Valley is an excellent option for buyers looking for a home that’s in proximity to public transportation, has a charming and useful retail area, and is near Golden Gate Park. The weather can be cold and foggy—though afternoons are sunny—and Cole Valley has a nice inventory of architecturally appealing single-family homes and multi-unit buildings.

The average price for a Cole Valley single-family home was $1,606,027 in the time period from June-November 2012, and the condo average was $991,500. That makes Cole Valley one of the more expensive neighborhoods in the city. The highest-priced condo was a new construction 3BR/2.5BA, three-level view home that sold for $1.5M in October, and two 3BR single-family homes sold for $2,175,000 over the summer.

Current Cole Valley inventory includes four condos, which is pretty slim (but not surprising, given the time of year). Here’s a closer look at three of those condos:

323 Parnassus

323 Parnassus is situated in a two-unit building, and has French doors off the dining room that lead to a lush, shared garden and deeded deck. There’s a spacious living room with fireplace, and small kitchen with stainless-steel appliances. One-car tandem parking is included, and HOA dues are $250/month. This unit just sold in March 2012 after being on and off the market since late 2011.

140 Belvedere

This top-floor, renovated Edwardian unit at 140 Belvedere has spacious rooms that include a formal dining room, well-appointed kitchen, and rear deck. Two-car tandem parking is included, along with additional storage and roof rights. HOA dues are $300/month. The building is a block and a half from storied Haight Street, and is certainly located in the thick of things. You have easy access to the shops on Haight and also on Cole. The unit was last sold in 2006 for $875,000.

264 Parnassus

Though 264 Parnassus is on the smaller side (945 square feet), it has a very functional 1940s floor plan and was remodeled in 2009. The kitchen is great, and there’s a very large shared garden. 264 Parnassus features one-car parking, additional storage and HOA dues of $280/month. The unit has been on the market for 48 days, so it might be a good time to approach the sellers with an end-of-year offer. Original list price was $798,000.

Cole Valley Snapshot

Near public transportation to downtown
Cute retail area, from gyms and bakeries to pharmacies and cafes
Proximity to Golden Gate Park
Architecturally appealing
Tree-lined streets

Weather can be foggy and cool
Can get street activity spillover from Haight corridor

More Cole Valley Resources
Zephyr Neighborhood Profile
Nabewise Cole Valley Profile

Inventory Down, But Don’t Overlook Older Listings

It’s no secret that San Francisco housing inventory is pretty low right now. The above graph shows you how inventory levels have steadily decreased over the past two years.

So in one corner, we have prospective buyers out there who are feeling an urgent need to make a purchase, fueled by high rents and low mortgage rate. But in the other corner, we have a limited supply of homes to meet the need. What’s a buyer to do?

Answer: Don’t fall into the trap of only considering new listings. It may take a little more work and negotiating, but hunting down a home that’s been on the market for 30+ days may turn out to be the solution. With that in mind, I’m going to regularly feature trios of these types of listings across all property types and price ranges. Sometimes calling such listings to buyers’ attention gets the wheels turning.

939 Jackson #303 / Nob Hill
List Price: $869,000
2BR/1.5BA, 1131 sq ft / Built 2005
Days on Market (DOM): 75

Background: 939 Jackson #303 is one of those centrally located condo listings that makes me wonder why a buyer hasn’t yet snatched it up. The unit features an open floor plan, city views, nice finishes throughout and a limestone-tiled gas fireplace in the living room. One-car parking is included, and there’s also a shared roof deck. There are nine units in the building, and HOA dues are $396/month.

Location: Two cable car lines pass by, and the building is in walking distance of North Beach, Russian Hill, Chinatown, Financial District and downtown.

Market perspective: The average 2BR condo sale in Nob Hill from June-November 2012 clocked in at $970,758 for an average of 1280 square feet, and the most relevant comp is the 2BR on the same floor with similar square footage that sold in August for $905,000. Current list price is $869,000, down from $888,000.

290 Dorantes / Forest Hill
List Price: $1,385,000
3BR/3.5BA, 2464 sq ft / Built 1948
Days on Market (DOM): 62

Background: 290 Dorantes is a detached, mid-century single-family home with a nicely remodeled kitchen, two bedrooms on the main level and a master bedroom up. There are three decks, as well as a lovely garden. A bonus room and bath are downstairs, with a separate entrance, along with two-car parking. (And a termite inspection on file for only $3,000 in recommended repair work.)

Location: 290 Dorantes is in proximity to the West Portal retail area, and also happens to be located on a lovely, tree-lined street.

Market perspective: The property came on the market with an initial list price of $1,450,000, so the price has come down considerably since then. The 3BR/3.5BA home next door just sold for $1,485,000.

997 Carolina / Potrero Hill
List Price: $579,000
2BR/1BA, 1067 sq ft / Built 1978
Days on Market (DOM): 104

Background: It’s a challenge to find a two-bedroom condo in the city in this price range, as some of my buyer clients will attest. Take note of 997 Carolina, a well-appointed unit with a split-level floor plan that provides a nice separation between living space and bedrooms. The unit has pano views and access to a large, private deck, as well as a shared yard and one-car parking. And there’s a fireplace in the living room, too. There’s only one other unit in the building, and HOA dues are $80/month.

Location: 997 Carolina is situated in a reasonable location within Potrero that has an 83 Walk Score.

Market perspective: The unit was originally listed for $649,000, and last sold in 2006 for $665,000. The sellers just reduced the price yesterday from $599,000 to the current $579,000. Good comps for 997 Carolina are two 2BR condos that sold in June 2012 on the 600 block of Carolina for $700,000 each.

Probate Primer for Home Buyers

If you’re a house buyer in San Francisco, you’ll eventually find a property you like that’s being sold through probate. These sales happen because there’s a death in a family and a will that needs to be resolved. A probate interprets the instructions of the deceased, and there is an executor appointed that handles affairs for the trustee.

When homes are being sold through probate without court confirmation, the process is fairly straightforward (with a few exceptions). However, when court confirmation is required, things get more complicated. Before you decide to pursue a property being sold in this manner, it’s important to understand what’s involved:

There will be a court date to approve the sale. A court date will be set to confirm a contract accepted by the trustee. The date is typically set about one- to two months from the time of offer acceptance (and contingency removal by the buyer).

You’ll need a cashier’s check with your offer. A cashier’s check made out to the trustee for ten percent of the offer price is required along with the contract and proof of funds. If your offer is accepted, that check is put into an escrow account or estate account managed by the escrow company. The money sits there until the court date.

You need to remove all contingencies prior to setting a court confirmation date. You can write your offer with contingencies; however, you have to remove those contingencies in order for the listing agent to schedule the court confirmation. Any money spent on inspections or appraisals is at risk if your sale doesn’t go through, and you also have to be very confident in your financing, as it’s likely you won’t have time to get full loan approval before the court confirmation.

Your contract will be subject to overbidding This is why your sale may not go through. The bidding price is set by adding five percent + $500 to the accepted offer price. Another buyer has to make a minimum bid at that price. That buyer also has to have a cashier’s check on hand for the ten percent deposit of his or her offer price. And bidders can’t have contingencies in their contracts. As a bidder, you have to decide what your range will be in terms of a price offered. Some buyers arrive with a few cashier’s checks in various amounts. You can engage in bidding, as well, and also would need cashier’s checks to do so.

The highest bidder gets the house. Let’s put it this way: If the minimum overbid is high enough, it will be a deterrent to other prospective buyers. Consider submitting an offer that will end up setting a first overbid that doesn’t look like a screaming deal.

Just Sold: Big, Beautiful Edwardian in Bernal

My clients closed Friday on the 3BR/2BA, 1,950-square foot Edwardian at 343 Coleridge. The home features a living room with fireplace, remodeled eat-in kitchen, and paneled formal dining room.

All three bedrooms + sunroom are upstairs, and there’s also a lovely garden and large garage. 343 Coleridge is situated on a prime Bernal block, with excellent proximity to the Cortland retail area, as well as the services and new restaurants along the Mission corridor and Upper Noe. Walk Score: 95!

List price: $1,325,000.

5 Reasons Why Your Condo May Not Be Selling—And What You Can Do About It

There are currently 328 condos for sale in San Francisco. And 184 of them have been on the market for 30 days. It’s highly likely that these 184 sellers are wondering why their particular properties aren’t selling if the San Francisco market is so hot.

I reviewed the details of these 184 properties, and came away with the top five most frequent barriers to condo sales. I thought it might be helpful information for sellers to note, particularly if you’re planning to put your condo on the market soon.

These are issues that came up most frequently among the current listings, and which have traditionally been obstacles:

1. Very high HOA dues. This is probably the biggest factor when a buyer considers a condo purchase. Buyers are preapproved with a certain monthly HOA range—most typically between $300-$500. However, when condos carry HOAs in excess of this range, the buyer pool immediately narrows. Add to that any known HOA increases to come, and that condo becomes more challenging to sell.

What you can do: Cover six months’ or a year’s worth of HOA dues. This eases the initial financial burden, and gives a buyer time to prepare.

2. No parking. In San Francisco’s parking-challenged streets, deeded or assigned parking makes all the difference in the world. Especially in central neighborhoods that are destinations in and of themselves, such as the Mission or Russian Hill.

What you can do: Arranging for a leased garage within a reasonable walking distance of the property can sometimes help immensely. Even better, offer to cover the first year’s worth of parking. In that timeframe, a buyer can get established with the owner of the leased spot, or simply seek alternatives. You can also locate the car-sharing pods in the immediate area, and point those out to prospective buyers. Not everyone needs a car, but the ability to get around with one is preferred.

3. Only one bedroom, or one bathroom with more than two bedrooms. One-bedroom condos have a narrower market, especially in neighborhoods like Noe Valley, which attracts buyers who may want to start families in the near term—or simply have an office area that’s not in their bedroom. Also, a three-bedroom condo with only one bathroom is tricky. The right buyer will eventually come along, but it may take time.

What you can do: Maximize any space that could potentially accommodate an office or nursery. Staging is very helpful with this strategy. If there’s a closet that could easily be transformed into a half bath, make sure your agent points that out. The latter is not a terribly expensive undertaking. Above all, make sure you’re priced in a true one-bedroom range, or not listing your 3BR/1BA for the same price as the condo around the block that had two full baths.

4. Your condo is listed at $1.5M or higher. You’re in the luxury condo category here, and the buyer pool is smaller. There are 38 condos that have been on the market for 30 days or more that are priced at $1.5M or above. Luxury condos also need the right buyer to come along, because single-family homes are also options at this price point.

What you can do: A successful sale will largely depend on effective marketing. Preview showings for Realtors who work frequently in your neighborhood can sometimes connect buyers to your property even before it goes on the market. At this level, buyers expect to see staging, and for the unit to be in extremely good condition. Don’t cut corners just because you think the market is hot. Making the effort to wash windows, paint and do all the things necessary to stand out is totally worth it. In the end, be cognizant of your competition. If you’re priced well above the unit that sold recently and was three floors up, you may want to review your asking price.

5. There’s litigation happening with the HOA. If there is current or pending litigation happening in your building, it will be a challenge for a buyer to obtain a loan. Lenders such as First Republic can usually come through, but it’s likely that a buyer will have to bring in at least 25%-30% down, as well as accept an adjustable-rate mortgage at a slightly higher interest rate. That’s where the buyer pool starts to shrink.

What you can do: Gather all litigation documentation together for the disclosure package, and make sure your agent is well versed in the nature of the litigation. Set up financing through a lender like First Republic so buyers can get preapproved with a lender that understands the litigation and can lend around it.