Ask: I Want To Rent A Home Built On “Those Stilt Kind Of Things”…

This is one for the community:

I love your blog. I just moved here from NYC a week ago and it’s been an invaluable resource.

I just found a rental that I love, [removed]. Gorgeous views, built in 1939 or so. Problem is, a friend from SF pointed out that it’s a “downhill home.” (I’d never heard the term before.) It’s cut into the face of the hill, but it’s partly on those stilt kind of things. The landlord says the hill is safe and the place was “thoroughly inspected” when he bought it…but he owns the place and needs a tenant, after all. :)

I’d love to rent it but want some reassurance that the thing won’t fall down the hill at some point. Like, if there’s a quake. Do renters ever do seismic checks here? How can I find out if this place really is safe? I don’t mind paying myself if the inspector fee is reasonable.

Thanks a lot

Thanks for your email, and I’m glad you like theFrontSteps! Please tell your friends.

I don’t handle rentals, so I’m not one to speak with 100% certainty. I would imagine that you could do any kind of inspection you wanted as long as it doesn’t cost the owner anything.

The fact is, if a big quake hits SF, who the heck knows what will happen. A big rain might be more likely, and more of a concern….landslide.

My advice would be to go ahead and inspect if it will make you comfortable, the owner is okay with it, and you have the time to do so. But, don’t expect any person to tell you without a shadow of doubt that the home is 100% safe. You can thank the litigious society we live in for that.

When you’re ready to buy, let me know! If you have any money for down payment at all, I would HIGHLY recommend buying. Prices and interest rates are crazy low, and your payments would likely be less than rent.

Thanks for reading theFrontSteps!

Ask Us: Type Of License Needed To Be A Property Manager In California?

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

To folks reading this blog:
In California, do you need a real estate broker’s license in order to be property manager? Or just a real estate agent’s license? Or no license needed?


As far as we know, and you’ll want to consult, if you plan on having your own office and essentially starting a new business you will need a Broker’s license. If you plan on “hanging” your license at a Brokerage and working for a company that already exists and that company has a Broker’s license already, you will only need an Agent’s license. You definitely need one or the other, so why not get both!

Hope this helps….

Ask Us: Do Lenders REALLY Need All That PRIVATE Information?

Where readers ask, and we (the community) try to answer (in the comments below, so don’t be shy):

“For the past 12 months, all our attempts to refi to lower the rate to 5.25 or better have fallen short. Many times, it starts great – then stops short when reaching the line that says I don’t work regardless of any other financial info. (2 borrowers = 2 jobs for more than 24 months each)

We have found a broker that is ok to attempt a refi – but he’s asking for “Copies of 2007 and 2008 W2’s and 1040 Federal Tax Returns (all pages and schedules)”

Although I understand where this request comes from (and I agree that lax practices created the current mess) I’m extremely concerned about giving our most intimate and private information away.

From my point of view, there is absolutely no justification for disclosing to a loan officer:
- all details of all the medical bills.
- all details of fertility treatment, adoption, abortion and other family expenses and whatever items that can be listed.
- all details about your nanny and other children care expenses.
- all details about your religious life – who you gave to, and how much
- all details about your political life – who you supported and how much
- all details about your off shore bank accounts, details about your children college accounts, and other private stashes of money,
- a complete copy of your foreign tax returns

The broker was adamant that banks are not accepting 1040 with ANY data missing, pages missing, lines blacked out….

If I understood correctly, an application including the authorization for the release of the Feds records (4506-T) – but missing OUR voluntary copy of the tax return won’t be accepted either (something we would have – somehow – agreed to).
The broker wouldn’t even understand why I agree to disclose this info to our accountant and to the Feds – and refuse to give it to several banks/lenders.

And so we get to my questions….

1. What is the legal ground for such a request – and is there a way to work with that type of requirement?
2. What are the legal protections against misuse of information – like personal retaliation (someone [posting] your info online or somewhere else?) – or even plain discrimination (loan officer doesn’t appreciate your political support on prop 8, or refuses to loan to an HIV positive couple?)
3. How much is my information worth? Where is the threshold when the savings is more important than my privacy?

Any information you or your readers can provide would be much appreciated.


[A Regular Reader]“

Ask Us: What’s The Real Estate Forecast For Bernal Heights

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

We pulled this from Lily on Why the Fuss About Noe Valley. The question is pretty simple, the answer, however, is very complex:

What’s the real estate forecast for Bernal [Heights]?

The Fluj has already taken the bait and provided some answers on the thread, anybody else care to chime in here on Bernal Heights?

Our answer…it’s headed down along with the rest of the city and will bounce around the bottom for quite some time. We’d say the free-fall appears to be over, but the feeling of panic is definitely out there amongst buyers that the bottom is here, and there are buyers making offers across the entire city feeling the deals won’t get much better. Our advice to our buying clients, buy if you feel comfortable, then tune out for the next 5 years and enjoy your home. This applies to every nano-market the city has to offer.

Ask Us: Why The Fuss About Noe Valley?

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

The Front Steps really concentrates on Noe. I live in Noe and understand the attraction and the desirability of neighborhood but I’m not exactly sure why it is the barometer for everywhere else. Can you shed any light on this?

Good question. It’s not that we set out to focus on Noe, in fact we think focusing on an area that is much more hip (like Mission, Dog Patch, or NoPa) would serve our readers better and certainly be a helluva lot more fun, but looking at the real estate in Noe Valley is a very good barometer for the well being of the entire city’s real estate market, because it is considered an A+ location with generally financially and employment secure residents. Noe Valley is one of the most desirable and popular areas to live in San Francisco, and if the market in Noe Valley crashes, the rest of the city should watch out. SOMA is tanking as we speak, but it has nothing to do with Noe Valley. It is a totally different market.

As you’ve also likely noticed, a lot of the content we post comes in as “tips” from readers and our readers that send tips must be a bit more concerned with Noe. So feel free to tell your friends that live in other nabes to check us out and send in tips about their hood as well. It doesn’t have to be about real estate, but it does have to be about San Francisco (or at least the greater Bay Area.)

Thanks for reading!

Ask Us: Why The Obsession With Price Per Square Foot?

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

Yes – people are obsessed with cost per square foot – why or why shouldn’t we concern ourselves with that statistic?


Thanks for the email.

Price per square foot in San Francisco and around the country, hell the world for that matter, is an obsession because it is the simplest way to quantify how one home may or may not be better than another or how they compare. It is a way to gauge the popularity (desirability) of an area as well (higher price per square foot in an area can fairly accurately be associated to its popularity). It’s basically a good barometer of value and something that should definitely be considered when looking at values of homes or when considering buying or selling a home in a certain location. However, in San Francisco it should definitely not be the deciding factor as every home is different, and if going off of tax records, square footage in San Francisco and public records are anything but accurate.

That said, it is a much more reliable and useful tool when buying/selling a condominium where many of the units are identical in size, amenities, and features, and something you should seriously take into consideration.

Hope this tiny bit of information helps. Maybe some other readers can shed some light?

Ask Us: Why Walk From Your House But Not Your Car

Where readers ask, and we (the community) try to answer. This is a good one, and a great thought. Thanks for the email MM:

So I have a question that I’d love your take (and maybe your reader’s take) on: Why do people walk away from a house that’s underwater when no one walks away from anything else that’s worth less than they paid for it?

I mean, think about a car. People drop 50, 60, 70 thousand dollars on a car that’s instantly worth less than they paid the second they drove it off the lot. But no one would ever say “Well, I’ve still got 5 years on my car loan and it’s worth half of what I paid, so I’m just walking away.”

No one says “I’m paying 12% interest on this new $5000 big screen TV I bought on credit, and it’s now not worth what I paid, so I’m just going to walk away from my credit card bill.”

Is it because we’ve been conditioned over the years by the financial and real estate industries that homes are an “investment” that will only go up? Or that homes are only worth it if we’re going to make a ton of money on them down the road?

Call me crazy, but I think if you buy a house where you can afford the monthly payments, it shouldn’t matter at all how much your house is worth compared to what you paid.


Very interesting thought, and honestly something we do not have an answer for. We’d have to guess that every person is different and a house payment is likely much larger than a TV or car payment, so walking from something like that carries larger financial gains/losses.

Does walking from a credit card carry the same credit punishment as walking from a house and going into foreclosure?

We can say there are many people walking away from their credit card bills, but the odd thing is, they get to keep the TVs! As for the car, remember “REPO Man”?

We think your question may spawn more questions and doubt there is really one specific answer, but we (like you) would love to hear what some readers have to say.

The Truth About Inspection Bids, A Letter To Buyers

If we could speak to you, Mr & Mrs Buyer, in the middle of your tense negotiations about repairs to the home you’d like to buy, we would say this:

The bids you received from your agent and her inspectors/experts are great. We’re glad you’re doing your due diligence and we’re happy to credit you some money to get repairs done. However, there are many, many ways to repair all kinds of different items, and usually bids come in high. There are contractors, plumbers, engineers, inspector, and so many more tradesmen out there who are out of work and looking for ways to make money. Just because you have a bid from one expert (who’s certainly chums with your agent), it doesn’t mean you have to use that expert to repair the damage, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t go bid the job out and get that one expert to compete with five others to drop the price down to a reasonable level. If you feel the urge to bid the job out, ask for an extension on your contingency timeline. We, on the seller’s end, often speak with the very same contractors hired to do the inspections and ultimately the work, and over the phone we’ve always been able to talk them down from “I won’t do the job for less than $4250″ to “I won’t do the job for less than $2000.” (For example.) Your agent has some great skills at beating us down, please ask her to use those same skills to beat those contractors down on their bids and you’ll see the money we’re offering will be more than enough. You’re going to love this house. Let’s move on already.


The people on the other side.

Ask Us: Homeowners Insurance By Cost Per Square Foot

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

Greetings everyone:

I was wondering does anyone out there have a good way to determine how much dwelling coverage one needs in the homeowners insurance in the city of San Francisco because I noticed when I get a quote from insurance companies, the dwelling coverage really ranges big because from what I was told, it’s basically the squae footage in living space multiplied by the cost per square foot to rebuild from scratch which has a big range. Assuming you were buying a home on the market which is not new, one major insurer said to use the appraisers cost of rebuilt on the appraisal report while others basically said it should be based on the cost per square foot whch ranges from $180 to $375. My question is does anyone know what the cost per square foot is or how to find out and I thought cost per square foot in general does not include the roof and foundation so will probably need some formula to figure that part out so it truly is a cost to rebuild 100% and not just the floor, ceiling and walls only. A good example is for a 1065 square foot home in San Francisco, there were few insurers that said coverage is $200k-$250k while some places said $350k-$400k. It’s hard to use the mortgage companies calculation because I think they base it on either the loan amount or the purchase price so it depends if you got the property at below and above the actua rebuilt cost. Thanks in advance for any input!


Thanks for the question, and reading theFrontSteps. When you’re ready to buy that house (don’t think we can’t see your Clean Offer activity-remember that access is in exchange for agreeing to work with us), you’ll have all your questions answered, and be able to thank us and our community for it. Now get yourself out there and spread the word about our site! You know we’d do the same.

Ask Us: So Why Do I Need A Real Estate Agent?

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

Hey theFrontSteps –

Say I’ve I found a place I love, and they gave me the disclosure package, and I’ve got a bank ready to give me a loan, and I want to make an offer. I’ve talked with agents here and there, but never officially signed with one. Do I need to have an agent to put in an offer?

I know this question is chock full of conflict of interest. As an agent, I assume you’ll say yes, you need an agent. I know that agents are there to protect the buyer, but how do agents work with someone like me who’s already done a lot of legwork?

Your blog is always so candid, I thought if anyone would give me a straight answer, it’d be you.


ps – Feel free to use this as fodder for the blog.

Fodder it shall be, answer you already have, let’s see what some other people have to say.

[Update: For those that have already emailed and are wondering what our original reply was. Here you go:
"You get someone like me to represent you to hammer the other side down in price, terms,etc. Then you get someone like me to make sure that disclosure package covers your ass, and someone like me to help you determine a price, find inspectors, and make sure you ultimately get title to the home. Or you can go it alone, know that the money you think you are saving [on commissions] is actually going to the listing agent’s pocket, you can hope they’re looking out for your best interest, but never truly know, so you might consider hiring an attorney. You hire us for piece of mind and experience to get you through this painful process.

Sorry to be so curt but I’m outta town and reaching for a beer.

It’s kinda like wearing glasses or going for prk [laser correction eye surgery]. I’ll help you see it all clearly.”

Just don’t read this post, and certainly not this post or you’ll be turned off on agents forever.

Ask Us: Refinancing And Appraisals, When The Banks Aren’t Helpful Turn To The Blogs!

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

I appreciate all the general information I get from this terrific blog. This is my first question about my own situation.
I’ve been negotiating with the major bank (WellsFargo) that holds my first ($498K) and second ($14K) for a refinance from a 5.5% ARM to 4.75% 30 FRM [Fixed Rate Mortgage]. We paid 10% down and our second -a 5 year ARM is on schedule to be paid off before it adjusts in 12 months.
Our appraisal came back at less than the $625K required to refinance without PMI. Our bank just said “If you want this to go through, you’ll have to bring $28,000 to close.”
Is anyone finding any flexibility for strong credit rated, clear payment history etc? Or is the only way to get a break to stop paying and plead poverty? That would seem self defeating and yet, I’m not finding my bank to be helpful at all.
Thank you for any comments by anyone knowledgeable about this.

Yours truly is not a mortgage expert, and will defer to those that are, as I always do.

Ask Us: Do We Have To Use Bank Of Marin?

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


My husband and I are considering purchasing a TIC unit in the Marina. The owners currently have fractional loans through the Bank of Marin. If we did purchase, would we be locked in to their loan rate/term or could we negotiate? Could we work with lenders other than Bank of Marin? We have excellent credit and could put down 50%+ so we’re
hoping we could get a good rate.

Many thanks for any comments!

Our follow up email:

My first question, if you can put 50% down, why not just look for a condo? How many units in the building? Which real estate agent are you working with? The final, are you okay with me posting your question to the site to get multiple answers?

Thanks for reading theFrontSteps and thanks so much for you email.

I’m not a fan of TICs, but I’m willing to hear you out. ;-)

The reply:

Thanks! Yes, fine to post it if the focus of the answers will be on
financing and not whether or not to buy a TIC – we already know the

We are currently in a condo and are considering condos as well but this unit’s price is much lower than comparable condos (we’ve been looking casually in the Marina for over a year now) the location is perfect (on bedrock, quiet part of the Marina). We’ve researched TICs and are willing to take the risk if we can get a good financing package. So our question isn’t whether or not to buy a TIC, it’s whether or not we have to work with the current lender (Bank of Marin) and also what typical financing for TICs looks like (the current owners have a fixed rate for 10 years and then a balloon payment).


You’re welcome. Anyone care to elaborate?

Ask Us: Should I Get Into The Real Estate Business

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

I recently found the Front Steps blog and it’s was a great find with a lot of great info.

I have general questions about getting into the real estate business in SF. I’ve read more than one commentary citing different reasons that now is a great time for people thinking about entering the real estate business to do so. First, is this true? Is it a particularly good time?

Secondly, I’ve been wanting to learn more about this business and actually get involved for quite some time. I’ve been in journalism for years and I want to learn something else. What’s the best way to go about it? I’ve been considering taking online classes to start, perhaps through Noble Fields or something similiar. Would you advocate taking this route? Do you have any suggestions on where to take classes or know of any helpful references that would help me choose a place to get training and exam prep?

Thanks for your time and all the helpful info.

As always, thanks so much for your email and question. We’re glad you like the site and we’re glad you found us. As we said via email, now is (in our opinion) a horrible time to get into real estate. Volume (read: paychecks) is somewhere near the bottom of the toilet bowl, if not already flushed to the treatment plant. In San Francisco alone there are still upwards of 4000 licensed agents (down from roughly 5000, but don’t fear we’re told only about 500 actually do business), and animosity towards Realtors continues to build as our MLS data is pumped to third party vendors that put the buyer/seller in the driver’s seat thus making our services less valuable. Just don’t start a real estate blog and get a bunch of hater commenters and you’re attitude will not get jaded.

With that said, being in the real estate business is great. You have a free schedule, no boss, can make unlimited amounts of money, can dabble in sales, rentals, commercial, industrial, technology and all sorts of things. It’s a pretty good life. A bit stressful at times, but good if you got a tough skin. If you need that steady paycheck, don’t do it. If you’re worried about money at the moment, don’t do it. If you don’t like to work every day of the week and be available at all hours, don’t do it.

We do recommend the online courses, such as Anthony Schools and we do recommend you get your license as quickly as possible. What you study on those test and in those classes is practically worthless as it applies to real world real estate knowledge. Get your license, then get crackin’! Get out there and work, work, work. Plan on not making any money for the first six months in the biz and then set your own destiny.

Good luck. Anyone else care to elaborate?

Ask Us: Color Me Condo!

We get all kinds of questions in every shape and size and this one has got to rank right up top with one of the most off the wall, but we love it nonetheless and will coddle it like one of our own:

Which Condo complex in the City has the nicest hallway color scheme, in your opinion?


One short answer…no frickin idea! We have seen so many condos, so many homes, so many different colors of paint in different rooms that they all blend together. But, we’re not looking at color palettes, we’re looking at numbers, size of rooms, location, proximity to public transport, and so on. Painting can easily change the look and feel of a home or building, so we always try to look past it. With that said, go neutral. Colors that are too wild one way or the other can bring down the overall feel and kill a deal the moment someone walks in the hallway. You might have a look at the Millennium Tower website for a good idea of what we think is a good choice.

Hope this helps. Guess we did have an idea after all (since you forced us to think about it).

Ask Us: Environmental Impact Report Not Needed? (430 Main)

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

This proposed building at 430 Main / 429 Beale requires exemptions for maintaining a 45 degree angle opening to the sky in all directions from an internal courtyard … meanwhile, it would BLOCK the SINGLE 45 degree angle opening to the sky from BayCrest Towers’s open spaces (courtyard/pool area, 2 barbecue patios) and units facing the courtyard. However, Rincon Hill Plan’s mere existence means the Planning Department doesn’t have to do an environmental impact report. What gives ?!?!?

See one of my three entries on this topic on my Rincon Hill blog.

The developer, Portland-Pacific, and their design team will hopefully get an earful from BayCrest, Bridgeview, and Portside residents when they hold a meeting on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 from 6:00 pm until 8:00 pm at South Beach Harbor Services Building’s Community Room, between Pier 40 and AT&T Park.

Contact Tuija Catalano at 415-567-9000 or at the developer with any questions …

There you have it. We have no idea what gives, and hope the community can take it over on this one. Answers to Jamie’s questions would surely be appreciated as would your attendance and phone calls we’re sure.

Ask Us: WTF Is Going On With 409 Ulloa (A.K.A Pandora’s Box)?

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


I have a few questions. I have been looking at 409 Ulloa St in the Forest Hill Extension area. Basically, this property seems to have been on the market since December 2007 as a REO starting at $1.19 Million and then the price keeps dropping [now seeking $689,900]. The issue seems to be that this property seems to have numerous codes of violation in addition to the property size having a discrepancy. In my research, I noticed that the property in 2005 did have a permit to add the 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, stairs to connect the basement/garage to the second level in addition, legalizing the existing bedroom and bathroom while converting the existing bedroom to a family room but that permit was never completed and never expired while the latest status is triage. Any idea what that means?

However, I have noticed the property for tax purposes includes the area that was in that permit as it’s listed as 2000+ square feet and 5 bedrooms, 3 baths which was what was used for all the listings through November 2008. The current listing agent only shows the property as 2 bedrooms, 1 bath and 1,065 sq feet which is basically the upstairs. My question is, doesn’t the basement permit have to be completed before it can be taxed because it seems in January 2009 a complaint with the building inspection department was filed for an illegal unit in basement, but if that was the case, why is the house being taxed as such?

Also, how much is the property worth if it’s in perfect condition, as it appears from the pest inspection and home inspection reports a lot of repairs need to be done as the basement level is basically broken and the foundation needs to be repaired. Does anyone know what the maximum cost is to repair an entire foundation for a house that size, as only the non-converted portion of the basement is visible and can be inspected?

Also, the garage is basically about 4 feet under the surface level, would it cost a fortune to have the house lifted so the floor of the house is leveled with the ground instead of beneath it? Thanks!

Looks like an opportunity to purchase Pandora’s Box. We’ll continue the dialog over email with you, and put you in touch with the correct inspectors, because your questions are many, and answers run deep.

We do hope some readers can provide their insight as well, and we thank you for contacting theFrontSteps.

-409 Ulloa St [MLS]

Ask Us: Single Family Home On RH2 Lot, Can You Claim The Second Unit?

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

If you own a RH2 lot with a SFH [Single Family Home] on it, can you claim the second house number? For example: to establish a professional address – no separate unit, kitchen or entry door, just a second mailbox with a second house number?

The regular address number is available (our number + 4), but using “unit A”, “unit B” would also be a valid solution.

Any insight is appreciated.

We have never dealt with this type of issue, so we do not have the answer. Anybody else?

Comment du Jour: WTF! Sellers Living in 2007?

Ahhh, we love our readers, especially when they come up with money quotes a lot of you are missing. So, we often take it upon ourselves to bring them front and center. This from “MichelleL” on “Getting Twisted in Cole Valley“:

WTF? Are people still paying 3-million to live in Cole Valley sans view? There is an interesting ‘compflip’ in Eureka Valley on 19th and Douglass for ‘gasp’ 4-million plus…what are your thoughts, are sellers still living in 2007?

We’re going to assume you’re talking about the property we found (we can’t tell you how often we get the question about “that house on the corner”) and linked to above. If not, please correct us.

To begin, let’s help some less than up-on-the-lingo readers with translating your question. WTF means “what the f*ck”. Sans is the french word for “without”. Now that we got that out of the way, on to answering your question.

Yes, some sellers are still living in 2007, which is exactly why many of the buyers we’re working with have been advised to not panic, be patient, and watch properties of interest very closely. Keep in mind many “flips” started a long time ago, and the developers may not have calculated a declining market in their build costs, so they’re hoping for that un-educated Realtor/buyer combo to walk through the door and say, “We’ll take it!”, and save their asses, pop the champagne and make their car payment. However, like everything in SF, it comes down to the property in question, and not necessarily the market as a whole. We don’t know the exact scoop on this property on 19th, so unfortunately can’t provide many more details, beyond a very vague answer of “yes”…some sellers are living in 2007.

We do know first hand of some other very awesome developments that the builder “just wants off their books”, should you be so inclined to get in touch.

Thanks for your comment! We hope to hear from you more, MichelleL.

-4552 19th Street, $4,299,000, 6 bed, 4.5 bath [listing details]
-Getting Twisted in Cole Valley (1342 Shrader) [theFrontSteps]

Ask Us: “Change in Home Buyer Mentality?”

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

We’re planning to put our house on the marketing in a couple weeks. Have you seen any change in the SF home buyer mentality resulting from the recent news from Wall Street? I assume it varries by price range, but I’d be interested in your thoughts on how houses in the 1M – 1.5M range might be impacted in the weeks to come.

We could go around in circles on this question, depending on a number of factors (location, size, condition, amenities, views, etc.), but in a nutshell and to answer your question…yes. The market has been impacted, and given the recent near 700 point drop in the stock market, could be impacted more. Loans are harder to come by, and buyers are sitting on the fence. That said, if you have a desirable property in a nice area, it will likely still sell, and a buyer out there ready, willing, and able to qualify for a loan is likely looking for just what you have to offer.

That’s our $.02…