Can you name the neighborhood that’s shaped like a bell?

San Francisco is a city of many neighborhoods: from the well-known Chinatown and North Beach, to the hipster Mission, to the one that has streets laid out to look like a bell. Yep, a bell. If this doesn’t ring a bell (sorry, I couldn’t resist), I’ll fill you in.

It’s St. Mary’s Park, which is part of Bernal Heights on the real estate map, tucked in the southwest corner of Bernal, just north of the Excelsior.

How, you might ask, did a neighborhood end up with streets laid out in the shape of a bell? Look no further than the name of the neighborhood — the first St. Mary’s College opened in the area in 1863. Tuition was $60 per academic year for day students $250 for boarders (lights out: 8:30 PM — just like my days in college).

The college moved to Oakland in 1889, and in the 1920s the Catholic Diocese subdivided the land and sold some for development. The bell shape of the streets is a reference to the school’s church bell.

In addition to its spiffy bell shape, the neighborhood is home to the St. Mary’s Park and Recreation Center. Located on Justin at the end of Murray Street, this park is a well-kept secret. But if you have a dog, like to play tennis or shoot some hoops, this is a great park to visit. There are also baseball diamonds, a playground for the kids, and bathrooms.

The St. Mary’s Park Improvement Club has some more great history of the neighborhood, as well as a blog that was last updated in 2006. And, according to a recent New York Times article, there’s a neighborhood newsletter: “The monthly newsletter, The Park Bell, is delivered by a papergirl; articles announce potluck dinners and seed exchanges, and offer updates on the health of neighbors. The recipe editor’s job is open.” How cute is that?

If you’d like more information about the neighborhood, drop us a line.

The Washingtonian

The Washingtonian at 1840 Washington St. in Pacific Heightshas been getting a bit of buzz lately.

We gave it a full rundown with picturesyesterday over at our sibling site, NewConstructionSF.

Matt, the Photo Ninja

Photography and videography were a bit of a challenge yesterday, since the street is completely overrun with utility and construction vehicles, not to mention bulldozers and other noisy diesel creatures with back-up beepers that were continually beeping. The photo below is of me balancing on a ledge against a fence, trying to get some decent photos. Click on the picture to head over for our officially un-official photo gallery of 1840 Washington and the block. Nobody said being a real estate blogger was easy, but nobody said it would mean balancing on one foot on a skinny concrete ledge while smiling…

The building is located on Washington St. between Van Ness and Franklin. On the one hand, it’s a very busy spot with two major streets on either side of you. On the other hand, it’s an incredibly walk-friendly place, with WalkScore (TM) spitting out a perfect 100/100 rating. Which is an ironic walkscore rating since every home comes with 1 car parking. I can think of some other new buildings that have lower walkscores and less parking…

Directly across the street from The Washingtonian is the entrance to The Academy of Arts School of Industrial Design, so if you’re an angst ridden young designer with some deep pockets, 1840 Washington might just be your perfect next home!

It’s also not far from Lafayette Park, but I don’t yet know what the pet policy for the building will be. The building doesn’t have a ton of amenities, but it does offer a very nice roof deck and storage for every home that is on the same floor as the residence.

No word yet on when these homes will officially hit the market, or what pricing and HOA dues will be.

Disclaimer: We do not represent the developer of 1840 Washington St. and are not in any way affiliated with the developer or the listing agent (Sotheby’s). We offerbuyers independent representationin new construction across all of San Francisco.

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2011 – Top 10 Homes Sold Over Sales Price (Original and Final)

It’s almost the end of 2011, which means it’s time for the Top 10 lists

The San Francisco MLS reports a final homes sales price as compared to the final listing price, which can introduce lots of wiggle room into statistics about how a home sold in comparison to its list amount.

Here’s an example. Let’s say an agent lists 123 Hillview Way in the San Francisco MLS for $100,000. 30 days go by and the seller agrees to a price reduction. The agent updates the price to $50,000, the new amount the seller has agreed to. The home sells a week later for $55,000. The agent can then claim in his (or her) next listing presentation that his last house sold for more than the list price, because the San Francisco MLS uses the final list price as the reported list price, not the original list price.

So, with that in mind… we’ve made two lists. These are lists of homes that, percentage wise, sold for the most over their asking price. The first slideshow and list of homes you see are the top 10 single family homes in San Francisco that sold over their original asking price (using percentages, not absolute dollars).

Top 10 Single Family Homes that Sold Over Asking Price – 2011
Final Sales Price Compared to  Original Asking Price
Neighborhood Address Beds Baths Short Sale? REO? Sales Price % Of Asking
Bayview 1500 Newcomb Ave. 3 1 No No $220,000 + 202%
Marina 45 Capra Way 4 2 No No $1,685,000 + 164%
Visitacion Valley 1274 Brussels St. 4 2 Yes No $465,000 + 161%
Bernal Heights 1687 Alabama St. 0 1 No No $465,000 + 156%
Bayview 1463 Newcomb Ave. 2 1 No No $310,000 + 148%
Outer Richmond 487 47th Ave. 3 1 No No $620,000 + 145%
Midtown Terrace 32 Farview Ct. 3 2 Yes No $779,000 + 142%
Bernal Heights 4145 Folsom St. 2 1 Yes No $550,000 + 138%
Lower Pac. Heights 1844 Laguna St. 3 1 No No $1,161,000 + 137%
Inner Sunset 1212 16th Ave. 2 2 No No $710,000 + 135%


Next, let’s take a look at the top 10 single family homes that sold over asking during 2011 calculating the percentage over sales price by using the final list price:

Final Sales Price Over Final Asking Price

Top 10 Single Family Homes Sold Over Asking – 2011
Final Sales Price Over Final Asking Price
Neighborhood Address Beds Baths Short Sale? REO? Sales Price % Of Final Asking
Mission Terrace 28 Cotter 5 3 Yes No $450,000 + 225%
Bernal Heights 79 Manchester St. 2 2 No No $583,000 + 182%
Bayview 1907 Oakdale Ave. 9 5 No No $520,000 + 163%
Visitacion Valley 1274 Brussels St. 4 2 Yes No $465,000 + 161%
Bernal Heights 1687 Alabama St. 0 1 No No $465,000 + 156%
Bayview 1500 Newcomb Ave. 3 1 No No $220,000 + 149%
Bayview 1463 Newcomb Ave. 2 1 No No $310,000 + 148%
Bernal Heights 4145 Folsom St. 2 1 Yes No $550,000 + 147%
Outer Richmond 487 47th Ave. 2 1 No No $620,000 + 145%
Midtown Terrace 32 Farview Ct. 3 2 Yes No $779,000 + 142%


So, what does it all mean? While I have my thoughts, I’d really love to hear yours in the comments.

Sales price source: Public San Francisco County Tax Records

Remodeling inspiration

Last year, I had the pleasure of helping a friend from college, Alex, buy his first home. During his search process, he considered many different types of properties, from brand-new condos in SOMA to two-unit buildings in Glen Park (and a few others in between). Then we came across a single-family home in Midtown Terrace. Let’s just say she wasn’t ready for her close-up, Mr. DeMille.

The house was built in 1955 and appeared to be almost 100% original: sad little brick fireplace in the living room, not very user-friendly kitchen (no dishwasher, for starters), scuffed up oak floors, green and yellow tile bathroom with no storage at all. Somewhere along the way someone installed new windows, which we found out had been recalled by a now-defunct manufacturer. Awesome.

Then along came Alex, his partner Lance, and their designer, Kevin Sawyers of Sawyers Design. Almost one year later, Alex and Lance now live in a home that can be described as nothing less than a masterpiece. Gone is the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. Gone is the green and yellow tile in the bathroom. Gone are the awful windows. Gone is the 1950s version of a Home Depot-grade kitchen.

In place of all that is an open, inviting home with a tasteful, thoughtful design aesthetic that tips its hat to the mid-century origins of the house, but brings it squarely into the 21st century with beautiful, modern finishes.

I could babble on and on about this place, but I’ll cut myself off and go straight to the photos. I guarantee that each one of these is worth many more than a thousand words. Or, if you’re like me, no words at all — I was speechless when I saw the place for the first time. I’ll give you both the before and after, so you can see just how much has changed.

Alex's old kitchen.


New, fabulous kitchen.

Alex's old bathroom.


Another view of the original bathroom.


No, it's not a spa or a hotel suite. It's Alex's new and fantastically improved bathroom.


Original living room.


New living room. Check out the fireplace.


Picture a wall between the living room and kitchen. Now look at this.

There are plenty more before and after pictures on Kevin’s business page on Facebook. Check them out, drool a lot, and when it’s time to imagine your own dream home, call Kevin.

Hayes Valley – What a Difference

Hayes Valley on a sunny winter afternoon. Click any image for a larger version and slideshow, with pictures of Patricia’s Green, Smitten Ice Cream, Ritual Coffee, and the Biergarten.

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What a difference the destruction of a freeway makes to a neighborhood! Patricia’s Green in Hayes Valley is a wonderful example.

While it was once a pretty desolate place, next to the central freeway and pretty much a no-man’s land, the removal of the freeway (thanks, Loma Prieta earthquake) and neighborhood opposition that forced a new off-ramp to end at Market street, the area is dramatically different today. The picture immediately below highlights the land that eventually became Patricia’s green, showing how it was next to the old central freeway.


The picture below is a more recent picture, with the old freeway route in blue, and the new Patricia’s Green park highlighted in yellow. But as wonderful as the park itself is, what has been even more enjoyable to watch is all the temporary businesses that have popped up and really made the area a wonderful people watching spot. Immediately to the east of Patricia’s Green are three businesses that have opened up in industrial gray shipping containers.

First was Smitten ice cream, where you can watch your ice cream mix turn into your ice cream treat before your eyes with their fascinating liquid nitrogen powered ice cream makers. Immediately to the north of Smitten is a Ritual Coffee shop, where the coffee is expensive but also incredibly delicious. The most recent addition to the neighborhood is the Biergarten, which is just to the south of Smitten ice cream. Since I don’t drink beer, I can’t tell you anything about the spot except to say that it when I walk by it is usually pretty filled up with smiling people, so I’d say the beer is probably pretty good.

And finally, if you are curious about why the little park is named Patricia’s Green, it is named in honor of neighborhood activist Patricia Walker, who was instrumental in leading neighborhood opposition to a new freeway after damage caused to the old central freeway in the Loma Prieta earthquake. She died in 2006, and at that time Hayes Valley neighborhood residents succeeded in having the park renamed in her memory.

Eliminate unsightly lines

Nope, I’m not moonlighting as a copywriter for cosmetics advertising…I’m talking about getting rid of above-ground power, phone and other communication lines. You know, the ugly ones that are prime targets for falling branches in windstorms and that are known for falling down in earthquakes.

I’m lucky enough to live in a neighborhood that banded together about 15 years ago, got itself in the undergrounding queue, and saw all of its overhead lines placed underground. We now have quaint old-timey looking streetlights and a streetscape that is blissfully free of a spaghetti bowl of lines. You know, the way things are built these days in the ‘burbs.

But we’re not the ‘burbs, and even though the city of San Francisco knows it would be immensely better off with all overhead lines placed underground (think: after the Big One comes — how will emergency crews cross thousands of downed lines to perform rescue operations?), there’s one big problem.

There’s no money.

In fact, back in 2007, the city’s Utility Undergrounding Task Force reported that, “Utility wire undergrounding in San Francisco is coming to a halt. When the current 45.8- mile plan ends in 2008, undergrounding will cease for the next twelve years unless we create new ways to fund and implement the program.”

But…there is a way. Property owners can form a “property-owner funded undergrounding utility district” to get their area all spiffed up and utility-pole free. In 2008 the approximate cost for trenching and replacing streetlights was $562 per linear foot, resulting in a cost of about $14,000 per home with a 25-foot frontage.

The SF Department of Public Works estimates that the process for these districts would take between 2 1/2 years and 5 years.

Step 1: Determine district boundaries (1-2 months)

Step 2: Circulate petition (2-4 months; 60% of owners on each and every block must sign the petition)

Step 3: Legislate underground district (2-4 months)

Step 4: Form assessment district (1-2 years)

Step 5: Construction (1-2 years)

So, if you’re jonesing to bury the power lines in your neighborhood, grab your nearest agreeable neighbor, your clipboard, and your community organizing skills, and get started!

Is That Home Really for Sale?

Ever found a San Francisco house online, inquired about a viewing, and received a response to the effect of “the house is no longer being shown because…” For as long as I’ve been an agent, homes in San Francisco listed for sale in the MLS have had six basic statuses: Active, Act. Cont., Pending, Sold, Expired, or Withdrawn. Public websites that receive data from the San Francisco MLS (in one way, shape or other, including aggregators, syndicators, etc.) display homes that are listed as Active or Act. Cont. (an abbreviation for Active Contingent).

San Francisco Public MLS Search

However, homes listed as Act. Cont. are often not as available as they might seem… In an effort to clear up the confusion, the San Francisco Association of Realtors has updated the list of available statuses in the MLS, and these new statuses will go live shortly after the new year arrives. January 4, 2012 to be precise.

The big changes are additions to the Act. Cont. status in San Francisco that further clarify property availability. These new additions are:

Act. Cont. – Short Sale: Accepted offer pending lender approval, additional offers being sought

Act. Cont. – Rel. Clause: Accepted offer with a subject to sale seller release clause, additional offers being sought

Act. Cont. – Show: Accepted offer with Buyer contingency provisions such as inspections, accepting back-up offers

Act. Cont. – Probate: Accepted offer, available to be overbid through the court confirmation process

Now the question becomes whether or not San Francisco real estate agents will use these statuses to accurately reflect their property status. For example, let’s say I represent a seller who has accepted an offer subject to property inspections. If my seller is interested in continuing to show the property and is willing to accept a back-up offer, the correct status in 2012 will be “Act. Cont – Show”.

However, what if my seller doesn’t want to show the property anymore? The correct choice would be to mark the listing as “Pending” – however, because this means the listing disappears from public view on the internet, most listing agents have historically marked it as “Act. Cont.” and just explained when they get a phone call or email inquiry about the property that while the contingencies haven’t yet been lifted, the property isn’t currently being shown. Which perhaps suggests that the status update we really needed to introduce is “Act. Cont. – I’ll Get Back to you if Things Don’t Work Out“.



Should I Stage My Home?

When we talk with sellers, we are often asked if it is important to stage a home when selling in San Francisco. We put together the above video showing before, during, and after photos of a home that we prepared for market and sold. We think it does a really great job of demonstrating why our answer to San Francisco sellers is almost always “Yes, stage your home.”

Sellers have a variety of concerns about home staging – some feel it is artificial and contrived, others are concerned about the cost and value of home staging, and others just object to the idea of living inside a Pottery Barn catalog while their home is being marketed. Here are a few of my thoughts about home staging:

Is home staging artificial and contrived?
I think those terms are a little harsh, but yes, that’s pretty much the point. I guess I could tip-toe around this more diplomatically with gentle euphemisms, but sometimes – no matter how attached the seller is to their decor – it hurts the value. Some (not all) buyers that walk through the front door of a home for sale in San Francisco have a really hard time visualizing how a home will look with their stuff in it. Sometimes a home has a quirky layout that is difficult to mentally move furniture around in. Either way, by staging a home at its “ideal” and demonstrating creative uses for space, buyers can get a better feel for how the home will look without the seller’s stuff. Home staging, when well done, helps to show off a home at its best.

Is home staging a good investment?
In a nutshell, yes it is. If your home has other issues that make it the proverbial pig, then prettying it up with some staging lipstick is about as smart an investment as actually trying to put lipstick on a pig. However, if your home is in generally good condition (or you are making the recommended repairs) then staging is a very smart investment, and it is my experience in San Francisco that staged homes sell more quickly and/or at a higher price than similar homes that are not staged. While spending $5,000 on faux-furniture for two months of home marketing might seem like lunacy, if that $5,000 investment results in a shorter marketing period by 30 days (one months worth of your mortgage and property taxes) or brings in an offer that is just $10,000 higher than you might otherwise get, I think you can see that it is easily money well spent.

Do I have to live in a Pottery Barn catalog?
Sort of. Yes, expect to paint your home in neutral colors. Maybe you’ll leave an accent wall or two of color behind, but if your condo is purple and turquoise (and I’ve really seen a condo that was purple and turquoise), you can expect to be bored with the new paint palette recommended as a part of your home staging by your stager and Realtor. There are, fortunately, a wide variety of staging companies in San Francisco, and each has their own design sense and aesthetic. However, it can be hard not to feel like you are living in a catalog as you have to pack your items up and see them replaced with things that you might never personally purchase.