What Kind of SF Home Can You Buy For Less Than $500K?

It seems like it must have been another lifetime when you could buy a home in San Francisco for a mere $500,000.

But in fact this was a commanding sum in the SF market until very recently, before the housing boom rewired our brains to imagine SF homes as exclusively seven-figure properties.

Admittedly, you have to go all the way back to the year 2000 to find a point when the median price of an SF home hovered around half-a-million–although actually that’s a bit deceptive, since after inflation, $500,000 in 2000 becomes almost $789K today. You’d really have to warp back to about 1997 to get an average SF home worth $500K in modern moneys.

But median prices are just that: medians. Even when the average soared well above a million dollars for years, that still means you could always find many homes for less. As recently as 2016, full, single-family houses listed for less than $500 grand in neighborhoods like Excelsior and Bayview, and certain condos offered similar deals in northern neighborhoods.

(55 Red Rock Way. Photos by SFMARMLS)

We are aware this is a surreal conversation in any other context: Half-a-million dollars is a huge sum of money. It’s, well, half-a-million dollars–enough to buy two homes most places in America.

But in San Francisco, it’s a shockingly meager sum–and it often nets shocking prospects. Go looking for home listings at such a price point today and you’ll find teardowns, empty parcels, properties that are literally underwater, etc. Many of the real homes listed at this level are BMR units price well below the usual asking by City Hall mechanisms.

Nevertheless, if you’re curious and diligent, you can still find livable market properties at this price point in SF proper. The question is, what kind of homes are they?

By way of a very typical example, here’s 55 Red Rock Way #106o, a studio condo in Diamond Heights Village, the paneling-bedecked hillside condo building that’s overlooked Diamond Heights since 1972. Realtor Charles Mader stresses the hillside locale (the views actually are quite nice in that neighborhood) by encouraging buyers to live “up and away from the stress and toil of city life.”

What will probably destress browsers the most is the price tag, as #106o (not to be confused with #1060) listed a few days ago asking $475,000, sliding into the Under $500K Club with room to spare.

It’s not a big place, clocking in at less than 500 square feet all around, and the staging presented in the listing photos is quite spartan.

Nevertheless, home ads like this keep hope alive for some–in June, the California Association of Realtors estimated that the median price for a house in San Francisco was more than $1.9 million, and more than $1.2 million for condos. For those who can’t afford a piece of city living at prices like that, there’s got to be something to hold out for.

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