Making sense of San Francisco’s MLS district map
If you’ve been considering buying or selling a home, you’ve probably heard about MLS (Multiple Listing Service). MLS is the central database of all property listings in a particular city or region. Wine Country/Marin has one called BAREIS and San Francisco has a different one called SFARMLS. The listings that you see on portals like Zillow all originate on the local MLS.
San Francisco is a small densely-packed city with lots of houses, condos, multi-unit buildings, and TICs spread over a small 7 mile x 7 mile area. To organize all of those properties geographically, the local MLS has 10 districts and 89 sub-districts. Here’s a link to the official SFAR MLS district map. You may want to refer to the map while you search for homes.
I recommend searching MLS through Compass.com which allows you to see every listing available with every real estate company in the city. In addition, if you are not already working with an agent, my team and I will create a Collection for you which is a dynamic online board of all properties that meet your specific criteria. It allows you to message us in real time about properties, no need for extra text messages or emails. We often have some off-market properties as well. Call me to check if we have anything that may fit what you’re looking for. We are ready to help you with your home purchase or sale in San Francisco, Alameda, Marin, Sonoma, and Napa counties.
(Updated March 2023)
From SF to Wine Country (and everything in between)
For more than a decade, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to represent many home buyers and sellers throughout San Francisco. My real estate business has grown exponentially since that time as clients have called upon us to represent them in nearby counties. As a result, my team and I are excited to now include Marin & Wine Country in the areas that we serve.
In addition to San Francisco, we represent real estate clients in Healdsburg, Sonoma, Santa Rosa, Guerneville, Petaluma, Windsor, Occidental, Sebastopol, Napa, St Helena, Calistoga, Yountville, Novato, Mill Valley, San Rafael and surrounding towns. If you are considering buying or selling a home in Wine Country, Marin, or San Francisco, my team and I are here and ready to help!
San Francisco home prices by neighborhood / Jan 2023
Rainy days are good days for home buyers
It’s been so rainy lately! This is obviously good news since California is in a major drought. We simply need the rain. If you are in the market to buy a new home or condo though, there’s another benefit to the wet stuff falling from the sky. Touring your dream home on a rainy day can tell you a lot about your prospective home before you submit an offer.
Probably one of the last things you want to do is go out and look at homes in the rain. If you’re like most people, you want to see houses on a sunny spring day, where flowers are in bloom and birds are singing. Visiting a house on a rainy day however can sometimes be much more informative, here’s why:
Ideally when rain falls, it runs off the roof in to the gutters and eventually flows away from the house through a drain or pipe to the street or sewer. Given the hilly terrain in San Francisco, older housing stock, and densely packed neighborhoods, heavy rain in San Francisco sometimes leads to “ponding” or standing water with no place to go. Standing water tends to seep in to places it should not be (like walls, foundations, garages, or basements). Keeping water away from your home is important to help prevent issues like dry rot, wood boring beetles, foundation deterioration, termites, and mold. So while checking out your new prospective house, always keep your eyes open for standing water around the outside of the home or in the garage or basement.
If the roof or skylight needs repair, there will probably be some visible signs of a leak. Be sure to look up at the ceiling occasionally as you are walking around. If you see signs of a previous ceiling repair or variations in the ceiling paint, it may be worth asking about. There is another bonus of visiting open houses on a rainy day…it’s likely that there will be fewer buyers milling around. That gives you a chance to take your time and look around without the crowds. The seller’s agent may also be more available to speak with you and answer questions since there will be fewer people around.
(Pro tip: Remember to be courteous and not track in mud or rain when you enter an open house on a rainy day. The seller’s agent likely will provide a spot to wipe your feet or have shoe covers handy).
I’m not a home inspector, but I’ve been at hundreds of home inspections with clients and have picked up a few tips along the way. I have many more home buying tips to share. Feel free to get in touch!
What is a contingency when buying a home in San Francisco?
If you’ve been looking for real estate in San Francisco, you have probably heard the term “contingency”; it means “dependence on the fulfillment of a condition”. In the world of SF real estate, a contingency is simply a period of time in which the buyer can investigate a property or mortgage loan while still protecting their deposit.
Contingencies are sometimes used for property inspections like a termite inspection. Other contingencies are for mortgage loan approval, appraisal, or the sale of another property. Sellers can have have contingencies too, like finding a replacement property, but buyer contingencies are more common.
In this very frenzied seller’s market, any buyer contingency can give the seller some pause when they are considering whether to accept an offer.
It can be challenging for buyers to protect their interests while still getting their offer accepted. As I’ve written about before, disclosures are important. Seller disclosure packages (complete with inspection reports) allow the buyer to be reasonably informed about the property at the outset before submitting an offer.
Regardless of disclosures, some buyers opt to roll the dice and waive all contingencies as a strategy to make their offer more attractive to the seller. Buyers should be aware that waiving contingencies is risky. As usual, it boils down to risk tolerance and of course every buyer (and every property) is unique. If you are considering buying or selling, let’s talk about how contingencies might impact you.
Price Per Square Foot: It May Not Be As Reliable as You Think
If you are a routine grocery shopper, then you already know that comparing ‘per-unit’ pricing is a smart way to shop. If something costs .48 cents per ounce then you can easily compare different brands and sizes and quickly determine that .51 cents per ounce is likely more than you need to spend. It is logical then that the same process would apply to home prices.
Continuing with the grocery analogy, the concept works well when comparing apples to apples. Price per square foot is a good barometer to consider when looking at houses and condos that are almost identical or at least very similar to each other. This works well on a new construction cul de sac in the suburbs and in high rise buildings in the city. The challenge in SF however is that the housing inventory is very old and uniquely diverse. This means that one home is usually very different than the one next door, including the details of the interior, the exterior, the parking, the view, you get the picture.
The other challenge with price per square foot in the city is that we are often relying on inaccurate square footage figures from tax records. This means that the fundamentals are not accurate, so any comparison based on square footage would be incorrect. So while price per sq foot might seem perfectly logical, it may not really be as solid a data point as you think. Each situation is different, so let me know what you are looking for and we will take a closer look.
(Updated: June 8, 2021)
When is the best time of year to buy or sell a home in San Francisco?
I am often asked about the seasonality of real estate in San Francisco. As it has been for a long time, we are in a seller’s market in SF however there are definitely some fluctuations throughout the year.
Sellers: The majority of the year is still very good for sellers, especially for single family homes, however the best time for sellers is in September/October when the weather is usually sunny and dry and fog is nowhere to be seen. This time of year is known as “San Francisco’s summer” even though it is really autumn everywhere else. Throngs of buyers are visiting lots of open houses on these sunny weekends, multiple offers are the norm, and sale prices that far exceed list prices are very common.
Buyers: If you are buying and want to have a shot at getting a (relative) bargain, you’ll want to do that in July/August or wait until November/December (but the number of available listings will be limited). The number of buyers that you’ll compete with are usually relatively low at this time, and the resulting number of offers and sale prices will also likely be in your favor. Of course, as with most things in San Francisco, each neighborhood and price range has it’s own unique nuances, so please let me know if you need advice on your particular situation.
How to look up permits for any San Francisco property
Did you know that there is a site that allows you to view permits and complaints for all properties in the city? This comes in very handy if you are thinking of purchasing a home (or if you are a nosy neighbor).
Just head to Department of Building Inspection’s website and enter the property address. There you’ll see all permits relating to electrical, plumbing and building as well as the complaints that may be on file for that location.
San Francisco real estate price changes since 1994
By any measure, the heat of the San Francisco market in the first half of 2018 has been among the most blistering ever. Probably only 3 or 4 other periods over the past 50 years have seen a comparable intensity of buyer demand with regard to the supply of listing inventory available to purchase. Though all segments performed strongly, the market was particularly ferocious in the lower and middle-price segments of single family homes.
Here are the median price changes for San Francisco houses and condos sold from 1994 to 2018.
Single family homes:
A quick history of San Francisco real estate prices
san francisco real estate market update: April 2016
|Over the last four years, the San Francisco real estate market can easily be referred to as frenzied. The result has been a huge surge in home prices. Recent data though seems to indicate that the trend may be shifting.
Prices over the last three years appreciated by a whopping 35.02%, but looking at a year-over-year analysis, we can see that the vast majority of the gain, almost 31%, happened between 2013 and 2015. Over the last twelve months, the rate of appreciation has slowed to just 3.80%.
|Condos & Single Family Homes Median Sale Price|
|2013 – 2016 / Year Over Year|
|It’s also interesting to note that most of 2013 – 2015 saw a steady smooth upward price trend but the last twelve months was filled with multiple peaks and valleys.
The underlying market dynamics haven’t really changed. Demand is high, inventory remains low, interest rates are stable, and financing is no easier or harder to secure then it was a year ago. Of course many other factors impact the housing market (local employment opportunities, the stock market, politics, consumer confidence, etc). They are each likely impacting the current market adjustment to some degree.
We have all expected that the pace of appreciation of San Francisco real estate would start to cool down a bit. While we may have reached that point, I definitely do not view this as the bursting of a bubble.
If you’ve been thinking of selling or buying a home, give me a call and we can chat about how this market shift could impact your real estate goals.
Broker Associate, CRS, GRI
How to buy a home in San Francisco if you are an expat
If you are considering a move to the U.S. from another country, you will quickly learn that the process of buying a home here is unique and probably even a little baffling at first. Here is what you need to know:
- Step one is to find the right real estate broker to guide you. In San Francisco, like much of the U.S., buyers and sellers each have their own dedicated broker to help them. Your broker is your primary advocate throughout the real estate purchase process and can help you to buy any available home on the market regardless of which broker is representing the seller. He or she has a fiduciary duty to represent your best interests. Sellers pay the commission which is the compensation for both brokers. Buyers rarely pay any commission at all.
- Get pre-approved for a loan. Without a U.S. credit report and social security number it can sometimes be challenging to get a mortgage loan. Here is how the system typically works: after a potential home buyer applies for a loan, the mortgage lender uses their social security number to check credit history which is pulled from three credit bureaus: Trans Union, Equifax, and Experian. Each of these bureaus collects data from various creditors like banks and credit card companies regarding an individual’s payment history, amounts owed, etc. That data is used to formulate a score called FICO which gauges an individual’s perceived credit-worthiness. The score can range from 300-850. Anything over 700 is generally considered very good. The credit bureaus and resulting FICO score only considers credit history earned in the U.S., not overseas. If you are new to the U.S., this is clearly a bit problematic. There are some alternatives for expats who are new to the U.S., so finding the right mortgage lender is key. Your real estate broker can refer you to a few lenders that can help.
- Start looking at neighborhoods and homes with your broker. This step may take a while as you learn the areas and nuances of the city along with the various property types that fit into your budget. San Francisco is geographically small but it has 89 distinct neighborhoods, so there is a lot to learn. Your broker can give you access to MLS, the database of all available homes in the city.
- Once you find the right home for you, then it’s time to make an offer. Offers are comprised of price and various terms that your broker will discuss in detail with you. Offers can be contingent upon certain events like a professional home inspection or even full mortgage loan approval. Your broker will discuss the pros and cons of various offer terms to make it attractive to the seller while still protecting your interests. The timeframe of offering on a home to actually getting keys in your hand is generally about 35 days or less.
I have represented many buyers from other countries. I’d be glad to sit down and talk with you about the process to see if buying a home in San Francisco is the right move for you. Just let me know when you’d like to meet. I can be reached at (415) 971-5651.
What are the most common methods of holding title to property in California?
There are plenty of big decisions that need to be made during the process of buying a home or condo. One decision that buyers often don’t consider in advance is how they’d like to hold title to the property. The method of holding title, often referred to as “vesting”, can have significant legal and tax implications so it should always be discussed with an attorney or tax pro. Before the sale can be completed, the title insurance company will need to know how the property is to be vested. Thinking about the options in advance may help to make the process smoother for you. The chart below from Fidelity National Title summarizes the more common methods of holding title. Click on the chart to enlarge it. If you are considering buying a home in SF (or anywhere else for that matter) just let me know, I’ll be happy to help.