First Peek at Fall Market

September's numbers are in. Predictions of a precipitous decline in the market or a bursting bubble appear to have no basis, although it is fair to say that most San Francisco properties are not selling in the frenzied atmosphere we have become accustomed to in the past several years. We will haver a better idea of the market's direction next month and at the end of the year - September's numbers reflect mostly August sales, one of the slowest months of the year.

What has happened since the end of the Spring Market in May? At a macro level, we hit a new record median price in June of $1,430,000 (for all properties) and stayed very close to that level through September. This is a bit unusual, because the Summer usually sees some decline in prices as properties that did not sell in the Spring finally sell at a discount. Will this stability continue throughout the Fall market or will we see a dip like last Fall?

In September, single family homes were up 2.7% (to $1,540,000) from last year after falling from June's record of $1,750,000. Condo/TIC/Coop sales, by contrast, were up a dramatic 15% year over year in September to a new record of $1,325,000.

Inventory - the number of properties for sale - is often used as an indicator of the future of the market. The idea is that inventory increases when buyers are not willing to pay the top price and sellers nevertheless wait for just that. September's inventory was substantially up from the Summer months, which is normal, but actually 9% down from last September. Talk in the agent community about a flood of new properties for sale simply did not come to pass - at least not yet and not across the board. Similarly, the number of actual sales fell over the Summer (again, a normal seasonal change) AND was almost 7% lower in September year over year.

What about active properties in September? Although no statistics are available yet, it appears that at the lower end (below $2 million) most properties are still selling quickly at prices at or above last year and those that check all the boxes are drawing significant overbids. At the higher end of the market, some properties are taking longer to find a buyer and there have been some price reductions. This all makes sense as the demand is still very strong at the lower end, but significantly fewer buyers can afford over $2.5 million AND those buyers generally are making a discretionary purchase. We will await the October and November statistics to see where the market is going but all indications are that it is still a strong sellers market albeit with more predictability for buyers. Some more specific neighborhood Quarter 3 statistics are below separated for single family homes and condo/TIC/coops. Or go to my website www.danslaughtersf.com or just ask me!

The Hub Takes Shape

The Hub is the city's name for the area centering around Van Ness, Market and Mission. Plans are for several residential towers, taking advantage of ready access to transit and providing housing for Mid-Market business workers. The first big building at 1500 Mission is topped out at 39 stories, slicing through the sky with a shiny interesting design. But what goes at Market and Van Ness? The city is now proposing 600 foot buildings for those sites and their development is crucial in creating a neighborhood that truly is a hub. More details here.

Statewide Rent Control

California has a new rent control law that covers the entire state. For San Franciscans, the new law (which sets rent increases at 5% plus inflation per year and restricts evictions to those based on "just cause") does not apply to those units already covered by the city's stricter ordinance. But it does apply to rentals in buildings built between 1979 and 2004. Exemptions include single family homes, condos, and duplexes where the owner occupies one unit, unless they are owned by a REIT or corporation. There are lots of other details to the new law, so if you are a landlord or tenant - or are thinking about being one - you should familiarize yourself with the new rules and/or consult an attorney. More information here.

Autumn Leaves

Fall heralds the end of Summer and the coming Winter. And what better marker of that than the colorful displays of leaves turning from green to flame. Autumn tourism is often associated with Vermont or even Japan, but we have great leaf-viewing opportunities right here in California with our varied geographies and climates. So consider a mid-Fall break to the mountains or one of our state parks. A map and other information is here. Happy Autumn!

Spring Rebound!

The preliminary Spring 2019 numbers are in, and it appears that San Francisco's never-ending seller's market is just that. Last Fall median prices were down slightly and with inventory increasing it appeared that perhaps the price appreciation that has been going on for a decade might have ended. January was also way down. But since then prices rebounded to a median of $1,400,000 essentially meeting the highest median ever and 1.1% above last May. Price per square foot hit a record median of $1105 in April and even though it dipped slightly from that in May, it was still up about 2% from last year. Single family houses, at a median price of $1,700,000 were up 5% from last May and tied for the record highest with February 2018. Condos/TICs/Coops were down from last May just slightly (0.6% to a median of $1,249,500). April's numbers were similar, which indicates that the market has settled at these prices, at least for now. This year, the final Spring numbers available at the end of June will be more important because of the slow, rainy start we had.


How about inventory? As noted above, last Fall saw a big uptick in inventory. But that began to collapse as the year ended and the downturn continued into the Spring. Normally, active listings tick up in April, but they fell this year and May inventory was nearly 20% below last year. Why is this? Some speculate that news of impending tech IPOs convinced Sellers that they should wait to access the "flood" of money. But longer term trends may also be at work, including the difficulty of moving up when prices have escalated so fast making the next best housing situation substantially more expensive than what people bought just a few years ago. Interest rates were also up but have been trending down lately which may have sent a message to Sellers that buyers might have more buying power in a few months.

Are there buyers at these high values? My experience from my listings and other agents' reports are that open houses are very busy and demand is high, especially in desirable districts and for superior properties. For example, larger units in the Castro are trading way over expectations. Houses below $2 million are in very high demand. That said, luxury houses are also selling fast - the number of home sales over $2.5 million was up 20% from last year. The tentativeness of the buyer pool that was evident last Fall is still a factor but well presented "done" properties are very very desirable and buyers are more confident than just 3 months ago.

San Francisco's market can only be described as remarkable - for the longevity of the upward price pressure, the speed of sales and the 

Want to know more about the market as it develops or about your particular house or neighborhood? Give me a call and we can talk about it. I'm never too busy.

Market Statistics

District by District

For district statistics, I use rolling 3-month averages to account for low numbers of sales and smooth out wild swings based on a few high or low sales in any particular month. So the numbers reported now include the huge drop in January and slow February. As a result, many districts are actually down from last year but a few performed very well.

The northside illustrates this contrast. Driven by the luxury home sales noted above, District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) saw appreciation of 18.7% with a median price or $2,181,000. Quite a bit of this was in May, when prices were up 34%. But District 8 (Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill, Downtown) with its large number of condos/TICs/coops fell 11% to a median of $1,075,000. 

On the westside, District 1 (Richmond, Jordan Park, Lake District) was down to $1,677,500 (-2.8%). Again, this masks massive appreciation in May when District 1 was up almost 10%. District 2 (Sunset) showed strength all Spring and again pulled almost even with its northern neighbor across the park. It stood at $1,600,000 median price, up 8.5% for the rolling average. District 3 (in the southwest corner of the city) was the biggest loser this Spring down 10.8% to $1,160,000. This may reflect one of the biggest objections to this area - distance and commute time from downtown - which loom larger as congestion increases.

The central city was also a mixed bag. District 4 (St. Francis Wood, Miraloma Park, West Portal) was down 6.59% to $1,600,500. But District 5 (Haight, Castro, Noe Valley), was up 2.1% to $1,722,500. Again, perhaps centrality and easy commute plus access to core commercial neighborhoods are defining values. But District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, NOPA, Hayes Valley) which is, if anything, even more central fell 7.4% to $1,250,000. Looking at the entire year may clear this up, but these central districts, especially 4 and 5 trade places on a regular basis.

Finally, the eastside is looking very stable as it continues to climb ever up, while remaining relatively affordable. District 9 (South Beach, SOMA, Mission, Bernal) held steady at $1,266,500 median price. District 10 (Bayview, Portola, Excelsior), as the last bastion of the under $1.5 million single family home advanced $5.6% to $1,032,000. The upward trends in these areas are almost certainly driven by proximity to Silicon Valley and the desire to be as close into the city as possible but still with a yard.

Of course, the June numbers may alter the analysis, especially if there are big surges like that in District 7 in May. But overall, the picture in the city is of an acceptance of the record prices reached last Spring. We will see if the market stops at that balance point or continues up after all the IPO madness works its way through.

More neighborhood statistics on my website here.

Light & Space

In real estate, we sometimes get caught up in statistics - number of bedrooms, price per square foot, average price appreciation in the last month or year. But homes are uniquely personal and subjective factors drive value and desirability sometimes far more than those that can be reduced to numbers. Chief among these are light and space.

Generally, apartments on higher floors are more expensive. Houses with views sell at a premium. But light is an independent factor. Garden apartments can be spectacular with light streaming in the back windows. A light-filled property seems bigger because the outdoor space seems like part of the unit. And the light streaming in also makes the inside more attractive. That's why people love an uninterrupted expansive view, even if not of downtown or a bridge. 

Square feet is space but what about cubic space (ceiling height)? Plus how is the space used? Why do two apartments in the same building that are the same size sell for different prices? Sometimes it is because of the view or light, but often the layout is determinative. Entry halls are desirable because they give a lux, private feeling. Separated bedrooms are perfect for roommates, but maybe not for a new family with a young baby.

These subjective factors, along with many others like architectural style, finishes, and proximity to transit and entertainment, are a big factor in determining the value of a property. But that value is always subjective to the buyer - not everyone likes the same thing! That's why home-shopping and selling is a subtle and complex business, with a wonderful reward at the end.

50 Years of LGBT Pride

At the end of this month we will mark the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. Seen as the beginning of the modern Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender rights movement, the event in 1969 was sparked by a police raid at the Stonewall Inn and the reaction of the patrons who fought back for several days, demanding that they be treated like other citizens. Among those brave people were two prominent transgender heroes, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera; a monument to these pioneers will be erected in Greenwich Village, New York and the event is commemorated in media and all over the world with Pride events including San Francisco's 1 million person parade at the end of June. "Stonewall" has come to mean not just that specific uprising but all the uprisings before and after. Here in San Francisco the Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in 1966 in the Tenderloin. And, of course, many others had to keep the flame burning, successfully suing to remove sodomy laws and legalize same-sex marriage, outlawing discrimination in many (but not all) places in the United States and around the world, placing diverse LGBT characters and their stories on television and in movies, raising and teaching children to love instead of hate, organizing corporate and community support, running for local and national offices (go Mayor Pete!) and living their lives authentically as an example to all. 

Happy 50th LGBT Pride Month! 

We will never stop working for equality.

We will never forget. 

More details herehere and here.

Flat Prices, Low Inventory and Sales

The Spring market was generally down in March, but also with low numbers of sales, and anecdotally April sales surpassing expectations. But no one knows for sure how it will all end. By the end of this month we will hopefully have a better idea. 

The most striking aspect of March sales is that they were essentially unchanged from last March's record high, quite a turnaround from the depreciation seen in February. After a 3% decline in February, the March median price of $1,397,500 is essentially unchanged from last March which was the highest month ever. Single family homes were down 2.2% from last year but condominiums/TICs/coops were unchanged. 

March figures can be misleading because of the low number of sales compared to later in the Spring, but this year that effect has been more pronounced with inventory almost 10% down from last year. And new listings were down over 27% from last March. That may be because of the rain, or it may be because sellers are holding their properties in hopes of higher prices after the IPO "boom" some anticipate. The lack of inventory gives those willing to put their properties on the market an advantage right now, but only if buyers continue to come out. April statistics should be telling.

My experience in the current (April) market is that well-presented and desirable properties are selling at very high prices and very quickly. Preemptive offers are increasingly common as ready buyers vie for the few available properties that meet their requirements and their budgets. Properties with challenges - poor layout, in need of extensive renovation or on less-desirable blocks are not as popular. In short, the buying public seems to have become more discriminating but willing to pay significantly more than just 2 years ago for what they want. In this environment, advance preparation, strategic pricing and savvy marketing are all the more important.

What about inventory? It seems that "normal" properties (which varies depending on the part of the city) are starting to come out on the market as usual (although a bit late this year and in lower numbers), but super-expensive and unusual ones are not, and when they do are snapped up immediately. There is certainly no "flood" of new listings as is common for April. Will those arrive in May or are we skipping this most important season and waiting for the Summer or Fall? In a month I will summarize the answer but it's fascinating to watch it unfold.  

Want to know more about the market as it develops or about your particular house or neighborhood? Give me a call and we can talk about the property you want to sell, the one you want to buy or how real estate provides not just a home but also a life and a future. 

I'm never too busy.

Market Statistics District by District

March district statistics were generally down, but keep in mind that I use 3-month rolling averages for these, so February's hit is still reflected in these results. In a somewhat dramatic reversal, District 1 (Richmond) faltered in March, down 9% to $1,500,000. That put it almost on a par with District 2 (Sunset) which was the biggest winner, up 4.3% to $1,445,000. We will see if the two neighbors across the park will retain their distinctions, pricewise. District 3 (in the southwest corner of the city) was down just a bit and remained just below $1 million.

The central part of the city was also a tale of two cities. District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) was down a relatively modest 4.1% after a big upswing in February and, at a median of $1,677,500, surpassed District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) to claim the honor of most expensive area. District 4 (St. Francis Wood, Miraloma Park, West Portal and District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, NOPA, Hayes Valley) both fell dramatically (-12.8% for median price of $1,525,000 and -13.6% for median of $1,210,000). District 5's perennial value seems assured, perhaps because of its central location, access to transit and charming neighborhoods.

As noted, District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) lost its first place position with a median price of "only" $1.6 million (down 24.9%). Keep in mind, however, that this tony area had very few listings (less than 100) and has normally rebounded from these drops in the past. Nevertheless, it does appear that the long term trend is an equalization of District 5 and 7. District 8 (Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill, Downtown) was down 12.6%, dangerously close to a below $1m median, which is also astounding since this area contains some of San Francisco's most iconic neighborhoods (but also some of its smallest and oldest units). 

District 9 and 10 on the east side of the city continued to perform relatively well. District 9 (SOMA, Mission, Potrero) was the only district other than 2 in positive territory, up 1.7% to $1,175,000. District 10 (Excelsior, Portola, Bayview) was essentially unchanged from last year (which is rare for this generally fast-appreciating and relatively affordable area) to $948,000.

I emphasize again that these numbers are only a preliminary look at the Spring market. Especially this year when the number of sales has been low, they may be misleading. And of course, these are generalities with many divergences by neighborhood, street, and type of property.

More neighborhood statistics on my website here.

City of Parks

We live in an urban environment where space is at a premium. That roof deck or private balcony offer sunlight and air, but don't forget that a nearby park offers that and much more. Plant life, space to run and learn, recreation and sports and maybe above all - a chance to get to know our fellow San Franciscans!

Everyone knows about Golden Gate Park, the Presidio and Alcatraz but we are blessed with a lot of open spaces (albeit, never enough). The city maintains 220 parks and other open spaces (pools, playgrounds, golf courses, etc.) that cover more than 3400 acres. You can find one near you here. Always consider these spaces when shopping for a new home - they bring space to you and add value! 

And don't forget state and national parks. The latter includes the Golden Gate National Recreation Area that includes Fort Funston, Fort Mason, Lands End and the Sutro Baths. Further afield are the Farallons way out at sea and protected as a wildlife refuge. California maintains Angel Island, our west coast Ellis Island, and Mount Sutro behind the UCSF hospital looming over Cole Valley. 

While you are appreciating the parks you might also consider helping them become better. Volunteer with your local neighborhood association, contact the Parks Alliance, or at least stay on the path and pick up some trash along your way. Our parks are more than just areas for nature, they are an important part of our communal life - and what helps keep San Francisco livable. Go Green!

Spring Is Finally Here!!!

Having just gotten over our BIG weekend that combined Easter, the Cherry Blossom Festival and the annual 420 marijuana blast you would think we were done for awhile. But San Francisco never sleeps and this year it seems like we can truly celebrate the beginning of Spring. So what's next? Maybe put on your orange outfit on April 27 and celebrate the Netherland's biggest national holiday, Kings Day, at the southern windmill in Golden Gate Park. Or make Cinco de Mayo less of a Tequila festival; on May 4 head to Valencia Street and learn something of the origins of the holiday (which is NOT Mexico's biggest) and the fantastic culture of our glorious southern neighbor. Look here for other events coming up!

Spring Market Begins And Goes ...

The San Francisco residential real estate market for Spring 2019 is really just beginning. The normal delay in January has been extended by the endless (albeit needed) rain we have been experiencing. So, really, there is no way to tell what the trend is yet. But we can look at the early results for January and February and make some educated guesses as to how the year will unfold. 

So far this year, the market is down statistically, with the median price for all properties standing at $1,259,500 in February, down 3% from last February. Condominiums/TICs/Coops were actually up a bit (4.1%) but single families took a dive. This may be a result of houses that had been on the market through last Fall's very slow market finally selling at reduced prices. But we also have to remember that Spring 2018 was the highest median price ever, so this Spring must be another record sales season to be "up." 

There are also countervailing statistics. Inventory - the number of properties on the market - was down 11% from last February. This lower number of properties generally means higher prices as a set number of buyers compete for the available units. But the persistent rain may also have kept inventory down both because sellers know that rain is not good for marketing (spoiled California buyers stay inside instead of shopping) but also because rain prevents some properties from being properly prepared for sale (such as where exterior painting or landscaping is needed). Also, price per square foot was actually up 1.4% in February, so maybe the "down" market is actually just a result of a mix of properties that included more smaller ones than last year.

Anecdotally, the agent "buzz" at the beginning of the year was that the market had picked up as buyers were out in force and buying quickly and over asking, at least for the properties at the lower end of the market (below $2 million). And well-presented higher-end properties have also moved, although most of those are waiting for the heart of the season. Of course, market fundamentals like the continuing strong employment picture, interest rate decreases and the anticipated San Francisco IPOs all argue for further appreciation. But no one knows for sure and everyone is holding their breath to see how the market performs in March and especially April.

Want to know more about the market as it develops or about your particular house or neighborhood? Give me a call and we can talk about it. I'm never too busy.

Market Statistics

District by District

Early district statistics show some bright - and not so bright - spots with no discernible trend yet. District 1 (Richmond) continued to perform well, up again in February for a year-over-year increase of 10.7% for a median price of $1,550,000. District 2 (Sunset) continued to fall behind its northern neighbor, falling 7.4% to $1,296,500. District 3 (in the southwest corner of the city) was also down over 7% and slipped below $1 million for the first time since March 2017.

The central part of the city was also a mixed bag. District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) surged 7.2% to a median of $1,680,000. District 4 (St. Francis Wood, Miraloma Park, West Portal and District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, NOPA, Hayes Valley) both fell (5.3% for median price of $1,515,000 and 2.4% for median of $1.2 million), putting District 5 once again well above its immediate neighbor across Twin Peaks and even further ahead of it's slightly more urban neighbor to the north.

The northside dropped precipitously. District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) lost 11.7% year-over-year and was down below $1.8 million ($1,767,500). District 8 (Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill, Downtown) almost 8% to $1,025,000. 

District 9 and 10 on the east side of the city were a brighter picture. The former (SOMA, Mission, Potrero) was up almost 4% to $1,142,500 and the latter was flat remaining at a median price of $950,000.

Of course, these are preliminary statistics, but if they hold true for several months and if my own sales so far this year are an indication (all 4 of them were very fast, way over expectations and in line with these statistics) they tell a story of continuing desirability in the central and eastern parts of the city (with the Richmond as an exception to that rule), the desirability of easy access to transit downtown and Silicon Valley, and the gradual change in perception of what is and is not a "desirable" part of the city to live in. We will all be watching closely, of course.

More neighborhood statistics on my website here.

More Housing - But Where?

Senator Scott Wiener's housing density bill is back, now called SB-50. It pushes cities statewide to allow denser housing near transit stops and job centers. The idea is to help solve our housing crisis by allowing more people to live in smaller areas and to do so without requiring that they all get in a car to get to work - the opposite of the sprawl plan that ruled for decades in the Bay Area and the US generally.

One change in the new bill is to tighten restrictions on displacement of renters so those with modest income are not pushed out to make way for luxury apartment buildings. The job center addition is meant to force suburbs to add density near the large-scale office parks they approve. That should keep Silicon Valley from continuing to shift its housing needs to San Francisco and Oakland.

Here in San Francisco, the bill would encourage the replacement of some single family homes with small apartment buildings (the bill requires heights of 4 to 5 stories - not SOMA-style behemoths). That affects the single-family neighborhoods mostly on the westside but the change would be gradual over many years and would be concentrated on high traffic areas that are the target of the legislation AND the most desirable for development anyway.

Certainly any change to our beloved city should be considered carefully, but we must do something to build more housing here (and in the rest of California) or we will become even more of a city for only the rich (we are #8 now). We should talk about how and where to build but all of California must help with this problem and Senator Wiener's proposal deserves real consideration. A nice summary of the proposal is here.

SIGNS OF THE CITY

Although San Francisco is not a "neon city" like Las Vegas or Hong Kong, we have our share of iconic signage including the Ferry Building and Ghiradelli Square, both dating from the 19th century, and neighborhood landmarks like the Avenue in Portola, New Mission and beloved Castro theaters. Other important signs to note are listed here, and be sure to check out the Neon Speaks festival in April that will celebrate that bright sign technology (even though some of them, like the huge Coca-Cola sign that looms over the 80 freeway, have been replaced with energy-efficient LEDs).

2018 Year End Review

2018's San Francisco residential real estate market was a tale of two seasons. Spring took off like a rocket as prices surged once again, defying historical trends that would indicate a slow-down after a decade of rapid appreciation. But the Fall market dampened that enthusiasm. Inventory was way up but sales did not keep pace and the overall median price showed only modest upside. Spring 2019 is the real determinant. Will buyers continue to hold back and refuse to pay every higher prices or will they charge ahead with confidence as earlier? Will sellers compromise and take the same - or less - than they could have had a year ago or hold out for every higher prices? 

Time will tell.

Statistically, the median price for all properties reached a peak in March 2018 at $1,406,000, the highest number ever. Prices dipped in the Summer, which is a normal, seasonal happening, but did not skip up in the Fall, holding in the $1.3s. Although every month was still higher than last year except November (down $25,000) year-over-year appreciation held in the single digits, with the fourth quarter up less than 4%. Perhaps more importantly, inventory (active listings) in September was at its highest since 2011, although December saw a raft of withdrawals and sales leaving inventory more than 15% lower than last year. Did buyers flood into the market post-election or was this an anomaly? Anecdotally, the few listings available in the first half of January have been swamped but we will need at least a few months to see any trend. 

Let us all remember to have some perspective regarding the extent of any market shift. The single family house appreciation in 2018 - $185,000 - was the highest for any single year ever. Condos did not do as well but still were up $60,000. Months supply, even with September's inventory surge, stood at 3.2 months, hardly a buyer's market (6 months is the generally-accepted tipping point). The equity markets were volatile at the end of the year and certainly we continue to face political and international uncertainties but the Bay Area continues to shine as a bright and forward looking economic engine with its real estate a desirable haven.

Want to know more about the market as it develops or about your particular house or neighborhood. Give me a call and we can talk about it. I'm never too busy.

Market Statistics

District by District

On the city's westside, the big story of this year was the surge in District 1 (Richmond). Traditionally more desirable than its neighbor south of Golden Gate Park, District 2 (Sunset), at times in the past 2 years they have appeared to meet as District 2 values increased more rapidly. But in 2018, the Richmond took off in the Spring and has maintained it's $200,000 premium. By contrast, District 2 and 3 (in the southwest corner of the city) kept pace with the city as a whole. The numbers for December (always at or near the lowest of the year): 

District 1 median $1,530,000, up 2%

District 2 median $1,300,000, down 4%

District 3 median $1,120,000 down 1.8% 

In the center of the city, District 4 filled with tree-lined single family areas like St. Francis Wood, Miraloma Park and West Portal advanced to equal or surpass District 5 (Haight, Castro, Noe Valley), which has generally outpaced its southern neighbor by at least $100,000. District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, NOPA, Hayes Valley) faltered especially in the Fall. Does this mean that buyers are retreating to "safe" neighborhoods or is it increasing desirability of single family homes over condos/TICs? Again, time will tell.

District 4 median $1,602,500, up 3.1%

District 5 median $1,700,000, up 6.3%

District 6 median $1,180,000, down 8.1%

The northside showed some slowing as District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) dropped from its perennial top spot for October, recovering in December. District 8 (Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill, Downtown) held steady in the Fall, but experienced almost no appreciation, which in San Francis is a "slow down." It's hard to make any overall prediction from these numbers, other than perhaps to speculate that a $2,000,000 median price is, for now, unsustainable, even in the toniest areas.

District 7 median $1,900,000, down 5%

District 8 median $1,149,000, down 3%

Finally, the eastside continued the steady upward climb it has been on for years, but without any big jump. District 9 (South Beach, SOMA, Mission, Bernal) held onto the gains from last Spring. District 10 (Bayview, Portola, Excelsior) which had a run up lasting from the Spring into August retained it's over $1,000,000 median price, reached only in July 2018. With easy access to Silicon Valley and downtown jobs and the lowest priced single families in the city, these areas seem poised for more growth.

District 9 median $1,224,500, up 3.4%

District 10 median $1,040,000, up 11.2%

This Spring promises to be an interesting time for real estate in San Francisco as sellers may determine that the very top of the market has been reached and buyers may resist further price increases. The market will work that out, but any prediction of a "crash" appear unrealistic given the generally rosy employment indicators for the city, low interest rates and predictions of at worst a mild recession to come.

More neighborhood statistics on my website here.

San Francisco Transforming

San Francisco is a city of re-invention. Our latest addition? St Joseph's Art Society is the creation of Ken Fulk, our city's "master showman." Mr. Fulk transformed a derelict SOMA church into an incubator for art and spectacular event space. It includes a cocktail lounge, book shop and even an apothecary. The gild shines for blocks! Details here.

Ever wonder how neighborhoods transform from low-scale and abandoned to skyscraper density? How did the Transbay Center develop? What's the Hub? How did Hayes Valley become hipster land? The American Planning Association is going to talk about it at their convention in our town in April! Details here

What about the future? Some decry the "Manhattanization" of downtown, but buyers have flocked to it. Worries, or hopes, that new units would depress prices proved unfounded and nearly all new units available now have sold out with prices holding steady or surpassing expectations. And the pipeline is skinny for 2019 due to a variety of factors. Details here.

There are two new towers currently selling, neither ready for occupancy, that may give us some architectural credit. Avery, by Rem Koolhaas' OMA, looks a little like stacked rows of I-Beams reaching for the sky; it may balance the spires and curves of other recent towers. Mira's twisted facade ripples like water, a take by architect Jean Gang on our ubiquitous bay windows. Details here and here.

DR MARTIN LUTHER KING JR

January's holiday is Martin Luther King Day, the day we take to heart his dream - that we all live in equality and are judged by our character, not our skin color. America holds the promise of freedom for all and from all oppression. Let us make it so. 

The speech is here.

Where is the Market Going?

Everyone wants to know the answer to that question. This Fall's market is not over (especially since there are usually a large number of sales in October that close in November) but there is certainly something to talk about. What's going on?

Overall, the market is still quite healthy and could only be called a seller's market. Median price for all properties in October was $1,397,500, up 8.1% over last October and just slightly below the highest ever median in March of this year ($1,406,000). The bigger news is that the total number of completed sales last month was 7% lower than last year as was September's sales. And inventory (active listings) was up almost 8%. Of course, it may be that this Fall's sales will be piled up into November, but if not then these statistics seem to indicate buyer skittishness along with sellers' refusal to lower prices to stimulate sales. That is consistent with a change in the market toward slower appreciation. There is another possible explanation, however. The midterm election season has produced an extraordinarily negative press environment and stock market jitters also have the public feeling worried or at least uncertain. Uncertainty is always bad for the market, but after that uncertainty is resolved (in this instance, by election results) the market bounces back. That happened after the surprising results of the 2016 election sank in (and the economic sky did not fall) and could happen here also. So November's numbers will be telling, but we may have to wait for the beginning of the Spring market to know where we are going.

What about the various areas of the city? Every area of the city was up except two, but mostly by modest amounts. District 1 (Richmond) and 2 (Sunset) were up 6.8 and 5.2% with the Richmond continuing to outpace it's across-park rival by more than $200,000 ($1,650,000 versus $1,425,000 median). Districts 4 (West of Twin Peaks), 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) and 9 (Mission, Bernal, SOMA) were also solid, but not spectacular players (respectively, $1,700,000 (+8.6%), $1,650,000 (+6.5%), and $1,260,000 (+7%). The biggest gainer was District 3 in the southwest corner of the city, up 17% to $1,200,000 and nearly equal to traditionally more valuable District 9 and 6 (Hayes, NOPA, Lower PacHts - which was down 7.6% to $1,270,000)

The biggest loser was District 7, down 14.9% to $1,625,000 which is actually lover than Districts 1 and 4. This is likely an anomaly (although also true in September) because District 7 has alway significantly outpaced the rest of the city nearly every month in the last 10 years. Lastly, District 10 in the southeast corner of town is now consistently over $1,000,000 in median price, a mark the rest of the city met awhile ago. In October is was up 13% to $1,030,000, but has been over $1m since July. (District statistics are 3 month rolling averages to account for relatively low numbers of sales in any area in any particular month.)  More statistics here.

Anecdotally, I agree with most agents that nice properties in desirable areas without any significant "problem" are still selling quickly (median of 16 days, the same as last year) and for good prices. This is particularly true at the lower ends of the market where the buyer pool remains much larger than the available inventory. But at the higher end (above $3 million where the buyer pool is inherently smaller) and especially for properties that are not presented well or include aspects that do not appeal to many buyers sales are not as easy. If you have a property - or want one - the best course is to talk to a full-time agent who knows the market and has the ability to analyze your specific situation. I'm always happy to help, and it starts with a talk.

 

Transbay Transit Center News

Everyone is probably aware that our brand new Transbay Transit Center is closed to transit (bus) traffic for now due to cracks that developed in the steel supports that hold the structure over Fremont Street. So far no announced cause or solution, but of course  everyone is on it. And the good news is that the park on top of the structure will probably reopen sooner - as soon as engineers can determine it is safe for people. So for those who did not see it when it was open for a bit (grand opening was August, closed in September), just wait a bit longer or find a friend who works at Salesforce or lives in one of the several apartment towers around and view it from there. Or just walk around it - the screen and cacophony of structures are a visual delight on their own.

What is the Transbay Transit Center for anyway? Right now it is a (temporarily closed) bus terminal for Muni, as well as commuter and long range buses run by ACTransit, WestCAT, Amtrak and Greyhound. But the grand vision is to make it our 21st century rail hub, with Caltrain and High Speed Rail lines right into downtown. When will that happen?

One step toward making it a reality occurred in September when the city chose a path for the "Downtown Extension" which will bring those trains from Caltrain's existing terminal at 22nd Street on the eastern edge of Potrero Hill. The city chose a tunnel under Pennsylvania Ave more or less following the existing Caltrain tracks to 4th and King, then continuing along King and up 2nd St to the terminal. This tunnel is scheduled to be completed in 2027 and cost $6.1 billion - all subject to approval by various other agencies and construction timeline and cost overruns, of course. Let's hope it goes better than the Chinatown subway project which is still under construction (since 2010) and now may not be open until 2021. (And note that the city is already planning the next phase of that line, extending it to North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf, with several options to go further along the waterfront or out through the Richmond to the Presidio.)

Completion of the rail link to downtown and repairing the terminal should be top priorities as San Francisco's core continues to grow and surface transportation becomes untenable. The rail link will also provide additional service from the booming new Mission Bay neighborhood, the almost finished Warriors arena and Dogpatch's Pier 70 development. All aboard! More details herehere and here.

Cole Valley

Beloved Cole Valley is one of San Francisco's most charming and authentic neighborhoods. Bounded by Carmel, Clayton, Waller and Stanyan (and included with adjacent Parnassus Heights in SFAR's real estate district map), it is centered on the small business district along Cole Street from Frederick to Parnassus. The area is filled with charming Edwardian houses and small apartment buildings, tree-lined short streets like Grattan, Belgrave and Alma and a small-town vibe. But it's also just a few blocks from the decidedly busy Haight-Ashbury District and connected by the N train tunnel under Buena Vista Park to Duboce Triangle and on to downtown. It is exactly what many people want in their San Francisco life - quiet, unique neighborhood character in the middle of the city. Property values bear this out - Cole Valley median prices (for all properties) have steadily increased  over the past 10 years to hit $1,825,000 in October, up 50% in that time period (but note that very small numbers of sales in the area wildly skew statistics - single family price medians have been as high as $3.9m and as low as $1.6m during that period). We who live in and around this charming little neighborhood are truly lucky and intend to make sure it stays a great place to live, love and thrive! History, pictures and more information herehere, and here.

Spring Busts Out and Up!

This Spring's market was, in a word, remarkable. The continuous run up in prices that began in 2011-12 appeared to be moderating last Fall and some anticipated that Spring would bring a slowdown if not an actual decrease in prices. But that is not what happened. Overall sales prices in May remained essentially the same as the record high in April, just slightly below $1.4 million median for all properties. That is 8.8% above last year and a remarkable run up from January when the median price was only $1,245,000. Single family homes lead the way, increasing 9.8% to a median of $1,620,000. Condos/TICs/coops also surged, however, up 8.2% to $1,265,000 - that is more than $150,000 in appreciation since the beginning of the year. The overall market is up, but at the high end - above $3 million - there is skittishness with some properties sitting on the market for awhile as they try to lure a well-heeled buyer to make a move. And more high-end sellers came forward this Spring with the number of properties trading hands at that level up over 30% year over year. Perhaps as a result of that dramatic inventory increase, median prices of over $3 million homes have fallen slightly since last Spring's market. Is the market dividing into two where the "low" end continues to appreciate while the "high" end stagnates? If so, that creates what I call compression - where relatively small increases in purchase price buys much more house.

No doubt inventory constriction is still driving median price increases across the market as a whole. The number of homes available is 21% lower than last year - there was simply no surge of new properties this Spring unlike in the last two years. With buyers still out in force and the city's employment and in-migration numbers still up that means an increase in prices. This situation also drove an uptick in the percentage of properties selling over list price (75.4%, up 9% over last year) and the amount over list received (10.3% over list, up almost 4% from last year). But neither of these numbers were as high as they were in the last big Spring market, 2015, so that shows some level of moderation. Nevertheless, the median number of days on the market stayed at its all time low of 14 days (same as last month and down 17.6% from last year) driven at least partly by a "frenzied" mentality at the low end especially. It is very important to not use these overall statistics in analyzing your particular situation, however; as the example in the last paragraph shows, the market is not moving as a monolith and you have to look at your price point, your type of property and your neighborhood.

 2-4 unit buildings did not appreciate as fast this Spring as houses and apartments but that market is still strong. The median price was up to $1,914,000 in May, which is 5.3% over last year. As earlier in the Spring, the number of sales was way up, almost double last year, but still selling very fast - a median of 17 days. This increased inventory may be moderating prices in this segment, but we will have to see if that trend continues through the rest of the year. Of course, the vagaries of investment properties, especially with San Francisco's dense regulatory controls - rent control and condo conversion in particular - require that each property be considered separately. As a long-time landlord and investor I know this area well and am always happy to talk about your property - or the one you want. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

Looking at the city's ten different districts gives us a different perspective. This month, let's look geographically from West to East. On the West side of town, bordering the Pacific Ocean, there was extraordinary appreciation in May. District 1 (Richmond) was up 16.9% year over year to a median price of $1,725,000. That represents a recovery over the past couple of years when the Richmond and Sunset seemed to converge. Now the Sunset (District 2) is well behind at a median price of $1,475,000, up "only" 13.5%. District 3 around Lake Merced was the big winner, ending at $1,300,000, showing appreciation of a whopping 25.6% over last year. This likely reflects the desirability of single family homes, of which there are a lot and relatively affordable apartments close to commuter trains. But amazingly, it puts District 3 ahead of all three of the eastside districts (running from North Beach to Bayview) after years of values more aligned with only one of them - District 10, its southern neighbor.

Looking at the middle of the city, the biggest winner was District 4, comprised mostly of treelined suburban-like areas like St. Francis Wood, West Portal, Westwood and Miraloma Park. That area was up 21.1% to $1,725,000, tied for second place as the most expensive area of the city. This is likely a result of the predominance of single family homes, which have gone up faster, and that the area has a lot of large ones, which of course, are generally more expensive. By contrast, District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight), which includes many apartments and smaller houses and for many years nevertheless outpaced District 4, now stands slightly lower at a median price of $1,675,000 after appreciation of 4%. We will see if this realignment persists. District 6 (NOPA, Hayes Valley and Lower Pac Hts) continues to perform well, up 20.3% to $1,375,600. And once again, the "compression" in prices has hit District 7, still the most expensive, but not outstripping the others by much after decreasing in median price by 11.7% (the only area to decline in value) to $1,837,500.

Finally, on the city's east side there was more consistent and moderate appreciation. District 8 (Downtown, Nob/Russian Hill) was up 8.3% to $1,207,500. District 9, stretching from SOMA through the Mission and Potrero HIll to Bernal Heights was up 10% to $1,265,000 and District 10 (Bayview, Portola) remains the only area with properties at a median price below $1 million but just barely (median price of $976,000, up 11.3%).

Final Spring numbers will be out next month, but a focus on seasons may be deceiving. In the last several years the "Spring market" has sometimes filtered far into the Summer. At any rate, the overall picture is of a very healthy market with some small indication that we may be in the "plateau" where prices in the city do not increase for a few years. But there is no substitute for a real full-time agent looking at your specific property and your personal position. If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

Scooter Fever

It seems San Francisco is always experimenting with new forms of transportation. For several years we have had public bike stations where you can rent a bike and drop it off at your destination. Then came Jump, with it's bright red electric bikes intended to expand that notion and make riding more attractive. In March of this year small electric scooters (where you stand on a platform and hold the two handles) started appearing on our streets and, of course, the controversy followed soon after. Bird, LimeBike and Spin are the three startups pushing this new mode. The idea makes sense in some ways - the scooters are relatively small, taking less room than a bicycle when parked, and the electric propulsion solves the "arriving drenched in sweat" problem resulting from having to use your own muscle, especially on those hills. The lack of any dedicated parking stations (a problem Jump has also) immediately caused problems, however, as inconsiderate riders dumped the devices where ever they landed, blocking sidewalks and entrances and also creating visual trash on our streetscapes. In addition, the lack of a shared notion of how or where to ride them - on the sidewalk (which is illegal), in the bike lane, in the car lane, on park paths? - creates conflict. The scooter companies (and Jump) made efforts to enforce a standard of civility - advising riders to use helmets, stay off sidewalks and park graciously. But even bicycles, which have been around forever, do not always follow the rules. So the city stepped in and started confiscating the un-permitted scooters and has now created new scooter regulations that require the companies to have insurance and take steps to keep sidewalks clear and usable. Beginning this month, the companies pulled their scooters while the register and comply, but look for them to be back in a month or so. Will scooter be a permanent part of our transportation grid? Or just a passing fad like Segways? Time will tell.
More details herehere, and here.

 

Go Karl!

July (and August) are the months for summer fog in San Francisco. Although many bemoan the cooler temperatures and obscured sun, the fog does keep us from the sweltering heat experienced in much of the rest of California at this time. The summer fog is ocean moisture pulled into the city by the high temperatures inland. It's a great display and one of the best things about San Francisco - it even helps us spot tourists with their quickly-purchased SF sweatshirts over tank tops and shorts. Think of it as a weather display that does not require rain or high winds! Rather, we get the majesty of piles of fluffy fog being driven through the Golden Gate and over our hills. Even if it does blot out our Fourth of July fireworks most every year, true San Franciscans cannot help but love Karl! Details about where to see it best and what it is herehere and here

 

Clarendon Heights

Offering sweeping views west and north in the center of the city, the steep hills of Clarendon Heights sandwiched between Twin Peaks and Cole Valley are covered with large houses on terraced streets built to capture those views. The history of the area is intimately tied to San Francisco's water system. Indeed, one of those terraced streets is Mountain Spring Ave, named after the nineteenth century spring owned by Behrend Joost that supplied water to the entire area from where Corbett and Clayton are now. Mr. Joost was also instrumental in developing the first railroads over the hills to reach the Rancho San Miguel area and open it up to large scale residential development. At the northern edge of Clarendon Heights is Tank Hill Park, named after the water tank built there in 1894 to store water pumped from Laguna Honda. Its position at the very top of the hill could feed the water via gravity all the way down the hill. It was covered by eucalyptus trees during WWII to hide it from possible air attack, and then replaced by the Twin Peaks reservoir (also surrounded by eucalyptus and lots of open space with hiking trails) on the southern edge of the neighborhood. 

Most of the houses in Clarendon Heights were built after WWII, but the street grid was already in place before that time and some houses already built. Nevertheless, the area has quite a few mid-century style homes with large plate glass windows capturing the views, breezeways, and open floor plans. But it is not a time capsule, new houses are being built as we speak, some with decidedly modern aesthetics. So the style is eclectic, with each of the streets having its own "look." For example, Clarendon Ave appears as a wall of buildings and much more vertical than higher up streets like St. Germain and Palo Alto, where the houses are much more likely to include street-facing yards and a more low-slung appearance. And around the hill to the south (Graystone & Villa Terrace) there is increased density with a large number of apartment buildings and very narrow roadways. The whole area is very convenient, however, being right above Cole Valley and easily accessible via Clarendon Ave, Twin Peaks Blvd and Upper Market/Portola to the entire city. 

Pricing-wise, Clarendon Heights has always been expensive - the views are a big draw. But statistics are not very helpful, because the area has so few properties and, as "dream homes" owners tend to stay for long periods, making sales rare. Like the rest of the city, prices have been steadily increasing since 2011, when the median was around $1,500,000. Now it is nearly $3 million. But interestingly, the area has slipped significantly below Cole Valley on a per square foot basis; before last year, they were more comparable, but now Cole Valley trades at over $1100/sq. ft. and Clarendon is only around $900, similar to Twin Peaks. I attribute this to increasing preference for walkable neighborhoods and the fact that Clarendon's properties are larger and more expensive to buy, decreasing the possible buyer pool drastically. But those views will never go away, and single family houses are an increasingly valuable commodity city-wide, so I expect the area to increase in value over time. (I used a 12 month rolling averages for these statistics so as to adjust for the low number of sales.) 
More details herehere and here

The Market Springs Up (mostly)

We continue to see appreciation in the San Francisco residential market with housing pressure driving prices up to new record highs this Spring. Despite consistent talk of an impending bubble burst, there is no sign of that overall, although particular parts of the market are showing some softness. For all properties, the median sale price in April was at $1,385,353, the second highest ever (March holds the record at $1,405,500 but the slight decrease is not significant). That's an astounding 10.8% increase year over year. Single family houses were at a median of $1,650,000 down a smidge from their record high in February of $1.7 million, and almost 20% higher than last year. But single families have been strong for awhile. The real news is that condos/TICs/coops roared back so far this Spring, hitting a new record median in March ($1,250,000) and down only slightly from that in April ($1,235,000). The latter is a 12.3% increase year over year. Anecdotally, the standard wisdom is that lower-priced properties (mostly condos/TICs, but also small houses and those in less expensive parts of the city) are selling very briskly, which accounts for the uptick. But more expensive properties are languishing and indeed some believe they have reached their peak and the market is now adjusting as the limited pool of buyers for high-end houses pulls back. There is some evidence to support this - properties that sold for over $2,000,000 in April decreased in sales price from a median of $2,722,500 to $2,522,500. Is the entire market turning? No, but maybe discretionary sales are now a bit more difficult.

What do other statistics say about the current market? Inventory is still way way down - 18% less than last year and returning to the very low numbers we last saw in Spring 2014 and 2015. This lack of inventory is almost certainly causing the continuing price increases especially in market segments where buyers are plentiful (generally, the lower levels). And properties continue to sell quickly, hitting a new record low days on market of 14 in April. But, in an an indication of moderation, the percentage of properties selling over the list price and the percent of the list price received, although up from the doldrums of the winter, are still below their peak in 2015. Keep in mind that these are median numbers for all properties all over the city (for example, properties over $3,000,000 have a median days on market double that of all properties); your home may vary from these statistics considerably.  In summary, it looks like this Spring has been another healthy one with good appreciation in the market overall and no reason to expect any decline anytime soon.

2-4 unit buildings bucked the general trend in April but the Spring market generally was reasonably strong in this sector also. The median price fell to $1,880,000, down 7% from last year. Although apartment buildings moved fast, there was quite a bit more inventory (49 versus 36). One has to use caution with monthly statistics for apartment buildings, however, as the small number of sales reported can skew the numbers. For example, if you compare the three month period from February to April in both 2017 and 2018, the median price actually went up slightly (3%). So, with these buildings in particular, it is important to have a full-time agent on the ground and to examine the particular building against true comparative sales, not overall statistics. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

The city's different neighborhoods also gave us somewhat mixed results in April. The general picture is a trend toward equalizing values as less desirable districts appreciate faster than more expensive ones. But even this trend is not uniform. The strongest market by far was in District 3 around Lake Merced. This single-family heavy area also has massive apartment developments so it reflects the strengths across housing types. It was up 29% year over year to a median price of $1,290,000 putting it far above its neighboring district on the southeast side of town, District 10 (Bayview, Excelsior) which increased only 11.9% to $973,500. Amazingly, District 8, with some of the city's most iconic neighborhoods (Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill, North Beach) but which also includes part of the newly hip mid-Market area is now behind District 3, despite advancing 20%.

The other evidence of merging values can be found in the center of the city, where District 4 (west of Twin Peaks) advanced 15.4% to overtake perennial second-place finisher District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight), which was the only area to lose value, by 1%. Both areas now have median prices around $1.7. But so does District 1 (Richmond) even though it is traditionally thought of as further our, foggier and less "cool." Rounding out this equalizing trend are Districts 6 (Lower Pac Hts, Hayes Valley, NOPA) and District 2 (Sunset) both showing healthy appreciation of around 15% and ending at about $1,400,000 median price.but traditionally was up 10% to $1,097,500. And last are District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina), the most expensive area which gained no value and closed at $1,825,000. The one exception to the trend (other than District 10 noted above) is District 9 (Mission, SOMA, Potrero, Bernal) which is lagging perhaps because of the many new apartment towers there saturating the market with new condominiums. It advanced 3.6% to $1,160,000, making it the second cheapest area after a long ride up in the past few years. These changes, both equalization and new differentiators are a sign of a changing market perhaps, at least when compared to the past few years. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

Of course, the Spring market includes May and often runs into June, so these numbers do not tell the entire story for this crucial time of the year, but they certainly indicate a strong market that shows no sign of any "collapse." If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

Financing News

Although there is a lot of talk about cash buyers, most real estate transactions still involve a mortgage. So financing issues are important to a lot of my clients and I like to keep current on that business. First, everyone is probably aware that interest rates have crept up in the last several months. This makes buyers nervous about their ability to afford a loan payment, and rightly so, but it is not a "sky is falling" event. Rates are still at very low levels when compared to the historical average and well-qualified applicants are managing to find a loan. But sellers should pay attention to the trend as every uptick decreases the number of people who can afford a home at its current price. If rates do advance significantly, that will put downward pressure on prices. It is hard to tell if prices would actually fall, however, since we have such low inventory in San Francisco and competition for many units is so overwhelming.

Second, many people are wary of TICs because they require a special kind of financing called a "fractional" loan (where the loan is secured by a fractional interest in the entire building, rather than an entire piece of property). Only a handful of Bay Area banks make fractional TIC loans and traditionally the rates for those loans were higher than standard mortgages. But that trend has begun to lessen in recent years, and there are TIC loans at 4% now. So if you find a TIC you like, do not be afraid to go after it, although be aware that the financing and other details will take an experienced agent to handle.

Finally, even regular loans have begun to change. Do you have to put down 20%? Not necessarily as there are now loans with downpayment requirements as low as 5% (maybe even less for certain specialized loans, such as for doctors or those who can qualify for a VA loan). Be sure to check all the costs for these types of loans, however, and ask what the loan limit is. Will you be able to count your stock options or other non-liquid assets as income? In the past, the answer was no, but lenders have begun to wake up to the new economy and its alternative compensation structures. 

The bottom line is that you should start your lending conversation with an experienced real estate broker and mortgage officer early on so you know what you can -- and cannot - afford. Then stick close to those people as your allies in the search for real estate - or as frontline advisers to buyers of the home you are selling.

More details herehere, and here - or call me!
 

Inner Mission

Although generally thought of today as ground central for the gentrification battles of our rapidly evolving city, the Inner Mission has quite a long and interesting history with several big changes. Originally centered around the mission church established by the Spanish at the mouth of Mission Creek (which used to flow all the way up to Dolores and was fed by several smaller creeks) what we know as the Mission no longer includes the mission church since it is west of Valencia in a separate neighborhood called Mission Dolores. After the town of Yerba Buena was established in what is now the financial district, a long road where Mission Street is now connected that town and gradually development began including the city's first sports stadium where Garfield Square is now (Folsom & 25th Street), a large conservatory, zoo and beer parlors. But the gold rush and particularly the 1906 earthquake and fire resulted in rapid urbanization of the area making it more or less the layout we have today, densely packed with residential and commercial development.

The first inhabitants were working class German, Irish and Italian people. By the 1920s a large Polish community had taken over a section of the Mission. And two other stadiums sprang up in the Mission also, one at 14th and Valencia known as Recreation Park and Seals Stadium where Franklin Square (Bryant & 16th St) is now. Mission Street and nearby streets became crowded with large movie theaters, shops and restaurants, including San Francisco's oldest continually operating theater, the Roxie (open since 1909). Then, in the 1940s-60s the area's demographics changed as Mexican-Americans displaced from Rincon Hill by the building of the Bay Bridge ramps migrated to the area, eventually making it the center of San Francisco's Latino culture. In the 1960s and 70s large numbers of Central Americans arrived and, at the same time, the western part of the area started to become popular with middle-class whites including particularly LGBT people spilling over from the Castro area. In fact, the city's lesbian culture was centered on the Valencia Street corridor through the 80s. Since the 1990s the area has continued to offer a first home to recent foreign immigrants from many countries while the the gentrification has continued, moving inexorably east and south and now penetrating to all parts of the neighborhood (and beyond).

In the past 10 years the area has seen very rapid appreciation in housing values as well as development on vacant lots and renovation of many existing structures. Median prices for all properties have risen from $600,000 to over $1,300,000, including a 17% increase in the past year (as opposed to the 11.7% increase citywide). In an effort to prevent or slow gentrification, the community has organized to lobby against some developments and a moratorium on additional market-based building was proposed, but failed at the ballot box in 2015. Changes continue apace but the Mission also includes a very large number of historic buildings that go through additional review aimed at preserving the city's character, and nothing gets built in San Francisco quickly. We all hope that all of our neighborhoods, including the Mission, continue as bastions of acceptance and freedom for our current residents and newcomers alike. But hat does not mean they stop changing; all we can do is be involved to shape the change that will come and, we hope, make it a change for the better.
More details herehere and here

 

Memorial Day
 

Traditionally seen as the beginning of Summer, Memorial Day arose after the Civil War as a day to honor the fallen in that conflict. Originally dubbed Decoration Day, it was evolved after WWI to include all the deceased from all military conflicts. May 30 was chosen as the date of commemoration because there was no major battle on that day, making it more universal. Over the years, Americans started to use the day to visit cemeteries to honor deceased relatives and friends, whether military or not. But it did not become a federal holiday until 1971 when Congress moved it to the last Monday in May to insure a three-day weekend (along with Washington's Birthday, Labor Day, Columbus Day and Veterans Day). So when you are out at the beach, off for a weekend trip or shopping the sales on Memorial Day, take a moment to think about those who have gone before and remember them.

 

How Far Up Can We Go?

The Spring market is off with a bang. Despite amazing appreciation over the last several years, prices appear to be on another upswing, with the word "frenzy" now a common descriptor. For all properties, the median sale price in February hit $1,315,500, the second highest ever (the highest, in November, was $1,325,000). Single family houses lead the way, hitting a new record median price of $1,715,000, almost 33% higher than last year and much higher than any previous month (the closest was November's median of $1,575,000). Condos/TICs/coops actually lost ground versus last year, down 6.8% to $1,104,500. But this result was not across the board as some area condo prices were way up as well (for example District 8, stretching from the Civic Center to the north waterfront across Nob and Russian Hills was up 48% in the apartment market). Perhaps more importantly here at the beginning of the year is the feeling amongst buyers and sellers. Buyers are overbidding wildly, especially at the lower end of the market (less than $2 million) and for desirable properties in good neighborhoods. But sellers are still holding back, with inventory almost 25% lower than last February. Perhaps March will see a surge in available properties to soak up the buyer demand.

Other indicators support what appears to be another extreme seller's market. Per square foot prices were up in February 7.6% to their highest level ever. Overbidding is again the norm after a slow January, although a median of only 5% over the list price, reflecting more accurate pricing by agents (in previous frenzies like 2015 12% over was the average). Keep in mind that these are median numbers for all properties all over the city, so not really useful as a gauge for individual neighborhoods and types of properties. Can the city absorb another 10% annual increase or will the market stabilize as we move into the heavy months of March through May? Time will tell.

The market for 2-4 unit buildings continued to surge ahead as well. February's median price topped $2 million, 13% higher than last year. And sales were fast, taking a median of only 32 days, as opposed to 47 days for these relatively complex transactions. Despite the continuing price increases, inventory remained stable at 31 properties (versus 30 last year). These overall statistics absolutely cannot be used in evaluating a particular transaction; the condition and location of apartment buildings and, crucially, the tenant profile, greatly influences value. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

The different districts of the city tell quite a divergent story. The most iconic neighborhoods on the northside surged remarkably. District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) was up 14.3% year over year last month to a median price of $2,002,500. Neighboring District 8 (Nob, Russian and Telegraph Hills, Civic Center) was up 10% to $1,097,500. But even more amazing was the performance of District 4 (west of Twin Peaks), where the traditional houses were up over 23% to a median of $1,600,000. This surpassed District 5, the normal second place district, but this February one of the losers, down 5.3%.

The east side also surged. District 9 (SOMA, Mission, Bernal) was up 8.1% to $1,100,000. And District 10 (Bayview, Portola, Outer Mission) was up another 15% over last year to $950,000. Eastside District 1 (Richmond) and 3 (Stonestown) were both down substantially (11.8% and 5.7 %). Is this a sign that freeway access is valued? Not for everyone, because the northside did well and so did District 2 (Sunset, Parkside), up 12.4% to $1,400,000, now the same as the Richmond. Rather, I interpret this as a continuing merging of the districts as the scant inventory encourages buyers to look all over the city. Some months one area surges, and the next it is different, but the overall trend is definitely up. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

These February numbers must be take as preliminary since the bulk of Spring sales occur in March and after. But it looks like another profitable time for property owners. If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

Planning And Store Fronts

There is always a lot of talk about the Planning Department and what it does (or does not do) to make our city more beautiful and responsive to residents' needs. There is no way to address that topic completely in this small space - entire organizations like SPUR have spent years discussing it - but maybe we can gain some understanding by examining just one type of planning conundrum - store fronts. 

A quick search reveals two interesting issues for store fronts, transparency and formula retail. Believe it or not, the Planning Department has a separate set of standards for the transparency of store front windows. The idea is to discourage blocked out windows so that the pedestrian experience is enhanced by looking into the stores while walking. San Francisco requires that store windows be left largely unblocked and has a set of specific rules with respect to the percentage of the window that can be covered with product shelving and other furniture. Look at the examples here and you can see that the guidelines, if followed, would certainly make for a more pleasant, beautiful street experience. But I can certainly imagine a blocked window that would be incredibly interesting. Is that not allowed? Who decides if an opaque mesh is art or ugly?

At a more macro level, the Planning Department also regulates the look of "formula retail" which means retail establishments with more than 11 branches. The formula retail regulation aims to prevent the city's neighborhoods from being taken over by national branded stores so that they all look the same as anywhere in the country. The Planning Department's guidelines work with those formula retail locations that are approved so as to make them "fit" into the cityscape. These guidelines are quite detailed and overall seem to address some of the worst examples of unfriendly retail construction. But one has to wonder whether such detailed guidelines might result in a pattern - a "formula" - themselves, leading architects and designers to take the same "safe" approach with each client, ultimately resulting in a bland streetscape that lacks creativity.

There is no question that the Planning Department's efforts have helped this city retain and enhance its charming and beautiful streetscapes. But we need a balance between regulation of every detail to avoid "bad" results and allowing some experimentation that may come up with a new, better way. I cannot say whether that balance is being struck in the right place now - maybe it is, maybe it is not - but we should all think about what we are and are not allowing.

More details here and here.

Bernal Heights

Topped by a massive and mostly treeless hill park, Bernal is one of San Francisco's most beloved neighborhoods, with a story all its own. One of the defining features of Bernal is that it has been separate from the rest of the city in various ways over the years. This gives the neighborhood a unique character and a "specialness." Before the founding of the city, the hill was mostly surrounded by swamps and creeks. The streets of Bernal were laid out during the Civil War but the neighborhood remained undeveloped except for some farms and dairies and was known as a hotbed of lawlessness and scams, including a gold rush prompted by some gold planted on the hill. That all changed, like everything else in San Francisco, after the 1906 earthquake. With few structures built on solid rock, Bernal largely escaped the destruction and fires that ravaged the city. But people surged to the hill and built up commercial corridors and housing, including many "earthquake cottages." 

During and after World War II another population surge occurred as workers at the nearby Hunter's Point shipyard looked for housing. But they were to be cut off from the city again with the building of the 101 freeway on the east side of the hill and the 280 freeway on the south side both finished in the 1960s. Just looking at the maze of freeways south of the hill makes this clear but there is now talk of undergrounding some of those roadways.

Similarly, BART's original plan would have included a station at 30th Street and Mission, specifically to serve Bernal Heights, but that station was nixed and the money set aside for it used to add the Embarcadero station instead. BART is still studying proposals to build that station now. These transportation corridors (and lack of easy rail connection) had the effect of orienting Bernal toward the Mission and generally keeping especially the south and east sides "wild" with small ramshackle housing, narrow, curving streets and a unique only-in-San Francisco feel which it retains to this day.

Bernal's more recent history can be summed up in one word: gentrification. The Cortland commercial corridor long ago welcomed more upscale restaurants and in the last few decades Precita Park and environs has become highly desirable. Prices have been driven up dramatically, even more than in the rest of the city. Since 2008 San Francisco's residential prices have increased from a median of $790,000 to $1,300,000. But Bernal, in that same time period, has shot up from $707,000 to $1,500,000. This outsized appreciation is no doubt due to the charm of the neighborhood, spectacular views from much of the hill, easy accessibility to freeways for Silicon Valley commuters, and abundant parks and local businesses that give the area a feel of being part of San Francisco but also in its own world. Bernal Heights is a true treasure; separation from the city may have made it a lawless wild land before but also protected it and preserved its now invaluable and unique "Bernal-ness."

More details here, here, here and here

Spring Has Sprung!

 Although San Francisco does not really suffer through a real winter, the coming of longer days and warmer weather (and the end to the rains - someday) are always welcome. Spring brings various holidays - Easter, Purim, May Day - and a chance to get outside and see nature literally springing up from the ground. It reminds us that we can all renew ourselves and get another chance at a new life. So go to a park or your backyard, maybe pull some weeds or plant something. Visit a plant store and some greenery. Or just a bouquet of flowers. Spring has Sprung, and you can too!

An Uneven Frenzy

The Spring selling season traditionally begins in mid February, after buyers have recovered from the holidays, the weather starts to improve and taxes and bonuses are resolved. So January's numbers are really no indication of the direction of the market, but they certainly do not indicate a slowdown and anecdotal evidence so far in February points to a frenzied market, or at least parts of it. Overall, the residential market was up 7.7% this January over last. Countering the trend we have been experiencing, much of that was in condos/TICs/coops which were up 9.5%, versus "only" 6.5% for single family homes. This pairs with this agent's perception that certain properties, particularly lower-priced ones, are selling quickly and at a premium as the large number of buyers at those lower levels compete to get into the market before anticipated interest rate increases. Of course this is not across the board. Well-presented properties and, crucially, those that meet the demands of the largest pools of buyers are selling fast and high, but the market is uneven so that some properties are taking some time to find their match.

Of course, extremely low inventory (the number of properties on the market) continues to drive prices up. In January, inventory was 25% lower than last year - it appears to be the new norm of ever scarcer supply. Other indicators are not relevant for January because of the low number of sales, but keep an eye on the per square foot price. The median is slightly lower than the record peak in October ($1022) but it is amazing that even in January that number stands at $969, almost double what it was five years ago. Keep in mind that these are median numbers for all properties all over the city, so not really useful as a gauge for individual neighborhoods and types of properties. We will wait for the overall picture to appear later in the Spring. Will this year's tax changes drive the market up or down? Will the continuing robust economy carry real estate with it, or drive inflationary interest rates that stall the market? Or will San Francisco's continuing supply/demand imbalance swamp all these considerations and push the market up higher?

2-4 unit building sales in January were remarkable. A 20% increase in median price to $1,909,000 this January combined with a nearly halving in the time to sell (34 days versus 59) both indicate a robust market. Are some investors moving more toward long term assets like apartment buildings as the condominium projects start to dry up? Are people moving toward these buildings as hedge against inflation? Again, we will see if this is a long term trend through the Spring. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

This January, the different districts of the city diverged markedly in performance. Two of them actually lost value over last year; District 1 (Richmond) was down 5.4% to a median price of $1,499,000 and District 3 (Stonestown, Ingleside, Merced) was down 3.8% to $1,155,000. Both those areas are largely single family homes, but other home-rich areas were way up. District 4 (West of Twin Peaks) was the winner this month with appreciation year over year of 21.4% to a median price of $1,525,000. The second place finisher could not be more unlike District 4; District 8 which is mostly apartments, and at the other end of the city (downtown, Russian/Nob Hills) rose 20.7 % to $1,167,500, just slightly below the record numbers it hit in November and December last year (unusual, because January sale prices usually dip substantially).

District 7 (PacHts, Marina) continued its position at the top of the heap, up 19.1% to $2,025,000 followed by apartment heavy District 9 which is recovering from a slowdown at the beginning of last year, but now up to $1,175,000, an increase of 17.1%. The other two area that traditionally offered modest priced single family homes are still moving up. District 2 (Sunset) was at $1,330,000 and District 10 (Bayview, Excelsior, Portola) was at $927,944 - both 12% over last year. Finally, District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) and 6 (Hayes, NOPA) increased in the 3% range to hold their relative positions. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

So we are off to a good start and anxiously await the Spring numbers. If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

What's a TIC?

I continue to get questions about TICs, so I thought a summary of what they are and the issues to consider when purchasing or selling one would be helpful. This is, of course, a summary only and cannot be considered legal advice applicable to particular situations, for which an attorney should be consulted.

TIC stands for tenancy-in-common. It is a form of legal ownership that is peculiar to San Francisco and results from the City's efforts to prevent removal of units from the rental market by slowing or prohibiting their conversion to condominiums. Where owners cannot condo-convert, they may choose to sell fractional interests in a building as a TIC. A TIC owner has a percentage interest in the entire building. His legal ownership is to that percentage of all parts of the building so, unlike a condo owner, he does not have a property interest in his unit (the "walls in" ownership of a condo). Instead, the TIC owner enters into a TIC agreement giving him or her exclusive use of the unit and usually other areas, like parking spots and decks (and making other agreements that largely mirror the CCRs that govern condominium associations.  

When TICs first appeared in San Francisco decades ago, one of the biggest problems with them was that they could only be financed with a single loan. That is, each of the TIC owners of a building was a lender on a master loan, and therefore each of them was liable for the entire mortgage. If one owner stopped paying his share the bank could seek payment from the others. Now, however, fractional financing - loans securitized only by the fractional interest of each owner - are readily available, solving the lending problem. These fractional loans are not available at all banks, however, and may carry slightly higher interest rates and more strict lending requirements.

Also in the past, because of the risks of the master loans, limited availability of financing and uncertainty regarding how the courts would treat TIC disputes, TICs were generally valued lower than condos. That may still be true, but the gap appears to be narrowing as those issues have been resolved. In 2014 TICs traded at a discount of about 20% but in 2017 that discount had narrowed to 11%. There is some speculation that even these numbers are deceiving because condo buildings may be nicer generally - virtually all new buildings are condos, and to convert an older one the city requires certain repairs and upgrades. So the real discount, if one were comparing identical TICs and condos, may be lower than 11%.

Of course, any evaluation of the value of a particular property and the risks and rewards of TICs versus other forms of property should be customized to your situation. Give me a call to discuss if you are interested. More TIC information here.

Dogpatch

Dogpatch is an interesting slice of San Francisco that allows us to see the big changes of the past decade writ small. A relatively small area bounded by the 101 Freeway, the bay and Mariposa St. and Cesar Chavez streets (or some say slightly north of that), the area was developed in the latter part of the nineteenth century as a very industrialized waterfront. Relatively inexpensive housing (as well as warehouses and industrial facilities) was built back from the waterfront until it hit the steep side of Potrero Hill. None of this burned in the fires after the 1906 earthquake because of the marshlands to the north, so much of the pre-1906 architecture remains. 

But not all of it. Starting in the 1940s and continuing into the 1970s, the area declined as industry left San Francisco as the economy moved away from manufacturing, large ports in Oakland and LA too the maritime business and the area succumbed to blight. It was also cut off from the rest of the city, geographically dependent on the bridge to Mission Bay, with no train service to bring workers from the booming professional services in the Financial District. Slowly, some of the historic buildings were torn down to make way for more modern warehouses and some businesses seeking cheap land. 

That transformation took off in the 1990s with the first tech boom. Developers put up loft housing projects on the flat sunny land, sometimes at the expense of older buildings. Approval and eventual construction of AT&T Park, Mission Bay redevelopment and the Third Street rail line accelerated this process. But thankfully, the neighborhood noticed these changes and established the Dogpatch Historic District to save at least some of the area's character. The area is now on the "hipster" radar as a desirable place to live, sunny, relatively close to the central city, and with San Francisco charm, transportation and modern amenities including a lively restaurant and bar culture. Residential property values average about $1000 per square foot, about the same as the Inner Mission, but still a 10% discount from more-established Potrero Hill on the other side of 101 (and with many downtown-view properties).

And it is not stopping there. The city has approved plans to radically alter the Pier 70 area with lots of housing and parkland to open up the waterfront. The massive Potrero Power Plant site, where the smokestack and a concrete control room building (converted to a hotel) are to be retained amid 2700 housing units in a series of buildings rising up to a 300 foot tower and 6.7 acres of open land. The modern juxtaposed with the old - in true San Francisco fashion. 

More details here, here, and here

Happy New Year - Again!

 San Francisco is blessed with a vibrant Chinese community and every year (this year on Feburary 24) the entire city comes together to celebrate "Chinese New Year" with a big parade featuring those fantastic dragons. How is the date of the celebration set? It is often called the lunar new year, but is actually based on a lunisolar calendar which many cultures use, not just the Chinese. A lunisolar calendar sets dates to indicate both the moon phase and the time of the solar year. The solar year is calculated based on the time it takes the earth to go around the sun, whereas the lunar portion is based on the time it takes the moon to go around the earth. Because the celestial bodies are not in sync, lunar and solar dates do not correspond and "leap months" have to be added to keep the years together. Further, because the date is calculated based on a specific location on earth, different calendars (such as in Korea, Japan and Vietnam) may set the starting and ending dates differently.

The Chinese New Year begins at the new moon that occurs after January 21 and traditionally goes on for 15 days. In addition to parades the holiday is marked by family gatherings, gift-giving, decorating doors and windows and cleaning house. In China, travel to see family is so prevalent that special additional trains and flights are added and business is partially disrupted - similar to the Christmas and New Year's holidays in Western countries. San Francisco has had a Chinese New Year parade since the 1860s which serves as a way for the Chinese community to share its culture with the rest of the city. Gung Hay Fat Choy! More details here.

2017 - Slow Start, Big Bang End

2017 was an interesting year for San Francisco real estate. We began with a slow Spring selling season. Prices, especially for condominiums, moderated and overall sales were very low. But the Summer brought new optimism and a charge to the market and by the Fall, we were at new record prices with no end in sight. Did the uncertainty brought about by the 2016 election flatten sales, especially in the apartment market which is heavily influenced by investors? There is no way to be sure, but life has a way of taking over from any shock as people make the changes they need because of a growing family, new job or retirement. So what are the numbers for 2017?

2017 gave us a new all-time high median sale price of $1,325,000. To put that in perspective, at the end of 2014, when the current run up had already been surging for three years, we were under $1 million. So the last three years have seen a 30% jump in prices with about 8% of that in 2017. Single family homes outperformed the rest of the market, hitting a new record median price (in October) of $1,575,000. Condo/TIC/coops showed improvement over the year (with a new record high in November of $1,245,000), but closed in December at a median of $1,132,000 which nevertheless is a 12% increase from last December's very low post-election number. Looking more expansively at the entire year's sales, the trend line is very clear. San Francisco's steep run up from 2012 through 2015 became shallower (but still steadily up) at the end of 2015 and then again steeply climbed in the second half of 2017. We see no sign of any downturn and the Spring market should be at least steady, if not another boom.

Other indicators are consistent. Inventory (active listings) always trends sharply down as the Fall progresses, but in December 2017 hit a new record low of only 406 properties on the market, almost 40% lower than last year. Looking at the long-term trend line, the steep decline in inventory that began in 2011 saw a bit of relief this year and last, but we are certainly still in a very low inventory market. Days on market was in the same territory all year (below 20 days) as the lowest point ever in 2015. The number of properties selling over the list price hit a low in January 2017 of 48%, lower than at any point since 2012. Similarly, the median percentage overbid (0%) in January was at a 5 year low. But both numbers recovered during the year to about 65% selling over list and a median overbid of about 5%.

2-4 unit buildings, like single family homes, outperformed the rest of the market. Although rental rates were flat or even slightly down, the median price was up 9% over 2016, landing at $1,794,000. That's an increase in square foot price of $50. About the same number of buildings changed hands (524 versus 510 last year) but they did so quicker - the median time on market now stands at 28 days versus 32 in 2016. (Keep in mind that small numbers of 2-4 unit sales can skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

The statistics for residential sales show a clear pattern that the continuing high demand from new jobs and a surging economy coupled with historically low supply (despite all the new condos being built) will keep price pressure on for the foreseeable future. That said, the huge run up since 2011 must be absorbed and it is good that price increases have moderated so that the city has a chance to get its equilibrium back and (hopefully) make the infrastructure and political decisions necessary to make a livable, workable city for the future. 

If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you.

Year End Market Summary by District

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods and the market in 2017 was different in every one. The real estate map is divided geographically into 10 districts, each with from 4 to as many as 16 subdistricts. Some of the subdistricts are too small for meaningful statistical analysis in a year, but we can tell some interesting market moves by looking at a few.

First, the bigger districts to give us an overall idea of the neighborhood trends (some information about neighborhoods is in the next article). Despite the media's intense focus on new wealth pouring into the city, the long-time king of the market remained old-money District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) with a median price surge of 10.9% to place it at a median price of over $2 million - that is more than $400,000 more than the next closest area. But District 7 was not the winner percentage-wise. That title goes to District 8 (Civic Center, Russian/Nob/Telegraph Hill) which shot up 20.5% to $1,190,000 in 2017. That number is misleading, however, because District 8 was way down in 2016. The other big increases were in District 4 (west of Twin Peaks) - median of $1,555,000, District 6 (NOPA, Hayes Valley, Lower Pac Hts) - median of $1,295,000 and District 10 (Excelsior, Portola, Bayview) - median of $950,000; all up 15%.

The middle of the pack, in terms of appreciation, were District 9 (Mission, SOMA, Bernal) which hit $1,185,000 (up 12.9%), and District 2 (Sunset) with a median price of $1,340,000, an increase of 11.7%. Next below those two, both up about 3%, were District 5 (Noe, Castro, Haight) which increased 3.6% to $1,600,000 (second highest in the city) and District 3 (Stonestown, Oceanview) which was up 2.7% to $1,130,000 and the second lowest. The only district to fail to appreciate in 2017 was District 1 (Richmond) which was completely flat and closed at a median price of $1,500,000.

Comparing the trend lines over a 3 year period tells some interesting stories. Although District 7 on the northside held onto it's top position, neighboring District 1 (Richmond) fell from it's normal third place position and is now below District 4 by $55,000. Similarly, District 8, the other northside area, fell below District 6 by $100,000 as District 6's Hayes Valley and NOPA have risen in value relative to Russian Hill and North Beach. Finally, District 9 which has, since 2014, generally been above District 8 and keeping pace with District 6 now is below both. This may be because of the downward price pressure from new condo construction, which is overwhelmingly in District 9.

What does all this tell us? That there is no such thing as "everything is much more expensive" or "the whole city's market is slowing down." The old adage "location, location, location" applies here as it does everywhere else, so it's important to look at each neighborhood and have an experienced agent's knowledge of the current trends in the ones you are interest in. I'm always happy to discuss, give me a call. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

Individual Neighborhood Markets

There are 88 subdistricts in our fair city, far too many to consider them all in this newsletter. But we can glean useful knowledge from looking at a few of them. Consider the Central Sunset and the Central Richmond, right across the park from each other. Both showed healthy gains in 2017 with the former advancing 8.7% to $1,360,000 median sales price and the latter up 16.6% to $1,545,000. What's amazing about this is that the Central Richmond advanced far more than District 1 as a whole, which was flat overall in 2017. I would attribute this to the predominance of single family houses in the Central Richmond; homes have outpaced condos and TICs all year and those in the Central Richmond remain relatively affordable compared to almost anywhere else except the southern reaches of the city. District 2 as a whole was up 11.7% so the Central Sunset kept pace essentially. The Central Sunset failed to advance faster then its inner and outer neighbors (as in the Richmond) perhaps because the entire district in which it sits has seen heavy appreciation in the past several years pulling everything up equally.

Another example shows the importance of looking closely at statistics. District 8 as a whole was up more than any other area last year, +20.5%. But the North Waterfront sank almost 12%. So where was the appreciation? Some very expensive sales in Telegraph Hill and the Financial District pushed those areas into 70% appreciation territory. Does that mean that the values in those areas almost doubled last year? Of course not; but it highlights the value of looking very closely at statistics and being careful to use them as a general guide, not as a substitute for home-specific analysis.

The type of property being sold also matters. In Eureka Valley/Castro overall prices were essentially flat, but single families rocketed up 25% to a median of $2,705,000. By contrast, in Noe Valley the difference in price appreciation was moderated; homes were up only 4.5% to $2,300,000 while apartments gained 9.2% to $1,420,000. This divergence between the two sides of the hill might have something to do with the relatively large number of moderately priced apartments in the Castro, as opposed to Noe Valley where almost all apartments are relatively large converted flats.

Our diverse neighborhoods, separated by hills, freeways, and commuter routes create a complex market requiring a lot of on-the-ground knowledge to assess value. Trust in a real estate professional to analyze your home or the one you want.

San Francisco Rises Again

With November's numbers in the Fall market can only be summarized as very strong. The median sale price hit a new high for all properties of $1,332,500, up 12.9% over last year and over $80,000 up from September. That appreciation is across the board. Single family homes rocketed up to a median price of $1,500,000, an all time high except for last month when single family homes were at $1,575,000. Condos/TICs/coops were also up dramatically this Fall, closing at a new high in November of $1,230,000, over 16% higher than last year. Keep in mind, however, that November's appreciation may be misleading given the shock of the unexpected election results last year, which likely depressed prices (and sales) for a bit. The overall trend line is clear. San Francisco real estate continues to appreciate robustly with no end in sight.

What can we discern about the coming months? Anecdotally, many agents expect a strong Spring as inventory remains quite low - 28.7% lower than last November and almost 100 fewer available properties than any November in the past 10 years. The trend line for inventory appears to show a very long term decrease, since there were 600 available properties were routinely before 2013 when we slipped down below 400 and now and have stayed down. That lack of supply really drives the market as demand continues to be buoyed by new jobs and new residents. Days on market also sank to tie the lowest number ever (14), and overbids became more common again. These overall numbers can be deceiving, however. Homes over $3,000,000 were not overbid by nearly as much (10% less) and condos took almost twice as long to sell. Anyone in the real estate market, or who wants to be, can take heart in these numbers, however because they tell us San Francisco's market is stable and a good investment.

2-4 unit building sales were consistent with this picture. The median price shot up to $1,910,000, a 19% jump. Apartment buildings are also selling nearly twice as fast as last year (19 v. 30 days, median) and inventory has also moved down significantly. Multi-unit properties, like all residential real estate, continues to draw investors, be they long-term owners looking for steady rental income or developers looking to improve and sell. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

Every area of San Francisco appreciated substantially this Fall, but there continue to be long term divergences. In particular, after some volatility over the summer, District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts) is solidly ahead of every other area, with a median price of $2,012,500 more than 18% higher than last year. But the biggest winner was District 6 (Hayes Valley, NOPA) which shot up 20% to $1,355,000 after a banner October (Up 33.5% year over year). The other expensive areas,District 5 (Castro, Noe Valley, Haight) and District 1 (Richmond) continued their moderate increases hitting $1,617,500 (District 5-up 6.1%) and $1,587,500 (District 1-up 7.8%). The effect was for these two areas to slip substantially behind District 7 and coming very close to the West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods of District 4 which once again leapt up and now stands at a median price of $1,550,000, probably reflecting the desirability of single-family homes in nice neighborhoods.

That same trend helped District 2 (Sunset) where single family homes also dominate. That area was up 12.5% to $1,350,000. But the recovery of condo/TIC/co-op prices also helped areas where apartments are common, such as District 8 (downtown, Russian/Nob Hills) with was up 14.8% to $1,185,000 and District 9 (Mission, SOMA) up 13.6% to $1,175,000. District 3 in the southwest corner of the city surged in October but was not up quite so much in November, to finish the Fall season at $1,062,949. And District 10, the only area where a home can be acquired for a median price below $1 million, continues its rise although at a more moderate pace of only 11.1% ending at a median price of $900,000. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

In summary, San Francisco's residential real estate market continues to show very strong gains and shows no sign of stopping. If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

Rosie is Here

In the 60s, as the space age gathered steam and rockets to the moon spawned dreams of an ever more futuristic world, we all thought robots - like Rosie in the Jetsons TV series - would soon help us do, well, everything. 50 years later we still have no individual jet-packs and robots are still not doing much more than sweeping the floor, but now it does look like we are soon to be in a new world. Robots are being designed - and used - to do an unbelievable number of tasks - delivering packages, manufacturing and driving cars, handling medical procedures, fighting wars and babysitting. Nanobots are being designed to go into tiny spaces, including inside the human body, and sometimes to act in swarms that communicate with each other. And AI - artificial intelligence - means that robots can learn from their experiences and do better than they were designed to do. All of this sounds very exciting and certainly does mean that we are on the verge of being able to take a big step forward in the evolution of what we can do, with robotic help.

But it also sounds scary. Privacy and civil rights may be compromised as robots can be everywhere all the time without sleep or food. Small drones could spy on us, take pictures from anywhere and have no "feelings." There was a controversy as San Francisco SPCA deployed a robot to patrol the sidewalk in front of its facility to deter crime. Some saw it as an attack on the homeless in that area even though the robot was only observing, acting as a 24-hour security guard. What are the limits of our privacy now that flying robots can see through walls? And even in the public sphere is there no place where we can be private?

On a larger scale, what about the loss of jobs as robots do all the work? Some estimate that 35% or more of jobs in the US will become obsolete by 2030. Will new jobs replace the old, as has happened with previous technological advances? (For example, when agriculture became increasingly mechanized in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, we needed far fewer farmers, releasing people to move to the city to work in new factories making new products that did not exist before.) Or will we see massive unemployment? Recently, one San Francisco supervisor proposed a tax on robots, so that they pay for the jobs they eliminate. Is this a viable plan or will it kill the innovation that drives the robot (and all new) industry? How do we set the tax and what if a robot is doing something no human could ever do? It's a brave new world but San Francisco's technology thinkers are at the forefront of these changes, aiming to profit from them but also to direct them in humane ways to help us all in keeping with our precious culture of love and community. We will get through these changes as we did those before, but we must act affirmatively to minimize the human pain that all change can produce. Go Rosie! More details on robot technology here.

Union Square

Union Square is San Francisco's biggest shopping district, attracting locals and tourists to super luxury shops and mass market retailers. The area did not start this way. It was originally a fashionable residential district, with the square used as a baseball lot. It was named for the Union sides of the Civil War, which San Francisco supported enthusiastically. Many churches were on and around the square, as was the red light district, Maiden Lane. Around the turn of the century, however, retail arrived and made the neighborhood into something very like what it is today. Indeed, you can see a bit of the old Union Square inside Neiman Marcus where the rotunda from the original 1896 City of Paris department store remains, and also in the Westfield mall where the dome and .facade from the 1908 Emporium store were preserved. 

Recently there have been big changes that will once again transform the area. First, is the new Chinatown subway with a station at Stockton and Geary in a corner of the garage under the square. As part of that construction, the city has closed off Stockton below Geary a a pedestrianized area during the holiday season and there is talk of making that permanent after the subway is completed.

In addition, driven by national changes in retail, largely the increase of online sales at the expense of in-store purchases, retail uses are shrinking - or some of them. In particular, the massive Macy's mens store has been sold to a developer who it appeared was going to turn it into office space. But that turned out not to be true, as Macy's has leased it back. And now the Main store is being redesigned to allow for smaller storefronts on the square.  Saks closed it's men's store, relocating it to the main store at the corner of Post and Powell, while Barneys expanded into the adjacent building and put all of it's mens clothing in the new underground area, freeing the top floor for a new restaurant (not yet open). The Westfield mall has also shifted the locus of the square south activating mass market stores on and off Market Street and leaving the immediate area around the square to ever-changing luxury brands, recently, Prada is out and Fendi is in. Needless to say, the square remains a vital and beloved part of San Francisco. More details here, here, and here

 The Politics of Dancing

 San Francisco is a nightlife city. From its origins as a Gold Rush boomtown through the wild years during WW II when sailors left for (and returned from) the Pacific theater, the cultural revolution of the 60s and the rise of the city's LGBT neighborhoods in the 70s and into the present day, the city has always been closely associated with music, dancing and nightlife. The segment has issues though. As residential areas have grown and entered into areas like SOMA that used to be filled with warehouses, the clash between sleeping neighbors and loud music/unruly crowds can cause disputes. But the city's Nightlife Commission has been able to preserve venues and mediate between differing needs and we have retained a vibrant scene. Now State Senator Scott Wiener has revived his proposal to extend drinking hours so that bars and restaurants can stay open longer, giving them more economic vitality and world class nightlife that can compete with New York, Las Vegas, London and so on.  Senator Wiener's new proposal is to allow certain localities (including San Francisco) to choose whether and how to alter drinking hours to as late as 4 am. Some believe that later hours will discourage binge drinking by removing the "deadline' created by the current 2 am closing time; others think more hours to drink just means more drinking and more drunken, unacceptable behavior. The proposal seems reasonable though, since the city can always alter the rules if it appears that the new hours are not resulting in desired results. Let's try the experiment - maybe it will be a win for all of us and for young people who we must retain to remain a vital, relevant city. Check it out, here.

 

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Fall Market Begins Strong

The Fall market has begun with prices continuing to rise in what can only be defined as a strong market. Despite the unusual high median prices of the Summer, Fall has seen no slow down. For all properties, September's median price was $1,250,000, 11.3% higher than last September. Single family homes continued to outpace condos/TICs/coops but only slightly; the former surged 10% year over year and the latter were up "only" 8%. Although these numbers are a dip from July's record highs, September reported numbers usually are down as August sales play out. Attractive properties are usually held for marketing after Labor Day pushing prices up in September (which usually close in October). We will have to wait to see October's sales figures to see if this is another record-breaking Fall market, but we are off to a good start.

Appreciation does seem likely, since inventory (the number of properties for sale) is still way down. Compared to last September we had 20% fewer available properties, and the trend line continues to be down as it has been since 2011, when prices started to go up. As a result of this low supply, sales are generally quick; median days on market was just 19, 32% lower than last September. And 70% of properties sell for over list. However, the "frenzy" of the market is not as it was in 2015, reflecting an acceptance of the new, higher prices and incorporation into agents' analysis. The average overbid is less than 8%, down from 13% just a few years ago. For sellers, now is a great time to put a property on the market as there is less competition, but buyers can also have some surety about what they should have to pay.

2-4 unit building sales statistics were more mixed. The median price is way up from $1,280,000 to $1,664,000, year over year; that is a rise of 30%. But buildings are taking longer to sell, a median of 42 days as opposed to 30 last year. Inventory is still low although trending up a bit (48 properties available in September this year as opposed to 42 last year).  (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

Every part of the city increased in value except one. The most expensive area, District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts) fell slightly to a median price of $2,660,934 (down 2% from last September). Neighboring District 8 (Nob/Russian/Telegraph Hills, North Beach, Civic Center) edged up the least of all, rising 2.9% to $1,364,813. The next highest tier after District 7 (and almost $1 million less) is District 1 (The Richmond) and District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight). They came in at $1,779,249 (up 7.8%) and $1,788,623 (up 8.3%).

Double digit percentage increases were spread across the southern tier of the city as areas once considered undesirable gain value disproportionately. District 3 in the southwest corner of the city around Lake Merced jumped significantly, up 20.7% to $1,156,143. District 10 in the southeast, always the least expensive area, is slowly closing the gap and this month was up 12.6% to a median price of $917,197. And District 9, stretching from South Beach and SOMA to Bernal Hts, has now fully recovered from the slowdown in condo prices at the end of last year. It surged this month 10.8% to a  median of $1,258,385. In the same vein, District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, Hayes Valley, NOPA) surged 15.1% to $1,374,831.

The rest of the city saw reasonable gains. District 4 (west of Twin Peaks) was up 5.8% to $1,557,179. The Sunset, which once seemed to be closing in on The Richmond is now clearly less valuable again, although it was up 9.5% to $1,381,449.  (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

Although we await October's and November's numbers to have a clear idea of the direction of the Fall market, it looks like the low inventory and strong demand resulting from the strength of the Bay Area economy are pushing housing ever higher. Absent some dramatic increase in supply or an economic shock, it is hard to imagine any slow down. If you are interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

New Train Lines, Old Train Lines

As San Francisco's population grows how can our transportation system keep up? New dedicated bus lines are in place or in the works on Geary, Van Ness, Masonic, Mission, Potrero and elsewhere. The Chinatown extension of the T line is (hopefully) nearing completion. The city and others are also studying new train lines - a new BART tube from Oakland airport through Mission Bay, downtown and out Geary through the Richmond, for example. 

But some would be amazed to learn that San Francisco once had many more train lines than it has now. Besides the J, K, L, M, and N lines we have had for decades (and the relatively new T line down 3rd St., plus F and E historic street cars), Muni used to have A, B, C, D, E, F, H, and R lines. There was an elaborate system serving the northern part of the city with the A, B, C, and D lines running from the Ferry Building out Geary first to 10th Ave. and Fulton, and later with lines extending all the way out Geary to Playland amusement park on Ocean Beach, veering off on California all the way to 33rd Ave, turning on Van Ness and running to the Marina and the Presidio. All of these lines were discontinued in the 1950s, replaced by bus lines.

Another train ran from the Ferry Building all the way around the Embarcadero to the Presidio. Some of this line has now been restored as the E-line historic street car. But it only goes to Jones and Beach, whereas the old line went all the way to the Presidio (through a tunnel at Fort Mason). The other historic line (F) has the same name as an older line that went from Market and Stockton through the Stockton tunnel (built for the train) all the way to Chestnut and Scott in the Marina. In the 40s it was extended to 4th and Townsend to intersect with the Southern Pacific long-distance terminal. The Chinatown extension currently under construction largely duplicates the southern part of this route; although there is talk of extending it to North Beach, so far any connection to the Marina is nothing more than a dream. 

Two southern trains also existed, one traveling from Cesar Chavez (Army) down Potrero Ave, 11th St., Division and Van Ness all the way to Fort Mason. It was later extended down Bayshore and San Bruno to Arleta in Visitacion Valley. The other ran from Howard and South Van Ness (near the city's new "Hub" neighborhood with plans for 4 very tall residential towers) to Cesar Chavez. Bus lines replaced both in the late 40s and early 50s.

What would our city be like if these lines had been preserved? Certainly some streets would be noisier, and streetcars contribute to surface traffic. But perhaps if the lines had been preserved, fewer people would see the need for a car. Or maybe the city would have found a way to make them into subways like the one we have. As we rebuild some of the lines, we should think about why the others were there and, of course, where new ones are needed for today's city and for the future.  Details here, here and here.

More Housing Soon?

This month saw the passage of a set of bills aimed at encouraging the production of more housing at all levels and all across California. Nowhere is the need for it more apparent than in the Bay Area. But will the new policy proposals have an effect?

The package of 15 bills includes a permanent source of funding - about $250 million per year - through a fee on real estate transaction documents. There is $4 billion affordable housing bond slated for the November ballot. Several bills aim to streamline local construction approvals, give the state more enforcement powers to require localities to provide their share of housing and authorizes a study of local construction fees in an effort to lower the costs of new housing. Many of these measures have direct applicability in the Bay Area where many cities have authorized office construction but not housing for the workers. This contributes to the high cost of housing in the area AND creates transportation problems as employees must commute from where they live to where they work - which are far apart. This package of bills is a good "first step." But more needs to be done - in zoning changes, tax incentives, affordable housing funding, and enforcement of long term plans where every locality helps to address the issue. Creating more and more affordable housing will involve hard choices; we cannot house more people and retain exactly the same neighborhoods we have now; we cannot expect traffic to ease unless some of us give up our cars. San Francisco can be a place for everyone if we have the will to make it so, count on the region around us to do their part, and make the rational, planned choices that will be necessary. More details here and here

San Francisco Is Brutal

 When people think architecture in San Francisco, they usually veer between Victorians and the super-modern towers built recently. But what of our brutalist past? Brutalism, as an architectural style, emphasizes raw concrete and massive structure that makes the function of the building obvious from the outside. It is said to be "honest" architecture because it is not concerned with decoration. The name comes from the French béton brut (raw concrete) and it is associated with public architecture from the 1950-70s. We have some superb examples in San Francisco, including the Glenn Park BART station, St. Mary's Cathedral and the Sava pool in the Sunset. LIke it or not, brutalism is part of San Francisco's cityscape. Check it out, here and here.

Up Up and Away

Defying the normal cycle, July's sales hit a new all-time record as the market continues to move up. The new median price for all properties hit $1,280,000, which is 6.7% above last July's median. Single-family homes moved up again as they have consistently - this month up 9% to $1,461,000. But apartments (condominiums, TICs and coops) also hit a new record high median price, $1,157,500 an increase of 5.2% year over year. This is notable because apartments had slowed earlier in the year but now are well over the previous high from June of last year. Overall, July's numbers this year defied the normal cycle when prices dip in the summer and then rise in the Fall (usually in October when post Labor Day sales close). Anecdotally, the under $1,500,000 million part of the market is quite hot, with nicely presented properties selling very quickly, with multiple offers and way over asking. Are we seeing the start of a new run-up in prices? We will not know until the Fall market is well under way; the increases could be due to a relatively slow Spring and pent up demand.

Other statistics do seem to indicate that another run-up is possible. Inventory remains very very low as it has been all year. July's active listing were down almost 33% from last July. And that is across the board, including single family homes and apartments (although the latter numbers are misleading, since most new construction condominiums are not listed on the MLS).  Median day on market was at 17 days, just a few shy of the record, and showing a very similar pattern to the last big run up in prices in early 2015. Median percentage of list price received (107.8%) and the percentage of properties selling over list price (72.1%) are both moving up, another sign of rising prices. But neither is near record territory so perhaps any run up will be more moderate than a few years ago. In summary, buyers would do well to consider a purchase now if it fits into their life-plan, and sellers have a great opportunity to take advantage of an "up" market at least for the moment.

Small (2-4 unit) apartment building statistics are consistent. Median price rose 15% year over year to $1,842,500. Buildings are selling fast (34 days) and for well over list price (109% - for those selling within 30 days). Both of these numbers are consistent with what we saw last year. But the big change is that there are more properties on the market (50 versus 41 last July). Normally, an increase in inventory depresses prices but it not, showing that demand is strong and that the apartment building market is considered a good investment vehicle, even with San Francisco's ever more stringent rent control regulations. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

All districts saw healthy increases, but of course some parts of the city are quite a bit more frothy. As in June, the west side surged ahead with District 3 in the southeast corner of the city again running up the biggest gains (with one exception - see below), up 13.4% over last year. District 1 (Richmond, Sea Cliff) also saw double digit increases (10.7% to $1,500,000). But District 2 (Sunset, Parkside) which surged up 11% in June lagged in July, up "only" 5.6% to $1,320,000. The biggest winner city wide was the least expensive, District 10 (Bayview, Excelsior, Portola) breaking $900,000 median price, a whopping 16.4% increase from last year.

The center of the city saw steady but smaller increases, with District 4 (West Portal, Diamond Hts, Westwood Park) up 6.1% to $1,501,000, District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) and 6 (Hayes Valley, Lower Pac Hts, NOPA) up 7.8% ($1,585,000) and 4.8% ($1,210,000) each. Perennial winner District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts) slipped below $2 million, but was still up 4.2% to $1,860,000 almost $300,000 higher than the next highest district. Neighboring District 8 (downtown, Civic Center, Russian/Nob Hills) was the loser this month, appreciating only 1.6% to $1,125,000. Finally, District 9 (SOMA, Potrero, Dogpatch) surged again after several months of low appreciation. It was up 7.2% to $1,225,000 probably reflecting the recovery of condominium prices. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

This Summer's increases may be a sign of a market turning up from the slow pace of last Fall and this Spring, or it may just be an anomaly reflecting shifts of sales that usually happen in the Spring. This Fall's market will be very interesting to watch. No one has a crystal ball, but it looks like demand is still strong and therefore without a flood of new inventory, sellers can count on healthy appreciation. At the same time, buyers have an incentive to take advantage of still-low interest rates. Everyone should remember to not focus on the numbers at the expense of their lives. If you need to make a change, or are just interested in the value of your property or the one you want, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you.

 

North Bay Transit

One of the regions our Bay Area is so beautiful is the dramatic geography of mountains and bay. But those physical features also form barriers to transportation, with our bridges the most prominent connections across to the north and east. Those bridges can only handle so much traffic, however, and long ago it was recognized that we need other ways to get around the Bay. The most prominent regional transit system, BART, was originally intended to extend to Marin, with planned extensions to Sonoma and Napa. But in 1962, Marin (and San Mateo) opted out of the BART system and it was built out in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa only. Although San Mateo and Santa Clara have now opted into the BART system with the existing extension to SFO and under-construction East Bay extension to San Jose, the North Bay remains cut off from the region except via the ever more crowded Golden Gate Bridge.

But some relief is rapidly approaching. The Smart Train is coming with a first phase connecting northern Santa Rosa's Sonoma County Airport with San Rafael ready to go pending final testing of the safety system by federal inspectors. But how to get across the Bay to the city without having to wait in line for a bridge? Via the extensive ferry system already in place, of course, and to reach that an extension to Larkspur is already under construction and scheduled to open in early 2019. Want to reach your vacation home in Healdsburg? The next phase extends the line even further north, all the way to Cloverdale in northern Sonoma County. And with the electrification of CalTrain helping to speed southern trips and making high speed rail into the middle of downtown San Francisco possible, we can look forward to faster transit, less pollution and less stress. We could not do without our stunning geography, but more connections (maybe a second BART tube across the Bay, more Muni underground lines?) also bring us closer together as a region and boost the economy all around. Let's get moving! More details herehere and here

 

Visitacion Valley Spotlight

Continuing our review of San Francisco's neighborhoods, we move to the southeast corner of the city to Visitacion Valley. The name comes from the original rancho which in turn was named after the Biblical Visitation of the pregnant Virgin Mary to Elizabeth who was carrying John the Baptist at the time. Legend is that Franciscan friars were exploring in heavy fog, which cleared to reveal the beautiful valley - all on May 31, 1777, the day of the Catholic calendar celebrating the Visitation.

In the nineteenth century Henry Schwerin ran a large dairy farm that also raised ferns, tulips and bees. Francoise Pioche raised roses and other European immigrants established truck farms irrigated by windmills, giving the area the name Valley of the Windmills. Industry arrived in the 1870s, including breweries, a ribbon factory, and the Schlage lock company, all employing recent Italian and Irish immigrants.

During World War II the Navy opened the Hunters Point Shipyard nearby and thousands of mostly African-American workers came to the area to help in the war effort. The Sunnydale project, originally private housing, was built to handle this surge of new people and eventually converted to public housing. The  20 story Geneva Towers were also built, but after the war both projects declined and eventually the towers were destroyed.

Today, the area has risen in value along with the rest of the city and offers a large number of a rare commodity - reasonable single family homes with yards that are under $1 million. The median home price was $364,000 in 2012, but has risen to $878,000 now (up 20% in the last year alone). The area abutting Potrero up on the hill takes advantage of fantastic Bay views and proximity to the walking trails of McLaren Park. And further down in the valley is close to the Third Street T line. And of course the entire area is readily accessible to the 101 and 280 highways. Moreover, development is coming. The Schlage factory site has been approved for a massive mixed use development with housing and parks and will extend the Leland Avenue commercial area for several blocks, creating a nice commercial area which someday may be linked to the existing Caltrain station. Details here, here and here.

 

Ginger's "Quatre"

 San Francisco has a long history of public social spaces. For the LGBT community this includes many bars and social clubs that date back to at least the turn of the last century. One of the most beloved is Ginger's of which there have been three previous incarnations. The first, on Eddy St. in the Tenderloin opened in 1978, and Ginger's Too opened on 6th Street. Then in 1991 "Ginger's Trois" opened on Kearney St. in the Financial District and stayed there until 2009. Now the owner of that space has reopened "Ginger's" in the basement of the building to revive the beloved concept. Updated nostalgia aside, it's good to see some diversity in the offerings downtown. For a list of other gone-but-not-forgotten gay bars, look here and here.

New Normal - Prices Up, Inventory Down

Statistics for June sales show a continuing strong market. Prices remain up, increasing 5.4% year over year from last June for all properties. And appreciation should continue at a steady pace since the inventory of available properties remains at record lows, down over 34% from last year. But the super-frenzied market of 2015, when properties were selling at a median of more than 10% over list price has now settled down to about 6% over, virtually the same as last year. That means that the market is rationally absorbing the price increases of the past few years, but neither headed for a downward correction or an immediate new upswing. We are definitely in a new normal of current level prices, appreciating at a measured rate but with intense competition for what is available.

Looking more specifically at various segments of the market, we find support for this picture. Single family homes continued to show amazing strength increasing almost 11% from last year to a median price of $1,468,000, the second highest median price ever (the first highest was last month). Condo/TIC/coops were slightly down from last June ($1,145,000, down 2.6%), but last year's median was the third highest ever (the first and second highest were February and May of this year). So condo prices actually are stable, if not seeing the huge jumps of homes. As noted, inventory is way down after a run up last Fall. Of course, it may be that sellers are waiting for the Fall market, and we may see a big jump compared to last year because this year we have no election to cause uncertainty. We will have to see, but all indicators point to a steady market, making it a great time to sell or buy.

Small (2-4 unit) apartment buildings followed these trends with one important exception. The median price shot up 11.4% year over year to $1,850,000. The length of time properties stayed on the market stayed steady at 33 days, remarkably low given that there were 55 sales versus only 46 last year. But that higher sale number means there is more inventory in the market and anecdotally it does seem that owners are taking profits on the run-up from recent years. This may be driven by media reports of rent decreases for the first time in many years, but those reports can be misleading because they include only larger buildings that report numbers (San Francisco's rental market is mostly smaller buildings) and/or Bay Area statistics. At any rate, the apartment building market can only be described as strong and appreciating. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

The overall picture above varies considerably when we look at different areas of the city. The entire west side of the city saw much higher increases compared to everywhere else. District 3 in the southeast corner of the city by Lake Merced, was the big winner with a median price of $1,060,000, up 19.3% over last year. But both District 1 (Richmond, Sea Cliff) and 2 (Sunset, Parkside) were up too by 12.1 and 11.5%. For the rest of the city, only District 10 (Bayview, Excelsior, Portola) could compete, continuing its endless climb up and hitting a median of $897,000, a 9.5% increase from last year.

The center of the city saw much smaller increases, with District 4 (West Portal, Diamond Hts, Westwood Park) up 3.1% to $1,480,000, District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight) and 6 (Hayes Valley, Lower Pac Hts, NOPA) up 1.6% and 1.3% each. And District 9 (SOMA, Potrero, Dogpatch) hitting "only" $1,205,000, essentially the same as last year. The losers this month were District 8 (downtown, Civic Center) which slipped 10% to $995,000 and District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) which sank to a median just below $2,000,000 (down 2.5%).

This variance caused some major realignments as District 1 and 4, both "bedroom" communities, traded places. District 1 (Richmond) surged ahead of the west of Twin Peaks area (District 4). And remarkably, District 1 even jumped ahead of perennial second place finisher District 5. This is only the second time since 2009 that has happened (the other seemingly an anomaly when District 1 jumped ahead for one month in May 2015). But interestingly if we look at single family homes, District 5 was up 23% to a median price of $2,400,000, way over District 1's median home price of $1,786,000. (District 7 need not fear being toppled as the king, however, since the median single family home there sold for $5,324,000.) Given these figures, it seems that some low-priced condominium sales must have driven District 5's numbers down and I would expect that area to jump back into second place soon. But we will have to see. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

In summary, San Francisco's market shows remarkable strength especially given the years long surge in prices we have seen. Demand remains strong and inventory low, so there is no sign of a dip; rather, steady appreciation seems to be the new normal. If you are interested in the specific value of your property or in taking advantage of the "plateau" to get into the market before it goes up further, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. More statistics, updated constantly, are at www.danslaughtersf.com.

Hayes Valley Spotlight

San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods so I like to periodically spotlight one of them, providing history and the current "take" on it. Hayes Valley started out after the Gold Rush of 1849 as a produce farm area. As the city rapidly expanded, however, it (along with the rest of the Western Addition) was built out with mansions and smaller homes for the ever-expanding population. Many of those structures survive because the area did not burn in the fires after the 1906 earthquake, and Hayes Valley continued to be a crossroads, close to the center of the city, Civic Center and Opera but just removed enough to be a "neighborhood." Always multi-ethnic, during and after World War II large-scale African-American immigration made the area part of that thriving community that stretched to the Fillmore.

The Central Freeway spur of US 101 changed that. Built in the 1950s, the elevated structure cut through the neighborhood creating dark underpasses and disruptive entrance and exit ramps. Hayes Valley was more of an interchange than a neighborhood and it became one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city.

In 1989, nature intervened with the Loma Prieta earthquake weakening the Central Freeway, which was closed for many years. Eventually, the city's voters agreed to demolish the freeway north of Market Street and to create a new park and grand boulevard on Octavia. Savvy residents and business people saw the appeal of the charming old buildings, sunny weather and proximity to the central city and began moving in, fixing up and establishing a "hip" business corridor on Hayes Street. The new park was in place by 2005. As the empty lots that had once been freeway ramps were sold off and redeveloped into apartment and condominium buildings (a process that continues to this day) the area has been transformed into one of the best parts of the city. Prices reflect this change. Since 2005 the per square foot price has more than doubled and properties now sell for a median price of $1,341,000, up from $572,500 in 2005.

Today, Hayes Valley is truly one of the gems of the city. The commercial neighborhood has maintained its unique character with interesting local shops and restaurants, Octavia Park is filled with interesting public art that changes constantly, there is a pop-up beer garden, movies outside in the summer and the new Jazz Center to compliment the Opera and Symphony. Many of the new buildings are architecturally significant yet they blend in well with older buildings that have been restored to their Victorian and Edwardian grandeur. Go Hayes Valley!

Parking and Traffic

As the city's population continues to grow, managing residents' and visitors' cars grows ever more difficult. Two issues are getting a lot of attention now - ridesharing services and parking permits. The explosive growth of Uber, Lyft and other private car services has put more cars on the city's roads; it is estimated that 20% of vehicles are from ridesharing services. The increased wear and tear on our roads has to be paid for somehow, but should that burden fall on the drivers, the companies or users of the services? The city requires that drivers, as independent contractors, obtain a $91/year business license. But some would like to impose a tax or fee on each ride as well, which may make more sense given that more rides mean more wear and tear. Also, some argue that these services rob public transit of riders making our buses and trains unsustainable. On the other hand, these services - just like taxis - decrease parking needs to the extent they replace private car trips where the car has to be put somewhere while waiting for the return trip, and may decrease the number of cars parked on our streets generally because many Uber and Lyft drivers come in to the city from elsewhere in the Bay Area or beyond. Uber and Lyft are important parts of our transportation system and filled a need not being met by the taxi industry previously, but are they and their passengers paying their fair share of the costs of the service? More details of the debate here, herehere and here.

Out in the neighborhoods, another issue arises with increased population. Starting in the 1970s, the city established residential parking permit areas that generally prohibit parking by non-residents during the day for more than one or two hours. The idea was to keep street parking for nearby residents instead of commuters. Each household is limited to four permits, but there is no limit to the number of permits that can be issued for an area - all residents are entitled to them. Current rules are that 50% of an area's residents must request a new permitting area or to be added to an existing one and the city also surveys to determine the number of non-residents who actually park there. Most of the current permit areas were in place by the 1990s with very few added since then. As the density of the city has grown, however, these rules have resulted in many areas with more permitted vehicles than there are spaces. Now MTA is considering lowering the number of permits per household, setting a limit on the number it will issue for an area and considering access to garage and other off-street parking for a particular resident before allowing a street parking permit. New areas are also in consideration for Bernal Heights and Dogpatch, and they will carry some of these new rules so we will see if that alleviates the parking issues or if there is just no substitute for -- fewer cars! More details here and here

Adolph Sutro

 Engineer, philanthropist, real estate mogul, and mayor, Adolph Sutro is one of San Francisco's most beloved figures. He made his fortune in Nevada where he devised a tunnel system to drain water and gas from the Comstock Lode mineshafts. Then he sold out and moved to San Francisco in 1879. He bought Sutro Heights (1000 acres looking out at the Pacific some of which is still public land covered with a eucalyptus forest), Land's End and Mount Davidson among other properties. He built his estate on the bluffs near Sea Cliff, but opened the gardens to the public. He then built the Cliff House and Sutro Baths below and even his own railroad so that people could get there from downtown! He and his heirs donated much of this land to the city - that's why we have Lincoln Park. And he also gave us a grand monument in my neighborhood, Mt. Olympus. Considered the geographic center of the city (although it is actually nearby on 17th Street) Mt. Olympus was once a grand park covering the top of the hill with stairs cascading down all four sides and 360 degree views in all directions. Sutro gave a statue, The Triumph of Light, that was placed at the top on a pedestal as a sort of Statue of Liberty for San Francisco. Although the statue was later dismantled and much of the park sold off for private homes and buildings, Adolph's gifts to the city still bring light and open space all over town. Details here and here.

Record Prices - Again

The May numbers are in with new all-time median price records city-wide. This is no surprise; inventory is still way down so the available properties can count on intense competition. This Spring's statistics also indicate that we have reached a new "normal" of many fewer transactions, perhaps driven by low inventory, which may result from sellers unable to move up easily given the rapid appreciation of recent years. With prices continuing to escalate, however, the logjam must break eventually. In short, San Francisco's market remains very strong.

The median sale price for all properties for the entire city was up 6% year over year to $1.3 million, besting the previous high set in April 2016 by $20,000. Single family homes jumped dramatically to a median price of $1,512,338, more than $100,000 higher than the previous highs in May 2015 and October 2016, and 12% higher than last May. Condo/TIC/coop prices shot up also, 10% higher than last year and a new record median of $1,200,000. Are these new highs sustainable? It would appear so, because inventory is still at an historic low, even while the city's population grows. The number of active listings was down 23.6% from last May; there were 568 properties available. Before 2011, a "normal" amount of inventory in the Spring would be over 1000 properties, and last Fall it looked like the trend of lower inventory we have seen in the past 5 years was starting to turn around. Some speculated also that the slower Spring was due to rain and residual uncertainty from the national political situation. But now we are back in a low supply situation which, if it continues, should continue to push prices upward.

2-4 unit buildings did not see the same surge, with the median price actually lower by $80,000 than last year. But anecdotally, apartment buildings are again in demand and indeed sales are faster (17 days on the market versus 22 last year) and inventory way down (only 35 active listing this year; last year at the same time there were 54).  May's median price may simply reflect a spate of smaller building sales and April's median price was sharply up. We will look at the first half of the year next month to see if a real trend can be found. (As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that a large percentage of sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.)

A look at the various districts shows us how these overall numbers can be misleading when you are looking at your own property or planning on buying one. Price appreciation was not consistent across the board. District 8 (downtown, Russian/Nob Hill) was the biggest winner, up 11% year over year to a median price of $1,140,000. And District 2 (Sunset) continued its steady climb up reaching a median price of $1,300,000, 8.3% above last year. But District 3 (Lake Merced, Stonestown, Ingleside, Oceanview) and District 10 (Bayview, Portola, Excelsior) appreciated "only" 4.2% and 4.6% each (with median values of $1,020,000 and $879,000 respectively). That puts District 3 falling back to "normal" after a surge earlier this year and District 10 continuing a steady climb that has been going on for several years.

None of the areas saw major price decreases, but there were minor ones. District 1 (Richmond) was down 0.3% to $1,500,000. District 6 (Lower Pac Hts, Hayes Valley, Western Addition, NOPA) fell 1.3% to a median $1,150,000. , District 9 (SOMA, Mission, Bernal, Potrero) and District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) both have now recovered completely from the dip they saw starting the second half of 2016. District 9 was nevertheless down slightly (0.9%) to $1,150,000, and District 7 was down 1% to $2,080,000. Finally, District 4 (West of Twin Peaks) and District 5 (Haight, Cole Valley, Eureka Valley, Noe Valley) were up 4.3 and 3.3% with median prices of $1,425,000 and $1,622,500, respectively. 

Perhaps more interesting is the inconsistent inventory changes across the neighborhoods. Some areas had wildly fewer listings than last year. Districts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6 were all more than 30% down (3 and 6 more than 40% down). The others had less inventory as well but not as dramatically lower - Districts 5, 7 and 9 were down around 10-13% and District 10 down 19%. But District 8 defied the norm, with an upswing in properties for sale of 4.8%. These inventory numbers are not predictive of sale prices immediately (for example, District 8's median price was up 11%, even with more properties available) and can fluctuate substantially month to month. But if they remain very low in a particular area, prices will rise as the buyer pool competes for just a few properties. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

San Francisco's market remains very strong. This month's numbers reached new highs, but there is also no sign of an amazing jump like the one in 2015 (when median prices jumped from less than $1 million to $1,175,000 in 12 months). Rather, prices are steadily climbing due to high demand, constricted supply and low interest rates. This makes for an excellent market to sell, if you are ready, or to buy if you need to. Give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you. 

Permit Process

San Francisco is well known for its difficult regulatory environment. Intended to make sure the city retains its charm, is safe and provides for all of its residents as much as possible, the overlapping agencies that govern business activity, including real estate development, can sometimes be a hindrance and take unnecessary time, adding to the cost of projects. Of course, no one wants to do away with the process entirely but lately there have been fresh looks at making it more rational and easier for everyone - small neighborhood businesses, individual homeowners, and big developers - to navigate. One innovation is the announcement of a one stop permitting center at a new tower that should be up by 2020 at 1500 Mission in the "Hub" neighborhood taking shape around Van Ness and Market. The new city office will house planning, public works and building departments all under one roof so people can avoid having to shuttle between them for the same project. That will not eliminate the multiple levels of review, conflicting departmental directives, neighborhood comment process and (sometimes) political football, but at least it's a step toward some rationality, which can lower costs. Why? The permitting process takes time and costs money (for carrying costs as well as additional professionals who navigate through it), but also means increased uncertainty and risk. Of course, the cost of building is also driven by labor costs, and economic factors like supply and demand, but if we can protect our beautiful city while at the same time allowing improvements to be reviewed and approved more efficiently, we will all be better off. Details here and here.

Transit Expansion Now (or Soon)

It is no secret that San Francisco's (and the Bay Area's) transportation infrastructure has reached a breaking point. Traffic is up and there is no room to build additional freeways which would increase our carbon footprint in any case. Rideshare services may have alleviated the taxi shortage, but at the cost of additional cars on the road. And bicycles cannot handle all trips. But we have failed to invest in trains and other projects that can move large amounts of people efficiently. Two initiatives seek to increase transit now (or soon).

First, the city has again begun to look into extending to Fort Mason the above-ground F-line service that runs down Market and around the Embarcadero to Jones/Jefferson. The extension will require re-opening and retrofitting a 1914 tunnel originally built for the Panama Pacific International Exposition. If that can be done, we would have better service for tourists staying near Fisherman's Wharf, as well as Marina residents who could travel to the Ferry Building or up Market without changing modes. Details here.

Second, to support continued growth of ferry service from around the Bay to downtown, construction is now underway to renovate one of the existing gates at the Ferry Building and build two new ones. This requires extensive infrastructure work but, once finished, we will have the capacity to accept new service from Richmond, Treasure Island and Berkeley (in the short term) and Antioch, Hercules, Martinez, and Redwood City down the line. Ferries are one of the easiest ways to increase transit options and historically an important part of the Bay Area's transit system (over 250,000 people per day arrived by ferry at the Ferry Building in the early 1930s before the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge opened). Details here.

Of course, neither of these projects will completely satisfy the increased demand, and other more longterm solutions (like a second BART tube and increased subway service in the city) are under study, but we have to start somewhere. All aboard! 

Go Warriors!

 The whole Bay Area exploded with joy to see the Warriors grab their fifth national championship this week. Of course, the team is in Oakland now, but construction of the new arena in Mission Bay, the Chase Center, is speeding along. Lines of concrete trucks are pouring in and dumping their loads as fast as they can. Scheduled for completion in time for the 2019-20 season, the arena will have local food vendors, massive retail and a public plaza on the waterfront. It will not only bring the NBA back to the city, but also provide a world-class venue for entertainment events that now go to Oakland and San Jose. And it is one of the last major components of the Mission Bay neighborhood that houses thousands, provides world-class medical services and a center for the biotech industry. Go Warriors and Go San Francisco! Details here, here and here.

A Late Robust Spring Market

With the first half of the Spring market over, the story continues to be dominated by very low inventory and prices continuing a slow and steady march up. There has also been a remarkably slow start to the Spring selling season in terms of number of transactions, perhaps due to the unusually late wet weather we experienced in March and April. Others blame the continuing uncertainty with national politics. But San Francisco's economic position remains preeminent and the market remains strong by any measure; a downturn, if it ever occurs, seems to be nowhere near the horizon.

The median sale price in April for all properties for the entire city was down slightly from last April (-2.3%) to $1,250,000. But that number is the second highest ever and only $30,000 below the record high last year. Single family homes once again surged, up 1.6% to the highest price ever, $1,402,500. Condo/TIC/coop prices stalled after several months of appreciation; they were down 4.3% year over year to $1,100,000. And we should expect more appreciation because inventory levels (the number of properties for sale) are still way down. Last month there were 24% fewer properties available than last year, more than 400 fewer properties than were available last September. The upward appreciation pressure from this low inventory situation is undeniable. Of course, maybe sellers were waiting out the rain and will bring their homes out in May. We will see.

For 2-4 unit buildings, the median price shot up to $1,987,500, up 19% from a year ago. So, the down prices in March appear to be an anomaly and apartment buildings are as desirable as ever. The number of available properties and the length of time it takes to sell them remained the same. As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.

None of the districts saw dramatic losses or gains, with one exception. District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts) was down once again by 13% to $1,825,000. Although still the most expensive area, the differential with District 5 (Castro, Noe, Haight - up 5.8%) has narrowed to less than $100,000. District 2 (Sunset) and District 3 in the southwest corner of the city were the big winners in April; both surged 8.5% to $1,250,000 and $970,000 respectively.

District 1 (The Richmond) finally corrected down after several months of double digit increases; it stands at $1,440,000, 5.8% down from last year. District 8 (downtown, Russian/Nob HIll) and District 9 (SOMA, Mission, Potrero, Bernal) both also lost ground, the former down 4.3% to a median price of $1,009,000 and the latter down 3.4% to $1,120,000. 

District 4 (west of Twin Peaks) surged up 5.2% to $1,425,000 now essentially the same as the Richmond in the second most expensive tier geographically. District 10 in the southeast corner of the city was up again but still certainly the least expensive area, at a median price of $872,500. And District 6 (Hayes Valley, NOPA, Lower Pac Hts) was up a bit (1%) to $1,205,000.  (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

So the statistics indicate a very healthy market but not the intense appreciation that made pricing for buyers so difficult in the last few years. If you are thinking of making a move, or just curious about the market, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you.

New Exciting Architecture

San Francisco's skyline is transforming before our eyes. While much has been written lately about the topping off of the Salesforce tower, now the tallest in the city, 181 Fremont, now the tallest (and most expensive) residential property, and SFMOMA's fantastic addition, there is much more to come. And some of it is quite interesting. My personal favorite is the Folsom Bay Tower at Folsom and Main, designed by Jean Gang and her studio. Using the bay windows that are so much a part of the venacular here, the project gently rotates them all the way up the building, providing generous light and air and a dynamic facade. Preliminary work began this month on the 400 foot building and surrounding smaller structures with a green roof. Runner-ups are Rem Koolhass' 400 Folsom with a staggered facade and imaginative street level, SOM's 500 Folsom with its shuffled panel exterior, and Sir Norman Foster's 905 foot Oceanwide Center with it's distinctive "crown" top. More details here and here.

Cocktail Culture

Our city has always had a lively bar culture. Dense and sometimes uncomfortable living situations encourage people to get out and meet each other. So cocktails are not just drinks, but also a way to socialize - an entire culture of engagement. Classic San Francisco cocktails include the Mai Tai, Pisco Punch and the Martini (derived from the Martinez, invented in that Contra Costa town). And of course the Irish Coffee at Buena Vista Café is a staple.

But my current favorites, both shaken over ice, are:

Aviation (1.25 oz gin, 3/4 oz. lemon juice, spoon of sugar, and dash Luxardo) 

Midnight Prayer (1.5 oz. gin, .75 oz St. Germain, .5 oz Creme de Violette and dash orange bitters)

Not recommended? The Prairie Oyster made from olive oil, ketchup, egg yolk and vinegar or lemon juice. Bottoms up!

Summer of Love

 This Summer is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love that was centered in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1967. It was not an event, but rather a social phenomenon that focused a number of different cultural movements that had already been brewing to create a "counterculture." As many as 100,000 mostly young people - hippies - converged on the Haight in the summer with most of them espousing ideals now clearly associated with that time including liberal politics, opposition to the Vietnam War (or war, in general), psychedelic art, anti-materialism and communal life. Timothy Leary popularized drug use with his famous phrase "turn on, tune in, drop out." The Broadway musical Hair was inspired by the events and opened off-broadway in October 1967. And, of course, numerous rock-and-roll groups played in the city as well as at the Monterey Pops festival in June 1967. The influx overwhelmed the Haight with crime, hunger, and homelessness all rampant despite some attempts to manage the crowds. Of course, remnants of that Summer and the counterculture remain in the Haight and in the city's and the nation's culture as a whole. Currently showing is an exhibit at the de Young museum that offers immersion in the feel of the time, and other events are planned to note the anniversary. Perhaps fittingly, the overcrowding issue also has been remembered; a bid to hold a music festival in Golden Gate Park this June has been denied a permit. Details herehere and here.

Steady Strong (but slow) Spring

With March numbers in the San Francisco residential real estate market is best characterized as strong and steady. Smaller price increases than we have seen in the last few years indicate a leveling market that is still robust. But inventory remains a concern; many fewer houses for sale means that very attractive properties in the best locations are still going for significantly more than they would have last year, even if there is no "frenzy" for "just anything."

For all properties, sale prices were up 4.3% (year over year) to a median price of $1,225,000. Condo/TIC/coop prices continued to rise faster than single family homes, with the latter essentially unchanged from last year at a median of $1,350,000 while apartments were up 5% to $1,150,000. Inventory has collapsed, down 27% from last year (1100 listings versus 800) with almost 33% fewer single family homes for sale. The median days on market was unchanged from last year, at 18 days. Unless more listings come on the market in April, even with some cooling in buyer demand from interest rate increases and political turmoil, the pressure on home prices will force another uptick.

But the market is not as over-heated as before. The number of properties selling at over the list price has moved down to 67% this year, versus 73% last year. This certainly helps sellers in pricing and buyers in setting offer expectations which should lead to more rational negotiations, if there is anything to sell!

2-4 unit buildings diverged from other types of property. Although the median sale price was up 3% to $1,649,500, apartment buildings remained on the market much longer (23 versus 19 days) and inventory actually increased slightly. With only one month showing that inventory it should not be called a trend, but if that continues, prices should moderate. As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.

The ten different real estate districts continued the trends we saw in February, with a few exceptions. District 1 (The Richmond) once again moved up, with a median price 14% higher than last year ($1,498,889). And its cross-park rival, District 2 (the Sunset), lagged, increasing 3.9% to $1,200,000. That is the same as District 6 (Hayes Valley, NOPA, Lower Pac Hts). District 5 (Castro, Noe Valley, Haight, Glen Park) also increased again, up 13.5% to a median price of $1,697,500, chasing the most expensive area, District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts, which was down again by 10.9% to $1,802,000).

District 4 (west of Twin Peaks from Diamond Heights to Ingleside Terraces) was the other big loser, down 7.3% to $1,325,000. District 9 (SOMA, MIssion, Bernal) was down again, but only slightly this month (-0.2% to $1,0097,000 and District 10 (Bayview, Excelsior, Portola) was up again (5.8% to $820,000).

District 3 and 8 are the big differences from last month, essentially trading places. District 3 in the southwest corner of the city (Stonestown, Lake Merced) was unchanged year over year, falling below $1 million ($967,500) after a surge last month that put it way over that mark. District 8 (downtown, Civic Center, Nob & Russian Hills), after falling below $1 million, surged 18.4% to $1,140,000. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

The Spring trend appears to be steady appreciation, but no blow out up or down. Of course, individual neighborhoods and properties do not always fit this model. If you are thinking of making a move, or just curious about the market, give me a call so I can analyze your specific situation and use my experience and skills for you.

San Francisco Rent Control - What You Need to Know

Everyone agrees that San Francisco's rent control laws have an out-sized effect on housing here. In general, rental units built before 1979 are covered by the law, meaning that the amount of rent increases is set by the city for existing tenants. There is no rent control for most all single family homes or condominiums but they are still subject to eviction control measures which prevent removing tenants except for certain reasons, like failure to pay rent. Of course, the law is far more complicated than this simple summary, so any specific issue should be examined with an attorney's help.

Recently two rent control issues have been in the news. First, the city's attempt to discourage Ellis Act evictions suffered another blow. The Ellis Act is a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants (including from rent-controlled units) if the landlord wants to go out of the rental business. On March 21, the intermediate Court of Appeal agreed with a 2015 trial court ruling striking down an ordinance from the same year that the city passed to discourage Ellis Act evictions. The ordinance would have required landlords that take advantage of the Ellis Act to pay up to $50,000 to tenants. The reasoning behind the law was that evicted tenants would have to pay far more than their controlled rent for replacement apartments, and that the landlord should make up the differential. The appellate court rejected this result, reasoning that the differential was not caused by the landlord's actions, but by the market in the rent-controlled area. We will see if the city appeals that decision to the California Supreme Court.

Second, state lawmakers (including David Chiu from San Francisco) have introduced a bill to repeal the Costa-Hawkins Act. The Act prevents rent control measures from being imposed on new construction, defined to mean anything built after 1995. The aim is to extend rent protections to more tenants; as time goes on and new buildings go up, more and more of San Francisco's housing is exempt. But, of course, developers argue that repealing the law will make new apartment building construction riskier, preventing new construction and ultimately driving up rent rates as growing demand outstrips supply. We will see which side of the argument prevails.

One thing is for sure: rent control will continue to be the subject of intense debate for the foreseeable future. More details here and here.

Time to Take Off!

Many San Franciscans moved here from elsewhere and retain family and friends from across the world. And our economy is intertwined with the rest of the world also. That means we like to (or have to) get away and, since California is way out on the edge of the continent the first step of the trip is often to an airport. In the past year there have been a lot of flights added or announced from SFO, including new flights to Munich, Zurich, Manchester, Reykjavik, Seoul, Berlin, Helsinki and lots of new domestic routes including to Kalispell, Montana. Oakland Airport will soon add a nonstop to Copenhagen and a new airline (Level) flying to Barcelona. These connections are important; they draw us closer to the rest of the planet and give us the ability to see new places, experience different cultures and just live. So, take off as often as you can and bring back to our city news of your adventures. Check out other nearby airports and new routes here and here.

Tax Day - Postponed!

We all know that taxes are due to be filed every year on April 15. But this year the deadline is Tuesday, April 18. Why? April 15 falls on a Saturday so it makes sense that the deadline would roll forward to Monday. But Monday, April 17 is Emancipation Day (normally April 16, but moved up to Monday) in Washington, DC. (Emancipation Day celebrates Abraham Lincoln's 1862 proclamation freeing the slaves in the district, nine months before the broader Emancipation Proclamation covering all the Confederate States. The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1865, freed all the slaves in the United States). Since IRS agents will be on holiday, tax day is moved up a day to April 18. California's tax deadlines follow the federal rule. So you have three extra days this year to sweat over your filings!

Spring Surge

Here at the beginning of the Spring market we do not know statistically whether the market is up or not. But the feeling out on tour and at open houses continues to indicate that we should have strong appreciation the first half of this year. Nicer homes are selling for way over asking prices and way over what comparable houses sold for last Fall, at least sometimes, and buyer traffic is very strong. There is certainly not an across the board frenzy for all properties, but at price points below $2 million and in desirable neighborhoods, competition is the norm. We will see if we have another Spring boom or just a steady increase in prices. But certainly the San Francisco residential real estate market remains strong by any measure, reflecting the stable economic factors at play.

For all properties, sale prices were up 1.5% in February (year over year). In a turnaround, condo/TIC/coop sales far outpaced single family homes. Homes have been appreciating much faster than apartments for at least 6 months, but in February homes actually lost ground, falling in price 7.6% year over year to a median price of $1,285,000. Condo/TIC/coop prices shot up to a median price of $1,200,000, 9.3% higher than last year. This differential is probably an anomaly but we will have to wait for more information to see.

In another sign of market strength, inventory of available properties continues to be very low, down 11.5% from last year. If that continues, available properties in general can count on multiple buyers, quick sales and resulting price increases. Bolstering this view, the median days on the market was only 16, down 23% from last year.

2-4 unit buildings surged, with the median price up 14% to $1,800,000. To achieve those prices, properties sat on the market about 15 days longer, but there is just as much inventory as last year. So, with the increased demand prices should feel upward pressure. As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.

February statistics for the ten different real estate districts make for a very interesting story. District 1 (The Richmond) continued to surge, up 34.8% year over year to a median price of $1,550,000. Only a year ago, it seemed like District 2 (the Sunset) might be coming up to the same level as its cross-park rival. But District 2 has been lagging, up "only" 8.3% to $1,245,000. The second biggest increase this month was in District 5 (Castro, Noe Valley, Haight, Glen Park) which increased by 17.8% to median price of $1,685,000. That is very close to District 7 (Pac Hts, Marina) which has always been the most expensive area by far, but this month was down 7.2% to $1,725,000.

The other big winner in February was District 3 in the southwest corner of the city, up 14.3% to a median price of $1,150,000. That puts it over Districts 8, 9 and 10; for many years, District 3 outpaced only District 10 and usually only by a hair. District 8 (downtown, Civic Center, Nob & Russian Hills) was down 2.5% to $999,000, District 9 was down 7.9% to $1,017,500 and District 10 was up 7% to $822,000. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

Once March sales are reported we will have a better idea of the direction of the market, but all indications (especially inventory) indicated full steam ahead. That said, recent interest rate increases may eventually cool buyer demand, so now is a good time to sell and certainly if you are in the market to buy now is the time to lock in the still-low rates. If you are thinking of making a move, or just curious about the market, give me a call so I can use my always up-to-date knowledge for you.

Mid-Market Transforms

As most everyone is aware, the Mid-Market neighborhood centered on Market Street from 5th Street to Van Ness has seen some radical change in recent years. With the current tech boom, and particularly Twitter's 2012 relocation the former Design Mart building, the area has become ground zero for gentrification arguments with new upscale apartment buildings filling as fast as they can be built and older office buildings being converted for new, richer tenants. The benefits, in terms of tax payments, jobs and street activity are apparent, but so are some of the difficulties, as long-time residents are pushed out of what used to be one of the city's most inexpensive areas. Can the historic culture survive the onslaught of the newcomers? It's an interesting question that applies all over our dynamic city.

Certainly the transformation cannot be stopped completely. Just completed is 6X6, a new retail shopping complex that says it will be like no other. Rather than a luxury enclave like Union Square, or a mall like the Westfield Center nearby, 6X6 is set up as large open floors that blend all types of specialty retailers with food offerings all in a building fully open to the street through floor to ceiling windows. The idea is to make the complex part of the street, not to separate it from the public space. That kind of revitalization is certainly welcome and hopefully will contribute to a diverse street life.

And developments in the area at least are attempting to balance the big changes they will help bring with the history of the area. 950 Market, a new hotel/condo complex with over 400 new units has agreed to help fund a transgender community center and establish a transgender historic and cultural district in the area. This, after activists noted that three early gay bars occupied part of the site and that it was a center of the "meat rack" area frequented by transgender hustlers for decades through the 1970s. And 1028 Market, designed to provide somewhat more affordable, smaller units, is just the latest development to include large scale public art. It will have a rainbow "waterfall" on its side intended to both beautify the building and reflect the area through its prism-like lenses. Let us hope these efforts help make Mid-Market a vibrant place for both old and new residents. More detail here, here and here.

Smart Infrastructure

As the center of the tech industry, it would seem that San Francisco homes should be filled with the latest technology. But this is also an old city that sometimes lacks the infrastructure to allow for the latest advances. Two recent developments give us hope for advancement.

The first is legislation to allow micro-trenching, which would allow internet service providers to place their lines in shallower conduits. Why is this important? Because digging major trenches adds significant cost, effectively shutting out smaller providers and preventing competition. Let's hope the legislation passes and city departments can make this sensible change happen so that we will have better WiFi everywhere. Details here.

The second development is AT&Ts installation of small-cell wireless antennas. As everyone knows, cell phone coverage is problematic in the Bay Area (we came in 58 out of 125 metropolitan areas in a wireless quality survey). The bay itself causes disruption, as do hills and trees. On top of that local politics sometimes prevent conventional cell-tower placement for aesthetic reasons, and some people are concerned about health effects. The new small-cell antennas may help because they can be located almost anywhere (on a lamppost, for example), and cover a smaller geographic area making them less likely to be overwhelmed by the ever-increasing demands for data. The first one was installed downtown in February and AT&T plans to put in almost 300 more in San Francisco before the end of the year. Clear calls are in our future! Details here and here.

Time to Eat!

One of the best things about San Francisco is the food. It seems that every week a great new restaurant opens, and we are blessed to have such choice. And the restaurant experience is not just about the food. This is also design central, with stunning spaces that enhance the meal and, sometimes, make up for it. Here are two lists, one for hottest new restaurants and the other for the best restaurant designs (some of them years old). Go out and enjoy!

A New Boom or Just Boomlet?

All through 2016 we saw predictions of a "bubble" in the San Francisco real estate market that was about to "burst," driving prices down. There was never any clear evidence of such a decline, although the market did seem to lose steam in the second half of 2016. This was particularly true for condominiums where prices remained flat or even declined slightly throughout the Fall, and the "mood" at open houses was not as frenetic as before (but perhaps that had to do with other events). We do not have even the beginnings of Spring market statistics yet since most people place its beginning either after the Super Bowl or on March 1. And January statistics are not a reliable barometer, because they represent less than 1/2 the number of sales that typically occur during the other months. Anecdotally, however, there is a very different feel to the market than just a few months ago. Buyers have returned in droves, and well-presented properties are selling in multiple bidding situations way over asking. Is everyone bananas to think that prices can continue to rise? Is it a new boom, or just a temporary "boomlet"? Or are people simply hungry for a place to live, a slice of San Francisco with its uniquely advantageous position as the center of the technology industry, a bastion of progressive values, outstanding food and culture, and a great place to live despite the recent weather? At any rate, early indications are that optimism has returned to the market. We will see if it holds through to the Summer.

For all properties, sale prices were up 2.2% in January (year over year). For some perspective, note that from January 2015 to last month, prices are up 23%, from $925,000 to $1,139,775. Of course this is lower than October's $1,140,000 median price peak, but January numbers always go down as properties that had to be discounted in the Fall market finally sell. Single family homes continued to outpace apartments, up 7% year over year to a median of $1,250,000. Condo/TIC/coop prices declined year over year to a median price of $1,035,000. Still, that's 15% higher than in January 2015.

The inventory of available properties was quite low in January, lower than in any January since 2014. Single family home inventory was down 21% from last year, and 15% fewer apartments were also on the market. This may explain the more active feeling from the buyer pool - fewer properties means that they are crowded into the same open houses and feel a need to compete. Usually, low inventory also means quick sales but the properties that were on the market in January were there longer (52 days) than at any time since February 2012. This trend usually means a softening in prices is in the works, but apparently sellers are holding firm, as the median price is up, not down. All in all, our market continues to be healthy and strong.

2-4 unit buildings followed these same trends, except that the median price was down from $1,700,000 last January to $1,573,500 this year. Like other properties, the median days on market was up sharply from 49 days last year to 59. But crucially, inventory has collapsed from 49 properties available last January to only 25 now. If that statistic continues look for prices to turn up as there are always investors in the market who must find properties to defer taxes in a 1031 exchange, and for other reasons.  As always, small numbers of 2-4 unit sales skew these figures, as well as the fact that many sales of apartment buildings (and other commercial properties) are not reported through the MLS.

The different districts of the city diverged even more than usual in January. Several saw amazing price increases, in particular District 1 (The Richmond) up a whopping 40.3% year over year to a median price of $1,487,500 and district 3 in the southwest corner of the city which is usually one of the two least expensive areas, was up 27.8% to $1,200,000. That's higher than either District 2 (Sunset) or 9 (Mission, SOMA, Bernal, Potrero). The two perennial leaders, District 7 (Marina, Pac Hts) and 5 (Castro, Noe Valley, Haight, Glen Park), showed healthy gains of 10.2 and 7.8 percent and appeared to be in no danger of losing their standing.  

Three districts lost substantial ground including District 4 (west of Twin Peaks) down 9% to $1,253,500, District 8 (Downtown, Civic Center, Russian/Nob Hill) down 10.2% to $975,000 and District 9 (Mission, SOMA, Bernal, Potrero) down 10.1% to $1,005,000. The rest of the city was fairly steady with small appreciation or depreciation below 4%. Of course, with low numbers of sales in January, all these statistics should be viewed with skepticism. (All district statistics are three month rolling averages, to mitigate for low numbers of sales.)

We await the Spring market sales to give us a fuller picture of where we are but certainly there is no sign of the long-predicted "burst" and instead some indications of a boom, especially in the inventory numbers. If you are thinking of buying or selling, or just curious about the market, give me a call so I can use my always up-to-date knowledge for you. 

High Speed Rail Progress

The Transbay Transit Center area is taking shape with soaring office and residential towers, bustling streets filled with people, a metal screen floating above the sidewalks and housing the terminal itself and a massive new park. But where are we on the bullet train that was slated to terminate there on 2 1/2 hour trips from Los Angeles?

First approved by voters in 2008, the rail project is slowly but surely making progress even while there are efforts to derail it completely. The first segment, connecting Madera with Bakersfield in the Central Valley, is under construction with bridges and viaducts being built, highways being moved and land being bought up and cleared. It is full steam ahead on that part of the project.

However, connecting that portion to the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles basin has not yet begun. And the connection to our city is now under threat, as Republicans in Congress are trying to cut off funding for electrification of Cal-Train's tracks from San Jose to San Francisco, a necessary step in getting the train all the way into our shining new terminal downtown. The connection between the current CalTrain station at 4th and King to the Transbay Center is also behind and not fully funded and is now not slated for completion until 2026. Details here and here.

The Los Angeles portion is also taking shape with some decisions being made about routes and stops, with a potentially troublesome proposal to shorten the trains to 10 cars (instead of the original 20) which might create capacity problems in the decades to come.

Although it seems like this massive project is taking forever, it is much further along than any other rail project in the United States. Someday there may be connections all over our country and then we will say that this was the beginning. Or will we say that the dream of an America with a full-scale European or Asian-style rail network died in Modesto? Time will tell.

Rent or Buy?

Is it better to rent or buy in San Francisco? There is no easy answer to that question since it depends on your particular financial situation and goals, as well as more subjective issues like happiness and control. But it can be helpful to at least compare the two situations.

Reportedly, rental rates have declined in San Francisco over the past year and now stand at 2014 levels. That means the median apartment is now renting for $4100 per month. That's still a hefty price and outpaces every other area in the US (although the statistics can be misleading since it is not always clear what is included in a "city").

Of course, purchase prices are also very high. But which is the better deal for you? A useful analysis is to compare how much you will pay to rent or buy over a particular period. It is very important to take into account the tax benefits of owning (such as the deduction for mortgage interest and property taxes), maintenance costs (usually covered by the landlord for rentals, and partially paid for by HOA dues for condominiums), insurance and an estimate of appreciation. A good calculator is here.

But even after you have done that analysis, you still have to consider the differences between owning and renting that are more subjective. For example, when you own your home you can make changes without asking permission from a landlord. And improvement are yours - you own them and can sell them later with the property! The security of owning is also worth considering, since rentals are subject to the landlord's actions that are beyond the tenant's control. The landlord may sell to someone who is less accommodating or she may decide to stop renting to develop the property or sell it as TICs. San Francisco's rent control laws attempt to protect tenants from some of the harsher effects of this kind of thing, but owning is always more secure. Owning is also a primary vehicle for accumulating wealth since you gain appreciation on the entire property even though the money you invest is only 20% or even less. And there is a certain "feeling" about owning your own place. Whatever you decide, do not just let it happen; instead, consider your options and intentionally move forward to make your home, your life and your future!

Love's Day

February 14 is Valentine'd Day, one of our most cheery and inclusive holidays. Where did the day come from? A February holiday called Lupercalia was celebrated in Roman times and included brutal animal sacrifices, whipping and naked shenanigans. Then the Romans executed two early Christians named Valentines and the name stuck. The holiday acquired its current lovely reputation in Chaucer's and Shakespeare's time when romantic ideals held sway. Of course, commercialization (and the card industry) have broadened the holiday and perhaps made it more crass, but it endures. Detail of the history here and here.

Valentine love does not necessarily mean a romantic attachment - friends, colleagues and even the dog could all receive a Valentine. And very little is expected. A card, a piece of candy, a nice dinner - casual or expensive - of just a smile are all welcome.