What makes a San Francisco house a San Francisco house?

[Editor's Note: We have a new contributing architect, Sven, and this is his first post ever. Please take a moment to read his post, and welcome Sven Lavine.]

I decided to do a little brainstorming on the factors affecting San Francisco house design. I want to steer clear of discussions of the city’s historical & stylistic influences – that’s a whole different discussion. There are universal forces which have always applied, regardless of the style of the time (or the whim of the builder) which make our houses look similar.

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1. Lot size:
Most San Francisco lots are 25 feet wide by around 100 feet deep. That’s long and skinny by most standards. This results in a long linear arrangement of rooms, often loaded on a long corridor. This can result in some weird spaces and long halls, but this sort of thing is quintessential San Francisco. And it can also fuel some really creative solutions.

2. Setbacks
In SF, builders have been allowed to build houses right up to the lot lines, with no side or front yard (they do require a back yard though). The exterior identity of the house usually comes entirely from the front facade, which is usually sandwiched tightly between it’s neighbors. This is where the whole false front thing came from. And it also creates an opportunity to get creative with the facade to keep things interesting.

3. Bay windows
Bay windows have always been allowed to extend past property lines and hang out over sidewalks. There is a very specific size and shape prescribed in the code. Designers have always jumped at this opportunity to capture more floor area and views. This is why many San Francisco streetscapes are lined with a familiar rhythm of regularly shaped bays.

4. Cornices
Like bay windows, small roof overhangs have also been allowed. Designers have used this to their advantage over the years by adding interesting features to flat fronted San Francisco houses.

5. Environment
I wanted to come up with some way that the environment has shaped the vernacular, like you might see in the desert, or the mountains. but it occurred to me that unlike residents in those extreme climates, we have such a moderate climate, that we can build in whatever style we damn well please, and we have. Certain styles predominate, but if you really look, you can find (or build) just about anything here. But chances are it will still look like a San Francisco house.

-This post contributed by Sven Lavine, San Francisco architect.

Frank Lloyd Wright Usonian Home In Forest Hill (One San Marcos)

We were fans at Usonian, but if you must…the whip cream on top:

onesanmarcosside1

Polished concrete floors; radiant heating; chef’s kitchen; custom walnut cabinetry; multiroom sound system; remodeled bath with handcrafted Heath tile; Sub-Zero refrigerator with glass front; Viking convection oven; Miele range; 2,344 sqare feet all on one level; two car side-by-side garage.

onesanmarcoslr1

Some history on Usonian, and what you need to know from Wikipedia:

‘Usonian’ is a term usually referring to a group of approximately fifty middle-income family homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright beginning in 1936 with the Jacobs House.[2] The “Usonian Homes” were typically small, single-story dwellings without a garage or much storage, L-shaped to fit around a garden terrace on odd (and cheap) lots, and environmentally conscious with native materials, flat roofs and large cantilevered overhangs for passive solar heating and natural cooling, natural lighting with clerestory windows, and radiant-floor heating. A strong visual connection between the interior and exterior spaces is an important characteristic of all Usonian homes. The word carport was coined by Wright to describe an overhang for a vehicle to park under. Variants of the Jacobs House design are still in existence today and do not look overly dated. The Usonian design is considered among the aesthetic origins of the popular “ranch” tract home popular in the American west of the 1950s

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Let’s not forget the price and link to more Usonian property picture porn: One San Marcos, $1,590,000.

We look forward to your first fireside chat (we promise to wear our best mid-century ski sweater, and mix some tasty margaritas!)

-OneSanMarcos.com [property website]

Claude Oakland Designed Mid Century Eichler In Marin

Oh if we had time to publish these things when they’re hot off the presses. Oh well, we’re still fans of all things architecture, especially when Eichler is involved, so we’ll throw them up for your delight. Coming soon to the Lucas Valley (Marin) real estate market (and what we’d almost consider an epicenter of Eichlers), 26 Oak Mountain Court.

26oakmountainmarinpatio1

It’s a rare gallery model Eichler designed by architect Claude Oakland, which has been extensively remodeled and expanded to reach 2,400 sq ft, 4 bedrooms, and 3 full baths. This home was featured on the American Institute of Architects home tour and is truly spectacular inside and out (and the cycling down the road is nothing short of world class).

26oakmountainmarinlr1

26oakmountainmarin1

The home will be priced at $1,550,000, is not yet on the MLS, and of course, we can always get you in early.

-26 Oak Mountain Court [Renee Adelmann]

Millennium Tower, San Francisco: A walkthrough, a few photos, a little scoop, and my opinion

For those of you that read this San Francisco real estate blog on a regular basis, you’ll know I’ve been watching the progress of many of the new developments around town. One of my favorites happens to be Millennium Tower (301 Mission). Not because I’ve sold many units there, but because it truly stands out (and above) from the others.

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(Yes, that is the Infinity you see way down there, and this shot is only from the 26th floor.)

Don’t get me wrong, I love the other new developments (towers) as well, and I’d love to show any of you around all of the buildings, because they all have their attractions, but Millennium Tower just seems to have that vibe. That…je ne sais quoi…It seems like it will have the same high end/high net worth residents (at least one penthouse in contract at +$10 million and….damn I want to tell you more, but promised not to) as those in the St. Regis, but twice as many amenities at half the dues…not to mention a Michael Minna restaurant. The Infinity feels much more Hard Rock Hotel meets San Francisco (not a bad thing at all), and One Rincon Hill with the dazzling views, just doesn’t have the location (trust me, I’ve had several clients turn away from the location) to put it in the same class as St. Regis and Millennium Tower, not to mention the uncertainty of Tower Two.

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I must say I am a bit disappointed with the ranges, and islands in the kitchens at the Millennium, and that some units don’t have deeded parking, but those are easy enough to remedy. The building is solid, and the finishes are very high end. The views are extraordinary, the location is getting better, and the amenities are through the roof. The units are still selling very quickly and many owners losing their money in the stock market have bought multiple units here, so all signs still point to a successful development by Millennium Partners, and I can’t wait until they start moving people in.

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(Penthouse terrace views.)

There are still some very choice units available at the Millennium and several at many other developments around town. I haven’t heard of any negotiations or price incentives at Millennium Tower, but I know some of the other developments around town have been offering them up, and the “off market” trading that is going on at many of them is nothing short of extraordinary.

I have more photos, and a lot more details, but you’ll have to contact me if you’d like to learn more.

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.

Letter to the Editor: “$2+ million on 22nd between Valencia and Guerrero (3373 22nd St)” and some East Bay insight

Part 1:

We noticed it [3373 22nd Street] hadn’t had a Sunday open in a while, but rather than a pending or sold sign outside – we noticed the sign was just gone yesterday. It isn’t on the public mls as in contract – it just isn’t there. You know the scoop?

We are dying to know the final sales price. It was our perfect house in our perfect location – but a very unperfect price. So it wasn’t just the price – it was the price plus the people who were squatting in the house before the developer bought it, who still like to hang out around the house. For 2 + million – I don’t want to regularly have to ask the neighborhood characters to loiter elsewhere.

Now, we don’t know for certain which property you’re talking about, but imagine you’re talking 3373 22nd St, so we’ll go ahead and assume.

According to MLS it closed on 7/10/08 for a sales price of $1,950,000 (original asking was $2,095,000, originally listed 5/1…love that day!), and we heard the buyer represented himself (mls states the same). Last sale was 11/05 for a sales price of $920,000 and has definitely been fixed up since then.

Part 2:

And while I’m asking – I’ll give you a bit of insight from the east bay. We were supposed to close yesterday on our house in Oakland – only the bank hasn’t delivered loan docs yet. We have a jumbo loan and found the very last bank willing to do a 20% loan. Everyone else wanted 25% down or ridiculous rates. There is no problem with the loan – the bank is just backed up. We likely won’t close until sometime next week and the sellers are rolling with it. I was fully prepared to have to beg and plead for them not to walk – but we are hearing from our agent that a lot of deals are closing late. Is it the same over there?

Deals closing late, or the begging and pleading? We’re seeing a bit more of both. ;-)

Thanks for the insight on the East Bay, thanks for your email, and thanks for reading!

Ask Us: How sound is our building as it relates to earthquakes

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

Hi,

I own a building with 4 other people here in San Francisco and we need to get good advice on how structurally sound our building is re: earthquakes. I want to be able to trust the opinion and not be concerned with getting an opinion skewed to make them money in the retrofit. I’m hoping you can suggest a few names/companies. Basically I’m looking for an inspection (willing to pay for it) like a contractors inspection, only exclusively as it relates to earthquake soundness and we would like a report with specific suggestions on how to move forward.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,

G.A.,

Let’s see if the community can shed some light. If not, you’ll see an answer from us shortly both here online and in your inbox. Thanks for the email.

Weekly Fluj: “I don’t know that they’re trippin’ either!” (2145 18th Street @ Kansas)

As stated numerous times, we can’t do all of this without you, and appreciate your tips, suggestions, and rants, so keep them coming. One person who is particularly helpful and deserving of praise is our friend the Fluj, who this week sends us this:

To my mind, the western portion of North Slope Potrero has not seen anything like this. It’s very far out in front of the curve, but I don’t know that they’re trippin’ either!

Perhaps the marketing remarks can shed some light as to whether they’re “trippin!”:

This spectacular remodeled view home has 3 levels of living w/3 bd, 2 ba all on upper level (toto dual flush toilets). The main level has an open floor plan-great for entertaining. It consists of lr (w/frplc), dr, kit w/GE monogram 42′ fridge, Thermador oven & micro, Viking 6 burner cook top, Bosch dw, great rm overlooking rear gar & powder rm. Lower level has office & media rm wired for surround sound. Systems, roofs, windows, flooring, walls were all replaced in 2008. 2 decks, garden & garage.

“Toto toilet”, is not to be confused with this Toto (even though the cross street is @ Kansas), rather is more like this Toto.

On that note, if you close your eyes and tap your heels long enough, red glass slipper optional (this is San Francisco after all), you too can someday have a $2,145,000 home in Potrero Hill. Tap them longer and maybe that price will come down a tad.

-2145 18th Street [MLS]

Ask Us: “Should structural concrete be included in the condo square footage?”

Where readers ask, and we try to answer:

Hi -

I read your article [about calculating square footage in San Francisco] and had a quick question on measuring square footage in a high-rise condominium in San Francisco. Do you know if the structural concrete should get included in the condo square footage? The condo I am looking to buy has about 100 square feet of structural concrete behind some walls, mostly along the edges, and the builder is including it in the square feet measurements. This is not “air space” nor do I own it. I can’t occupy it or modify it. I can see the reason to include partition walls, because these can be knocked down and the space can be occupied. But not so with concrete. Any advice?? The rules seem vague with respect to this.

Also, would you have the name of the individual at the Assessor’s office that replied to your email? They seemed very informative. I called the office and the person I talked to didn’t know the answer to my question (and she was an appraiser).

Thanks!

David

We tried contacting you directly, but received no reply. We’re putting this up here (as always) in hopes that the community comes back with some good answers. As for the “individual at the Assessor’s office”, we’ll leave that up to them to allow us to release their email. (We’re big on privacy. Hence the reason we allow Marina Prime to comment under a zillion different aliases. ;-) )

Please have a look at the comments for some replies, or to reply to this question.

-Calculating square footage in San Francisco [theFrontSteps]

Developer Special (not on market) in Haight Ashbury

We hesitate to provide the address of this property (as always to preserve privacy), but at the same time we feel it our obligation to put out to a larger audience some potential deals that might be right up your alley. Should you, or your friends, be interested in taking this property off the hands of the current owner (around $1.8-2M) feel free to contact us.

facade
(We can see you MapJack O’holics cruising now.)

It’s got some potential for the right person, and “permits and plans for redoing the entire house and expanding the garage to a two car garage. [The owners] have gotten as far as completing a total demolition of the interior space. The house is about 4000 square feet, 6bd/4ba”, it’s located in a great area of the Haight Ashbury district, and we want you to have it.

If you recognize this kitchen, you know the home.

demokit

…and of course that facade will let you know if it’s something you desire. We also tend to think this better for an owner-occupier rather than developer, so if you’re looking to remodel a home, need this kind of space, and don’t plan on flipping, opportunity knocks.

Getting the LEED out for the weekend

This tip comes to us all the way from Oregon, via telephone no less (what is that!), and is about “one of the country’s first LEED certified homes” (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) that happens to be across the pond (Oakland). Rather than ramble on, we thought we’d just leave you with some nice photos and a link to details for the weekend.

That should make for some nice before and afters. Thanks for the tip, and phone call. It’s nice to hear a voice every now and then, isn’t it?

Bon Weekend!

-Margarido House [website]

-Margaritas!

Check Mate! One day on the market and in escrow (2401 Divisadero)

It’s really only the kitchen floors that inspired the title “Check Mate”, or is it the quote from Eddy! that came along with his email?

[One] Day on market. In Escrow. I’d written about this one on [theFrontSteps.ORG] in the old days.

Buyers are out there and ready to strike!

We’d have to agree the high end buyers are out there, as are the mid-range buyers, but what about the low end?

-2401 Divisadero [MLS]

A done deal at 200 Brannan (#109)

Oh it’s just so awful when a property sells for under asking.  The world of San Francisco real estate has certainly come to an end when we start to see this.  We can all pack our things and head for more affordable, greener pastures.  That is, of course, unless you love yourself some loft!

After 32 days on the market, 200 Brannan #109 sold for a whopping $10,000 below list price, or more correctly stated, it sold at market value.

This is a fantastic property in a great building, and these buyers got a great price, and a great outdoor patio! They should be thrilled.

We doubt you’d find anything like this in Kansas.

-200 Brannan #109 [MLS]

A failed flip at One Rincon Hill, and what we know about high rise “resales”

Truth be told, I recently had a client in contract to “take over” a unit above the 50th floor at One Rincon Hill from a “seller” that had purchased their unit via the sales office on the very first night said sales office opened. Yes, that means it was an attempted “flip”, a “cancellation”, a “pocket listing”, and the list goes on. The deal has crumbled (for various reasons), so now I can talk (a little).

The Lobby at One Rincon Hill

[That's the lobby.]

It’s funny to see all the chatter online about one person (okay maybe many people) listing their One Rincon Hill unit for sale on Craigslist and looking for someone to “take over” their contract. First of all, it ain’t that simple to just “take over”. If you think you can go it alone without some third party advice, just post to Craigslist and all of your problems will suddenly vaporize, think again.

Secondly, it should come as no surprise that many people will not be able to go through with their purchase, but it doesn’t mean the sky has fallen. Actions of a few individuals in one building do not represent the well being of an entire group (the market). For every one person attempting to flip or find someone to “take over” their purchase, there are 10 others that aren’t.

Finally, there are more of those transactions going on than you know at every new development in San Francisco (at least those with residents moving in), and many of those units are changing hands to ready and willing buyers (I lost a client to one such agent who had a client “transferring” their unit at the Infinity), so the focus on One Rincon Hill, and this type of activity at all, is blown way out of proportion.

What we know is that although the market has changed significantly in the past year, it is by no means down and out (surprisingly), and using anecdotal bits of “resale” activity at One Rincon Hill to paint a picture of the entire landscape of San Francisco real estate is nothing short of loony!

As for which units at One Rincon Hill are “available”, or how great the views from the top floors are… you’ll have to come back, because I just went on a tangent. For now, I can tell you, there are several units above the 50th floor “available”, should you be interested.

-Foreclosures Quadruple in State, Bay Area [sfgate]

From Blank Canvas to Decorator Showcase, 2820 Scott gets the nod in 2008

“Since 1977, the annual San Francisco Decorator Showcase has benefited San Francisco University High School’s financial aid program, raising nearly $10 million in its first 30 years. The San Francisco Decorator Showcase is widely considered to be one of the premiere showcase events in the country, featuring the work of the region’s top interior and landscape designers,” and this year they take you inside 2820 Scott, a magnificent eight bedroom, eight and one half bath, 14,000 square foot residence that last changed hands in 2006 (asking $8,500,000), and was (at the time) void of any furniture. Not any more.

You and yours can go check it out April 26-May 26, cost is $30, (Seniors $25).

We have one ticket for Monday May 5th (6-8pm), we cannot use. Who wants it?

-2820 Scott [sfnewsletter listing detail]

-Decorator Showcase [website]

Granite is out, CeasarStone is in…music to our ears!

We’ve been waiting for some proof in writing to support not only the trend we’ve been seeing in new home construction, but also an argument to hold up against clients’ wishes to install granite countertops. Yes, some granite is still good, but better is something like CeasarStone, and Alan Mark, of the Mark Company provides just what we need:

caesarstone

Beyond the green trend, the once “standard” granite countertops have been replaced with CaesarStone. With its stain, scratch and heat-resistant properties, this less expensive quartz-based material offers the perfect combination of form and function. We have also seen oak floors replaced with richer walnut product.

There you have it…if you have something that looks like this, you might swap it with something like this.

Good day.

How to Make an Otherwise Boring Wall Extraordinary

You’ve seen this kind of art throughout the city, but rarely do you actually get to see the artist at work, and get them to take two seconds to talk to you. We were fortunate enough to have both unlikely events happen, and were able to convince Leon of Blue Jay Arts to send us an after shot of his hard work.

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In case you didn’t gather from the photo (that’s okay, we still love you) this is Pesce, a restaurant on Polk Street @ Bonita/Green.

We know art is totally subjective, and the city always likes to put a lock down on anything new, but wouldn’t it be nice to see more buildings do the same?

Cross Pollination: Does CAMP Get Your Vote on Curbed

From our friends at Curbed, regarding the Fisher’s proposal to develop the Presidio bowling alley site into the Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio:

san francisco chronicle

“In the spirit of good fun (as always) Curbed SF has asked the inevitable question: How does the just-released design for Don Fisher’s CAMP [Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio] measure up to SF’s other architectural offerings? We’ve launched a poll on the subject, and hope that you’ll consider sharing it with your readers.

http://sf.curbed.com/archives/2007/12/04/poll_how_does_camp_compare.php

Don’t know what the heck they’re talking about? In a nutshell: “Gap founder Donald Fisher has unveiled the design of the museum he wants to build in San Francisco’s Presidio…” It will be a museum to house their (he and wifey’s) growing art collection. The proposed site is where the Presidio bowling alley is currently. There are groups lobbying for and against this project (no surprise), and one other bid was submitted for a “History Center of the Golden Gate.”

All politics and “sacred ground” aside, Curbed just wants to know what you think of the design in comparison to a few others, and we’re anxious to see the outcome.

-Gluckman Mayner [website]

-Proposed Presidio museum would be modern addition to historic military site [SFGate]

Suckers for Mid-Century Modern

If you want to guarantee your spot on our front page, you need only include two words (or is that three?)…Mid-Century Modern.

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Our reader notes that it “looks like prices might finally be coming down a bit in Marin”, but we have no way of knowing for sure as we generally don’t have our finger on the pulse up there (yet).

And the agent notes: “This (non-Eichler) mid-century home will be hitting the market later this week ($925,000), however I thought I would let you know about the property in advance just in case you, or someone you may know, might be interested.”

Our reader obviously knows someone interested, and our sweet spot, so this agent now enjoys a bit of free promo of that sweet pad. Dibs on those chairs.

[Update 1/14/2008: Price reduced to $895,000]

-Agent site/listing

-Our Mid-Century Posts to date [theFrontSteps]

Glassing Off: Downtown and a Bottle of Windex

Following on the heels of our latest post on Millennium Tower, today’s Chronicle/SF Gate provides the latest on all the glass going up on many of the other buildings we’ve featured. Have a look at this audio slideshow by John King of the SF Chronicle.

san francisco chronicle

And of course, feel free to share your thoughts.

-One Rincon Hill Posts [theFrontSteps]

-The Infinity Posts [theFrontSteps]

-Millennium Tower Posts [theFrontSteps]

-audio slideshow [SF Gate]

-Newest Towers Will Give SF Skyline a Touch of Glass [SF Chronicle/John King]

Tanking Market? Come Again? “That’s what she said” (1705 Broderick)

She being 1705 Broderick, a 3 bed, 3.5 bath, single family home in Lower Pacific Heights, and the pun being that she just came on the market 10/03/07 for $2,450,000 and just sold for $2,800,000. For the mathematically challenged (that includes us) that is $350,000 above asking (14.29%), a staggering month on the market (MLS shows 15 days, but we’ll add a few for sh*ts and giggles), and a price per square foot of $1,057 for Lower Pacific Heights between Pine and Bush streets.

MLS

Argue all you want about pricing, anecdotal information only, it’s the exception not the norm, blah, blah. The fact is, there was more than one person interested in this type of property that had the means to make this type of purchase. Should another home like this come around, what’s going to happen? Keep in mind, this whole sale took place in one of the worst markets our city has seen in years.

If you watch “The Office” you’ll get the “that’s what she said joke”. Regardless, a pretty good sale in a pretty “gloomy” market. We think you’d have to agree.

Battle Royale: North Beach or South Beach, if you had to choose

It’s been a while since our last Battle Royale (SF v. NYC), but that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten to keep it local. We’ve seen a few of you chime in on whether you’d choose Hayes or Haight, a few more of you duked it out over Pacific Heights or Marina, and let’s not forget the Noe or Bernal thread that started this all. But that’s the past. We’re moving on, and we want to know: North Beach or South Beach…if you had to choose (and preferably why).

North Beach:

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North Beach zip 94133 (Median: source Altos Research)

Single Family

condo

South Beach:

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South Beach zip 94105

Single Family

condo

South Beach zip 94107

Single Family

condo

Today’s battle could take so many different angles, but we’d have to say what it really comes down to, are you old school, or new school San Francisco?

And as always, got a thought on a good Battle Royale? Send it to us.

-Past Battle Royales [theFrontSteps]

“The Ultimate Rock Star Pad” hits the market (542-44 Natoma)

Why settle for just one of the penthouse units (starting at $1,350,000), when you can have the recording studio and commercial condo as well (price upon request)? The San Francisco Soundworks building hits the market, and you know you’ve always dreamed of having “the ultimate rock star pad”, so here’s your chance.

soundworkpenthouse
soundworksliving

Oh, to add to your credo in the music world yo!, you can say Alanis Morrisett, Radiohead, New Order, The Cocteau Twins, Ice Cube, Lil Jon, The Shins, Will Smith, and so many more recorded in your building. Who cares about the Scavolini cabinetry, waffled glass catwalk, cathedral ceilings, or Bauhaus design at that point.

soundworkstudio
If you happen to be the one buying it, we’d appreciate multiple invitations to the rock star parties! Or better yet, let us help you buy it.

Open Studio (preview) is Thursday 11/15 from 6-9pm.

If you want the history click here for the Vizzvox Voice Over, which is actually very informative, and provides a ton of insight.

We’re sold…totally and completely. Now about that rock star party…

-Soundworks Residences [property website, Paragon Real Estate]

-San Francisco Soundworks [website]

-Sound Works History [Vizzvox]