Category Archives: Inspection/Disclosure

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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

    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

    Is the Infinity Condo SF Built on Bedrock?

    We get all kinds of good search words driving traffic to theFrontSteps, but “MonsterTruck” still leads the pack for consistency. Recently we had quite a few people find the site searching “Bedrock SF” and more specifically “Is the Infinity condo sf built on bedrock”? For exact details, we’d suggest you contact the folks at the Infinity directly, but should you care to browse some of the bedrock maps we alluded to previously, by all means, don’t let us stop you.

    bedrockinfinityj

    From what we can tell, the Infinity is located on the block where Folsom and Spear intersect (highlighted in green circle) and there is a chance it is built on a little bit of both (landfill and bedrock). We would still suggest you consult the experts.

    [Update: From "Henry" who makes an excellent point, "It doesn’t matter. Any building that size will have piers all the way down to bedrock, even if the material above it is landfill."]

    -Ask Us: A Map of Bedrock vs. Landfill (SF) [theFrontSteps]

    -USGS Seismic Site

    Department of Building Inspection increases fees for 3R (Report of Residential Building Record) to $160

    If you think we come up with this legal mumbo jumbo reporting on our time, you’re nuts. This taken from the SFAR Advantage Online:

    The Department of Building Inspection is increasing the fee for 3R reports from $50 to $160. The increase is part of a comprehensive adjustment of permit and inspection fees designed to better reflect the actual cost of providing services.

    The $50 3R report fee had been in effect since October, 1992, giving the DBI the opportunity to argue that it needed to increase the fee because it had not received Bay Area cost-of-living increases for 16 years.

    Before adjusting its fee schedule, the department retained the services of Matrix Consulting Group (MCG), a private sector organization with expertise and extensive experience in analyzing building departments’ fee structures. Overall, MCG’s analysis of DBI’s fee structure revealed that the department under-recovers its cost by roughly 29 percent, measured in 2007-08 budgeted dollars. As a result, MCG proposed the following:

    * Increases in permit fees by an average of 38 percent;

    * Increases in fees for general building permit costs, including plan review and building inspections, by around 20 percent;

    * Increases in plumbing permit and inspection fees by an average of 89 percent; and

    * Increases in electrical permit and inspection fees by an average of 111 percent.

    It’s a good read that Advantage Online, but we’ve no idea how to get the general public reading it directly, and it seems just about every blogging Realtor in the city is spitting the information out, so there must be a solution. In the meantime, we’ll keep pumping as much good stuff to you as possible.

    You wanna re-think that staging!?!

    by Rik Goodell

    I have little talent for design. Actually I’m still fond of the cable-spool, coffee table I had in college. So it goes without saying that I believe staging, done right, unquestionably helps present a property in its best light. It makes small spaces look more useful and large spaces look more functional; even if it simultaneously makes me whisper, “Does anyone actually live like this?”. But, done carelessly or misleadingly (I guess that’s a word since spell-check didn’t bounce it) what’s with staging closets and storerooms to look like a quaint second or third bedroom? When the greed factor pushes to that level of cunning, it can create problems that I suspect non-inspectors aren’t aware of.

    Last week I inspected a lower unit in a two-unit, TIC building. At the back of this small apartment, there was a room with a 6’ 8” ceiling, no compliant means of emergency egress, no installed heating system, a gas-fired water heater (not approved for bedroom installation) no smoke alarm and only one small window (less than required to meet standard natural lighting and ventilation requirements). We’re talking a store-room! But it had cutesy curtains, beautiful new hardwood flooring, draperies across the water heater closet and a BED with a very pretty coverlet! Finding fanciful, deceptive staging is not a unique experience for me. Continue reading

    The first step to remodeling

    by Rik Goodell:

    Before calling contractors for a remodel project or an addition, do your homework so you’re ready when they get there. Talk it over with your partner (husband, wife, lover, live-in, significant other…these things were easier to write when I still thought “PC” meant personal computer). Make a list of what each of you wants the outcome of the project to be and look like (“look-like” is important!). Make a list of the “must haves” and another of the “would_be_nice_if_we_can_afford_it” items. Make copies of these lists so you can give them to the various contractors when they arrive to discuss your project (Yes, you will be calling several contractors). The better you do your job of documenting your wants and your vision, the better the contractor will be able to understand your dream. Also, with this list, all bidding contractors will be working off the same set of ideas so, when you get their proposals back, you will be getting bids on apples, instead of apples, oranges and eggplant.

    For projects exceeding a thousand dollars, get at least three bids. I know it’s a lot of work, but it is not nearly as much trouble as the potential problems you can avoid by doing so. This will ensure you can see that at least two of the bids fall within a close price range. Be very wary of a bid that is significantly less than the other two (more than 20%).

    Lastly, get everything in writing. This means written detailed plans, specifications, start date, completion date, cost, change order rules, who will haul away debris, who will clean up the site, who is paying for what, what is included, how are payments to be made and when, who is the insurance carrier for the contractor??!! Get it all in writing. Discuss, depending on the size of the project, how often the two of you should meet to talk about progress and workmanship. It will protect the both of you and help you to remain friends… and help you get the desired outcome.

    Next: How to select the right contractor.

    149 Mangels, the $524,000 “dump” that slid away…no fault of the property.

    The money Realtor quote, “We just sold this dump for $125,000 over asking price! Imagine what your property is worth!” That dump was “built in 1909 and completed in 1910 for $750″, came on the market for $400,000 (memory tells me it was actually $399k), and sold for $524,500.

    149mangels

    In case you missed the article regarding 149 Mangels (that dump), the do-it-yourself foundation replacement that recently went a little…downhill, we thought we’d take this opportunity to again remind you of the importance of hiring qualified professionals to do your foundation work, but only you can make sure all the disclosures are read in detail.