Microhoods Key to Bernal’s Home Values

Bernal Heights has many distinct areas within its neighborhood. From the hip enclave of Precita Park to the winding streets on the East Slope, the price of real estate literally varies depending upon which part of Bernal you’re in. So it’s important to lean heavily on sales in your particular part of the neighborhood when you’re accurately trying to determine property values in Bernal.

To help buyers and sellers with that task, I’ve deconstructed Bernal Heights into seven unofficial microhoods, complete with their respective price averages and low/high prices, as well as recent sales volume.

A few ground rules: My geographical boundaries are rough approximations, and there will be some overlap with streets that fall on microhood borders. Also, sales information is for single-family homes sold from September 2013-March 10, 2014.

North West Slope
Average Price: $1,195,589
Low: $699,000 High: $1,688,888
Number Sold: 10
The North West Slope has quaint tree-lined streets, hidden staircases and lots of charm. It’s near Mission Street’s bus lines and not far from the 24th & Mission BART station/30th & Church J Muni, as well as The Front Porch, Emmy’s Spaghetti Shack, Cole Hardware and Safeway. Five homes on the North West Slope sold above $1.3M over the past seven months, including a 2BR/2BA at the top of Bocana listed for $1,095,000 that sold for $1,610,000.

North of Cortland
Avge Price: $1,260,818
Low: $910,000 High: $1.6M
Number Sold: 11
This area just north of popular Cortland Avenue is generally its most expensive. Because who doesn’t want to be in walking distance of restaurants, cafes, shops, a grocery store, and library? North of Cortland’s narrow streets are dotted with architecturally appealing homes and have a village-like feel. There’s also easy access to Bernal Hill’s trails. Notable sales include the renovated Victorian at 228 Ellsworth for $1.6M, and the contemporary home at 77 Anderson, which had a down-to-the-studs renovation and sold for $1,499,000 in an all-cash transaction.

Precita Park
Avge Price: $1,206,125
Low: $934,000 High: $1,605,000
Number Sold: 8
The Precita Park microhood has really blossomed over the past several years, and the high real estate prices here reflect that. From Precita Park Cafe and Hillside Supper Club to Harvest Hills Market and Precita Bark dog wash/shop, there’s a nice selection of retail businesses for locals to enjoy. And the park itself is a great place to relax and unwind, particularly for kids and dog owners. Prices for houses ranged from $934,000 for a modern cottage on Shotwell to $1,605,000 for a 4BR home just up the hill on Folsom.

East Slope
Avge Price: $1,097,467
Low: $700,000 High: $1,575,000
Number Sold: 15
There was a time when Bernal’s more remote East Slope was home to dirt trails and vacant lots. As the area developed alongside Highway 101, streets were paved and staircases built to help people get around on the hilly, sometimes twisty streets. (In fact, a couple streets are only accessible by stairs.) Prices for homes on the East Slope aren’t stratospheric; the roughly $1.1M average was influenced by three sales for $1.4M+, including the 4BR contemporary view home at 365 Franconia that sold for $1,575,000. East Slope dwellers appreciate their low-key microhood, and even have their own architectural design review board to maintain the character of the area.

South East Slope
Avge Price: $937,500
Low: $750,000 High: $1,375,000
Number Sold: 6
The South East Slope is bordered by 101/Bayshore Boulevard and Alemany/280, and isn’t wildly convenient to the retail portion of Cortland. But the houses offer good space in a neighborhood where it’s a challenge to land a single-family house for less than $1M. For example, a really cool, 3BR/2BA mid-century modern home with east bay and southern views sold for $789,000 at 463 Nevada. And the best part? The Alemany Farmer’s Market is at your doorstep!

South of Cortland
Avge Price: $918,000
Low: $660,000 High: $1.5M
Number Sold: 9
Similar to its North of Cortland counterpart, the South of Cortland microhood is in proximity to the heart of Cortland Avenue. And you can actually find homes in the $700,000-$900,000 range. (Though the recent $1.5M cash sale half a block off Cortland at 330 Banks is the most expensive home ever sold in this microhood.)

Holly Park/St. Mary’s Park
Avge Price: $1,000,556
Low: $750,000 High: $1,255,000
Number Sold: 4
Situated between Cortland and the Excelsior, Holly Park/St. Mary’s Park probably has the highest population of homeowners whose properties have been in their family for years. The homes in St. Mary’s are laid out on streets shaped like a bell, and St. Mary’s Park itself also has a popular, fenced-in dog area. Just to the north is Holly Park, which was renovated about ten years ago and is very popular with locals. It’s also only a few blocks from Cortland’s Avedano Holly Park Market, as well as the heart of the retail area. And nearby Mission Street gives you access to bus lines. Single-family home prices are solidly in the $900,000s, with the high-end topping out at around $1,255,000.

Spring a Good Bet for More Inventory

We’ve been operating at a very low housing inventory to date in 2014. It seems like there are anywhere from five to twenty buyers for every property that comes on the market, creating consistent multiple-offer situations and substantial overbidding.

I do expect this activity to continue throughout the year. Our economy is strong in the city, and there is seemingly no end to the number of buyers who are materializing and willing to pay very high prices for homes. But I believe there are many homeowners who are in the process of either planning a move or seriously considering one. It’s hard to pass up an opportunity to cash out, especially if you own a home in a very “hot” neighborhood.

As a result, we can expect a spike in inventory as soon as April, which will scatter buyers around a bit more. Coupled with new construction condo projects beginning sales in the Spring, the pressure should ease a bit on the resale market.

What’s the takeaway? If you’re a buyer who’s planning to start looking in the Spring, it’s important to get sorted out now with your financing. And if you’re a homeowner, this is the time to start preparing your home with painting, repairs and staging so it stacks up well against the competition.

Here’s My Favorite SF Liquefaction Map

This being earthquake country, it’s important to know what sort of ground lies beneath the home you own or are planning to purchase. In San Francisco, there are liquefaction zones, which are essentially landfill and are not recognized to be as stable. I’ll let Wikipedia explain it in more detail here.

Yes, people are buying and selling property all the time who live in what are deemed liquefaction zones. Some of the most popular neighborhoods, in fact, are those which are very much a part of these zones. Think the Marina, North Beach, South Beach, Mission Bay, South of Market, and the Mission. But that factor isn’t stopping developers, who are building new condo developments at a frenzied pace in the last four of those neighborhoods.

That’s because the more modern the building, the better the engineering. Properties built more recently are designed to withstand large earthquakes, particularly those properties situated in liquefaction zones. Of course, if the big one hits, it won’t be just homes in liquefaction zones that are affected.

So be sure you have some idea as to the quality of your foundation and your home’s overall structure. And check out the liquefaction map when you need it for a reference point. View and download it here.

Don’t Leave Money on the Table By Selling Off Market

I’ve written favorably about off-market sales in the past (most recently, here). And I still believe such sales can be beneficial for all the reasons I mentioned in that blog post from a year ago. But the market has changed a lot since then, and I firmly believe that limiting exposure to one’s home in the 2014 market creates a high likelihood that you’ll leave money on the table.

A recap: An “off-market” sale is one that occurs without an agent having listed the property in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) database. All agents who pay a membership fee to the San Francisco Realtor Association have access to the MLS. By restricting access to your home to agents in various smaller networks or within one agent’s company, you’ll never know what price you can truly attain.

That’s because of the phenomenon that’s taken hold of the current market. In the past, you could pretty much look at comparable sales, and price your home accordingly. And because of consistently low inventory, there would likely be a buyer ready to make an offer. But buyers in the 2014 market—similar to those who purchased property in the last half of 2013—are proving to be willing to offer prices above the comp level.

For example, that Noe Valley 3BR house listed for $1.3M? The listing agent and sellers most likely thought that listing at $1.3M would land them in the $1.5M range. However, even they didn’t anticipate receiving 15 offers and accepting an offer from all-cash buyer who offered $1.8M. Had those sellers decided to go off market, they could’ve been out a few hundred thousand dollars (or more). There are plenty of examples of this sort of dramatic outcome happening right now.

So before your listing agent suggests bypassing the MLS in favor of marketing to a specific group of agents, keep in mind that you’ll never know how much you could’ve attained by fully marketing your home.

Sell Now If Your Home Calls for Compromise

We’re almost two months into 2014, and homes are selling like hotcakes. Limited inventory and high demand are driving the market, and as I tour homes in all neighborhoods of the city throughout the week, I wonder: Why aren’t more people selling?

Because now is absolutely the time to put your home on the market if you have any inclination to do so. Maybe you have that job relocation possibility in Denver? Or you’ve owned your house in the Sunset for the last 25 years and would rather be living in wine country? There are plenty of reasons you might be considering a big move, and I’m here to tell you that you should take advantage of the market while it’s still in your favor.

The best part is that if your property requires any type of compromise, buyers are much more willing to make one (or three) in the current market. For example, the cottage above in Corona Heights was awful cute. But it was located on a busy street, had no garage, no real expansion potential and was very small with one bedroom that was more like an alcove:
Though the home took three months to sell, the point is that it sold. For only a bit less than its $699,000 list price.

What are some other compromises that buyers in the current market may overlook? Here are some of the most common ones:
- No parking, or tandem parking with one or more cars
- House with no yard or outdoor space—or one that backs up to a restaurant or school yard
- Extensive foundation or structural work needed
- Original-condition and barely livable kitchen or bath
- No closet space
- Location that’s not near retail or public transportation
- Situated on a high-traffic street, or transportation line
- Low level of natural light
- Condo with particularly limiting HOA restrictions (pets, rentals)
- Awkward floor plan
- Low curb appeal that can’t be easily helped (I’m thinking faux stone, or starters)
- Ridiculous amount of stairs at the entrance
- Older building with no heat
- Multi-unit building with low rents and deferred maintenance.

I could go on. But you get the point. Give me a shout (ebermingham@zephyrsf.com/415.823.4656) if you’re ready to talk about your property’s value. I can craft a custom marketing plan that will win over home buyers and convince them that they can work with whatever objections they might have.

Buy the Right Insurance for Short-Term Rentals

The biggest mistake homeowners make when using their property as a short-term rental on sites like Airbnb is having insufficient insurance.

Though Airbnb guarantees up to $1M for property damage, there’s no coverage for an extremely important item—personal liability. If a guest is injured on your property, you’re on your own.

What you need to have in place is a vacation rental policy, which includes coverage called “personal injury,” says Roger Larson of Larson Insurance Brokers/TWFG Insurance Services. This protects you if a short-term tenant is injured during his or her stay. Larson says that many property owners assume they’ll be covered for personal liability on their existing policy. But liability on a primary home policy doesn’t cover any type of rental exposure.

Larson also clarifies that if you’re renting your condo, there’s no additional risk to the homeowners association. HOAs have commercial policies that cover the common areas.

Of course, the larger issue with short-term rentals is that properties in multi-unit buildings are, uh, illegal. And most HOAs don’t allow short-term rentals in their Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs).

But if you’re listing your home on Airbnb anyway, be certain you have the right type of insurance.

20 Ways To Cut Your Water Use By 20%

We are in a serious drought situation in California. Not only was last year the driest calendar year in California since recording began in 1849, but the state’s population has nearly doubled since the 1970s. San Francisco is a dense city, and we all have to take responsibility for making sure we don’t use more than our fair share of water.

Gov. Jerry Brown recently called for people to reduce their water usage by twenty percent. I thought I’d share 20 of my favorite ways to save water; when enough individuals follow these sort of tips, it adds up to a lot of water saved:

1. Run the washing machine for full loads only.
2. Flush the toilet only when absolutely necessary.
3. Use a dishwasher instead of washing dishes by hand.
4. Limit shower use to a max of five minutes; you’ll save up to 1,000 gallons monthly.
5. Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth, lathering your hands or shaving.
6. Consider buying a dual-flush, low-flow toilet.
7. Water outdoor plants/lawns in the early morning or late evening.
8. Cut your watering to two times a week instead of seven.
9. Plant drought-resistant trees and flowers.
10. Use a broom to clean the sidewalk and driveway, not the hose.
11. Install low-flow showerheads.
12. Run the washing machine for full loads only. Max out at two loads weekly. Yes, it can be done. Not everything has to be immediately washed after you’ve worn it.
13. While you wait for hot water, collect the running water and use it to water plants.
14. Soak pots and pans instead of running the water while you scrape them.
15. When doing laundry, match the size of the load to the water level.
16. Love baths? Keep them to a minimum. A full bathtub requires up to 70 gallons of water.
17. Install water-saving aerators on all your faucets.
18. Check your faucets and showerheads for leaks. Drips are deadly in droughts.
19. Wash your pets outdoors, in an area that needs watering.
20. Water dry spots in your landscaping by hand instead of running the entire irrigation system.

Ror more tips, check out the non-profit organization Water Use It Wisely.

Why Price-Per-Square-Foot Is a Shaky Data Point

People love to talk about the price-per-square foot when comparing San Francisco property values. There’s also a tendency to reference this type of information when making a decision about how much to pay for a home.

But I don’t recommend using price-per-square foot as a reliable data point, because it has its flaws.

The bottom line is that there’s no standardized square footage source. So square footage quoted in the MLS and marketing materials is typically based on either tax records or past seller appraisals.

It’s no secret that tax records can be wildly inaccurate and outdated. Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu recently visited our sales meeting at Zephyr and talked about how antiquated the city’s computer systems are. Throw in the fact that our tax records go back to the early 1900s, with some having disappeared after the 1906 earthquake. Even if sellers make an honest effort to update their own tax record through city channels—for example, if they’ve added a legal bedroom and bath—the square footage they’re adding isn’t based on one standard source.

Equally important is the fact that San Francisco’s housing inventory varies, from houses with unwarranted bedrooms and units to TICs that represent a percentage of their overall building. Unwarranted, or “illegal” rooms are those completed without permits, and those spaces are not recognized as part of the overall square footage. TICs will not have a registered individual square footage count in the tax records; the number stated usually represents that of the entire building. It’s virtually impossible to compare apples to apples when it comes to this data point.

Past appraisals could be accurate, but I’ve seen cases where there are two or three appraisals on hand that have all had different square footage counts. And as you might expect, sellers and agents typically reference the highest number. As one agent recently commented to me, “The square footage sometimes grows over time.” She mentioned one property in particular that had changed hands three times over a ten-year period, and each time, the square footage increased in the MLS.

Square footage is strongly referenced in new-construction condo developments, because buyers are paying well over $1,000/square foot for such properties. However, there have been cases when buyers discovered that the square footage quoted for a particular unit was more than the actual size. And when you’re paying $1,000/square foot or more, that can make a big difference.

So if you’re comparing values by price-per-square-foot, do so with a grain of salt.

Ten SF Real Estate Predictions for 2014

Welcome to another exciting year in San Francisco real estate. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’re interested in buying or selling property. So it’s important that you understand what to expect in 2014.

In 2013, we experienced the return of extreme multiple-offer situations, consistently low inventory and many homes recovering equity after the economic downturn. New construction began blanketing the city and many new developments are in the pipeline.

So what’s on tap for the new year?

I have a few ideas:
1. We’ll be seeing a more balanced market. We hit our peak in the summer of 2013 with wild buyer behavior and sellers flabbergasted at the prices they were being offered. But with the holidays cooling things down and buyers gaining some perspective, I’m predicting I’ll have fewer entrants in the SF Overbidders Club this year. Higher mortgage rates are widely expected, and more supply created by new construction and fewer underwater homeowners will keep things even.

2. Inventory will hit the market right away. “After the Super Bowl” has traditionally been the timeframe that has ushered in new inventory. However, January 2013 offered new inventory immediately, and I predict that January 2014 will be no different. I’m already seeing off-market listings being promoted among my colleagues for early January showings, and many agents are reportedly holding new listings back until mid January. Sellers want to capitalize on the strong market presented in 2013.

3. Home values will experience modest increases. The average citywide price for a single-family home was $1.3M+, and just above $1M for condos—well above the averages of most other cities in the United States. But demand continues in San Francisco, especially in popular, central neighborhoods near public transportation, retail areas and services. We’ll see appreciation in the 3-6% range.

4. Competition will still be fierce among buyers. There will be multiple offers on most homes. A whole new crop of buyers will be entering the market this year, and there are only so many properties available. I’ve already met with half a dozen prospective buyers in late 2013 who are ready to get going, and I’m sure my experience as a Realtor isn’t isolated.

5. The luxury market will make a strong showing. More than 350 houses and 120 condos sold for more than $2M in 2013, and one TIC even sold for just under $4M. San Francisco attracts local and foreign luxury buyers, and will continue doing so this year.

6. The “list low, sell high” strategy will prevail through 2014. Houses sold for an average of five percent above their list prices in November-December 2013, and condos for approximately four percent over. (Buyers frequently paid 20%+ for homes with all the amenities in hot neighborhoods like Mission Dolores/The Mission; Noe/Eureka Valleys and Bernal Heights.) This activity is the direct result of sellers listing their homes below true market value in order to create bidding wars, and the strategy paid off handsomely in most cases. There’s no reason to think it won’t continue this year.

7. The TIC market will remain stable. The restrictive condo conversion legislation passed in San Francisco in 2013 didn’t seem to have had an impact on the number of tenancy-in-common (TIC) units sold. A total of 341 TIC units changed hands in 2013, which was only slightly less than in 2012 (357 sold).

8. More southeastern neighborhoods will have their breakout years for owner-occupier buyers. Though neighborhoods such as Bayview, Visitacion Valley, Portola, Crocker Amazon and Silver Terrace aren’t typically where most home buyers start out looking, the reality is that these are the neighborhoods where you can still purchase a single-family home for well under $1M. My clients purchased their first house in Crocker Amazon last month, and they used an FHA loan so they could reserve their cash for fixing up the property. We had to prevail over 18 other buyers who submitted offers, so it’s clear that the southeastern portion of San Francisco is catching on.

9. Cash sales will continue in notable volume. About a quarter of house and condo sales in the city were sold in cash transactions in 2013. Foreign investors and the tech sector will again drive cash sales in 2014.

10. New construction condos in central San Francisco neighborhoods will cost you well above $1,000/sq foot. Several condo developments along the Market corridor and in Hayes Valley sold out quickly with prices averaging $1,000/sq foot or more. In the hot Mission district, it was more like $1400/sq foot. These sales results will set the bar for 2014 new development pricing. After all, there are plenty of people who love new, shiny finishes, not having to worry about maintenance and transit-rich, central locations. And they will pay a premium for the opportunity to live in a building that delivers all three of those qualities.

Should I Remodel My Kitchen Before I Sell?

Three potential sellers have recently asked me this question, so I thought it would be a good time to let everyone know where I stand when it comes to remodeling in order to sell your home—particularly if you’re thinking of selling in the new year.

Kitchens are typically the primary renovation target in a property. The kitchen is where everyone pretty much lives these days, and it’s the core of a home. You can certainly command more money when you’re selling if you have a remodeled kitchen. Buyers come through the property and don’t knock money off the list price for the new kitchen they “need” to do. But that’s only if they like the remodeling you’ve done.

And therein lies the rub: If you’ve just renovated your kitchen to make it more appealing to buyers, whether you will achieve that goal will largely depend upon the individual buyers out there at the time you’re selling.

However, sellers have been successful with “light” kitchen remodels—updated counter tops, perhaps some painted or replaced cabinetry, and new appliances. These are the types of jobs that can be done relatively quickly with a committed contractor, and can sometimes make a big difference in how much a buyer will pay.

5 Things You Should Know About Short Sales

Short sale volume has significantly declined over the past two years in the San Francisco market. But such sales are still popping up; I’m actually in the process of representing sellers on a short sale listing. And based on the questions I’ve been asked at my open houses, I think it might be a good time for a blog post for prospective home buyers about short sale basics.

Buyers and sellers both take on risks when they get involved with short sales. The seller risks having the short sale denied, or approved and then cancelled by the buyer. And the buyer risks waiting for short sale approval and then being informed that the sale won’t be approved by the seller’s lender(s).

But if you understand the basics, you can make an educated decision on whether the risks are worth it. Here are the most important things to know:

1. Short sales happen because the seller owes more on their loan(s) than the home is worth. Some homes and neighborhoods don’t hold their value in a downturn in San Francisco, and it turns out the seller paid far above the current value. Combined with selling costs such as broker commissions and transfer tax, the sale proceeds will not cover all costs.

2. Short sales require patience. A seller’s lender(s) may take two or more months to decide whether it wants to allow a sale to occur that will result in the lender getting paid less than is owed on the property. Buyers are expected to commit to waiting for short sale approval for a specific period of time (typically, a minimum of 45-60 days). This means that if you see another property you also like that comes on the market two weeks after your offer is accepted by the seller and sent to the lender for approval, you will honor your contractual commitment and not pursue that property.

3. Lenders could ask the buyer to pitch in money. As funds aren’t available on the seller side, the lender could ask the buyer to cover city/county transfer tax ($6.80 per thousand dollars for properties up to $1M; $7.50 for $1M+ homes). There are also other costs that crop up during escrow that the buyer may be asked to cover, such as reports the seller usually pays for.

4. Don’t count on negotiating credits during escrow. The seller is not in a position to provide credits or pay for repairs during escrow. Such requests will have to be approved by the lender—the same lender that’s already taking a loss, and has approved the sale based on the contract price. Attempting to negotiate during escrow will most likely not result in the buyer getting a credit; moreover, there’s a good chance the approval will have to start all over again. Best advice: Do as much due diligence up front, including a preinspection. And assume that you will have to spend a reasonable amount of money on maintenance and repairs if the systems are not all brand new.

5. The lender(s) can pursue foreclosure on the property during the short sale approval process. It’s a good idea to find out whether the seller has stopped paying his or her mortgage. Foreclosures don’t happen overnight, but if the lender has already taken steps toward foreclosure, it could significantly complicate your purchase.

Get a Grip on the Cost to Sell in San Francisco

It’s a good time to get familiar with the basic costs involved when you sell your house. Many homeowners have just put their properties on the market, and many more will follow suit between now and Thanksgiving. Having a solid grip on what it will cost you to sell is important as you plan your move.

Here are the primary costs you can expect when you sell your home:
1. Broker commissions. The seller agrees to pay broker commissions, which are typically 5-6% of the sale price. The total amount is split between the listing and buyer broker, with the agents getting paid according to whatever split they’ve arranged with their company. So the commission is divided, ultimately, four ways.

2. Transfer tax. The city and county transfer tax rate is $6.80 per thousand dollars for properties of up to $1M, and $7.50 per thousand dollars for homes that sell between $1M-$5M.

3. Reports and inspections. It is customary for the seller to provide a building permit history ($160) and natural hazard report ($90). Sellers also need to have a water/energy conservation inspection, and have any compliance work done by close of escrow. This cost can range up to $1800, depending on what you need done. (It’s usually a lot less than that for a condo.) You may also want to include a termite report, which gives buyers a heads up on big-ticket items that may end up being negotiable during escrow. Termite reports range from $400-$600 for condos and houses.

4. Prep work and staging. If you’ve been living in the property a while, you’ll probably want to consider painting, doing minor repairs, staging and professional cleaning. Depending on the size of your home and what needs to be done, costs vary. I have a team in place for these activities and personally coordinate getting estimates and having the work done.

I’m currently in the process of signing up listings and coordinating marketing schedules, and would be happy to talk with you about bringing your home on the market this Fall. We can work through all the details and pave a surprisingly quick and easy path to coming on the market. Just contact me at 415.823.4656 or ebermingham@zephyrsf.com.

5 Tips for Surviving the Fall Real Estate Market

It’s officially “after Labor Day,” and that means one thing in the real estate world: Time for new inventory, new buyers and sellers entering the market, lots of sometimes chaotic activity and mostly, a mad scramble to get everything done before the end of the year.

Spring is typically a high point in San Francisco real estate. But it’s been my experience over the past eleven years as an agent that the Fall can be even busier, and also carries with it more of a sense of urgency. This is driven by leases ending in December, or transactions closing by the end of the year for tax purposes, to name a couple motivators.

Sellers have been watching the prices their neighbors have been getting all year, and buyers are starting to lose patience after writing offers on multiple properties for the past eight months. But agents, buyers and sellers need not go off the deep end.

Here are five tips for maintaining sanity between now and New Year’s:
1. If you’re going on the market, stay on the market for at least a few days. You’ve staged your house, moved out and should want to expose that property to as many buyers as possible before taking offers. If you’ve scheduled open houses and a broker tour, commit to having those open houses and tour. This lets buyers and their agents at least take a crack at the purchase, and having an offer date can only benefit you if there’s significant buyer interest. (Incidentally, it’s really annoying to arrive at a broker tour and find a handwritten sign saying that the tour has been deleted.) It is ultimately a very sound idea to also have a backup offer in place when you accept an offer, and it’s hard to do that if you just take the first offer that comes along.

2. If it’s a long shot offer…It probably is a long shot. I define “long shot” as an offer situation wherein there’s overwhelming interest in a very hot property. That extremely appealing, 3BR house in Noe Valley that has it all? You know, the one that’s about 20-40% underpriced? Unless you’re willing to write super high and waive contingencies, you’ll probably be better off avoiding a situation that will chip away at the emotional reserves you’ll need to be successful in your house hunt.

3. If you’re a listing agent, notify buyer agents of offer outcomes promptly. Yes, you and your sellers are thrilled with the eight offers that came in on their property. As the listing agent, you’ve already called the agent representing the buyer with the accepted offer and have given them the good news. But there are seven more agents you need to call before the night is through. Those agents have buyers who probably won’t sleep very soundly until they get word of the outcome.

4. Buyers, update your loan preapproval. You may have been preapproved a couple months ago, but interest rates are up and so are prices. Before you start running to open houses, run some updated numbers to make sure you’re not looking at homes that will be out of your price range.

5. Sellers, plan ahead. When you decide to sell your house, a lot of activities and people are thrown into action. Yes, it’s a seller’s market and everyone will be excited to see your home in Mission Dolores when you list it. But if you’re planning to stage the house, that will typically require some notice, if only for logistical purposes. And there’s no better way to create buzz around a home than to give your listing agent some time to pre-market the property on the MLS and with a house sign. Remember, there will be more inventory with which to compete now, and you don’t want to get lost in the mix.

The Blurred Lines Between Maintenance & Repairs

If Robin Thicke is a homeowner, the blurred lines he should be most concerned about are the ones between home maintenance and having to suddenly do unexpected repairs.

There’s a definite distinction between taking action to repair a component of your building and taking preventive measures to avoid having to make that repair. To be fair, sometimes it’s not so easy to figure out that, say, your roof should be replaced before the next rainy season. Let’s face it: Your job, family, recreational time and traveling all compete for your time, and the likelihood of using a spare moment to look for surface cracks and ponding on the rooftop is slim.

The bottom line is that genuine maintenance is best achieved by being proactive. Knowing what to look for well ahead of having to undertake expensive repairs or replacements is key. So I’ve put together a quick and dirty property evaluation guide that you can use periodically to detect red flags and potentially head off having to spend a lot of money unexpectedly:

1. Foundations and retaining walls. Check for major cracking, and if you’re on a brick foundation, deterioration of the material. Also monitor retaining walls, particularly if they’re on property lines. If you see anything really significant, contact a structural contractor who can let you know whether it’s time to take some action.

2. Siding. When you start seeing signs of boards popping out, obvious seams between panels, stucco bulging or pockets of soft wood, consult a structural pest contractor. Dry rot doesn’t get any better over time, and fixing a small section of wood or stucco is a lot easier than having to rip off part of a wall. And very importantly, if you start seeing anything that looks like wood shavings, that is a sure sign you may have to remedy drywood termites. Again, call the pest guy. Best advice, though: Have your building painted every few years. This job typically includes also sealing up gaps in the wood.

3. Water heater. You typically won’t see any signs of water heater failure until the tank starts flooding your garage or unit. But what you can do is replace the water heater before that happens. You typically replace a water heater every ten years or so; if you don’t know how old your unit is, try to find the serial number on the tank. The last two digits usually represent the year of manufacture.

4. Roof. A roof lasts for around 15-20 years, but that life span will depend on how much sun or other weather elements affect the roof. However, you can extend the life of a roof by having someone perform regular maintenance such as patching and sealing. That will protect the roof against heat from the sun that can scorch its surface, as well as water intrusion from rain. And if you can safely get up on your roof after a heavy rain, check to see if pools of water are forming. Have a reliable roofing contractor examine your roof every couple years to make sure you’re keeping up with the maintenance.

5. Flashing around joints. Flashing refers to thin strips of impervious material that are placed around certain areas to protect against water intrusions. It’s good to make sure the flashing around your windows, vents and chimneys are solid and not too worn. The same roofing contractor can check out these components, too.

6. Sewer line. If you have old, clay pipes running to the sewer line and any trees nearby, have a sewer line inspection every few years to make sure there are no roots growing into the line.

7. Decks and external staircases. When you start noticing rotted stairs or posts, it may be time to have them replaced. Best to do this on a regular basis vs. having to rebuild when the whole deck starts to sag. (I’m being dramatic, but you get the point. Besides, you have no idea what I see when I go in and out of properties on broker tour.)

8. Fireplace. Most people never have their fireplace inspected, much less cleaned. Hire a company to do just that every few years. It’s good to know if you have any cracks in the flue that could result in releasing toxic air into your home.

If you need any referrals for the aforementioned contractors, please contact me at 415.823.4656/ebermingham@zephyrsf.com and I’d be happy to connect you with the resources I have. That goes for you, too, Robin, if you can tear yourself away from the latest lady you’re trying to hook up with long enough to do a roof check.

The Basics of San Francisco Property Taxes

You’re considering purchasing a property in San Francisco, and want to figure out what your total annual costs will be. A significant portion of those expenses will be property taxes.

The property tax rate for the 2012-2013 tax year is 1.1691% of the purchase price. Property taxes are due in two installments: The first is due November 1st, and is delinquent after December 10th. The second installment is due on February 1st, and becomes delinquent after April 10th.

Sometime after you complete your purchase, the city will send what’s called a supplemental property tax bill. The Assessor-Recorder reappraises property when there’s a change of ownership. They don’t do this in a timely manner most of the time, so you’ll eventually get this supplemental bill that represents the difference between the new and the old property tax base. Keep in mind that in some cases, the supplemental bill can come a year or two later, and you’ll be responsible for paying the tax. It’s a good idea to have some money put aside.

There are a lot of additional fees in your property tax bill that have materialized over time, many of which residents voted to include. These include various annual fees related to education, for example.

It’s a great idea to do your financial planning during your loan preapproval phase, so you can get an idea as to what your property taxes will be as they relate to your price range.