Abandoned eyesore in your area? DBI can help

It seems like there’s one in every neighborhood: the rundown home that’s suffered from years of neglect, resulting in an eyesore that needs everything from a new coat of paint to new windows to new front steps. Sometimes the home is owned by an elderly person or someone on a fixed income who unfortunately doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to keep up with maintenance needs. And in San Francisco, the weather can do quite a number on a house once the paint starts peeling.

Other times the home is simply abandoned, sitting empty and becoming more of an eyesore with the changing seasons. Late in 2009, the Department of Building Inspection implemented a new requirement for abandoned buildings: they must be registered with DBI and secured against unauthorized entry, and the owners must provide proof of insurance.

The owners must also pay an annual registration fee of $765. And based on a notice I saw tacked to a vacant building in my neighborhood, if the owner doesn’t register the building and pay the fee within 30 days of receiving notice to do so, the owner is then on the hook for a fine of $765 x 9 = $6,885.

Yowzers. Even if $765 sounds like a lot to register, $6,885 sounds like a whole lot more when you don’t do it quickly.

This particular building was vacant for months if not years, the front steps were littered with garbage, and some homeless people had set up camp on the landing at the top of the stairs. There’s now a security gate in place, the garbage has been cleaned up, and I hope the homeless people have gotten some assistance, too.

If your neighborhood is home to a blighted building, you can report it to dbi@codeenforcement@sfgov.org. You can also look up your local police station and email them, too, if there is criminal activity happening at the home.

Awesome MLS Photo

The MLS in San Francisco is the primary vehicle for getting the word out about your listing. Which is why it always astounds me when people are careless or do a poor job in presenting their property. Some homes are fixers, and that’s okay. There is much to be said for presenting a property as it is, and not being unrealistic or misleading in your advertising (which, for those of you keeping track would be a violation of the National Association of Realtor’s Code of Ethics). However, regardless of the home’s condition, it seems to me that a professional Realtor would take the time to check spelling and grammar, and also be sure that the photos do the best job they can of helping potential buyers understand the home.

Folks like AgentGenius have pretty regular posts with some incredibly awesome and hysterical (as long as it isn’t your home, I suppose) MLS typos (at least, I really hope they are typos). Today, to make your Monday morning a little easier to roll with, I offer you this incredibly awesome MLS photo:

Keep your crap ready to go by the window with security bars

Someone has clearly gone to the trouble of vacuuming the carpet, and it appears they even remembered to turn on the light before they took their picture. But sadly, either they went with a low-grade staging company or they forgot to remove the bag of garbage that so elegantly presents the window with security bars.

Did they not look at the photo after they took the picture? And as long as I’m being snarky, can I ask why they didn’t take a moment to crop out the sliver of door on the left side before uploading the picture to the MLS? Are they trying to showcase the fact the door isn’t painted? Or does it provide relief and context to that lonely – but full – garbage bag? Or, did they just not care?

Real Estate Times Deathwatch: January 2011

The Real Estate Times San Francisco is a local magazine advertisement that, in exchange for a hefty sum of coin, features real estate listings for sale in full-color glossy glory. When I started in the business, back in the dark ages of 2002, it was “the” place to have your listing advertised, even though print schedules often meant that by the time your house for sale in San Francisco was featured you had already received multiple offers.

Back in the day, Real Estate Times San Francisco was hundreds of pages long, and was probably 3/4″ thick. And then real estate agents finally got smart to the value of online advertising, and realized that buyers were starting their search not in newspaper classifieds or glossy magazines, but on the magnificent glory of the internet. Real Estate Times San Francisco still publishes, though, although for how much longer is, IMHO, a relevant question.

Below are photos of their two most recent issues, for December 23, 2010 – January 19, 2011 and January 20, 2011 – February 2, 2011. As you can see, they are now thinner than a ballpoint pen. Zephyr real estate “corporate” has a one page ad in each edition, and in one edition a Zephyr agent pays for additional exposure. But beyond that I’m happy to report that my brokerage and fellow agents have gotten smart to the value of online advertising and redirected their marketing efforts and dollars in a different direction.

Real Estate Times, San Francisco Dec. 23 - Jan 19 2011 Issue

Real Estate Times San Francisco Jan. 20 - Feb. 3 2011 Issue

But I’m curious as to what buyers and sellers think of glossy real estate magazines like Real Estate Times San Francisco? As a buyer, do you use it is a primary (or even secondary) resource for house hunting? As a seller, would it matter to you if your home for sale was published in this magazine or a similar one? When you are considering hiring a real estate agent to sell your home, what are the marketing plans that are most important to you?

Guest Post: The Richmond District

I’m so excited and thrilled about today’s post, written by Sarah B., the rockingest Richmond neighborhood blogger in San Francisco. She was gracious enough to share what she loves about life in the Richmond district. If you aren’t already a fan of her blog, be sure to check it out on a regular basis and/or add it to your favorite RSS feed reader. Without further ado…


“Oh the Richmond District. Yeah, it’s nice. Sort of sleepy though. And sooo foggy!”

Those are probably the most common characterizations that I hear about my neighborhood when I meet people in the city. And like many stereotypes, there’s a little bit of truth to it, but mostly exaggeration.

Yes, the Richmond is mainly residential and “sleepy”, but as the owner of RichmondSFBlog.com, I can tell you there’s no shortage of things going on.

We’ve got award-winning authors stopping by Green Apple Books, Thursday and Friday night shindigs at the Academy of Sciences and the de Young every week (not to mention world class exhibits), live music at our local bars and pubs, and your pick of the best parks and recreation in the city.

Speaking of which, I think that’s probably my favorite thing about living on the western end of the city. From my front door I can walk to great vistas at Lands End, quiet trails in the Presidio and overlook stunning sunsets at Ocean or Baker Beach. For me it’s like having the best of the city and the best of the country, all in my backyard. I rarely go on the same walk twice.

Yes, there’s fog. But fog is cool. Have you ever been in Golden Gate Park before the sun comes up, jogging your way through tendrils of mist? I have during my morning boot camp class and it’s pretty magical.

We get more than our fair share of fog out here, but I think it makes us appreciate the clear days so much more. Even on a foggy day, you’re guaranteed to get a spectacular sunset at Ocean Beach.

We welcome a lot of San Franciscans to the Richmond District for the food. We’ve got Chinese, Thai, Burmese, American, Italian, Mexican, Eritrean, Moroccan, Filipino, Russian, Japanese – I could go on and on. Some are little holes in the wall with 5 or 6 tables that people try to keep secret, while others are earning Michelin stars. We like it all.

Occasionally I take “walkabouts” around the neighborhood. Sometimes just to get some air, other times to see if I can stumble across ideas for the blog.

When I’m out, I’m always intrigued by the diversity of the Richmond District. I’ll stop in a hardware store to pick up a few things, then stop for dim sum on one block, and then find myself gazing up at the blue points of a Russian Orthodox temple on the next. Businesses and people come and go, but the diverse spirit of the neighborhood never changes.

The Richmond District has a rich history with its beginnings as a sandy outpost for weary city dwellers. Many made the passage out to the Cliff House and Sutro Baths by train, all in an effort to escape the hum of downtown San Francisco. Eventually people realized that living in the “Outside Lands” was feasible; the only sand you’ll find now is at our picturesque beaches.

So in the spirit of the earliest San Franciscans, I guess I am still escaping the hum of the city, except that I get to live it every day. Even with the fog, the Richmond District is the best of both worlds, and my favorite neighborhood in San Francisco.

If you can't access the flash slide show, here is a sample photo

Millennium Tower Spiderman/SpiderDan Update

Back in September, Dan Goodwin aka SpiderDan, was arrested for using suction cups to scale the San Francisco Millennium Tower. Yes, that same Millennium Tower that we’ve written about on several occasions, including the City Residences, Residences, and Grand Residences.

Millennium Tower San Francisco

His trial for three misdemeanor charges started last Thursday. He is charged with being a public nuisance, delaying or obstructing arrest, and trespassing. He claims he is fighting the charges to bring awareness to skyscraper safety issues, and points out that his arrest at the top of the Millennium Tower was delayed because firefighters had to wait for the building’s security manager to provide bolt cutters. (which seems kind of strange, I just assumed firefighters would have their own bolt cutters, but apparently not).

San Francisco Fire Battalion Chief Charles Crane, who was one of the witnesses called to the stand, also testified that their rescue ladder only reached to the seventh floor of the building. Which isn’t exactly reassuring if you happen to be on the 8th floor, much less the 54th or 59th floor.

That said, I think that this is a ridiculous show trial, and I’m not sure why the city of San Francisco is using its precious and limited funds to pursue misdemeanor charges against SpiderDan when we frequently look the other way when homeless people defecate on streets, assault pregnant women in residential neighborhoods, or walk around town with their “borrowed” shopping carts.

I don’t want to sound like I’m on a rant against the homeless in San Francisco, but I am trying to point out that in the context of all that ills and challenges my favorite city in the world, a professional climber climbing the Millennium Tower seems like a pretty ridiculous use of limited resources. What are your thoughts? Not just about his ascent of the Millennium Tower, but also the ensuing trial, and the concerns he raises about skyscraper safety?

Inner Sunset foodie update

Some well-known things about me and Matt: We live in the Inner Sunset. We love the neighborhood. And people in our neighborhood love to eat. The Inner Sunset dining scene got two new additions recently, both of which I’ve checked out in the last couple of weeks.

First up is the Wooly Pig Cafe, located at 205 Hugo @ 3rd Ave. Formerly a rather drab little sandwich place, this space has been brightened up by the new owners with lots of white tile, new furniture, and most important, a whole new menu. As the name suggests, pig products figure prominently on the menu. The Wooly Pig sandwich is a tasty treat: braised caramel pork belly, arugula, pickled shallots, and toasted garlic. And it’s only six bucks. (It’s not a huge sandwich, but it’s a good size for lunch.) They also serve Banh Mi sandwiches (Vietnamese cold cuts, green papaya salad, Thai chili and citrus vinaigrette). Have no fear, vegetarians. Even in this land of pig, there are options for you, too: The Vegi sandwich, for example, which has goat cheese, roasted beets, French beans, spring mix and sherry vinaigrette. The Wooly Pig is also open for breakfast, which I haven’t sampled yet, but if it’s as good as lunch, sign me up.

Wooly Pig Cafe, corner of Hugo and 3rd in the Inner Sunset

Down the road and up a few price notches is Pasion, which FINALLY opened this month. In the newly spiffed-up space (737 Irving between 8th & 9th Ave., formerly PJ’s Oyster Bed for you old-timers out there), Pasion bills itself as Nuevo Latino cuisine with a combination of flavors from the Latin Caribbean and Central and South America. As a board member of Inner Sunset Park Neighbors, I was invited to the opening party, where I met Executive Chef Jose Calvo-Perez, who grew up working in his father’s kitchen at Fresca. Food clearly runs in that family.

Pasion, Irving at 9th, in the Inner Sunset

I haven’t been in for dinner yet, but based on the excellent appetizers at the opening party, I’m definitely putting Pasion high on my list.

We Conquer the 49 mile scenic drive in San Francisco…

The 49 Mile Scenic Drive in San Francisco
. Known for it’s iconic signs that are scattered across San Francisco in seemingly random locations, it turns out that it is one heck of a long drive. The San Francisco department for getting you to come leave your money with us has a good description and overview of the 49 mile scenic drive:

San Francisco 49 mile scenic drive sign at City Hall

The 49 mile scenic drive was created in 1938 by the Downtown Association to highlight the city’s beauty and to promote it as a tourist destination. The route was also created as a way for visitors to see The City while they were here for the Golden Gate International Exposition from 1939-1940.

Over the years, the route has changed many times. Today, the route starts at City Hall and takes you along many of San Francisco’s historic and iconic landmarks. The blue line highlights the route on the map. We’ve called out some of the highlights: start at #1: The Civic Center.

Some notes and tips: driving in the congested downtown area is not recommended during commute hours. Portions of the route may be affected by construction projects, especially in the downtown area. If you are planning a walking tour, check with the Visitor Information Center or your hotel or motel regarding distances and other factors. In some cases public or vehicular transportation is advisable.

Here’s my bottom line: We all know that San Francisco is an incredibly gorgeous, beautiful, scenic, amazing place to live (or visit). Only a masochist would shove themselves in the car and attempt to tackle 49 miles of it in one sitting. It’s just too much! Do yourself a favor and learn from our adventure: too much beauty can just about make you insane. Slow down. Rent a bike, take a walk or a hike and choose just a few San Francisco icons to savor. But whatever you do, don’t do the 49 mile scenic drive all at once.

What is a California Redevelopment Agency?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you may have heard that California has both a major budget deficit and a new governor. One of the proposals to balance the California budget from our new Governor, Jerry Brown, (full disclosure, I voted for him) is to eliminate California Redevelopment Agencies. There have been quite a number of San Francisco projects that have been funded by these agencies, and until I heard about the budget proposal I had really never given much thought to what they are. And why eliminating them would be a good or bad thing. Based on the reading I’ve done so far, I can only surmise that I have a lot more reading to do, but here is a brief summary of what I’ve learned so far.

California Redevelopment Agencies were first authorized in 1945. The idea is (and was) to fix up blighted, decaying, and forgotten areas, which will in turn raise the value of surrounding property taxes, which will in turn create more tax revenues for everyone.

How California Redevelopment Agencies Work, in a very simple nutshell:
Redevelopment agencies are entities created to make the initial investment to enable redevelopment, and they are allowed to take a portion of future tax increases (created by the increase in taxes due to the increase in value caused by the work) to pay for the initial investments. Its a solution to the classic chicken and egg problem. You believe you’ll make more money in the future if  you invest money today. But you don’t have any money today to invest. So you create the redevelopment agency to issue bonds or other debt instruments, and create a future revenue stream that will provide investors with a level of certainty that their investment will be paid back and they’ll make a little bit of money in the process.

So why is this a California budget issue?
Redev agencies are guaranteed a cut of the future incremental tax increases (take your basline property taxes, the amount that the area currently generates in its blighted condition. Subtract this from the amount of taxes that will be generated when the area is redeveloped and you have your incremental tax increase. Roughly, in a nutshell). And it is that money (the incremental taxes) that Jerry Brown would like to have back, thank you very much, to help balance the budget.

Is this a good idea?
Depends on who is talking. Some feel that these agencies are an inefficient and costly way to achieve development goals, and that there are better ways to accomplish redevelopment in California. Others feel that there is a multiplier effect from the work that has created hundreds of thousands of jobs and additional forms of revenue for the state, and that to eliminate them is a very short sighted and ultimately destructive activity that will come back to haunt California budgets in the future.

Incremental Tax Revenues, California Redevelopment Agencies

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts about this, and what it could mean for San Francisco real estate.

You’ve bought your house. Now it’s time to remodel.

Where/how/when do you get started? Having gone through a fairly major remodel myself, I’ll share a few tips that might save you some hassle.

When I bought my place in 2002, it had been beaten quite soundly with the ugly stick (think brown shag carpet, heavy brown drapes, huge florescent box light fixtures, and a kitchen that nearly made a grown woman cry — that would be me). First things first: out came that nasty brown carpet, which revealed original 1908 oak floors. Down came the oh-so-hideous light fixtures. In went some spiffy new paint colors.

But that left the kitchen. Oh, that kitchen. That took a while longer to sort out. The “getting started” part took me about four years.

Tip #1: Don’t put it off that long. Things don’t get cheaper as time marches on.

Tip #2: Hire a good designer or architect to figure out how to put your dreams into the space — and budget — allotted.

Tip #3: Figure out how much you can comfortably afford. Multiply it by 2. Plan to spend that much. (I’m kind of joking. But not really.)

Tip #4: Interview contractors. I interviewed four contractors, liked the first one the most, and hired him even though his bid was the highest. Why? He put a tremendous amount of time into preparing a detailed estimate. The others were lower but didn’t include a lot of what would be essential to the project — you know, stuff like debris removal. Check references, check license status, and if you’re into online reviews, check those too.

Tip #5: If you’re in San Francisco, skip tip #4 and hire Steve Olson of Olson Design & Construction.

A little more about this: I’d heard from friends who had weathered their own remodeling projects that they all hated their contractors by the end. By the end of my remodeling job, I was incredibly impressed with Steve’s scheduling prowess and how his crew showed up on time each day, cleaned up when they left, and made noticeable progress each day. He’s also got a great eye for design, and he made some suggestions that improved on the original design. The final bill came in within 1-2% of the budget, and a few years later, I’m still thrilled with my fabulous new kitchen and living room.

Now, doesn’t that sound easy?