Predictions for ’09 Reveal There Are No Experts

So, one hell of an ugly year is coming to a close. As usual, this event cues panels of “leaders” in various fields to opine about the coming 365 days. What will become of Tom and Katie? Will Cher remove another rib? Will the Celtics top the NBA again?

These days the doings of celebrities and (forgive me, Celtics) national sports are no longer as relevant as the economy, however. Luckily America has myriad experts on this last issue, and we need only to look at current conditions, both in California and the country as a whole, to judge these specialists’ true qualifications– or rather, lack thereof.

No one should be surprised then that as newspapers and blogs roll out the obligatory predictions  for ’09 articles, no consensus can be found. For instance, USA Today (that rag!) predicts a ray of sunshine:

“It may come as a surprise, given all the bad news of late, but the U.S. economy is expected to emerge from the recession sometime around mid-2009.” We’ll have some bad times, yes. “However, once the massive amount of fiscal stimulus currently being crafted by lawmakers and aggressive action by the Federal Reserve kicks in, the economy is expected to improve, according to several economists and business owners.”

Meanwhile, John Cassidy of Conde Nast’s “Portfolio” writes “Most economists predict a recovery late next year. Don’t bet on it.”  He’s not the only one who predicts bad times ahead for housing, jobs, retail, and even the entire world economy. Every media outlet– from the San Francisco Chronicle to the BBC online to the cheapest weekly you find on the street corner– has predictions; some are rosier and some are darker. In short, no one knows.

Still, an interesting point that Cassidy makes deserves attention. He writes:

Among noneconomists, there is much more concern about what lies ahead. In October, a CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe another 1930s-style depression is very or somewhat likely. Dismissing feel-good suggestions that the turmoil on Wall Street won’t have much impact on the rest of the economy, 55 percent of the respondents said the financial crisis would affect them personally within the next year. A separate poll for Condé Nast Portfolio shows that people working in the finance business are even gloomier: 77 percent of them say their industry is in a state of crisis, and 50 percent say the economy is the worst it has been in their careers.

So who are we to believe: the experts who failed to predict the current crisis or the great American public?

Indeed, what do you predict, public? Time to go on record now. Clearly, we need some actual experts.

Zoltar photo via TheGreenHead (also a source of 2009 predictions!)

Dear Realtors: Go Take A Vacation (In So Many Words)

We know we’re not alone with these types of emails, but like always, we share!

Thank you so much for all your help looking at places around the city. We were so excited about both 655 5th St and 1930 Mission St, but we’ve come to realize that financially it just doesn’t make sense for us right now to be buying anything. They started handing out pink slips around both our workplaces again and it got us thinking about what would happen if either of us should lose a job after we closed on a place. What would happen? We’d have no savings left because it would all have gone to a down payment and we’d probably be unable to make the monthly payments pretty quickly. While the economy continues to suffer, it seems like this would be just to big of a jump for us to take. For now, we’ll continue to put whatever money away that we can, and hopefully things will turn around in the next year and we’ll be in a better position to really start looking again. It was great working with both of you so hopefully we will be able to again soon. Thanks again, and all the best.

Should you be so inclined to attempt to reach us, first try Alta. If you can’t find us there, maybe the Bird. No luck, get a peeps and look in the Wasatch backcountry. Still no luck, try the Wood, and maybe even play paparazzo at Squalleywood! We’ll be around. Come join us!

The Winners! San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor 2008

What a battle it was, but as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and so is the case for our little ego boosting glam event that is the one and only San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor Contest. We have to say the turnout this year blew away that of last year, and we thank all of those that participated.

With over 76,000 votes tallied, we’ve found two winners.

For the women, we’re proud to announce San Francisco’s Sexiest Female Realtor 2008….Miyuki “Mia” Takami of Paragon Real Estate.
It was an insanely close contest between Mia and Thena Luu DiNapoli, but somehow Mia was able to pull 600+ votes around in the final hours of polling. Truth be told, we were already resizing Thena’s photo for the win. Maybe this little plug had something to do with it, or maybe Mia’s fans were just a bit more fanatical than Thena’s. We’ll never know. What we do know is that Lee Bender surprised us all. Nice work Lee!

For the men, we’re proud to announce San Francisco’s Sexiest Male Realtor 2008…Milko Encinas of Herth Real Estate.
It was very surprising (although the same thing happened last year, so maybe we should learn to expect it) to see the men garnered WAY more votes than the women, and Milko handily defeated Rob La Eace by around 18,000 votes. It was close for a while, but then Milko just ran away with it.

It was fun to see the lead change multiple times in both the male and female contests.

Not only do our winners receive the coveted title of San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor, but this year we’re throwing in a T-Shirt of their choice. Winners make sure to shoot us an email with your size and we’ll make sure to get you one. Also make sure to let us know if you want Real Estate Sucks (means “doesn’t suck” for those that don’t get blog humor) or Real Estate Sucks.

To all the other contestants, thank you soooo much for being good sports and having fun with this. Thanks to all those that voted, and thanks to all the sites that linked to us. We appreciate it.

We’ll see you same time, same place next year, so mark your calendars.

Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night. See you in a week (or so, depending on the pow-pow gnar gnar dumping down in them thar hills).


My Sage Advice to Renters: Think Like a Buyer

hammery2I’m a tenant. I’d be very much lying if I did not admit I enjoy the multiple protections offered me by SF, especially when a look at home prices convinced me I’d always be a renter. In the past, I got a sort of vicious thrill thinking how so many landlords get the screw in this city, because really, I was jealous of people who could own not only their own home, but other people’s homes as well. And here I was, teaching English at San Francisco State and summer classes for Stanford; yet I could only dream of the day when [insert misery-wreaking landlord name here] could no longer chastise me as if I were her recalcitrant teenage daughter.

But ironically, some of these same laws that so protect renters work to keep us renters forever. For instance, if I could finally afford a condo that was currently tenant occupied, the only way I could evict that person is to follow the new eviction laws in the city. To quote from the Tenants’ Union webpage, I have just cause to evict if “The landlord or a close relative of the landlord (if the landlord lives in the building) wants to move in to the unit and will remain a minimum of 36 consecutive months.” However, “under this just cause, landlords must pay relocation benefits of $4,500 per tenant plus an additional $3,000 to senior or disabled tenants or households with children.” I don’t want to evict anyone at all really, but with rent control like it is, people who have good deals have no incentive to move, ever. And that same rent control will logically frustrate a landlord so much that he/she opts to sell. Both of these situations mean chances are good that a condo or 2-unit building I might buy with partners will be occupied.

Further ironic: Because of this morass of laws, tenant occupied properties are usually the best deals when they hit the market. Thus, in a sense, as a buyer, I find these units in my price range. Yet the red tape in actually getting the unit vacant– or later, in converting it to condo– brings it back up to a price and stress level I have no interest in.

And so, I rent on. And on. And on.

I am absolutely not for complete de-regulation of the rental market. De-regulation in the commerce of housing doesn’t work: Witness the mess the real estate market finds itself in now. However, fellow renters, I urge you to study in two ways:

1. Really investigate, critically, the laws that come to the ballot promising to protect you. Knee jerk reaction is to always vote “pro renter,” but you might actually be very much screwing yourself if you ever aspire to leave renting behind you.
2. Know SF tenants’ laws, not only for your own protection now, but also to understand what you’re undertaking if you ever try to buy an occupied home, or worse, become a landlord yourself.

art and quote: SF Tenant’s Union

Vote Now! San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor Contest 2008 Is ON!

[Update: It is is 5:48pm PST, and we’ve received a few emails regarding the polling. Yes, the provider (PollDaddy) was down for maintenance today, and yes the voting appears to not be working (performs differently than what you might be used to), but votes are tallying. Thena Luu DiNapoli has a commanding lead at the moment, and to reiterate, votes ARE tallying.]

It has arrived! The moment we have been waiting an entire year to experience again…voting for San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor 2008. Thank you to those that submitted your nominations, and thank you, in advance, to our participants for having a little fun with us. Voting will be open all week (until Saturday 12/20 at 11:59pm), and the winner will be announced Monday 12/22, so contestants have plenty of time to gather crucial votes.

What’s at stake? The title of San Francisco’s Sexiest Realtor, and this year…the grand prize Real Estate Sucks” t-shirt (for the losers a “Real Estate Sucks” t-shirt ;-) .)

One big change this year is we’re using Poll Daddy for voting. You can check back to see how the competition is unfolding by clicking on the “view results” link within the poll, and your voting privacy is totally, 100% guaranteed. However, we’re going to disable the “view results” feature on Thursday (you know, build a little suspense).

So…without further adieu, we present the nominees for theFrontSteps’ Sexiest Realtor Contest 2008.

[See daily updates at the bottom of this post.]

Women first (of course):

San Francisco's Sexiest Realtor 2008 (Women)

Please vote for your favorite (sexiest) female Realtor using this poll:

…and of course, the men:

San Francisco's Sexiest Realtor Men 2008

Please vote for your favorite (sexiest) male Realtor using this poll:

Are we going to see another battle of brokerages like we saw last year, or simply a battle of individuals? Time will tell. Thanks for participating, and thanks for hanging out on theFrontSteps.

Our apologies to Tiffany Combs. Your nominators failed to send a link to a picture and we couldn’t find you anywhere! (Time for a lesson in SEO.) Apologies also to the contestants that didn’t get nominated in time. We’ll see you same time, same place next year.

[Update 1: Voting is reaching a furious pace, with over 3000 votes tallied so far (men and women), Miyuki Takami holds a commanding lead, although she lost it in a late day strike yesterday from Lee Bender. Thena Luu DiNapoli a close third and Jennifer Martin right behind. For the men, Brendon Kearney is hitting it out of the park, followed by Ron Whitney in second, and defending champ Mark Choey in third. Brother Kevin Kearney not fairing so well in last place…you gonna take that sh*t!
Voting multiple times for the same person is not necessary and one would argue an enormous waste of your time. ;-) Check back for more updates. ]

[Update 2: The number of votes continues to surprise (even though we know some of you are voting over and over again). So far the women have received 4116 Votes, the men 2946. Miyuki Takami still out front for the women with 1350, Lee Bender close behind in second with 942, Thena Luu DiNapoli closing in with 792, and Stasi Martin bringing up the rear in last place with 7 votes. For the men Brendon Kearney in front of his brother (guess he isn’t going to take that sh*t after all) with 883 votes, Kevin Kearney with 439, Ron Whitney in third with 419, and defending Champ Mark Choey slipping into 5th! Bringing up the rear for the men is Kevin McLeod with 11 votes. Voting open all week, so lots of time for things to change.]

[Update 3: Wow! What a turn of events yesterday. The women continue to outpace the men in regards to number of votes cast (5921), but the men are gaining (5522), and Brendon Kearney got clobbered off the top spot first by Milko Encinas (who we’re informed works for Herth Real Estate), and now Rob La Eace is crushing all of them. (He must have a good campaign manager.) Defending champ Mark Choey slipping, slipping, slipping off the charts, where last year he dominated. As we said to Kevin Kearney, “you going to take that sh*t?!”

For the women, Lee Bender has unfortunately slipped from strong second place position, down to third despite her email comment leaked to us saying, “Dontcha think it would be cool if an old bag like me actually won?” Thena Luu DiNapoli is clawing her way to the top (currently in second), and Miyuki Takami hanging on for dear life in first place.

We were going to disable the “view results” feature today, but have decided not to. Instead, we have allowed you to see the number of votes cast, not just percentages. And in response to many inquiries regarding the ability to vote multiple times, see our Editor’s Note in this comment. Basically, in order to allow more than one person to vote from the same computer (think offices where multiple people share the same computer with the same IP) we had to enable this function. Maybe next year we’ll kill it, but the playing field is even regardless, and some people just have more fanatic fans than others. Nothing we can do about that. That’s all for today, polls close Saturday night at 11:59pm. Good luck to all!]

[Update 4: This will be the last update before going quiet on y’all and watching the votes ourselves. Yup, very soon we’re disabling the “view results” and will keep a close eye on them without letting you in on the action. At this moment, both races (men and women) are coming down to just two. Mia Takami in first by only 20 votes…actually, we take that back, it’s back up to a 400 vote lead, wow! For the men, Rob La Eace in a commanding lead over Milko Encinas, but if Mia can get 400 votes within the hour, anything is possible for Milko, and even Brendon who is only slightly behind Milko in third. There have been more than 24,000 votes cast, which is truly remarkable and we can only pray there aren’t a handful of people just voting over and over again. Our website traffic would indicate the contrary. Thanks for all of the participation, we’ll announce the winner on Monday. Voting stops 11:59pm tomorrow (Saturday 12/20). Good luck! Don’t forget to get a T-shirt on your way out.]

[FINAL UPDATE: Milko Encinas wins for the guys, Mia Takami for the girls. Thanks for participating and having a little fun!]

[Editor’s note: As always, comments are currently open, but in order to preserve the integrity of this site and our contestants, we’re keeping a close eye on comments. That means, please keep comments civil (as in you wouldn’t talk like that in front of your mother, grandmother, or children, and you’d be embarrassed as hell if we made your identity public next to what you said, because it is very possible to do so. Thank you for your cooperation.]

The contestants and their sites:
Thena Luu DiNapoli; Linda Ho; Christiane Gigas; Sheldon Rilliet; Jenn Davis; Shawn Case; Casey Fulford; Carrie Buchanan-Goodman; Elle Ghandi; Helen Dias; Par Hanji; Ron Whitney; Erica Elsner; Marika Fishman; Alejandro Quenta; Maximillian Armour; Staci Martin; Miyuki “Mia” Takami; Kevin McLeod; Frank Nolan; Rob La Eace; Milko Encinas; Wendy Vandersteen; Chris Lim; Emily Dunn; Cindy Lynch; Jennifer Martin; Lamisse Droubi; George Limperis; Ron Sebahar; Marla Moresi-Valdes; Mark Choey (defending champ); Lee Bender; Colm Glass; Kenneth Kohlymyer; Marina Gershberg; Herman Chan; Brendon Kearney; Kevin Kearney; Oliver Burgelman.

SF Cool Lifestyle for Sale. Condo also Included!

Condo complexes aren’t really selling condos these days. Instead, they sell a feeling, an image of the lifestyle that would too become yours if you buy in. And by “buy in” I mean in both senses, because first you’d have to buy that owning a condo at, say, the Hayes, would make you instantly urban-chic-hip; second, you’d actually have to buy the condo itself.


Adbusters points out that advertising hasn’t always been such a blatant appeal to pathos. The first print ads are dense with type because every possible fact has been disclosed.

The image used, if any,  is a straight forward depiction of the item for sale, very different from imagery we see today that seems to package the item with our greatest fears, insecurities, hopes, and desires. To quote from Kalle Lasn’s book “Design Anarchy,” Advertising moved from simple factual announcements into status symbolism and the stimulation of desires.”

Condo marketers really go for this style. The Hayes, for instance, employs a webpage that stimulates multiple responses. The music is ambient, the tasteful choice of post-rave kids who are now upwardly mobile adults. Images are a collage of hip style and urban culture (“techno and opera,” they promise). There’s even a film, rich in quick cuts and fast-speed camera work, that conveys the ultra coolness of the area, and by default, of those who live in these condos

Missing from the site is info on prices, among other deal breakers.

I would argue that the missing details are the most important. I know that there may be a host or “selling strategy”-related reasons for not releasing the price of homes in development, like these at  Arden Estates, but some of these condos have been for sale awhile now, and many of the units in the complexes have sold. Presumably then, a price has been agreed on and should not be treated as irrelevant info to the prospective buyer.

Similar “lifestyles” are for sale at Blu, The Infinity, and One Rincon Hill(the latter is more upscale. Notice the jazz music instead of the techno). Otherwise, aside from the music and respective addresses, the ad campaigns are synonymous.

As the likely target market of these ads, let me opine that I don’t need them. I already have a lifestyle, and I’m too experienced to know it will stay as disorganized and blighted by dog hair as it is now, no matter where I move. I already have a culture too, and I have my own definition of hip. What I need is a condo. So tell me: what are the square feet? What is the HOA? What is the asking price? Tell me quick, or I’m moving on to the next website. And please, kill the music, as the only real emotion it inspires in me is boredom. And boredom is not…”cool.”


Ad credits: CI Advertising & Old Fishing Stuff


Don’t be fooled, and more

I once again want to thank Alex for the opportunity to post here. . .and, for all of the informative opinions and views on the market.  Perhaps this may come off as a rant. . .but, really it is just my opinion and some thoughts and quest


s on the last open market Friday of the year . .

First off, with all of the Tarp funds and government intervention in the credit markets. . .why is it still so hard to get a loan?

I have coined the term “blue collar loan,” because this is what it is.  If you are self employed  or deep in real estate, forget it. . .that is unless you have no writeoffs or you are equity rich!

The 30 year fixed rates that everyone is jabbering about, sure they are at an all time low for “conforming loans”. . .but, as a consumer, you need to know that there are “risked based price adjustments” that directly affect those low rates; credit score, loan to value, and occupancy hits.

Why is it that even if you put 20% down in certain markets in our immediate area and even in the City, you can be underneath your home?

It is likely that property values may dip even further. buying viagra . .at what point will the banks reduce principal balances and make it sensible for a homeowner to continue to pay their mortgage?

With many ALT A mortgages and 100% Loan to Value loans made in 05, 06, and 07 we have not even seen the tip of the iceberg. . .FORECLOSURE!

Why isn’t the city stepping in with Silent Seconds, to fill the gap. . .since there are no second mortgages and Mortgage Insurance basically does not exist.

To date, there are 311 Lenders who have gone out of business. . .where do mortgage brokers send loans? <a href=””></a>

Lastly, How long will this last?

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How Real Is The Credit Crunch? Try Getting A Loan

by Misha Weidman:

I’ve been talking to lenders over the last few weeks to get a sense of the credit crunch from their side of the desk. Several were loan officers at big retail banks like Bank of America and Wells Fargo. Others were independent loan brokers who have access to a greater range of loan products because they are not tied to a single bank.

Though there was a range of views on how slow and difficult the home loan business has become, everyone agreed that underwriting standards – the rules the banks use to decide whether to lend or not – are a world away from where they were just a year ago. You’d better have a stash of cash ready to go for your down payment and your credit score better be impeccable – or you’ll pay for dearly for it, if you can qualify at all.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that with the Fed and the Federal government continuing to pump money into the system, mortgage rates are near historical lows and may continue to drop if the banks actually start lending in earnest rather than hoarding cash.

Ask Us: Your Mortgage Insurance Company Drop The Ball Too?

Where readers ask and we (the community, because Lord knows we don’t know everything) try to answer:

Hey there,

Wondering if anyone else there has gotten wind of a problem we’ve been running into:

My partner and I put in an offer on a 2 bed/1 bath condo in the Mission in mid-November. Offer price was $740K, and we put down $75K. A mortgage broker had confirmed that he would be able to get a loan with only ~10% down, as my partner and I both have steady jobs with good income (~$200K/year total), and our credit scores are both around 800. We went through the whole process and the loan came through fine, but the deal fell through at the last second because the mortgage insurance company claimed that they had had a significant change in policy a few days before and were “no longer insuring condos with loan amounts over $650K in California.”

We moved on to a lender at Bank of America, who assured us that “they have different relationships with the MI companies” than the brokers do. We gave him the whole story, but lo and behold–same exact thing happened. He acted all surprised and said that even the MI underwriter had just told him the day before that everything looked good, and then she found out about this new policy (which supposedly went into effect 11/30).

The MI company both lenders were trying to use was Radian, but they supposedly weren’t able to find a work around with any of the other MI companies, either. It just seems strange that none of the lenders we’ve worked with (we’re on our 3rd one now and fully anticipate running into the same problem, though he also is assuring us it won’t happen but can’t even tell us what MI company they use) seem to know about this at all. And it seems odd that the mortgage insurance underwriter didn’t find out about it until reviewing our application in mid-December after the change went into effect 11/30.

Has anyone else run into this? Is nobody in this city buying places that require MI anymore? Any thoughts or ideas on ways around it? Thankfully the sellers have been very patient and understanding–I can’t say that I would have been if I were in their situation, but we’ve done everything we can.


Thanks for the email and question. We’re sure there is someone out there (the Banker) that might be able to shed some light on this, or perhaps another buyer. Luckily, our recent transactions have been with cash buyers, or 20-30% down, and we have not experienced this. So….we’re calling on the community. Let’s not disappoint this reader, because all we can do on this end is thank him for hanging out on theFrontSteps, emailing in, and hope he comes back.

A Little Holiday Cheer To Take You Into The Weekend

So we got this little text come across our channels yesterday and we thought we’d share it with you.

The Dow is going to drop to 7500 (at least) next year. It’s going to get uglier before it gets better. The hedge funds have yet to implode, and while not as damaging as the big time investment banks, it’s still going to bring the market down further. This is from a [higher up at a higher up bank…not currently going under].

Believe it or not? One thing is for sure, it’s a great time to be a buyer.

Have a good weekend, voting starts next week for our Sexiest Realtor, so make sure to check back on Monday, and feel free to buy a t-shirt for your friends in real estate.