Category Archives: General Info

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San Francisco “Soft Story” Retrofit Advisory – Some Details

I get a few questions from time to time about Earthquake retrofitting, liquefaction zones, when is the next quake going to be, and so on and so forth. The answer to all of those questions is the same, “I don’t have the answers, but there are other people who can help, and I’m happy to connect you.” In fact, I did a post a while back and it’s still the most visited post on this site, ever (actually, Sexiest Realtor Contest still holds that title), so if you’re on the hunt for more earthquake info, have a look: San Francisco Neighborhoods prone to Liquefaction and Earthquake Induced Landslides

San Francisco has introduced new law called the Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Ordinance or Mandatory Wood Frame Retrofit Program, directly affecting wood-frame structures, containing five or more residential units, having two or more stories over a “soft” or “weak” story, and permitted for construction prior to January 1, 1978. In case you missed that:

  • Wood frame construction (Type V), and
  • Application of permit for original construction was prior to January 1, 1978, and
  • Five or more residential units, and
  • Two or more stories over a basement or underfloor area that has any portion extending above grade, and
  • A soft story condition that has not been seismically strengthened to the standards set forth in the ordinance.
  • So where can you get a list and find out if you, or the building you’re looking to buy is on it? According to the City and County of San Francisco website

    There is currently NO, and has never been an official list of “unsafe” properties. Until a licensed design professional has done a building assessment, there is no such information on any specific building.

    However, there is a list, the “City believes, to the best of our knowledge, to be within the scope of the Mandatory Seismic Retrofit Ordinance.”, and that list can be found here www.sfdbi.org/softstory, or more specifically on this updated spreadsheet of addresses located here: Soft Story Noticing Pool
    and there is this map to help you ballpark your building:
    softstorymapimage
    Okay, so how does this apply to you, the buyer or seller of San Francisco real estate?

    Simply put, when you purchase a property that might fit this bill, or have a property you plan to sell (disclose, disclose, disclose) expect to receive the following notice as part of the San Francisco Association of Realtors cover your ass program, and keep in mind, there may be some serious expenses headed your way if your building falls under the above mentioned criteria:
    Continue reading

    Ask Us: Death “On” Property Or Not? Should You Disclose?

    This just came to me by way of email.

    Hypothetical question.

    Assume a house burned down and a firefighter died a few days later from his injuries.
    Same for a contractor falling from the roof or any other work related accident on the property.
    What are the consequences regarding the disclosures of a subsequent sale?

    Please do not discuss the specifics of a recent event/specific house, I’m only interested in the “what if that happens to my own house” – such as
    does this qualify for a death in said property?
    As a Realtor, would you advise to check or not the box?
    How would you disclose this information?

    What are the others aspects that you’d like you warn home owners (such as hiring only fully insured roof workers)?

    Thanks

    My advice: Disclose, Disclose, Disclose. If I know about anything pertaining to a property, I’m going to disclose that. The last thing anybody needs is someone to move into a home, decide to Google their address and find all kinds of information they never knew existed on the property.

    I think this opens up the forum to a larger debate as to whether a death that came later from an accident on the property could be classified as a death “on” the property. I leave that to attorneys, but would certainly disclose any and all pertinent information. You see the pattern here? Disclose, disclose, disclose!

    -If There Is S&M And Leather Sex One Unit Below, You Might Want To Let Buyers Know [theFrontSteps]

    What Makes A Room A Bedroom?

    What is it exactly that makes that room a bedroom? The question has come across my email enough, and actually I think I even posted on it at some point. Well, it’s resurfaced and maybe time to hash it out, as the opinions on what makes a room a bedroom are anything but concrete.

    The initial question:

    A few months ago an email was circulated as to what defines a bedroom. There were several responses, but if I remember correctly a bedroom does not have to have a closet to be a bedroom…

    And the varying replies from various real estate agents:

    -My understanding is it technically must have a window – ideally with a means of egress
    -My understanding is two methods of egress. A door, and another door or a window or some way to get out in the case of an emergency. No closet necessary.
    -Operable window, that a person can fit through AND the minimum size is 70 square feet, where the minimum for one of the dimensions is 7 feet.
    -I believe that HUD requires a closet in order to count it as a bedroom for financing purposes. A lender could probably clarify that.
    -I’d suggest using the International Uniform Building code that refers to a specific size of window based on square footage of BR. It needs to have a door and a window and the window has to be the right proportion. Read More.
    -The Building Code requires an operable egress window with minimum size requirements as [the other agent] indicated. In addition the window needs to be sized for light and air requirements. If I remember correctly it is 10% of the floor area. A closet is not a requirement to satisfy the building code, but it may be a HUD requirement for financing, as [another agent] mentioned.

    Perhaps the most accurate answer?

    1. The first bedroom must be at least 120 square feet.
    2. If your first bedroom is at least 120 square feet, you get to call your second bedroom a bedroom if it’s at least 70 square feet with 7’ on a side.
    3. Required natural light and air: 8% of floor area of natural light, and 4% of floor area of air (operable window). A traditional double-hung window can cover both bases, because when it is open, it provides half the air as natural light.
    4. Minimum clear headroom of 7’-6”
    5. You need two means of egress. One may be a window. If the second is the window, fire department requires minimum area for personnel access of width 20”, minimum height 24” with net clear opening minimum of 5.7 square feet.
    6. A closet is required.

    And the first comment from that thread:

    What you’ve written here is not entirely correct – I believe you may be conflating Realtor’s rules-of-thumb with actual Code requirements.

    1) Sort of. Any habitable room (Living Rm, Dining Rm, etc) can be larger than 120 SF (2007 CBC SEC 1208.3)
    2) Correct. Minimum Habitable room size (includes bedrooms) is 70 SF, 7′ minimum width (2007 CBC SEC 1208.3 & 1208.1)
    3) These are correct window areas for required natural light (8% floor area) and ventilation (4% floor area), but neither is required if sufficient artificial light and mechanical ventilation are supplied (2007 CBC 1203.4.1 & 1205.3).
    4) Correct – Minimum ceiling height for Habitable rooms is 7′-6″, however it is 7′-0″ for bathrooms, storage, kitchen, laundry (2007 CBC 1208.2).
    5) Sort of. Only one exit (Means of Egress) is required, the other is an Emergency Escape & Rescue requirement. This is not a Fire Department requirement, it is a California Building Code requirement (SEC 1026.1)
    6) Wrong. No closet is required by any State or Local code (Building, Housing, Health or otherwise).

    So there you have it…the jury is clearly still out on this one. My advice, get used to living in closets if you’re living in San Francisco.

    Ask Us: To Remodel The Bathroom, Or Not

    Where readers ask, and we (the community) try to answer:

    Hi Alex,

    A friend turned me on to your sfnewsletter, which is first rate, as is theFrontSteps. I eagerly await the upcoming pocketlistings.net.

    I could use your help. There could possibly be a listing in it for you. My dilemma is whether to put my one-bedroom SF condo up for sale as is, or remodel the bathroom first, since it is rather outdated.

    The question is: in these uncertain times, would I have a better chance of selling at a lower price without changing the bath, or would I have a better chance of selling with the remodeled bath while also recouping some of the money spent on the upgrade?

    In your recent experience, are buyers in SF more likely to want a place that’s move-in ready, or are they willing to put in some work for a bargain?

    Of course, I realize you may not be able to answer this question without seeing the condo, in which case I would be happy to show it to you at your earliest convenience. At the same time, it would be helpful to get an appraisal.

    I would appreciate any information that you can provide.

    Thank you,
    [reader]

    First of all, thanks for contacting me. In my experience for 1br condo buyers, they are looking to move right in. That said, “dated” is a very relative term. What you think is dated might be perfectly fine for someone else. How is the kitchen? That’s the biggie! Continue reading

    We Never Said Playing The (Condo) Lottery Would Produce A Win

    2010 Condo Lottery: Previous participation may not yield additional tickets

    Dear Plan C Member,

    Ticket sales for the 2010 Condo Conversion Lottery have been announced by the city and will begin on Monday, November 23rd (additional information can be found here).

    As you may be aware, it has been the practice of the City to issue additional tickets to buildings that can substantiate unsuccessful past participation. Specifically, the rules and instructions issued by the City’s Department of Public Works (“DPW”) for the 2009 lottery (ORDER NUMBER 177,881) stated, “Multiple tickets for any building will be sold based on the current 2009 lottery and proof provided for each year of past unsuccessful participation; that is one (1) ticket for the 2009 lottery, one (1) ticket for unsuccessful participation for any and all of the lotteries during the 1990-1994 period, and one (1) ticket for each year of unsuccessful participation in the 1995-2008 period.”

    Recently we learned that the City may be denying additional lottery tickets to buildings that qualify with the minimum qualifications (summarized generally as: one owner-occupied unit for each of the last three years in 2-4 unit buildings, and three owner-occupied units for each of the last three years in 5-6 unit buildings). Historically, lottery priority and the issuance of additional tickets have required that one of the qualifying owner-occupants has been an owner (but not necessarily an occupant) during each of the previous lottery losses. The change for the last couple of years and for 2010 is that DPW appears to have a new interpretation of written law. To establish priority credit (additional tickets), DPW is requiring that each of the qualifying owner-occupants be the same original owner occupants that were unsuccessful in past lotteries.

    Simply put, your building might qualify for the 2010 lottery and receive one ticket, but unlike in years past, may not be entitled to additional tickets based upon unsuccessful previous lottery participation.

    We are reaching out the membership of Plan C to see if there are other TIC groups where this situation is likely to have an impact. If you’re facing the same issue, or would face this issue if one of your fellow TIC co-owners were to sell their interest, let us know and we will put you in contact with other similarly situated people. Send us an e-mail at, info@plancsf.org.

    Collective action by affected TIC groups (including possible litigation) is more likely to succeed than individual efforts.”

    -DPW Condo Lottery Information Page

    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

    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

    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

    Coming Soon! And, Coming Later!

    Realtor Kevin Gueco writes a very sunny review for the coming soon Mosiaica 601 condo project (pictured above) in his SFNewDevelopments blog. There’s definitely some room for pleasant surprise in the announced price  (pleasant to me, anyway, since I selfishly find all condos I cannot afford to be unpleasant):

    “Mosaica 601 announced last week that it plans to start pricing of its 3 bedroom / 2 bath condos in the low $600s!  This is an incredible value considering each home is around 1400 square feet.”

    Of course, putting aside Gueco’s near-by  restaurant list, the area (where Mission meets Potrero) is a little rough, but the price still seems all right to me. Perhaps the developers see the price cuts so many other condo developers have had to make recently, and are starting lower to begin with?  

    Also coming soon (but not as soon) are a more mysterious set of housing units. Just off West Portal and 16th Ave., in front of Arden Wood, you can see the pushed-up dirt, huge bulldozers, and thin wood skeletons that signal housing to come, and their sectioning looks multi-unit. Thus I suspect these are the long awaited condos that were subject of news and speculation in 2006. In fact, that’s still the only information I can find on this construction: 2 years old, via SFHomeBlog and J.K. Dineen. Someone has to have a more updated scoop here. Anyone?
     
    Meanwhile, still a pipe-dream (ha ha! Really, Haight Street, how many pipe stores can one street support?), but with the supervisorial green light is the Whole Foods/condo complex, slated to replace long-dead Cala Foods at the corner of Stanyan and Haight. The Chronicle outlines the plan here:

     “The large, four-story project, which also includes some 60 high-end, market-rate housing units, was expected to be controversial, but the commission voted 6-0 to approve the conditional use permit – a result supporters think had a lot to do with their organized turnout.”

    Right, agreed: Haight could use a face-lift and perhaps a gentle reminder that THE 60’S ARE OVER. Also, I like Whole Foods, but I’m saving for one of those condos, so I’ll stick to Trader Joe’s (with a new one also coming soon!). I’m curious what “market rate” will be when those units go up, since so many new developments are struggling to sell out units already. The Frontstep’s own banker/blogger, aptly known as “The Banker,” says: “We are overbuilt. . .and it is next to near impossible to get financing!”

    What do you say?

    —-

    Construction photo via SFNewDevelopments

    A Worse Punishment for Sisyphus: Policing Noise in a Metropolis

    Hello out there, theFrontStep Readers! You may (or just as likely, may not) know my name from my blogs for Redfin. I’ve kindly been invited to write also for theFrontSteps, so here I am, on the steps, with my first blog.

    So here’s the setting: last night, 2:00am, sultry night, people walking up from the bars, falling down, giggling. That noise doesn’t bother me much. I’d have to be a hypocrite if I tried to pretend I’ve never, after closing time, made too much noise under someone’s window as I staggered home. But another noise does bother me: some a-hole flooring his car and slamming on the breaks as he reaches the stop sign in front of my house. Then, from fully stationary, he floods the car again, tyring to go from zero to sixty instantaneously. Then he screeches off, circles the block, and comes back to do it again.

    But we all live in a city. We can’t really expect quiet, can we? We can hope for it, and maybe in some areas, get it most of the time. But in the end, we’re sharing with a lot of people, some of them loud and possibly crazy. That’s why this new law aiming to curb SF noise interests me. Continue reading