Category Archives: Inspection/Disclosure

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 San Francisco “Soft Story” Retrofit Advisory – Some Details

    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.

    Fifty Percent Of Bay Area Water Heaters Not Properly Braced!

    In a recent report sent to me via way of email I’ve learned that more than HALF of the Bay Area is living with improperly strapped/braced water heaters!

    A recent survey of water heater seismic bracing conducted by members of the Golden Gate Chapter of the American Society of Home Inspectors throughout the Bay Area found that more than half of the water heaters observed during the survey period were not adequately braced.

    That’s just insane! If we get a big quake and your water heater falls over, ruptures some pipes, busts a gas line, and ignites from the pilot light, you’re going to wish you paid a few bucks and had the thing properly strapped/braced.

    If you’re going to sell your home, it has to be done, but if you’re living life on the edge, you might want to take that aversion to risk and put some money on the closest roulette table instead. Keep in mind it’s likely not just your ass you’ll have to cover in the event of a catastrophe…think about all of your neighbors that will very quickly point their fingers at you if it is determined your water heater was the cause of a major fire or other disaster.

    Not sure what to do? Check out these guidelines for properly bracing your water heater (pdf)

    -Water Heater Report (PDF)
    -Water Heater Bracing Guidelines (PDF)

    The City Is On A Witch Hunt And They’re Looking At Your Un-Permitted Repairs/Alterations

    This comes by way of email. (Of course, with permission from the author of said email.) So you can be guaranteed this is from one pro to another.

    Hello Everyone,

    First off, have any of you had any experiences or stories you can share that are on par with this one I am about to lay on you?

    I closed on a property two weeks ago [removed] where I represented a buyer. They haven’t even moved in and were having some general work done, like paint, the floors, and some electrical work. The Seller stated in the supplement to the TDS that all work on the property had the necessary permits through the course of [their] 40+ years of ownership. The 3R [Report of Residential Building Record] indicated the kitchen was remodeled in 1980 and issued a ‘C’ completed.

    Prior to moving in, my client was getting all the electrical outlets grounded and some lights added in the closets, and outlets added in the garage. Per my suggestion, they were doing all the work with permits. The city inspector came into the property and signed off on all the new work but also red-tagged everything not done with permits. This included 15-20 year old recessed lights wired to nob and tube, and the electrical service, which was also done 20+ years ago. My electrician, who happens to be very good and extremely honest, sat there flabbergasted as the inspector went about her business. He told the inspector that she was punishing the new owners for something they didn’t do. Of course, he’s right!

    [The electrician] also told me that this recently happened to him on a job in Noe Valley. On that job, they made the seller legalize a kitchen and tear out the sheet rock and a granite back splash to inspect the wiring, which turned out to be fine and to code, however the granite back-splash no longer was. This is a relatively new development in both instances and a clear sign that the city is broke and looking for any way to generate revenue. Coupled with the sidewalk crack-fix stories I have heard lately, and never before has it become so clear that the city is on a witch hunt.

    So what’s the rest of your experience with this matter? There are so few homes out there that can claim they are without fault in some way with their permit history. How do you advise a client that is either going to market a property where work was done without permits, or a buyer is looking to buy one where a significant amount of the property has been ‘updated’ without permits. This is truly a difficult matter and one that should be explored by all of Realtors in the real estate community in San Francisco as we try to best advise our clients. As time goes on, and as San Francisco tries to dig themselves out of a hole on the back of its citizens, illegally constructed additions may truly start to have an impact in ways that we are not used to seeing here in San Francisco.

    Your thoughts please.

    Thanks!

    If we still had the 10,000 daily readers we did prior to putting this site to sleep, we’d bet we’d get some good responses. But since we’ve slowed down considerably on posting, let’s see which one of you can fan the flame of some good ol’ fashioned discussions. Anyone?

    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