Post-wedding paperwork, Part II

A few days ago I wrote about adding a new spouse to the title of your home after getting married, and a reader commented that he wondered if the tax benefits provided to same-sex registered domestic partners would be the same as the benefits for married partners. I’ve done some research into the and will preface this post with a big fat disclaimer: I’m not an attorney, I’m not a CPA, I’m not a tax advisor, and I don’t play any of these on TV. I’m summarizing what I’ve found and I’m encouraging anyone who needs advice on how to hold title to real property or how to file their taxes to consult their financial gurus. There. That’s out of the way. Now, on to what I’ve found out.

Because we work in San Francisco, I will focus on California, which allows domestic partnerships as well as same-sex marriages.

In a nutshell, in terms of owning property, the demise of Section 3 of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996 and partially struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013) has now allowed same-sex married couples to enjoy the same benefits given to opposite-sex married couples. In California, both same-sex married couples and registered domestic partners can hold title as community property with the right of survivorship. Same-sex married couples also benefit from the other 1,137 protections and responsibilities granted to married couples from the federal government.

Our reader’s question was about domestic partnership vs. marriage. He asked: “is there any benefit or disadvantage from a real estate perspective to marrying vs. remaining in a domestic partnership? Doesn’t *seem* like there’s much tax difference between the two because of our robust DP benefits here in California.” My research didn’t produce any substantial real-estate-related differences; domestic partners can hold title as community property and thus receive the tax benefits associated with that method of holding title.

So, in California, if we look just at real estate, I didn’t find any major differences between same-sex marriages and registered domestic partnerships. If any readers know of anything that I didn’t discover in researching this topic, please let me know in the comments or via email. I’d be happy to post an update if I missed anything important.

Post-wedding paperwork

Say you own a home by yourself. Then, OKCupid or or your sister or your roommate or your personal trainer hooks you up on a date that turns out really well, and time passes, and you get married. Yay! Congratulations to you and yours. (Shameless plug for happiness: I just got married at the beginning of March and am on my way through the paperwork to-do list that follows the nuptials.)

This is a real estate blog, so I’ll start with things to consider about your property now that you’re married. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to assume that there’s only one property. If there are two: lather, rinse, repeat for home #2 (with a few modifications that I’ll mention later).

OK, you’re back from the honeymoon and it’s time to get busy. No, not like that — this is a G-rated blog! I mean it’s time to decide how you’d like to hold title to your property. If you live in California, which is a community property state, property acquired before marriage is considered separate property — i.e., it belongs to the spouse who owned it before getting hitched. If you want to own the property jointly with your spouse, you can add him or her to title by way of a grant deed that you will sign granting ownership to You & Your New Spouse, husband & wife (or wife & husband, or spouse & spouse) as community property with right of survivorship, if that’s what you choose. I’m not a tax advisor nor am I an attorney so I will say that you should seek the advice of a CPA or an attorney about how to hold title; there are some pretty significant tax implications that make this a very important decision.

How do you accomplish the change to title? Talk to your attorney or your favorite escrow officer to draw up the deed, then have it notarized and recorded in the public records in your county. A few caveats: Check with your lender to make sure that adding a spouse to title is acceptable (most lenders are OK with this but you don’t want to find out the hard way that your lender is not). Most jurisdictions do not consider adding a spouse to title as a taxable event and no transfer tax would be due, but again, it’s worth checking before you start deeding.

For the sake of discussion regarding insurance, let’s add a second property to the mix. Presumably you and spouse will live in one and rent the other. Be sure to convert the insurance for property #2 to the correct type of policy for a rental property. And it’s a good time to review the policy for the home that you’ll live in — make sure you have sufficient coverage for personal property (which might need to increase based on the belongings that Spouse moves in).

These are just a few tips for post-wedding paperwork. Let us know if the comments if you have any other property-related tips.

See a downed or low-hanging power or phone line? Here’s what to do.

File this under: what to do if you see a wire drooping very low off a power pole, you’re pretty sure it’s not an electrical wire because you know those are located at the very top of the pole and the droopy one is several feet lower than that.

First of all, you might think you know for sure that it’s not an electrical wire, but don’t be a hero and try to touch the wire.

Second of all, why am I writing this? I’m writing this because a few days ago Matt and I were driving down St. Mary’s Avenue in Bernal Heights and we saw just such a droopy wire hanging across the street. A tall SUV would have taken it out. It looked like this:

Low-hanging wire across St. Mary's Avenue.
Low-hanging wire across St. Mary’s Avenue.

I figured I’d be a good citizen and try to head off any wire-related disasters, so I called the SFPD non-emergency line…and waited on hold for about 15 minutes. So I gave up on that and called 311, which answered right away. They told me that any time there’s a wire-related fiasco — either a low wire or a high wire — one must start with PG&E, which is the sole arbiter of the very important question: “Is it an electrical wire or a phone wire or what?”

Continuing to be a good citizen, I called PG&E to report this situation, and they took it from there.

PG&E’s website says that if you see a downed power line, you should call 911. 

Never, ever touch a downed power line or go near one. Power lines are not insulated like power cords. Always assume the power line is live.

  • Don’t touch a fallen power line or anything touching the wire.
  • Do not touch anything or anyone in contact with a fallen power line or other equipment.
  • Keep children and pets away from fallen electric wires.
  • Do not drive over a fallen power line.
  • Call 911 immediately to report a fallen power line.

This concludes our public service announcement for the day. Be safe.

Whole Foods on Market Street opening November 6

This morning, like the grocery geeks we are, Matt and I took a tour of San Francisco’s newest Whole Foods, opening next Wednesday, November 6. It’s located at 2001 Market Street @ Dolores, the site of the former S&C Ford dealership.

Photo tour (click on any image for a larger version/slideshow):

A few nuts & bolts first…

Number of Whole Foods Markets in San Francisco: 7

Approximate square footage of new store: 27,000

Number of parking spaces for the store: 63

Number of those that are for electric cars: 2

Hours of operation: 8:00 am – 10:00 pm every day

Official opening day/bread-breaking: November 6, 9:45 am (They don’t cut ribbons, they break bread. Cool, huh?)

While the Safeway across the street continues quaking in its staid corporate boots, I’ll describe some of the unique features of the new Whole Foods.

Just to the left of the main entrance is a two-seat shoeshine stand, operated by a local vendor called A Shine & Co., adjacent to a wall of what our tour guide called “man products.” By which she meant “men’s grooming stuff,” like shaving gear and skin care. The shoe shine stand will be open daily until about 6:00 pm.

Now for some unique-to-this-store food items. Oh, Whole Foods, you had me at sausage on a stick, made in house and available in the grab-and-go section. There will also be locally made gelato with flavors like Blue Bottle Coffee (Ok, you had me at sausage on a stick AND Blue Bottle Coffee gelato). The bakery will put out mini foccacia in a variety of flavors daily.

Every Whole Foods has a hot bar, but this one amps it up with an entire section of the hot bar with all Paleo foods. If you’re throwing a cheese tasting party and you need 250 kinds of cheese from around the world, they’ve got you covered. They’ll also sell honeycomb from Steve’s Bees in Orinda and tell those of us who are unfamiliar with honeycomb how to pair it with cheese. Who knew?

Now I’ve got to bust on Whole Foods a little bit for a cake with a big ol’ carbon footprint. They’re selling cakes called Baum cakes and they’re flying them in from Denver. DENVER. That’s far away from San Francisco, even though a layer cake cooked in a rotisserie sounds really damn cool.

You don’t own it, but you have to maintain it

Your sidewalk, that is.

In San Francisco, the city owns the sidewalks, but adjacent property owners are required to maintain them. So, if you step out front one morning and see white dots and/or stripes painted on your sidewalk, be aware that the city has tagged your sidewalk as needing repairs. You may wonder why you would have to fix something that the city owns. It’s codified in Section 706 of the Public Works Code, which says:

It shall be the duty of the owners of lots or portions of lots immediately adjacent to any portion of a public street, avenue, alley, lane, court or place to maintain the sidewalks and sidewalk area, including any parking strip, parkway, automobile runway and curb, fronting or adjacent to their property in good repair and condition.

And why do you care? Because you don’t want to be on the wrong end of a lawsuit from someone who trips on an uneven sidewalk in front of your property.

Any person who suffers injury or property damage as a legal result of the failure of the owner to so maintain the sidewalks and sidewalk areas shall have a cause of action for such injury or property damage against such property owner. The City and County of San Francisco shall have a cause of action for indemnity against such property owner for any damages it may be required to pay as satisfaction of any judgment or settlement of any claim that results from injury to persons or property as a legal result of the failure of the owner to maintain the sidewalks and sidewalk areas in accordance with this Section.

photo (1)


The culprit in this photo is the tree; its roots are pushing the sidewalk squares up, resulting in an offset, marked by the white lines, that is unsafe for pedestrians. According to the San Francisco Department of Public Works, problems with sidewalks include:

* Missing pavement

* Raised, sunken or uneven pavement

* Holes or cracks in the pavement

* Missing sewer vent covers

Along with the telltale white markings, a property owner will receive written notice of the problem from the Director of Public Works. The owner can decide to do the work by hiring a contractor directly, or may participate in the city’s repair program.



The government shutdown: What’s it doing to SF?

We’re now nine days in to the Tea Party Temper Tantrum, otherwise known as the federal government shutdown. Depending on whether you’re a tourist or a resident, an applicant for a home loan, someone who wants to eat a crab sandwich overlooking the Pacific or a dog owner who whose pup needs a run at the beach, the local effects of the closure of the government will be different.

Because this is a real estate blog, I’ll start with the effects on homebuyers (and refinancers). Included in every home loan application package is a form called 4506-T, which gives the lender the right to pull copies of the borrower’s tax transcripts from the IRS to verify that they match the documents provided by the borrower. But there’s no one home at the IRS to provide the transcripts. During the shutdown many lenders are waiving this requirement, but don’t count on that happening! If you are currently buying or refinancing a property, stop everything you are doing and call your lender to find out how they are dealing with this. If they’re not waiving the requirement, and the shutdown continues, your loan could be on hold indefinitely.

It might not be as important as a home loan, but a visit to Alcatraz is high on many visitors’ lists when they come to San Francisco. But the Rock is closed until the government reopens.

Alcatraz. CLOSED during government shutdown.
Alcatraz. CLOSED during government shutdown.

So is Fort Funston. Instead, consider taking Fido to McLaren Park.

So are Lands End Lookout, the Warming Hut and many parking lots at Crissy Field, and the Cliff House, which defied orders to close for the first several days of the shutdown.

North of San Francisco, Muir Woods is closed, as is Pt. Reyes.

So what’s a visitor to do? All is not lost for those hoping to visit an island in San Francisco Bay. Hop a ferry to Angel Island, which is a California state park and is open and operational. Take a cruise on San Francisco Bay. Stop and smell the roses (and the redwoods, and the hundreds of other natural attractions) at the Botanical Garden in Golden Gate Park.

Or, write a letter to your congresscritter and tell them to do their damn job.