So You Want to Buy a Home in San Francisco…now what? continued

We’re back, and as always our readers (although only a teeny tiny percentage of them) are providing some good insight and doing way more than we could ever hope to do in print on this site. That’s why we heart our readers! So on with our show…

Tip #1…go to Walgreens, or your favorite pharmacy, and purchase a bottle (the larger the better) of “patience”. You’ll need lots of it. If the pharmacy doesn’t have it, try the liquor store.

Tip #2: Yes, you should absolutely work with an agent for many reasons, but a big one being they know of a lot of properties that are not on the market, and a lot of what will soon be on the market that you might be able to get before anyone else. It’s kind of like changing your oil yourself versus taking it in to the shop. Spending a little extra dough (relative) and saving yourself tons of headaches, hassles, and future complications, in our opinion is worth it, but we’re agents so feel free to flame.

Tip #3: Get pre-approved prior to beginning your house hunt. You might be the sharpest kid on the block, and have the fanciest, most blogged about spreadsheet in San Francisco (no offense missionite), but it doesn’t mean sh*t if your credit stinks, you have no money in the bank, you have to state your income, and you think rates are fixed at 8% for a 30 year. There are options…many of them. A good mortgage broker will be able to tell you what you can afford, and what programs are best for you. You might be pleasantly surprised to find you can afford more house than you thought, or disappointed to learn you only qualify for a $350,000 purchase, and thus got priced out of the market.

Tip #4: Get your agent to send you any of the myriad of ways to be updated on what is hot on the market like MLS Auto Prospecting, Clean Offer, and of course our favorite sfnewsletter ;-) . Along with that do what you’re doing. Browse the blogs, the sites like Redfin, Trulia, Movoto, Altos Research,, etc., and figure out what works best for you and use it to your advantage. You can also search MLS at

Tip #5: Don’t rely on the publications like Realty Times, Real Estate San Francisco, and all the others for accurate information. Our market moves quickly enough (yes, still) that a lot of the properties that show up in publications are sold before they even hit the presses. Those magazines are more of an advertisement for agents and their successes than they are for up to the minute property information. That’s not to say they’re worthless, but definitely should not be your main source of listing information. It’s the age of the internet, embrace it!

Tip #6: Tour, tour, tour. Check out as many open houses and neighborhoods as you can. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find if you step outside of your comfort zone. The more you see, the more you’ll know. When “the one” comes around, you’ll be better equipped to recognize it and know whether it is a deal you feel like pursuing.

If you don’t work on Tuesdays, ask your agent to take you out on Tuesday Broker Tour, or go at it alone with a stack of their cards and let the brokers know your agent sent you. It is a great way to see property before the masses on Sunday.

Tip #7: When you find the one, make sure your agent knows how to write a clean offer. This means an offer that is clean, easy to read, includes a cover letter outlining the high points of your offer, a letter from you (the buyer) to the seller, a copy of the initial deposit, all pertinent documents put together in an organized manner, and all of Tips #8 and #9. (Tip #7 can vary depending on the situation, as sometimes you just need to get an offer on the table, and another reason to go with tip #2.)

Tip #8: (These are key in multiple offer situations…) Shorten your contingency time frames as much as you can.

-Were inspections already performed on the property that make you comfortable waiving inspections outright (usually pest and contractor)? If not, schedule an inspector before your offer is written, and be confident you’ll get inspections done in that time frame. In San Francisco everyone works quickly, including inspectors and they can usually turn things around quickly. Your offer might stand out from others that have 10 day inspection time frames, if yours is only 5 days. Same goes for all contingencies.

-Is it a guarantee (relative) that you will qualify for the purchase price on your offer, and that you will be approved for your loan? If so, you might write an offer with “non-contingent financing”? If there is even an inkling of doubt, or you simply want the contingency for piece of mind, don’t waive this. Any mortgage broker in this city worth their weight, should still be able to get you approved within 21 days, get funds and be ready to close in 30. (Note: waiving financing should only be used in highly competitive offer situations.) If they can’t, find a different one.

-Shorten your appraisal contingency time frame as much as possible too. This will largely depend on your confidence in your mortgage broker. A five day appraisal is totally feasible.

Tip #9: Are there other things that might set you apart or make your offer more attractive?

-Do the sellers wish to rent back the property after close of escrow.

-Did they request you use a certain title company for escrow?

-Would they rather not accept your million dollar offer in exchange for cookies and milk?

Tip #10: Submit the offer and don’t even come close to cracking the champagne…you’re a long way from home.

And remember, you only need to be looking out for number 1…you. Sing the opera…me, me, me, me!

We gave you a ton of info already, and you want more? Not going to happen (at least not right now). Contact us if you have further questions.

14 thoughts on “So You Want to Buy a Home in San Francisco…now what? continued

  1. I have a question about #2. Agents know about properties not-yet-available. I presume the insight comes from other agents in the same firm? So if you want insight into this pool of properties, does that mean you should go with an agent at one of the big firms?

  2. A damn good question. One would assume a larger office would have larger connections. But if an agent is connected, regardless of their office, they’re going to know about more than the average person. It all comes down to the agent.

    Perfect example: Tim Brown of Brown & Co Real Estate. He is so connected it is not even funny…and if you decide to work with him, make sure he knows where he got the glowing recommendation. (Yours truly is pretty connected too, as I do write a very popular newsletter for agents in SF.)

  3. Working with an agent is mandatory for the most part in San Francisco. I tried doing the free-agent thing, using the listing agent for my purposes, thinking it would give me an edge. All it did was cause conflicts and odd situations. The market is too hot and agents don’t need the hassle.

    My advice to any serious potential buyer is to line up all of your own inspectors, don’t trust their contractor or home inspection report, put in an early bid with fast expiration dates to get you diligence done and try to pre-empt others. This market is still tight but sellers are nervous and a bird in the hand is a heavy motivator. And don’t be afraid to under-bid on any property. Selling agents love it since it puts the home owner in decision-making time.

  4. Not sure if somebody already said this or not, but if you’re looking, do not go to five or six houses in one day. Keep it to three or four at most. You will not be able to get you head around what you liked or disliked at the end of the day otherwise. Even if you take notes. Some houses really sort of require that you spend a half hour inside. Of course, not everybody can do that.

  5. don’t be afraid to chat up the hosting realtor at each house you visit. they will often know of pocket listings or about to list properties that are much nicer than what you just found utterly unimpressive.

  6. As silly as it sounds, a great cover letter can go far. Add info on why you want THAT particular property. While I don’t think anyone will accept you just for your letter, I know from experience that a good letter can keep you in a bidding war.

    Also, do your own leg work. Drive around the areas you would like to live in. Look for signs. Often times properties can slip thru the MLS search results. Your perfect 2 bedroom place could actually be a 1 bedroom with a sun room or office.

  7. There’s a 1bedroom condo in The Marina I want (3324 Octavia). They finally lowered the price. I think it’s pretty attractive at $1,010/sqft. What do you guys think? Should I go in there and swoop in and buy it?

  8. Hi Kenny – I think that’s a good idea. I love it when blogs highlight ideas for the buyer. Does all the work for us :) More stalefish highlights the better.

  9. Not sure if somebody already said this or not, but if you’re looking, do not go to five or six houses in one day. Keep it to three or four at most. You will not be able to get you head around what you liked or disliked at the end of the day otherwise. Even if you take notes. Some houses really sort of require that you spend a half hour inside. Of course, not everybody can do that.

    I was doing it (average 6 on tuesdays and 8-9 on sundays).

    KEEP the flyer. put them in a binder, and rewrite on them your notes, and a couple weeks later, DOM/CP and additional info if you got any. Worked really well

    BTW there are only 3 types of properties.

    – LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. During your tour, it takes about 4mn average to know you love it (now do you love the price? that’s another question)

    – HATE IT. During your tour, it takes about 90seconds to hate a property. maybe at 90seconds, you are only at the discomfort feel, but by the whole 4mn, you know you wont live there.

    – no opinion. For those ones, please TAKE YOUR TIME. Visit top to bottom, and tour the main floor AGAIN. Take notes.

    Within the 60mn after the end of the tour, you should have phoned your agent about the property you love to schedule a visit the following day. And within the following hour, you should have sent your agent a list of the “no opinion” houses, with what you like and what you like less. So your agent can point the properties that are most appropriate and should warrant a second visit with the agent.

    Did I mention ealier to make a very detailed list of your WANTS and MUSTS?

    as said earlier. the 2nd bedroom you are looking for might not be needed if you want an office. So on your list write “office space” or “bright and light” rather than “2 BR” and “south facing”. less restrictive, but wants become must have and dont forget to bring along your list with your final visit with your agent before the offer. So you can ponder the match and choose a price according to your NEEDS.

    Yes, it’s about making the winning offer, but it should remain a property you actually WANT to live in!

  10. I fell into the “LOVE IT” traps when looking at homes and found that if I loved it, so did a slew of others. TI quickly learned that the “no opinion” homes are the ones that have greatest potential because you can get a better price, do some cosmetic stuff and you have yourself a gem.

  11. Two points I had to mention. I always hear “mortgage brokers will be able to tell you what you can afford, and what programs are best for you.” I have always been surprised by this statement, especially when every news article I’m reading these days is saying how a major component of the mortgage fiasco is due to brokers selling mortgages based on fees instead of what the buyer can afford. Its like saying you should ask your used car dealer what car is best for you.

    Also, the writer says to use a broker, not to go on your own. Then we find out he works for brokers in the comment section. Can anyone steer me to an unbiased source on mortgages and whether brokers (what % of sales are they makin now?) are really necessary?

  12. Whoops, sorry. In previous response, in the last paragraph, I meant to use the word Agent instead of Broker, apologies.

    [Editor’s note: Liam, thanks for your comments. It took you a while to figure out this site is run by an agent…didn’t it? Maybe that means our goal is to provide un-biased information that will help you in the long run. But nobody would ever believe that is possible. Sure, go at it alone. Best of luck to you. But if you want to make a deal happen here in SF, you might take our advice. Sometimes, you gotta do business the way business is done to get business done. The media doesn’t paint the entire picture. There are good agents, and good brokers…believe it or not. Regardless, thanks for reading.]

Leave a Reply