Northstar Ski Resort, Lake Tahoe Courting the High End Market in a Ski in/Ski out Paradise

Being a real estate writer has depressingly few perks. I don’t get free tickets to concerts or desert on the house at Michael Mina. The product I write about, you see, can’t really fit in a gift bag. Mostly, I get accused of being a Realtor (I’m not) or of being “in bed” with the NAR (which again, I’m not. That sounds exhausting, by the way.)

But two weeks ago this perk-less-ness changed. Together with several other writers from across the country, I was flown to Tahoe for an all-expenses-paid tour of/experience with Northstar’s new Home Run. Aptly named, the development is a system of homes built mid-mountain, far above the (pleasurable, but at times, overly popular) melee of the Village. No waiting in line for the lift, folks. The ski run awaits just a few steps from your back deck. Wake up, ski out. Sweet!

Still, sometimes when I see construction in the middle of a forest, no matter how spectacular that construction, I feel uncomfortable. You know this feeling?  Human guilt? But at least here, as with all Mountain Residences projects, East West developers aim for LEED certification for each home- and we were introduced to many trees (including my favorite, old “Grandpa”)  and rock formations that had to be protected, built around rather than pulled from the earth.

Construction with a conscience means I was better able to relax, take in my surroundings, which that day were sparkly- a cold blue sky setting the freshly falling snow ablaze, everything studded with tiny diamonds on fire. Between each of the Home Run residences lie trails, tunnels, and bridges- everything inter-connected.  It’s very exclusive-village-in-the-Alps:  charming architecture, soaring vistas, the hush of a thick blanket of snow.

Our group toured one model home, mostly complete, which you see pictured here. The view alone made me want to hide in the (huge! Sexy!) bathroom until everyone left so I could stay forever. So what if the water wasn’t hooked up yet? I had miles of it, frozen and pristine, for my private use right outside.

But we had plenty to look forward to, including a meal at the Ritz Carlton which also rests mid-mountain. Over course after course of carefully paired wine and cuisine (developed under San Francisco’s own, chef Traci Des Jardins), we learned that two of the custom home lots have already been purchased, one by a young “Silicon Valley tech” family (for some reason, I thought Zynga. Unconfirmed). We also learned what Northstar is doing to change its more “vintage” easy-going (read “affordable to the middle-class”) ski area image. Purchased by Vail (of Vail, Colorado), Northstar is in full luxury market upgrade mode, adding high –end shops, linking new developments with exclusive rights to the Ritz and Schaffer’s Camp, and planning to cut ski runs on Sawtooth Mountain whose verticality will do away, finally, with the “Flat Star” label.  Meanwhile, the wine and food kept coming. I was drunk on luxury.

The almost surreal opulence of it all was capped off by the gondola ride back down to the Village at Northstar, a full moon casting blue light over the snowy expanse.

Back home now, I offer you this story, and the skinny on Home Run, because if I had the money, I would buy in immediately. I can see Christmas up there with my parents and maybe the kids I’ll have one day. I can see a week there, just me and my man, in our hot tub sunk deep in the snow. I see summers on my bike, hiking with my dog, and many, many gondola rides to the Ritz.  And remember, I am just a real estate writer and teacher: not only can I actually not afford to buy one, I receive nothing if anyone else can and does, even if that person does so because s/he saw my story. And yes, East West wined and dined the writers. But that was two weeks ago. The wine’s worn off. The food’s digested. I can hardly be asked to give it back should I chose not to write about Mountain Residences.  But why would I choose that, when I can’t stop thinking about how cool they are?

3-4 bedroom, 1,900-3,200 square-foot, Home Run townhomes are priced from $1.6-$2.3 million. East West Partners anticipates Home Run move-ins to begin spring 2012, so that means right now. If you’re lucky enough to be in the market for your own private ski-in/ski out chalet just a short drive from the Bay Area, you should grab Alex, grab your skis, and head to Northstar.

Say hi to Grandpa as you ski by.

[Guest Post By Anna Marie Hibble...THANKS ANNA!]

And So Ends My Tenure…

Alex Clark, the true Frontsteps frontman, shall return from Indonesia tomorrow, barring travel problems. While he’s been among those islands, so have earthquakes and landslides and buried hotels, so let’s wish him a safe and happy return.

Thanks, everyone, for the excellent commentary on my visiting editor blogs. It’s been fun hanging with you on the ‘Steps.

 

Lands End trail, via Joe Jankovic, San Francisco Scenes

Another Reason to Love Living Here: The Heights

Seacliff in San Francisco

Fridays are for less serious real estate topic-age, so here is a meaningless poll and a tribute to another characteristic that makes SF unique.

Riding my bike through the Presidio last Saturday, I decided to cruise Presidio Heights. And oh my, the elevation-  in status, I mean. It’s dizzying. The homes are palatial, complete with giant grand pianos, harps, chandeliers,  all of which one can glimpse through elaborate stained glass windows. This got me wondering: why did I pick “teacher” as a career path?

But I digress. From a real estate standpoint, which Heights are really the highest (as in, highest class)? Where would you most desire to spend your halcyon days?

For my money, the top four are Presidio Heights, Pacific Heights, Telegraph Hill, and Sea Cliff.

No offense to any other Heights or Hills. Let’s be honest: SF is chock full of breath taking views from almost every corner (and I’d be thrilled to own a house in any of them), but if we include proximity to open space (like the Presidio or the ocean), the size of the homes and their lots, yards (front, back, side) and those cool carriage houses in back that are bigger than most people’s primary residences, then really, these four take the cake.

But I’m a sucker for parks and beaches, and if I have to pick from there, it’s sand and surf forever. My vote then is Sea Cliff.

Here are four ridiculously lush listings, one in each of my hypothetical contender’s neighborhoods. Study them, perhaps shedding a tear for your own career choice. From your own city explorer insight, which height is really the tops? Are certain areas more steady as investments? Are these places really worth all this dough? And are there really still enough buyers for places like this? After all, the four below are just four of myriad listings on the MLS for well over 3 million dollars, when the the San Francisco Census put the median income in our fair city at less than $70k.

2901 Broadway (Pacific Heights) (7 Bedroom mansion for $45 million.)

37 Presidio Ave (Presidio Heights)  (7 Bedroom single family for or $5, 395,000)

632 El Camino Del Mar (Sea Cliff) (5 Bedroom single family for $9,000,000)

 1454 Kearny St. (Telegraph Hill) (3 Bedroom single family for $3,500,000)

 

Sea Cliff shot via Panoramio

Success Story: A Buyer Finally Becomes an Owner

 

This blog is graciously donated by Missionite, long time reader of and writer for The Frontsteps, as well as writer of his own blog, Submedian.

FINALLY GOT ONE

Well we finally got one. We just got the keys and haven’t moved in yet. Despite the market conditions we didn’t get a steal, paid over asking, and in fact the home didn’t appraise so we had to bring some extra money to close as well as convince the sellers to come down a little. On the other hand the home needs only a paint job and a chimney sweep, is big enough for our family of four, is close to things that are important (school, shopping, park, friends, backyard), far from things we don’t like (noise, crime) and is as good a fit for our needs as we could hope for. Most of our new neighbors have lived in the neighborhood for ten years or more so we have a nice stable piece of San Francisco to call home.
With two little ones in desparate need of a yard we weren’t in a position to wait anymore and frankly we were just out of patience. Our criteria was what can we afford right now that we can bear to live in for the next ten years. And on that front we are satisfied. The big lesson I have walked away with here (which will make the realtors happy) is that what you pay for a house has no correlation to it’s actual value. As some of you probably know we have spent literally years bidding on foreclosures, fixers, probates, stale fish, etc trying to get a bargain and have come up empty handed every time (I haven’t blogged about the last couple misadventures but there have been a few and one in particular just about broke our heart). But the times we were denied did give us more time and eventually our savings caught up to the point that we could actually compete and in the end we wound up buying in a normal deal with normal sellers putting our well-over-asking offer in the day it listed and even then apparently not having the highest offer, but winning because we offered a damn fast close.
The asking price, the comps, everything you think you know about a property is meaningless when it comes to the final price. It all boils down to whether you are in a class that has a lot of other buyers. As a family looking for a family home in a city that isn’t exactly loaded with quality inventory for families, we eventually learned we were going to have to either pay more than we would like, or not have anything at all. If you are in the market for a condo, or something on the top end of the market I think it’s a different experience, but reasonably priced homes appropiate for a family with young children are tough nuts to crack.
Anyway, I’m happy to start worrying about lawn care now. Home depot has new meaning to me and I can’t wait to make my first visit there with serious intent.

_________________________________________________________

Congrats to you, and thanks to you, for sharing your win, Missionite. Your advice will be of help to buyers, as will your fabulous rent vs.buy calculator, a resource so good it’s been co-opted by Apple and will soon appear as an app for the I-phone! Check it out here.

Photo: homeownershipu.com

Inner-Sunset Sprouting Condos

Inner-Sunset, home to much good food, a few good bars, a few bad bars, the prohibitively expensive Andronico’s, and UCSF, will soon be home to new condos. On my block alone (9th Ave., past Moraga St.) there are two sites going up or planned to go up. One is adjacent to my deck, where I once saw the Bay, and now see the back of someone’s bedroom to be. I have no idea if this very tall building will be apartments for rent or condos for sale, but it will have several units, a garage, and a penthouse. On the other side of the street, where a long defunt Moraga Market has been little more than place to try out graffiti tags and dump unwanted sofas, construction is also in the works. The lot has sold, a hearing has taken place. All that’s left is to break ground.

Finally, quite done are the condos on 7th Ave., near Irving St. The photo above is from before the facades were placed. Now they are gorgeous Art Deco looking things with burnished copper and huge windows. The agent, Gary Small of Zephyr, tells me that the units are luxury one and two bedroom condos with underground parking, and that the two free-standing cottages that stood in a lot behind the building that sits on the street have been revamped. Some lucky millionare can thus own a little house all his or her own!

It’s the most action the Inner-Sunset has seen since a bunch of drunks from the Mucky Duck tried to scale a MUNI train. Sadly for we middle income buyers, the luxury condo lable means these new homes, exciting though they are, will not be ours.

Oh well. Drinking at the Mucky Duck is always an alternative.

PHOTO: Socketsite

Another Reason to Love Living Here

The FrontSteps likes to remind us of the reasons why we live in this fine city. Sometimes it is easy to forget: for instance, the third say in a week you find a ticket under your windshield wiper. I overheard a gentleman on the N-Judah the other day who, in response to a friend asking if he wouldn’t miss the city once he moved away, said “If ever I miss San Francisco, I will take a dump on my own doorstep and write myself a parking ticket.”

Such anger. No, we need to step away from the DPT and look around at our sparkling water views and ridiculously gorgeous architecture. And we need to visit the Academy of Sciences museum– for free.

If you’ve been scared off by the lines which have still not dwindled, let me assure you, a visit is worth the wait. Not only is the building spectacular, but the exhibits are as well. Plus, the roof is alive! And the planetarium is like an I-MAX theater. There’s even a rain forest!

The below is completely lifted from the California Academy of Sciences “Plan a Visit” page. It’s worth looking into this free day since general admission is pretty steep ($24.95). I’ve enjoyed some of the boozy Thursday night “Nightlife” $10 affairs, but these are exceedingly crowded and perhaps less scholarly than a day visit would be.

So take your proof or residency and enjoy your reward for being a San Franciscan!

Amazing musuem roof picture via California Academy of Sciences

Disclose or Dissemble?

My recent almost first time buyer identity was shattered by a disturbing disclosure. Or rather, by a failure to to disclose the disclosures. A Realtor, who shall remain nameless (and is in Portland, OR, anyway), had us almost in contract before I ever lay eyes on the disclosures, at which time I discovered

1. Lead paint

2. Mold in basement

3. Leak in basement (only in “heavy rains.” Mind you, this home is in Portland, OR. Heavy rain is as expected as death and taxes. Let’s call it a leak then, yes?)

4. Electrical panel had been recalled. “Some” repairs were made.

5. “Slight” leak in upstairs bath.

6. Entire basement, including a bath, constructed without permits.

7. Warp in foundation, assured to be a “non-issue” since seller had been told this 10 years ago when he bought the home.

8. No evidence available the oil tank had been decomissioned.

Upshot? We were advised to not only have the home inspected ($350), but to have a structural engineer look at the foundation ($350), have the soil tested for evidence of oil tank ($50-$225), hire an expert electrician to examine the re-done electrical ($200 or more), and to ignore the lead paint as it’s part of old houses, or to plan to strip down hundreds of years of paint layers to get it out. Further, we were told that the mold and leaks were not really problems and that the inspector who’d noted them was incompetent, and that his report contained many “grammar and spelling errors”; thus, his opinion mattered nil.

Well! I’m a first time buyer, maybe I mentioned. I’m shy and timid around things like mold, even if they are spelled mollllld. And I don’t feel like spending over a $1000 to inspect a house I might not even buy.

Is this normal? Is it part of due dilligence to basically inspect and reinspect every inch of the home to discover what really is a “small” non-issue and what is going to cost me my retirement savings to repair? I remember looking at homes in SF wherein the disclosures were sitting on the counter, next to all the Realtor business cards. Is it par for the course that these essential documents might not turn up until the potential buyer is one minute away from signing her earnest money away?

You all are the experts here. Comments welcome, as long as they don’t come with the $350 price-tag.

 

Drawing: i.ehow

Readers Ask: Readers Know (Usually)

The Frontsteps is littered with experts, so when a reader asks a question, seems like the highest form of logic is to simply pose that question to the aforementioned experts.

Yesterday I asked if any, any, any reduction in price could make being a landlord for a full occupied, multi-unit property worthwhile. One reader, in response, asked:

By deliadelia on Oct 1, 2009 |

Hey all, is any reader on here a landlord? Is it really as bad as all I hear? I am thinking of trying to leverage a tenant as income to buy a 2 unit building (1 empty, 1 occupied). I’m not sure what I’m getting into.

I’m nowhere near a landlord, not even in my dreams, so I can’t say much here. Anyone else able to help Delia?

BFD Price Reductions

A post wherin I look at price reductions that seem to be pointless.

1. Courtesy of SF Schtuff, 1001 California St., #3 is a super lux condo in the old Hitchcockian San Francisco splendor. (MLS gallery offers house porn to die for, here.)

The original price here was $7,250,000. Now it’s $6,950,000. Indeed, one could argue a $300K price break is nothing to sneeze at. But really, the person who can afford the new price could also afford the old price, especially since this home includes an HOA of $5886 per month. So, $300,000? Big  ****ing deal. The monthly payments are still going to top the GNP of certain third world countries.

Here’s another reduction I don’t think makes any difference. 2421 Clement St. This is a 10 unit building, “fully rented,” originally priced at $1,435,888. More than 50 days later, it’s reduced to $1,398,000.

In this case,  it’s not so much the amount of the reduction. I just wonder who would ever want to buy a 10-unit building in SF when every other day a law here makes being a landlord a bigger headache than it already was. In fact, this Examiner article highlights the dubious joys of landlords who are currently suing the city to block such laws. Good luck.

So I wonder, in the world of real estate, if price reductions aren’t sometimes just not that much of an incentive after all.

—————

Photo of 1001 California, #3 via listing agent Betty Brachman, Brachman Group.

Arden Wood (Mostly) All Grown Up

 

 

 Way, way back, we looked at the then just starting Ardenwood luxury home project. We all speculated on price (around $2 mil, was the consensus) and rapidity with which they would sell. Many people also complained that a set of less than ten luxury homes was not the best use of the lot, given our housing scarcity, but that last complaint falls on deaf ears given that the homes are now for the most part complete.

And they’re all for sale. Still. As far as I can tell, and I beg you to set me straight (kindly though, please?) if I am incorrect, but these homes have yet to find their owners. There are seven of them, ranging at the “new” prices of $1,699,000 to $1,950,000, with two homes not yet priced. Looks then like the $2 mill estimate was not far off. (See prices, etc. at the Ardenwood website.)

Personally, that price seems steep to me. The homes are really lovely on the inside and I do love the West Portal village life, but the exteriors make me think of office buildings. They are also awfully close together and for that price, I would like the option of thinking I was all alone in the world. But what do I know? Surely someone is now dying to tell me how ignorant I am.

Bring it.

Photo, of the estate still under construction, via nativesf. Current photos abound at Ardenwood’s website, already linked above.

Buy Now or Suffer 8,000 Consequences?

Today I got this email from a friendly neighborhood Realtor:

Hello everyone,

I wanted to send out a friendly reminder about the deadline to take advantage of the first time home buyer tax credit.  The tax credit expires on Novemeber 30th, 2009.  However, assuming a 45 day escrow period from the time you buy to the time you close and get the keys, you would need to find a house, negotiate a purchase price, and have mutual acceptance by October 15th to take advantage. There are some income restrictions, it must be for your primary residence, and you must not have owned a home in the last 3 years.  If you or anyone you know would like more information about the tax credit, please email me and I will follow up.

Arg! Less than a month to find a house and close escrow?

On the other hand, I heard a rumor that this tax credit may be extended. Hard to imagine we have the money to do so in this country, but still, that’s the gossip from my broker. Nick Timiraos of the WSJ blog writes:

Not only are some legislators (and real-estate industry lobbyists) already pushing hard for an extension of the tax credit, which will expire Nov. 30, but they’re also arguing that it should be increased, to $15,000, and expanded to all buyers, and not just those who are first-timers. The current $8,000 tax credit emerged in the stimulus legislation that Congress passed in February, replacing an existing $7,500 credit that had to be repaid over 15 years.

The questions are not just whether the country has this money available, but whether other issues, such as health care, will push the homebuyer’s plight to the back burner.

In the meantime, we first-time buyers have about a week to buy our homes, people. No pressure.

Generous Uncle Sam, Via Coldwell Banker

So It’s Been Awhile, but…

So Alex is leaving town for awhile, chasing the big waves instead of the big buyers, and I’m standing, inadequately and ill fittingly, in his shoes. You may — or just as likely, may not– recall I used to guest write here on these Front Steps some time ago. Alex was nice enough to invite me back.

Future story ideas: the sad tale of coming within 3 centimeters of buying a home and the deal going awry. Oh, Realtors! Other blogs to explore  new construction in Golden Gate Heights, which one can see out one’s very own window: yeah, right where the ocean used to be.  I’ll also revisit Arden Wood, a West Portal set o’ luxury homes that sparked some “they’ll sell!” “They won’t sell!” debate when they first began to rise from the ground.

Indeed, this posting is meant to function as my trailer, like a preview you see before a film that makes you want to see more. Hopefully now you’ll remain glued to the machine so as not to miss a thrilling installment. Or if you have a scoop for me, you’ll suggest it, keeping in mind I am a buyer, not an agent, and write from that perspective. In the meantime, in the words of L.L. Cool J., “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.”

-Anna

Being a Landlord is Such a Drag…

I have to admit, watching the banks, AIG, the automakers, and finally, homeowners get a bail out, I did more than once cry out piteously: “But who the f— will bail out me?”

Answer: Chris Daly.

I didn’t really ask for this kind of bailout, but Daly’s constituents are largely renters; and hey, so is San Francisco. Thus a little protection for us too is a nice gesture.

Specifically, Daly’s proposals, to quote from the Chron, are as follows:

Three laws proposed by Supervisor Chris Daly on Tuesday would bar landlords from increasing rent to more than one-third of a tenant’s income, would expand the rights of tenants who want to add roommates, and would limit the amount of so-called banked rent increases in which annual increases allowed under city laws are saved up and then imposed all at once.

I should embrace this, since I am a renter. However, I’m also aware of the ironic side effect of many “renter protection laws” that actually end up keeping the rental market as expensive and competitive as it is here, even now. So I eye these laws cautiously, though they excite me, if only because I hope they make my landlady unhappy. Because I hate her.

But I digress. Surprisingly, Mayor Newsom, who is by all accounts not a member of the Daly fan club (in fact, I believe he’s probably the founder of whatever club is the opposite of that one), appears amenable to these laws.

It’s not yet clear whether the proposed laws will have sufficient support at the Board of Supervisors, but Mayor Gavin Newsom – who advocates had expected to oppose the measures – appeared open to the ideas.

So, does that mean SF is about to get even harder on landlords? 

In the end, I’m out of my league. My bias is obvious, but I don’t want to rent forever, so I like to undertand long term effects.  I bring this article to you, the educated Front Steps populace, to explain why these laws are a bad idea, a good idea, a crazy idea, or a pipe dream.

Can California Keep Her Bling?

 

I used to look at houses in Portland, OR like this 2/2 SFH in one of the most gorgeous neighborhoods, Sellwood, listed at $440K.

And then I would look for somthing similar in SF. And then I would need a very large martini. We all know, even after the martini, that a comparable home is SF (in a comparable lovely neighborhood) would go for twice or three times that price.

Experts in the field offer myriad explanations: SF has limited homes, limited land, high demand, good jobs, California property is worth more… etc., etc.

I am curious though how many of those factors still exist, or can continue to exist as the economic climate changes.

The Chron estimates that Bay Area homes lost $202 billion in value in 2008. Agreed, the Bay Area includes areas much harder hit by the slump than SF, but SF is not impervious to these problems. Maybe they aren’t horrible yet, but conditions aren’t as crazy-good as they used to be (right? We can agree on that at least?); could they get worse?

It seems that California itself is losing value. The S & P has already lowered her credit rating , tying her with Louisiana,  and may lower this rating again if the budget crisis can’t be solved– a phenomenon we have no real optimism to witness, unless we relish our tax refunds being issued as IOUs as part of the solution. From the LA Times:

“Should the state not enact timely midyear budget gap closing measures by February 2009, or should the state’s cash position weaken significantly compared with recently revised state cash flow projections,” the rating firm warns, the ratings on California’s long-term debt could be lowered, S&P said.

That could drive more investors away from California bonds, forcing the state to pay higher interest rates to borrow. Municipal bond yields in California and elsewhere have been surging in recent weeks as state budget troubles have deepened.

As for the prospect of borrowing to plug budget gaps, S&P warned that without “meaningful budget adjustments on the revenue or expenditure side,” California may face “constrained investor appetite” for its short-term notes.

In the meantime, Prop 13, once meant to protect the housing consumer, is now a very big part of the problem.

So my question is, can Californians expect to see deals like those in Portland, OR anytime in the near future in San Francisco? (And I pick Portland for its many similarities, physically and politically, to SF.) Ironically, though this would be a nightmare to some people, it would be a dream come true to the vast majority of renters who are currently priced out.  And if this untapped pool of buyers could actually buy, well…  we’d see that scary-good rush to buy again, like before the dot.com and current economy bust when people offered children and unneeded organs along with 50% over asking— but with distinctly post-bust differences.

SF: A City with Room to Grow-up Healthy?

biosources 

 
The Where Blog, dedicated to intelligent discourse on urban life, recently posed the following question:

How do people stay sane in crowded cities?

Quoting E.M. Cioran,

Whenever I happen to be in a city of any size, I marvel that riots do not break out every day: massacres, unspeakable carnage, a doomsday chaos. How can so many human beings coexist in a space so confined without destroying each other, without hating each other to death?

We might ask such a question in Tokyo, or New Dehli; in the US, maybe New York. But San Francisco, despite being relatively short on open space for building and (as boon to past real estate transactions) higher in demand than in supply for housing, is not really that crowded. Sure, we’ve all made the dismal, never again mistake of trying to get on the I-80 at rush hour, or the MUNI on the day the Giants are playing (enough orange clothing and pre-game beer consumption to last a lifetime). We’ve been jostled in Union Square during the holidays, or crammed against the rails of the Wharf at the height of tourist season. But those are just poor choices, not evidence of an over-populated city. In fact, there’s a lot of space to live here.

Many of our residential enclaves include rows and rows of homes that have backyards, if not also front yards and side yards. Unlike NY City, we don’t have to go out to Brooklyn to find a family style neighborhood: in our 7 X 7, we have plenty.

Add to that roof decks, public parks, and the beach — it’s a unique metropolis indeed.

But scientists do warn that city life can be hard on the brain.  From the Boston Globe:

Now scientists have begun to examine how the city affects the brain, and the results are chastening. Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control. While it’s long been recognized that city life is exhausting — that’s why Picasso left Paris — this new research suggests that cities actually dull our thinking, sometimes dramatically so.

So… do San Francisco brains need more quiet space to function?

But isn’t living without culture, diversity, art, conflict, and intellectual stimulation in general, more obstructive than the chaos of urban life?
——
Pic: Biosources.com

Predictions for ’09 Reveal There Are No Experts

zoltar-1
So, one hell of an ugly year is coming to a close. As usual, this event cues panels of “leaders” in various fields to opine about the coming 365 days. What will become of Tom and Katie? Will Cher remove another rib? Will the Celtics top the NBA again?

These days the doings of celebrities and (forgive me, Celtics) national sports are no longer as relevant as the economy, however. Luckily America has myriad experts on this last issue, and we need only to look at current conditions, both in California and the country as a whole, to judge these specialists’ true qualifications– or rather, lack thereof.

No one should be surprised then that as newspapers and blogs roll out the obligatory predictions  for ’09 articles, no consensus can be found. For instance, USA Today (that rag!) predicts a ray of sunshine:

“It may come as a surprise, given all the bad news of late, but the U.S. economy is expected to emerge from the recession sometime around mid-2009.” We’ll have some bad times, yes. “However, once the massive amount of fiscal stimulus currently being crafted by lawmakers and aggressive action by the Federal Reserve kicks in, the economy is expected to improve, according to several economists and business owners.”

Meanwhile, John Cassidy of Conde Nast’s “Portfolio” writes “Most economists predict a recovery late next year. Don’t bet on it.”  He’s not the only one who predicts bad times ahead for housing, jobs, retail, and even the entire world economy. Every media outlet– from the San Francisco Chronicle to the BBC online to the cheapest weekly you find on the street corner– has predictions; some are rosier and some are darker. In short, no one knows.

Still, an interesting point that Cassidy makes deserves attention. He writes:

Among noneconomists, there is much more concern about what lies ahead. In October, a CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe another 1930s-style depression is very or somewhat likely. Dismissing feel-good suggestions that the turmoil on Wall Street won’t have much impact on the rest of the economy, 55 percent of the respondents said the financial crisis would affect them personally within the next year. A separate poll for Condé Nast Portfolio shows that people working in the finance business are even gloomier: 77 percent of them say their industry is in a state of crisis, and 50 percent say the economy is the worst it has been in their careers.

So who are we to believe: the experts who failed to predict the current crisis or the great American public?

Indeed, what do you predict, public? Time to go on record now. Clearly, we need some actual experts.

Zoltar photo via TheGreenHead (also a source of 2009 predictions!)

SF Cool Lifestyle for Sale. Condo also Included!

Condo complexes aren’t really selling condos these days. Instead, they sell a feeling, an image of the lifestyle that would too become yours if you buy in. And by “buy in” I mean in both senses, because first you’d have to buy that owning a condo at, say, the Hayes, would make you instantly urban-chic-hip; second, you’d actually have to buy the condo itself.

 

Adbusters points out that advertising hasn’t always been such a blatant appeal to pathos. The first print ads are dense with type because every possible fact has been disclosed.

The image used, if any,  is a straight forward depiction of the item for sale, very different from imagery we see today that seems to package the item with our greatest fears, insecurities, hopes, and desires. To quote from Kalle Lasn’s book “Design Anarchy,” Advertising moved from simple factual announcements into status symbolism and the stimulation of desires.”

Condo marketers really go for this style. The Hayes, for instance, employs a webpage that stimulates multiple responses. The music is ambient, the tasteful choice of post-rave kids who are now upwardly mobile adults. Images are a collage of hip style and urban culture (“techno and opera,” they promise). There’s even a film, rich in quick cuts and fast-speed camera work, that conveys the ultra coolness of the area, and by default, of those who live in these condos

Missing from the site is info on prices, among other deal breakers.

I would argue that the missing details are the most important. I know that there may be a host or “selling strategy”-related reasons for not releasing the price of homes in development, like these at  Arden Estates, but some of these condos have been for sale awhile now, and many of the units in the complexes have sold. Presumably then, a price has been agreed on and should not be treated as irrelevant info to the prospective buyer.

Similar “lifestyles” are for sale at Blu, The Infinity, and One Rincon Hill(the latter is more upscale. Notice the jazz music instead of the techno). Otherwise, aside from the music and respective addresses, the ad campaigns are synonymous.

As the likely target market of these ads, let me opine that I don’t need them. I already have a lifestyle, and I’m too experienced to know it will stay as disorganized and blighted by dog hair as it is now, no matter where I move. I already have a culture too, and I have my own definition of hip. What I need is a condo. So tell me: what are the square feet? What is the HOA? What is the asking price? Tell me quick, or I’m moving on to the next website. And please, kill the music, as the only real emotion it inspires in me is boredom. And boredom is not…”cool.”

 
 

Ad credits: CI Advertising & Old Fishing Stuff

 

The Scoop: Seven Arden Estates Have Risen from the Earth

Some time ago, I noted the construction in West Portal and asked around the Front Steps for the scoop. Those folks on the steps always know a lot, and more importantly, they like to argue. We had ideas that the construction would yield five- no, six- no, seven- no,  eight homes. They were to be made of the cheapest- no, the most luxuriant materials. They were to be a blessing to- no, a curse, on San Francisco housing.

 
One thing we all seemed to agree on was that a stand of less than ten single-family homes was not the way to maximize that open space in West Portal. A larger building  project, sized to maximize density, would have been a better call.
 
Still, the call was made; and without much of the NIMBY drama that normally plagues construction, Arden Estates are here.
 
Well, almost. The now live website’s photo gallery so far boasts one photo (seen above). Such dearth is logical since the homes aren’t done yet; however, the location is awesome for families, and the units back up onto a thick mass of trees that completely belie an urban setting. Plus,  their plans look pretty sweet (see below: Click to enlarge).

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

And to the Front Steppers who argued over units, there are to be seven stand alone homes here. Each will have three bed rooms + a bonus room, three baths, high end finishes, attics, 2-car garages, fireplaces…. and geez, more, more, and more. Frankly, I’m getting light headed. You can see the list yourself by visiting the amenities link on the website.  
 
Price is, unsurprisingly, not advertised on the website. However, rumor has it these homes will run in the $2 million range.
 
So that’s me out of the running for one of these beauties, unless you’ve all been fooling me and there really is a Santa. If so, Santa, if you’re reading, I’ve been a very good girl.

Road to Real Estate Recovery

When I was working at C__________, my boss was a big coke-head. As a result, the atmosphere was, to understate, lax. Everyone drank and ate copiously (never paying for it), sat down and/or danced randomly in the middle of the restaurant, swore, and slept with one another. All of the aforementioned took place during open-for-business hours. None of us were very surprised when an accountant appeared to “audit the situation” since the owners were confounded, and not at all pleased, that such a busy place could simply not turn a profit. The list of solutions thus generated included: uniforms, Michael Bolton CDs, crafting our famed sangria with boxed (as opposed to bottled) wine, and a NO DRINKING ON THE JOB POLICY.” Nowhere was it suggested that coke-head boss might… cut back, abstain, cease, or desist. And so ended my tenure at C_______.

The relevant thread here is that ailing businesses oft must look within to cure what ails. In the case of real estate, a national convalescent, such introspection cannot come too soon. Perhaps this is why Inman is sponsoring a “Roadmap to Recovery” program, part of which includes an essay contest, with prizes such as $500 and a free pass to the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference.

One recent essay asks how Realtors can redefine “full service.” The author, Jack Harper, has a thesis that what’s missing in real estate is transparency: a term he defines as the client having full understanding of what the agent does for his/her commission. He laments not only a lack of clear communication regarding those services, but also a lack of agreement by the industry as a whole as to what those services entail.

Commenters have opinions aplenty on this essay. Most turn out to be thinly veiled ads for the agents commenting, masturbatory “I am so good at this and that as well as that and this; and by the way, here is my contact information and website!” type stuff. But most of the ideas echo Harper’s.

As a potential client to any realtor, I would like to add that “transparency” also implies a level of honesty and freeness with information your industry is not famed for. We need to trust you again. Bringing that trust back to real estate could be one very important step on the road to recovery.

Photo credit: Active Rain.com

If Cops Can’t Make You Safer, Maybe Pizza Can

Many of us have been strolling down a pleasant street, enjoying the twilight settling over Victorian facades in our charming city– only to turn a corner and suddenly feel in need of a Tazer. San Francisco is a changeling: Even in the same zip code, we can experience radically different neighborhoods, each with unique, and occasionally terrifying, personality.

Socio-economic stratification, drug use, sex trade: agreed, these are all unfortunate components of a modern metropolis. However, I’ve noticed it seems to be getting worse, rather than better, and I do not think this is something we should so willingly accept as “a sign of the times.” Riding my bike through Sharon Meadows on Sunday is like joining the cast of Night of the Living Dead. Things aren’t much better on Stanyan either; despite being an entrance to one of the city’s most revered attractions (for tourists and residents alike), this area of the Golden Gate Park is trashed: litter everywhere, dog crap, people lying around scaring the hell out of me…

It’s not just the park, not just the Haight. It’s also the Tenderloin, and slowly, steadily, more and more of the streets around it (an area San Francisco Citizen calls “The Flank”).  It’s lots of SOMA, even though we hoped the new construction projects would change that. It’s parts of Bernal, parts of the Mission, parts of Western Addition, Glen Park, Potrero. Union Square’s pretty disgusting too, since stepping over urine soaked homeless does not make me feel too great about shopping at Macy’s.

So well known are these areas that pizza delivery services won’t visit them. Witness SF Eater’s article on Amici’s delivery map:

 

 

“You’ll note, of course, the conspicuous no-fly zone assigned to the Western Addition, but also the after-dark ban around the Tenderloin and SoMa (sorry Mint Plaza, you’re SOL post-sunset). So many questions here: When delivering from the Lombard branch to the Lower Haight, do they take Fillmore down? Must one order a pizza to the corner of Divis and Geary? And what led to the all-hours embargo of just the Western Addition?”

Well, geez. I dunno. Homicides, maybe? I just wonder what kind of “sign of the times” it really is when a pizza restaurant has to make its own kind of safety, a protection the city seems unable to offer.

 

http://sfcitizen.com/blog/2008/11/08/san-franciscos-pizza-delivery-redlining-its-nice-and-legal/

Map: http://www.amicis.com/

Vultures, Commence Your Circling

 

Well, all, few and far between are homes we can look at and positively say: That’d be a good investment. Yet here is one, that frankly, given the size and location, has to be just that. The downside– yes, sorry, these days there simply has to be one- is that this could be a lonnnnng term investment indeed. It could also bring out the evil in a person that he or she didn’t even know existed; but the latter, I suspect, is often the result of becoming a landlord in this city.

Welcome to 1847 Stockton, 2/1 TIC on Telegraph Hill, listed at just $250K. At issue is the tenant currently occupying the property. This tenant is “protected,” and “is not moving.” Now, if we know our tenant/landlord laws in SF as well as we should, we know protected tenants are either:

  • Ill, too ill to move, or that moving may make them worse
  • Disabled: Again, the burden and expense of moving has been deemed unacceptable to these persons
  • Elderly: Same logic as above, given the large number of very fixed incomes allotted to those no longer working
  • Long term resident: 10 years or more in the residency= you cannot get rid of this person legally.

Andy Sirkin, oft credited as the pre-eminent font of knowledge on all things eviction and TIC related (which incidentally, this property is both) puts it this way:

Protected Tenants: Certain tenants are “protected” and cannot be evicted for owner-occupancy except in very limited circumstances. Protected tenants are those 60 or over or disabled who have occupied for 10 years, and those catastrophically ill who have occupied for 5 years. Also remember that no tenant with an unexpired lease can be evicted, and that tenants who occupy a unit during conversion to a condominium are entitled to remain for one year after conversion, or for life if they are over 62 or disabled.

We have no way of telling from this listing alone what group this tenant belongs too, but it could easily be any of the above, including the long term residency, since the current rent being collected on a 2 unit in North Beach several years beyond what this tenant pays: $795 a month. (Um, no wonder the tenant is “not moving!”)

So how then is this a good investment? Well, I already said: It’s a 2 bedroom TIC in a highly desirable area, also in a building that looks well cared for. We don’t know how the unit itself looks (no pics: bad sign), but we can find out by attending the open house on 11/22 or 12/6 from 9am to 10am. In fact, if anyone goes, email some details to The Frontsteps as I’d love to do a follow-up. And hey: if we find the tenant to be ill or elderly, maybe we can project that lifespan he or she has left and plan our investment accordingly. Or, perhaps if you know a good hit man? Ha, ha. Calm down, people! Of course, I’m kidding; but you can see how the tenancy laws might bring out the worst in landlords, or landlords to be.

In any case, this property does offer some potential if you can wait it out. The rent collected now won’t cover the mortgage, so it’s a good bet for someone who can pay cash for the whole shebang. And, kismet: The listing says “all cash sale.” That means then in 333 months (27 years) or so, you’d have your principal investment back and could commence profiting. Or, you get lucky, and the tenant would …disappear first.

Obama Wants to Jump in on the Real Estate Crisis. Which Way should He Jump?

barackme

You might have already read Alex Clark’s article on the Bush plan to help homeowners, named optimistically “Hope for Homeowners.” Commenters on that post were less optimistic. Seems a lot of lenders won’t touch the program, though that might be because the program itself is new and everyone is so gun-shy right now.

That leaves President-elect Obama (Hi, Obama, if you’re reading!) in a tough place. He wants to act immediately on this issue, but has multiple, and conflicting voices to listen to as he plans a methodology. I feel for the guy. We want someone to bail us out of a clusterf*** that is 8 years in the making, and we want him to do it yesterday.

Sunday’s Chron outlines the issues Obama will draw from in taking action:

“Unlike his opponent, Sen. John McCain, he did not urge the government to buy up bad home loans and reduce them to the homes’ new values, putting taxpayers on the hook for the difference. But some of Obama’s proposed $10 billion fund would help homeowners who are facing foreclosure ‘through no fault of their own’ by letting them refinance mortgages through the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

What Obama accomplishes depends, in part, on what the Bush administration does about housing in its waning days.”

Well, that admin is credited with the Hope for Homeowners program, to which $300 billion dollars was allocated. Other moves under consideration:

  1. a proposal by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. similar to what it is doing to modify IndyMac mortgages. The FDIC plan would use $50 billion from the $700 billion bailout bill to modify mortgages.
  2. a mortgage-industry proposal to split losses on modified mortgages with the government. Treasury has not confirmed these reports.
  3. In recent weeks, some large lenders including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have announced their own mortgage-modification plans.
  4. Rick Harper, director of housing at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco, says it’s becoming much easier for borrowers to get a mortgage modification.

In his address to the nation last Friday, Obama said: “It’s ‘absolutely critical that the Treasury work closely with the FDIC, HUD and other government agencies to use the substantial authority they already have to help families avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.”

To do that though is not going to be an easy task. That’s why I want to ask the experts out there what Obama, in case he’s reading (and if you are, Obama: Hi!) what he should do first. And then second. And third.

Some conflicting advice and ideas he’s already getting:

  • Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, says the most expedient thing Obama could do would be changing the law so Bankruptcy Court judges can modify mortgages on primary residences. These judges already can change the terms of other debts, including commercial loans and loans on second homes. On the opposite side of that argument: “Allowing judges to reduce mortgage balances on primary residences ‘will destabilize the market exactly at a time when we should provide stability,’ says Steve O’Connor, senior vice president with the Mortgage Bankers Association. “
  •  a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures (but what would come after that?)
  •  a $10 billion foreclosure-prevention fund
  •  a mortgage tax credit of up to $800 a year for homeowners who don’t itemize  their deductions, but some experts say “the tax credit would do little to stimulate housing because it would mainly benefit people who have owned homes for many years”

It’s all enough to make a President run off to Camp David–only we need this President on the job. How can he maybe do it well?

—-

Photo: Javno.com

Reduction Redux, in which I pick up the Gauntlet

When I posted Reduction Ad Nauseum,  I really just wanted a read on how the educated real estate populace explains and/or reacts to listings that have suffered not one, not two, but three or more price cuts. Still, one commenter Noe Guy said:

“Interesting observations but I wouldn’t put too much stock in them. First, you      picked all TICs. TICs were always more of a speculative area of the market–get financing as a group, hold everything together via legal contract, hope for condo lottery, refinance. Everything about it is more speculative, hence the standard discount of TICs to condos… In this market, that discount should be steeper due to higher risk.

In addition to the more speculative aspect of the TIC market, I’ve always believed that it’s very difficult to accurately price a TIC. It’s not just the property that’s for sale. It’s the property, the actual contract, and the partnership with other owners. Those other two intangibles (from an economic standpoint) make the market less transparent, less liquid, and more difficult to price.

The evidence you’ve sited above clearly makes this case, but keep it in context and look outside of TICs if you want a clearer picture…”
 
Well, geez, what observations? I just observed 3 properties with 3 or more cuts, and opined that buyers (like me, someday, Obama willing) tend to look at reduced properties as Tijuana specials, as in: $500K now? No, no, I don’t think so. Here’s $300K and a pity hug. My final offer.
 
But okay, Noe Guy. See, I love a challenge (else why would I be so sure I can buy a house on an English teacher’s salary, eh?). So here you go, 3 more properties, decidedly not TICs, that have come down more thrice or more in their careers on the market.

Continue reading

Reduction, Ad Nauseum

I’m not a Realtor, so I’ll tell something I’m more qualified to comment on: buyers’ perspectives. For instance, I can tell you how buyers looks at a property that’s been reduced more than twice. We feel sorry for them. They’re like awkward teenage boys at their first dance, pretending to be terribly busy with their shoe laces to avoid eye contact. We all know these boys can’t really be too picky; they have to take what they can get.

This analogy might not totally work for reduced priced properties. I’m just saying that as a buyer, we tend to feel a lot more powerful when we notice a home’s asking has come down not once, but twice– a feeling that multiplies with each subsequent reduction. That’s why, as a seller, I’d really hope my agent were savvy enough to price my home right. Of course, we can’t, unless we are Dione Warwick, know what the future holds, and some of the current meltdown has caught us by surprise. Still, the writing’s been on the wall awhile. Most literate people, I’d think, would have read it.

Case in point the next three properties, whose reduction history goes from bad to worse.

1. Studio TIC at 1059 Leavenworth St #5 San Francisco, CA 94109. Current price: $325,000. In over 120 days on the market, the list price has come down thrice:

Jul 02, 2008 $399,000
Jul 03, 2008 $329,000
Sep 09, 2008 $325,000 

2. 532 Clipper St #B San Francisco, CA 94114, currently at $539,000 is a 2 bed/1 bath TIC flat. In over 170 days on the market, it’s suffered 5 reductions, each one not very big, but the conglomeration of so many price cuts is pretty damning:

May 14, 2008 $679,000
Jun 11, 2008 $659,000
Aug 13, 2008 $639,000
Aug 28, 2008 $599,000
Sep 25, 2008 $570,000
Oct 28, 2008 $539,000

3. 3630 22nd St., San Francisco, CA.  A 2bed/1bath detached cottage TIC, this one I’ve saved for “worst” because though it has not been cut as often as the above property, the overall slash down is quite dramatic. In over 100 days on the market:

Jul 18, 2008 $749,000
Sep 05, 2008 $649,000
Oct 06, 2008 $589,000
Oct 29, 2008 $499,000

In this last case, the current price seems a lot more fair. I went to the open house yesterday and the listing agent informed me the place needed about $250K in repair and pest control. I have to wonder who would have ever, ever, ever paid the original list price.

I also wonder what other SF real estate agents or buyers or sellers think of these reductions overall, so I’m serving this blog up on the Front Steps for commentary. Take it easy on those awkward teen age boys though. Everyone, and everything, is fragile right now.

In the Spirit of Halloween and Election Season, Scary Technology that “Outs” Your Neighbors

Prop 8 is not one that encourages sedate emotion. People are either vehemently for it, or they are just as vehemently against it. The debate between the two camps, heated as it is, often erupts into full out fighting, which we all know from our rhetoric classes is actually the opposite effect civilized, fair debate is supposed to have. The fights themselves can even get violent, as seen in this article about a Bakersfield man who attacked, punched, and kicked a No on 8 proponent (article and disturbing video here). 
 
That’s why I wonder whether the Chronicle’s new technology that allows you to see who in your area has contributed to “yes” or “no” on 8 is a good idea. Here you can type in a city, a zip, or even a name to see who has contributed to which side, as well as the dollar amount contributed. I do see the logic of printing the names of corporations who donate to or against the proposition, as you can retaliate by ceasing to spend your money with those companies whose views differ from your own. But how do you retaliate against an individual person? Punching and kicking? And though candid information about campaign contributions helps us understand the actions of our elected leaders, in this case the revealed data seem akin to publicizing people’s ballots after they’ve voted, when by law our votes are supposed to be secret. 
 
Essentially: I’m happy enough to say I’m voting no on 8; but I’d like the freedom to keep that to myself if some frothing-at-the-mouth Bakersfield psycho is waving a blood spattered YES ON 8 sign in front of my face.