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San Francisco Home Prices Rise

July 10th, 2012

Bloomberg recently reported that home prices are on the rise in San Francisco. The trend may continue, making now a good time to buy before prices rise further. Contact us for a personalized tour of properties that meet your criteria.


How to Win In Today’s Competitive Marketplace

May 10th, 2012
When we saw a 20th Street fixer-upper list for $849,000 and sell for $1.4 million last week, our suspicions were confirmed: SF real estate is in the early stages of another boom. We saw it again with a Dolores Street property selling for $400k over asking, despite a difficult floor plan. Last Sunday, about one-third of the open homes we visited were already in contract! All this competition in the marketplace can seem scary and disheartening to first-time buyers, but you CAN still succeed in this climate, and we’re here to help you do just that. 

Find the right home, pay the right price
The 20th Street home that sold for $550k over asking? It was severely under-priced. We know because we toured the property, analyzed comps, and have the experience necessary to anticipate true home values. In this marketplace, you simply can’t rely on online search tools or listing prices for accurate valuation. You need a good agent to set expectations so you don’t waste your time seeing properties that will sell outside of your price range or get discouraged when that happens. We didn’t send our $850k clients to tour this home because we knew it would sell for what it was worth (in fact, we had estimated a sales price of $1.3m).

Of course, you don’t want to overpay, either. Regardless of its tony address, the Dolores Street house will need a solid $500k of work to make it livable. This is going to be an expensive and arduous project for the new owners, and in our opinion they overpaid for this hassle. The true value of the property is well under the $2m they’ll have spent when all is said & done.

Keep calm & carry on
As a new homebuyer, it’s very easy to get caught up in the excitement of house hunting. We’re here to temper that emotion so you can make smart decisions. We’ve been doing this for 30 years, and we’ve seen boom markets crazier than this one. We’ll help you find the right home and pay the right price so you get the home without overbidding. Contact us at any time to ask any of your SF real estate questions – we’re here to help!

What Kind Of Mortgage Should You Get?

May 3rd, 2012

With all the different products on the market, this question can be downright confusing. While there’s no substitute for talking to a reputable mortgage broker (contact us for referrals), it’s helpful to know your options. This article does a pretty good job explaining the various offerings so you can familiarize yourself with them.

Do Your Homework: A guide to public schools & property in SF

April 5th, 2012

Several weeks have passed now since the notorious San Francisco Unified School District placement lottery so I feel like I can now take a step back and put this all in perspective without having a minor emotional breakdown.  My partner and I have a five year old son that just survived the crazy process of getting into kindergarten in San Francisco.  It’s a process that I didn’t think would impact me in the way it did, but when it came right down to it, it was a nerve-wracking and downright emotional experience!
If you’re new to San Francisco or don’t have a young child and haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a quick summary of how the new (started in 2011) public school placement process works:

1) In the fall prior to your child entering kindergarten, parents are expected to tour as many elementary schools as they’d like to consider.  Usually these are guided tours led by current families attending the school.  Some schools have self guided tour booklets and others even have iPod audio tours!  The tours usually last about 1 hour and often end with the principal answering questions about the school.  You usually get to visit a handful of classrooms.  Your mission is to get as much of a feel for that school in that hour to help guide you in your next step, the application.

2) In January, it’s application time.  You can list as many schools as you’d like in the order that prefer.  We listed six.  Some parents only list two or three and others list 21.  There are all sorts of tips out there about how many you should list in order to have the best chance of receiving one of your top choices. If you really want to drive yourself crazy, the school district publishes statistics from previous years so your can determine which schools have the highest ratio of applicants to placements.  I have a friend who did a full on statistical analysis of the schools in which they were interested. They used that info to inform their application process.  Side note, they got their first choice. I can’t say for sure, but the pessimist in me tends to think that was just pure luck!

3) Inevitably, there are way more requests for many schools than there are seats available.  This is where the true confusion begins.  The district employs a computerized system that places students based on a series of tie-breakers.  For elementary schools, this includes factors such as younger siblings, pre-K attendance area, test score area, attendance area, then all others.  So, to overly simplify, siblings beat out all.  Then students who attended a SFUSD pre-K program in a particular attendance area get the next dibs.  Following that, students who live in areas that have historically low test scores get the next spots, and finally students who live in the designated “attendance area” for the school get dibs on any remaining spots.  After all the tiebreakers, any other students may be placed in the school.  If you don’t get one of your choices, the computer then assigns you to the closest school that has openings.

4)  Decision letters are mailed out in mid-March.  On the day they were set to arrive, I sat for 2 hours staring out my bay window looking for the mail truck.  When the mailman finally arrived, I nearly yanked the mail from his hand.  We sat down on the couch and slowly opened the letter that was set to define a large portion of our lives for the next six years.  We breathed a heavy sigh of relief as we were one of the 60% that received our first-choice school.  It helped that our first choice was our neighborhood (attendance area) school.

5) If you’re not happy with your choice, there is an appeal process that can help place you in to another school.

So, how does this affect real estate?  In short, somewhat. Because living in a particular attendance area gives you a better shot at getting into that neighborhood school (based on the tiebreaker system explained above), there are some buyers who will seek to buy in a particular attendance area.  More often, they will try to avoid the attendance areas of schools that currently are underperforming (at least per test scores).  We certainly don’t see the kind of relationship between schools and real estate that most of the rest of the country sees, but it can certainly play a role in some buyer’s choices.

Want to see how the attendance areas are currently defined?  Download this map from SFUSD.

For more information about the “nitty gritty” of the school assignment process, feel free to contact us for more info!


To buy or to rent? SF’s eternal conundrum

April 4th, 2012

Is it financially smarter to rent or to own? New data from Trulia’s recently released Winter 2012 Rent vs. Buy index indicates that it’s still a toss-up in San Francisco. That said, that headlines overshadowed a fascinating data point: the price-to-rent ratio in SF dropped more than 3 points in the past year alone! This reflects a great opportunity for first-time buyers in the current marketplace. If you are ready to make the leap, we’re here to help you. Get our first-time buyers’ guide here or contact us directly with any questions about the SF real estate landscape.

How to survive bidding wars in SF

March 19th, 2012

A recent Wall Street Journal article called attention to a “bidding war” over a Noe Valley home. To us, it’s not news. A good home in a good location of San Francisco will always receive multiple offers – especially when it’s intentionally under-priced, as this one was. This home was very appealing and had lots of open space and charm. In our opinion, the buyers did not overpay. When they turn around to sell the house in 5-10 years, they too will receive multiple offers thanks to the innate charm and location of the house.

In San Francisco, homebuyers need to be prepared for multiple offer situations. This is where having a good real estate agent really helps. We know what to expect and prepare our clients accordingly. We estimate the true value of the home and pass along that expertise so our clients can determine whether it’s truly in their price range. If it is, we coach our clients so they submit a successful bid. If it’s not, our clients are happy that they didn’t waste their time, and we’re happy that they didn’t get discouraged.

While the Journal article is right that the SF real estate market is picking up, options still abound at every price point, and we are eager to help our clients find a home that fits their criteria – and budget. Keep in mind that buying a popular property is like buying an insurance policy: a house with that “modicum of charm” is hard to find and will always re-sell quickly, no matter what the market. 34 years of selling real estate in SF confirms that.

Do I really need a real estate agent? Why?

February 29th, 2012

We are real estate agents so we have a biased point of view! That said, you really do need a really good agent when buying in SF. There are things you just can’t do on your own (even with your iPad). Seeing and evaluating real estate is our job. We offer you expertise and access that you can’t get elsewhere, saving you time & money. Here are some of the things a good agent will do for you.



Some properties sell the day after the first open house. Some listing agents delay any offers until a specified date and some take offers “as they come.” Don’t get left out in the cold if you like a place well enough to buy it.  If necessary, connected agents are able to get you in to a property before the first open house.



When you tour a house with brand new appliances and a newly remodeled kitchen, it’s easy to picture yourself in that home – until you see the price tag. But why pay extra for someone else’s kitchen remodel? We help buyers visualize and estimate the cost of their dream house. Knocking down a wall to open up a floor plan is less expensive than you’d think. Real value can be found in fixer-uppers, not to mention the pleasure of getting exactly what you want from a remodel. Get our guide to remodeling projects for more information.



There is a lot of property to choose from and you don’t want to waste time on Sunday afternoons. You need to tour properties that fit your criteria. While online realty search sites can be good tools to help you create a quick list of properties you’d like to see, you don’t want to waste time visiting homes with problems that don’t show up in photos or that are inaccurately priced. A good agent has seen the properties and can assess & filter them for you to save you time. For instance, if your price range is up to 800K and a property is listed at 799K but we KNOW it will sell for at least 850K, then why frustrate yourself?



In multiple offer situations (of which there are many in SF), you need to think strategically to win the bid. Generally, the sales price is above the asking price. How much over? You don’t want to leave money on the table but you’d like your bid to be successful. A good agent will help you get to the price that is enough to win the property without overpaying.



Seeing a property online isn’t enough. You have to look at properties in person to know what it’s really like inside. That in person knowledge will help you put prices and possible issues in perspective.  When you look at a listing online, you are seeing an idealized version of the property. What’s it really like? Does it have some sort of a problem? Structural problem? Tenant problem? Homeowner’s Association problem? You need to get answers to these questions in order to understand the right price for a property. If problems are uncovered, a good agent will also be able to help you find contractors and estimate the costs to fix them so you’ll have a complete understanding of the total cost of your new home.



While you may see a couple open houses a week, an experienced agent has seen all the homes on the market for years. That adds up to hundreds or even thousands of properties. Not only does this enable us to filter properties to meet your criteria, but it also allows us to give you the big picture comparison that you simply wouldn’t have otherwise. Look for a real estate professional that will take the time to teach you the San Francisco real estate market so that you know that you’ve made a wise decision when it comes time to take the plunge and make an offer on a home. You need to be confident that you’ve gotten the most for your money and have found a property that fulfills most of the points on your wish list.



As we know, properties can be listed purposefully low. Because of this, it’s hard to gain a good understanding of the market by just looking at properties online.  What did they sell for? Knowing is part of your education process and waiting a month or so to find out doesn’t help you on an immediate basis. We can find out what something sold for through our good connections with other agents.


In short, if you want to save time & money, know you got a fair price, and get your dream house, then yes – you need an agent. Contact us to put our experience to work for you.

Is a Tenancy In Common (TIC) right for me?

February 23rd, 2012

Tenancy-in-common properties, in which owners buy a percentage or share of a building, are one of San Francisco’s real estate anomalies. TICs came about in response to high demand for homeownership amid low property supply, and they’ve been a unique option for buyers in San Francisco ever since. Traditionally requiring all owners to share one loan, new fractionalized loan products have made TICs seem more appealing – but are they the right choice for you?

TICs can be attractive because they are generally priced lower per square foot than their condominium counterparts. In addition, some TICs allow for the possibility to convert to condominiums eventually, providing the potential for a high return on investment.

Regarding condo conversion, all TICs are not treated equally. In San Francisco, the only buildings eligible to convert to condominiums are 2-6 unit buildings. 2-unit TICs are typically fast-tracked for conversion: after just one year of being owner-occupied, 2-unit TICs can bypass the lottery and begin the process to convert to condos. 3-4 unit TICs can be put into the condo conversion lottery when at least one unit has been owner-occupied for the three immediately preceding years. The number of units that must be owner-occupied increases to three for 5-6 unit buildings. Because of the lottery process and the occupancy requirements, conversion for these properties can be a very long and arduous process and we recommend our TIC clients to comfortable with the very real possibility that the building may never convert.

Potential TIC buyers must also consider loan options. Traditional group loans (where all owners share one loan and all its responsibilities) were popular and worked well when home values were rapidly increasing. Once the market stabilized, these loans presented serious obstacles that gave rise to the newer fractionalized loan options. Fractionalized loans are the TIC equivalent of a condo loan, but the interest rates are typically at least one point higher – and only a few lenders offer this product. These loans are often fixed for 3, 5 or 7 years and then can wickedly adjust. Our concern has always been that this small pool of lenders leads to limited future options when the loans start to adjust. What if fractionalized lending is no longer available or is no longer offered by the same number of lenders? If competition between lenders is reduced, it could severely impact interest rates for these loans. Again, a TIC buyer has to weigh the pros and cons of the risks involved.

TICs: Opportunity or Liability? It has been our experience that TICs really work for 2 kinds of buyers. The first are “nesters”: individuals who have lived in the same location for a long time, whose commitment to living in San Francisco is carved in stone, and who can fairly well predict their future incomes. Other good TIC candidates are the risk-takers: confident buyers who worry less than the rest of us, who just want to be homeowners and who trust that the San Francisco real estate market will always provide potential buyers.

All told, TIC purchases have lots of moving parts; many more than we can adequately summarize in a single blog entry. Please contact us if you have any questions.

Home Buying FAQs: Commissions and Contracts

February 2nd, 2012

Real estate in San Francisco can present some pretty unique issues. Here at Domicile, we strive to keep you informed. Today our expert agents answer your questions, helping you make smart, confident decisions.

“How do you get paid?”
The seller pays the commission for both their listing agent and the buyer’s agent. In San Francisco, it’s typically a 5% commission of the selling price of the home and is split equally between the listing and buyer’s agents.

“How do we work together? Do I need to sign a contract?”
In San Francisco it is not customary or required that buyers sign a contract defining their relationship with an agent until they actually write an offer on a property. We and any other agent worth their salt define the relationship by working hard and smart for their buyers.

Have more questions? We’re happy to answer them all. Leave a comment on our Facebook page, contact us directly or schedule a meeting to learn more about the San Francisco real estate market.