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.