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]

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

  1. “My question is, doesn’t the basement permit have to be completed before it can be taxed.”

    I don’t have experience with SF BID but I own a home in Sacramento that has a similar issue. The previous owner expanded the house by adding an extra room. The plan was sent to BID and the County Assessor, the work was completed but was not recorded. Naturally, after I bought the house I wanted to add the extra sq ft on the record. Called the County Assessor and they couldn’t be more cooperative: So the work is done? Ok, I’ll add the sq ft to your property tax record. One phone call was all it took. Next I went to the BID and it’s a different story, BID: To bring the room up to code, You have to add this, add that, and that, and do this…. Knowing that the Assessor has already increased the sq footage and knowing there are better ways to spend my money, I never bothered with the BID again. Thus, if you look up my house’s sq ft with the County Assessor’s office and compare it to the BID’s official record, they’re different.

    Maybe SF works much like Sacramento. I don’t know.

  2. beb0p,
    the “regular” way at san francisco is that SFDBI sends a list of “complete” permits to the assessor, and a list of “issued” permits to the assessor.

    for each “issued”, the homeowner receives each year a declaration of work done for partial reassessment.
    for each “complete”, the reassessment is done, according to the value of the work approved by the DBI. (and DBI is quite scrupulous lately).

    In SF, additional square footage is taxed in a very special way – so you dont “just” update the square footage, because you have to pay $$ to do so (something like a school taxe? it’s on a case to case basis. We were not taxed because we added less than 25sqft, but adding a whole floor would be something to look carefully at).

    Also, I’m expecting (and hoping) that property pricing will get a much more trigger from illegal and uninspected work. Most of the inspections are not to piss you off, but to make the property SAFE. Re: unbraced water heater in the city. There are estimated at x0.000 units – for a refused expense of TWENTY DOLLARS!!! (per piece!). Either that, of the contractor inspection of the houses will get more and more read and important – and buyers will condition their offers to fixing more and more details before closing. and that’s GOOD and HEALTHY for the city.

  3. Interesting Sophie. I’m the original poster, what does triage mean exactly when it comes to the permit status? And how is the partial reassessment value done since the basement/garage is pretty broken from what I can tell even in the remodeled sections and both the Pest Inspection Report who happens to be a Structural Contractor and the Home Inspection Report didn’t look good either as repairs have a $40k minimum just to fix that one small section of the concrete slab for the foundation in the garage. There was a buyer in December 2008 who offered $765k and basically walked out after doing those inspections and the buyer might be the one who filed that report with the DBI in early January 2009 before the property was relisted again. I have been making offers on the property which after 4 offers since January 23 have still been rejected without a counter offer from the bank which is LaSalle in Oregon who I assume is the same as the LaSalle that Bank of America bought. It seems like we would have to basically ground zero the basement and reverse all the work then and then rework it from scratch after fixing the foundation so it seems like expensive work except I’m not sure how expensive it can get. Thanks.

  4. I’m not a professional. I’m just explaining what you have to do (what I have done).

    for a given property, you log on
    then with copy-paste you print your list of all the info available online on each tab of the property page. and print and think.

    on each permit application (the pink sheet), there is a start date and a project cost. say start date jan 1st 2004. cost 200.000.
    say your house number comes for reassemment aug 1st.
    aug 1st 2004, you get a letter from the assessor with the permit number, and you have to state how much % of the work is done and how much % of the cost is spent. Say 80% done, 60% spent.
    So your house is reassessed on a 120K improvment.
    Say your permit is completed december 04.
    The assessor works on the assumption that 100% of the work is done and 100% of the cost is spent. then your house is reassessed on the remaining 80K.
    You do receive a form to argue and negotiate, but basically, this is what they use to reassess.

    If the project is rather large and needs planning review, architect, permit review etc .. your permit also has some specifics such as the exact numbers of BR, BA, sqft, floors, rooms etc.. and the details of the modifications. So again, when your permit is completed-closed-finished, those details become part of the house and its reassessment (planning sends the info to assessor for the school tax whatever).

    now. if you have an expired permit. The reassessment request is (probably) never sent to the assessor. But you also get red tagged by the city and cannot apply for a new permit.
    If you have an expired permit. And if you have the PAPER permit application and the intermediate inspections etc on the white form, then you can go in person to the DBI and start negotiating. With a reasonable respectful debate, you can managed to remove the red tag, avoid to have to demolish everything done and negotiate what/how much to complete that old permit – and I believe it wont trigger any assessment (specially if you bough the house like that).
    Once the previous owner’s can of worms closed, you are free to reapply for your own permits

    so if we are indeed talking about the above property.
    permit in 1994. reroofing. expired. I’d give up on that one (ask the DBI to close it) and reapply for a new roofing permit (the roof is cooked already anyway).
    permit in 1998. new windows. expired. I’d probably give up on that one too. reapply when ready to have new windows.
    permit 2005. new garage slab. expired. from what you say, I’d negotiate to close that permit and reapply for your own.
    permit 2005. legalize garage level. $16.000.
    modified into
    Cost: $25,000.00”

    At all costs, I’d try to get the paper documents related to that work. The paper permit, the architect plans, photos and everything.
    From what you say, I’d assume nothing (legal or even remotely legal) was done, so I’d use that information as “legalisation possible” – but start again from scratch.

    Note that they never filed an electrical permit ( huh? ) nor a plumbing permit (huh? ) – I guess the above “new bath” was running on high tech no plumbing water??
    Note that they pulled a permit to change the water heater (thus agree to brace the water heater up to code) then never completed that permit either.

    Note2: altho contractors and architects deal with the DBI regularly, it’s ALWAYS the homeowner who comes in person who gets the best information, the nicest treatment, the fairest compromise. So bring your ipod, a bagpack of snacks, prints of all the information you have, and get in line. The sups are usually available if asked with a nice smile, and he/they’ll give you a list of specific steps. It takes time but the more time you spend in person at the DBI, the less money you’ll cough up to fix the mess.

    (I’m not sure I answered your question ??)

    PS: foundation/ concrete and “raising” the house to fix it is from far the “less expensive” item on your list. It’s s fixed price, a fixed number of days and if carefully planed, the less painful remodeling job. It’s just very scary to look at. However, it’s still expensive for the wallet.

  5. Sophie:

    First of all, thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge even though you’re not a professional but every little bit of information helps especially when the other person is clueless as I am in this area.

    That’s the same site where I found the info even though shows pretty much everything all in one location.

    Thanks for explaining the permit application, that makes sense.

    Wow, I never knew you can get red tagged by the city for a expired permit since couldn’t some people just apply for the permit but never actually did any work after the permit was approved? How long does it take for a permit to expire anyways?

    So basically what you’re saying is that one can just use the home inspection report/structural pest report and then visit the DBI in person to get the red tag removed
    but in this case, there is no expired permit as the permits were issued with the latest status as Triage on the same date. In the case of this property, the rooms they added were done poorly and there is a wood post in the middle of the bedroom so those additions have to be redone anyways.

    The problem is really the can of worms because it seems like when the house was originally listed, they said all rooms were legal and even listed the permit numbers which was late 2007/early 2008 and then when the property was finally transferred to the bank in November 2008, the bank decides to list the property as if the entire basement was unwarranted.

    Yes, we are indeed talking about the above property.

    I don’t think the 1994 reroofing and 1998 new windows expired permits matter as all those were not really a big concern as that was before 2004 when pretty much everything seems to be done 2005 and later.

    The New Garage Slab in 2005 was never done because that’s where the major cost seems to be from both the Structural Pest Inspection and Home Inspection Report except that they can only see the foundation where that issue is as the rest of the basement has already been remodeled with all those addition so my concern is more that the rest of the foundation has issues too. I thought permit says TRIAGE on the same date as the ISSUED date and it doesn’t say expired anywhere as far as the status.

    It’s hard to get the paper documents related to that work as the current owner is the bank and they aren’t providing anything it seems so I don’t think there would be a way to get the paper permit, architect plans, photos, etc at this point in time as it’s probably with the previous owner.

    It seems like the property would be better left if it was just the full basement so that we can add th stuff legally instead as they did a pretty poor job.

    The electrical wires from the pole are already a hazard according to the home inspection and lots of the wiring in the entire house is reverse polarity. If they already did the work before getting the permits, then I thought they wouldn’t need the electrical or plumbing permits since I thought you only needed that when the work was actually done?

    The permit to change the water heater was done prior to 2005 so that was probably when the entire house is legalized as the property was sold in 2004 and then the last owner bought it in late 2005 before the bank took it over in late 2008. As for the water heater permits, note that for the property next door at 351 Ulloa St which was purchased at $828k in May 2008 and then basically the new owner did a full remodel from the studs up and it’s on sale on the market for close to $1.3 million now, that they too have a water heater replacement permit but that never got completed while all the other permits are in the complete stages so perhaps no one really completes permits when it comes to water heaters?

    I know it’s better for the homeowner to deal with the DBI directly to get the best information as when it goes through the contractor or architect, some information might be missing but that all depends too on how competent the person you’re talking to at the DBI is.

    Is the recent complaint done in January 2009 a big issue too since it seems like assuming we bought the property, the DBI can just come and fine us even if we visited the DBI the first thing.

    It seems like the foundation/concrete and “raising” the house to fix it would be the first thing to do before doing anything else and it sounds really costly but I’m not sure how costly it would be as it seems like fixing just the concrete slab in the garage which is only about 6 feet or so is $38k-$50k from what the $765k buyer got quoted as it’s listed in the structural pest inspection report as well as from another contractor. So I’m just trying to figure out how much it would cost as a ballpark figure as I wonder if $100k would really cover it or will it be some huge amount.

  6. I can’t help more. sorry. but I think you are on the right track.

    new foundations. $150-200K for a full perimeter full height (say 8ft tall 120-130 linear feet).

    NO, I don’t believe it’s possible to legalize previously done work, and no, I don’t believe you can legalize ANY sqft without a plumbing inspection, an electrical inspection, a framing inspection [framing, insulation etc] and a general inspection. Those inspections are then closed with a “diploma like” document called certificate of occupancy whatever.

    re the water heater permit. Yes, it’s not essential to close that permit. But the problem is when you have a series of open and expired permits topped with a complain. Then they want to reinspect it all.

    Also, the certificate of occupancy is a serious item, and during that final inspection, the inspector can (you authorized him by calling him) visit every and any part of the house and refuse the certificate for a problem anywhere in the house (example: he finds an illegal stair to the garden).
    So I guess that indeed that certificate erases any open permit issued before. But on that property, there is no such certificate.

    A permit duration depends on the permit application. Most ‘small’ permits such as a bathroom remodel are 90days from issued date. A water heater permit might be in the 30 days range, and a whole remodel of the house is 6 or 12 months.

    One more note: DBI staff has always been helpful. Cleaning a permit mess is left to sups and those who helped me were very very willing to help. They understand that a new owner cannot spend a fortune but still want a decent property. Your willingness to clean someone else mess will bail you out of as much as they can grant you.

    Re the electrical nightmare. That’s when you have to put you foot down. We told the first electrical inspector of the first electrical inspection that we were very aware of the electrical need, but that we couldn’t and wouldn’t redo it all for the final inspection. Not under one permit, not the whole house within one year. Our white permit (the log) has a specific mention somthing like “owners will have new electric system room by room. They are aware of the risk of plugging any appliance on the old system”. Each subsequent inspection was dutifully refered to that paragraph to pass the inspection. (PS: if the whole house is reversed polarity, it might as well be a 8 hours search for the single mixup and 20mn fixing – not a whole rewiring. No electrician will do this, but if you buy, you should fix it to be less dangerous for the time being).

  7. You’ve actually helped a lot already Sophia. Glad that I am headed on the right track.

    Never realized a new foundation can cost that much because the 351 Ulloa St property on-sale next door was redone from the ground up which includes new foundation and everything except for the outer shell for $300k complete which is what they claimed as the property was sold to them for $828k in May 2008 and basically even if it did cost $300k, they would not make money as that’s already $1.128Million in total cost and the property was listed at $1.29 Million which means after the 6% realtors commission would be another $72k gone assuming they sell at full value. I wonder if you can actually just add to a existing foundation though.

    I thought it was possible to legalize previous done work because what happens is someone files a complaint with the DBI and some inspector comes and basically they either make you legalize it with a permit or they make you take it down. I see what you mean but I thought the permit was actually to have the work performed as I thought they can still do the inspection portion. I guess the water heater permit is just like how the IRS audits since when they see a problem, they will audit all your returns and not just for that year only.

    Hmm, how do you actually find out if a property has a certificate of occupancy or not since I haven’t been able to find that for all
    the properties on sale I had a interest in on the DBI.

    The expiration is the puzzling part since it’s been like 3+ years since the permit was issued and it’s not in the expired status and the triage status probably just means unsafe.

    I know DBI staff can be helpful but there is always that chance of the incompetent DBI staff so hopefully I run into the good people.

    I mean for fixing things, it seems like we should do it one step at a time instead of all at once since that would really hurt the wallet. I mean the Home Inspection revealed a bunch of reverse polarity which can’t be that hard to fix as they are talking about the outlets. So some things are easy to fix while some will just be a nightmare on elm street.

  8. “… $828k in May 2008 and basically even if it did cost $300k, they would not make money as that’s already $1.128Million in total cost and the property was listed at $1.29 Million which means after the 6% realtors commission would be another $72k gone assuming they sell at full value. I wonder if you can actually just add to a existing foundation though.”

    If you’re right about those numbers I think there is actually a small profit there if it sells for 1.268M, which is where it’s at now. The 5% realtors will take about 64. Closing costs will be about 15K or so. There will be capital gains to pay. But at this point they’re probably still projecting a small profit. 140 – 64 – 15 – cap gains = what? 50K left over? hard to say.

  9. I don’t know if that profit is worth it since it seems like they claim they were going to live in it originally but if they have all those pictures of the house, before, during and after, it seems more like they were intending it to be a investment property where they basically remodel and then resell for a higher price but I mean since it’s almost a year from when they bought it, their $1.1 million even sitting in the bank would yield around 3% interest would yield $3k and that’s without even trying. I can understand it if they made like $200k or something but ofcourse the $300k could be inflated since they want to convince you they spent more so the house would be worth more if you made a offer.

  10. Well, 3 % on 1.1 is 33K in a year, and only 250K of that was insured. But I think they didn’t invest 1.1, they invested like 470K or something (170K down + 300 rehab) and are going to probably return 50K in a year or so. In the context of the last year or so that’s dynamite. Over 10 percent? Nice in 2008/2009. Very nice. Of course, let’s see how it does at 1.268M first.

  11. I meant $30k since it seems like when I don’t look, sometimes not all my characters makes it. The insured amount can be unlimited if you put it in a Money Market Fund with high yields. They did a $417k conventional first and a $245.4k second mortgage on the property so wouldn’t they still be losing 6% in interest on the $417k and then the second is probably higher in addition to the $300k rehab which is probably less than $300k since they have to make it seem like they spent a lot in order to list the price so high. It didn’t even do well at $1.29M and that’s been over 3 months before it was lowered. Remember that is still a small house except they basically added a floor downstairs so for that kind of pricing, 113 Knockhash Hill looks better as that house seems to be atleast 3x as big and also, only 14 years old. Although maybe there is a appeal to the private alley in the rear where the garage is located for these houses except the private alley is only a few feet from Portola Drive so it’s not as private when literally you can see everything from Portola.

  12. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, obviously. But the price range ~950K or so of the purchase lends itself toward tax writeoff benefits too. I’ll not be painted as a bull-defender of this particular venture, either. All I said was at the current price it still stands to profit.

  13. I’m sure it’ll profit but isn’t 2nd mortgages pretty high in interest rates and then the $300k rehab, I’m assuming it’s borrowed too since if they financed the first and second,they probably financed the other portion too so I just mean there is the costs of interest and then the property tax among other things. Unless ofcourse they in reality spent less than $300k since that’s what they use for marketing as what their costs were.

  14. The other thing ofcourse is, if the property after remodeling is worth $1.26 Million or even $1 Million in current market conditions as what a property is worth is really the maximum a buyer is willing to pay. So I do agree with you they will stand to profit but that’s only if they can sell it at what they are asking.

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