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Information about San Francisco’s schools

A reader asks: What are the school systems like in San Francisco? Which are better, public or private?

Our reply: Parochial schools are also highly rated by parents. A blog has been created to discuss matters pertaining to San Francisco schools. And for more information on which schools are located in different districts you may go to the San Francisco Public Schools website.

Finally, for a rating of which schools are best, got to GreatSchools.net.

– Janis Stone

“Budget priced” San Francisco Real Estate?

A reader asks: Are there any “lesser known” areas where you can live with decent views of the Bay, easy access to the water and aren’t completely tourist ridden for less than a million dollars?

Our reply: Yes there are areas that fit your requirements, but they are not really “lessor known” areas. There are a number of condominiums, lofts, TIC’s (tenancies in common) in the South of Market area, South Beach, and the newly developing 3rd Street corridor. They have or will have some views of the Bay, fairly easy access to the water and sell for under a million dollars. Of course you did not mention the size of the property you wanted or how many bedrooms and baths you were looking for. These details would be large factors in the price.

Most of the areas mentioned above are not usually on the tourist path. However, they can get congested when people are going to baseball games or trying to get to freeway onramps!!

– Janis Stone

Explaining the “one inch” rule in San Francisco Real Estate

A reader asks:Was there a reason for having the “one inch” rule or “no common wall” ordinance when it comes to building homes in San Francisco?

Our reply: Over the years the building codes for San Francisco have been modified many times as have the zoning laws which also determine what can be built on a lot. So what was able to be built even 20 years ago cannot be built today. I am not aware of the “one inch” rule and a search of the Building Department’s database revealed nothing.

Several years ago we demolished a property and built a new one in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. In this case we were able to build to the lot line. But practically speaking we had to deal with other properties that were built to their lot lines (and they were also leaning onto our lot). As a result, we had to build a slightly smaller home which was only 24 feet 9 inches wide on a 25 foot wide lot!

Actually, there are existing homes in San Francisco that have “common walls”. We sold one in lower Pacific Heights, and there was a common wall agreement recorded on the title. That home was built in the late 1800’s. Another common wall development we know of in San Francisco, is what is called a PUD (planned unit development) in the Twin Peaks area.

– Janis Stone

Standard Realtor’s commission percentage in San Francisco

A reader asks: How much of a percentage do Realtors normally charge as commission in San Francisco?

Our reply: Commissions are negiotiable and the is no “normal” rate. In today’s open market there are any number of choices for a seller. There are those who have a nominal flat fee and only put the property in the MLS but do not help the seller negiotiate or find a qualified buyer. However, as in most businesses, “you get what you pay for”.

If you want to receive the most “net” from the sale of your property a good, experienced Realtor can be worth much more than the commission they earn. For example, in a survey by the National Association of Realtors it was discovered that For Sale by Owners receive 16% less than owners who used a Realtor. So with a 6% commission paid to the agent, the seller would still be ahead by 10%! And if that agent was a skilled negiotiator the seller could be ahead even more.

Experience is so important in any market but in a changing market it can mean the difference between selling the property or having it sit on the market losing value. Although do not believe in a gloom and doom scenario, the San Francisco Real Estate market has begun to change. (Refer to our previous article on June 16, 2006. We also publish a weekly report of market conditions from Avram Goldman, President of Coldwell Banker, San Francisco Bay Area on our website.) Choosing the right broker can not only make the process easier but also more profitable for the seller.  

– Janis Stone

San Francisco Real Estate Market Update for 6/19 – 6/25/06

Avram Goldman, President and COO of Coldwell Banker, San Francisco Bay Area said in his latest weekly report:

“The week of June19-25th showed a bit of an upswing. Although the market is not moving anywhere near the velocity of last year, the best priced and staged homes are selling in historically short periods of time. Yes, more homes are available than we have seen since 2003, but are nowhere near the slow cycles of the early 80’s and 90’s.”We are seeing fewer multiple offers around the Bay with the exception of the SF/Peninsula where percentages run from 20-75% of listings sold being involved in multiple offers. We are still having shortages of good listings in the SF/Peninsula market under the $1-1.5 mil. price range and the upper ends of those markets still are moving where there are shortages of available listings.

“Open house activity is slowing, particularly for the listings that are being held open for the 3rd or 4th times. Well priced and prepared homes being held open for the first time are attracting large groups of buyers. There are still plenty of buyers looking; they are just taking longer to make their decisions. The volume of price reductions has increased as motivated sellers are trying to find buyer price points. I am attaching an article from the Wall Street Journal discussing the advantages of different pricing and reduction strategies.


“What we are noticing is that the flow of new listings coming on the market is beginning to slow. I think over the next several months we will see those sellers that don’t have a compelling reason to sell taking their homes off the market. This will be a positive sign for the market as it will accurately reflect the true inventory available. Now is a great time for buyers as choice is at the highest point in years and interest rates are still under 7% which is historically low. 


– Avram Goldman

* For an e-mail alert when this report is updated, send a note to info@SFResidence.com with “weekly market report” in the subject line.

Haight-Ashbury has changed in San Francisco

A reader asks: As a youngster during the 60’s, my family and I visited San Francisco. We were amazed at how the area of Haight-Ashbury was glamorized in the news, yet how run down it was. Has this neighborhood changed much?

Our reply: The Haight (as it is called today) has changed a great deal from when you visited though local shops still promote remnants of the bygone era like tie-dye tee shirts and psychedelic posters. The San Francisco Chronicle website has a nice profile of what may be found in this neighborhood today

Wikipedia has some more interesting history on the area plus many related links.More recently, as property values have risen, the Haight is slowly improving. Victorian homes and apartments are being renovated which is causing the property values to rise significantly. Haight Street still has many small businesses, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars which attracts a diverse clientelle. Unfortunately, there is still an element of drug activity and homelessness in the area of the park close to Stanyan street but the City is striving to improve this area. The Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council holds regular meetings to discuss topics concerning the neighborhood.

– Janis Stone and Mick Orton

How to pull money out of a property without selling it – Part 3

A reader previously asked: I want to pull some equity out of my San Francisco property and pay as little as possible in taxes or none at all. Is there a way to do this?

Our answer: In our first article, we discussed refinancing and private annuity trusts. Our second article talked about reverse exchanges. This third article discusses second loans or lines of credit. At the time of this writing, the Fed raised interest rates to a 5 year high on June 29, 2006 and are probably going to continue on fears of rising inflation. Back in July of 2005, we published a market report (written by Jay Bransfield) explaining what these rising rates affect and why.

As you probably know, this most affects the short term interest rates for credit cards and, even more importantly, second loans or equity lines of credit on your home. It also affects adjustable rate mortgages. In the short term, seconds loans and lines of credit might be good ways to pull money out of your property, but as a long term solution it can be quite expensive. This might override any advantage you might get from not being taxed on the money.

– Mick Orton, Janis Stone, Jay Bransfield

Explaining the difference between a TIC, a condo and a Co-op for San Francisco Real Estate – Part 3

A reader previously asked: In San Francisco, I hear a lot of people throw around the terms, tenancy in common, condominium and co-op and often use them to describe the same property in the same sentence. What is the difference between them?

Our answer: In part 1 we talked about Tenancy in Common. In part 2 we discussed condominiumns. The third and final installment covers Co-ops as a form of ownership. Co-op is short for a Cooperative apartment. Technically speaking the building is owned by a corporation and ownership of each of the individual units is defined by a certain number of shares of stock in the corporation with a proprietary lease to occupy a particular unit. There is usually a requirement that when a unit is sold the buyer must be approved by the Board of Directors of the Co-op. The buyer submits a financial statement and personal and financial references to the co-ops board of directors. The board reviews the information and approves or disapproves the purchaser. Because of this approval process, often the escrow period needs to be longer than for a condominium.

The other difference is the financing of a cooperative apartment. There are only a handful of lenders in San Francisco who will loan on co-ops and of those, some will only loan on certain co-op buildings. The loan-to-value ratio is typically lower than condos and can be as low as 50% but are typically 70-75%. There are still a couple of buildings in San Francisco that do not allow any financing at all so units must be purchased with cash.Be sure to check on the financing of a building to be sure you can get the the loan you need and want.

– Janis Stone, Mick Orton

Green housing? What’s that???

A reader asks: I have heard the term green housing. Are these homes becoming more popular?

Our reply:The term green housing is a relatively new term brought about by environmentalists who promote the use of “earth friendly” and recycled materials in homes as well as ensuring they are energy efficient. It is the latest craze in building technology.

In San Francisco, even the Mayor has gotten into the act. In August of 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle he announced that all new affordable housing projects would promote “high environmental standards”. Some of the new features would include solar panels, recycled building materials and so on.

Green construction has gotten very popular lately, especially in California. The US Green Building Council has a website full of information as well as links to other sites providing resources on this topic.

– Mick Orton

San Francisco Real Estate and landfill

A reader asks: I have heard there are different areas of the city are made of landfill. What are the concerns with buying in these areas?

Our reply: Entire neighborhoods of the city such as the Marina and Hunters Point sit on man made landfill (made up of mud, sand, and rubble from past earthquakes) were created when flatland became scarce. Unfortunately, such land tends to be unstable during earthquakes. As a result, the liquefaction during earthquakes causes extensive damage to property built upon it, as was evidenced in the Marina district during the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

In an earlier article (June 19, 2006) we talked about earthquakes, and included a link to the USGS website showing the different areas of the City and the types of soil in each.

When buying a property in areas that are built on landfill it is important to consult with a structural engineer. They will be able to inspect the property and give you their opinion of the structural integrity of your home. Remember that this is usually the largest purchase you will ever make and it is important to understand protential risk in relationship to earthquakes. Your real estate agent should give you a booklet (one of the requriements when we meet with a client) which explains basic structural components of a property which may compromise it’s stability in an earthquake and what can be done to retrofit a property to help reinforce it to minimize the damage in an earthquake.

You can purchase earthquake insurance for a home but the deductible can be 15-20%. In the case of a condominium you should see if the homeowner’s association has a master policy that includes earthquake insurance. Even if they do, you should also purchase a homeowner’s policy to cover your contents.

– Janis Stone

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