San Francisco Mummy House Sold.

For many years I worked for a real estate broker who got listings fairly often on what are known in the business as ‘problem properties’, but nothing as strange as the Mummy House! Even though the sale of houses in San Francisco generate jaw-dropping commissions, I don’t envy the real estate agent who had the listing on this house. The Mummy House looked good on the outside, but inside it was another story. The house was occupied for decades by an eccentric old woman. The realtor who got the listing knew that he had a job on his hands as soon as he saw the place. The house was full of rats, mold, black widow spiders, and hundreds of bottles of the owner’s urine, which she chose to save for some reason. In addition, the mummified body of the owner herself was in the living room lying on a couch. The coroner estimated that she had been dead for at least 5 years. Even stranger – it appears that the woman’s daughter continued to live in the house for years after her mother’s death, making no effort to remove the corpse from the living room. Clearly, this was a ‘problem property.’

The Mummy House was listed for $928,000. There were multiple offers. It sold for $1,560,000; more than $500,000 over the list price. The mummy was removed from the property before the sale, but otherwise the house was delivered to the buyer AS-IS. The ad for this property said that the house was ‘unique’. I think that was a well-chosen word. ‘Unique’ means one-of-a-kind, and that does describe this listing. What are the odds of finding another house just like this one in San Francisco – or anywhere else for that matter? Mummy House.


If You Think Berkeley Rents Are High, Wait Til You Hear What They Are Charging In San Francisco.

If you have driven over the Bay Bridge anytime in the past 3 years going to San Francisco, you probably noticed the Jasper building which is under construction on the right side of the off-ramp on top of Rincon Hill. The building is thin and 40 stories high. The Jasper will be finished soon. They has just announced their rent schedule:
  • Studios $4,250 a month
  • One Bedroom $5,300
  • Two Bedroom $7,000

jasperWhy would anybody pay $7,000 a month rent for a 2 bedroom apartment? I know several people who bought houses in San Francisco within the past couple of years, and all of them are spending a lot less than $7,000 a month for housing, and they all have mortgages. To be fair, the Jasper really is a luxury building. The apartments are large, and the building has a lot of amenities. Most of the apartments have balconies; however, I don’t know how much time I would spend on a balcony next to the Bay Bridge on-ramp at rush hour, especially on a hot, dry day. Breathing air like that can’t be healthy.

The minimum wage in San Francisco is now $12.25 an hour, which I think is too low. I ask you – how can anyone live in San Francisco who works at minimum wage? According to Zillow, the average apartment in San Francisco rents for $3,950 a month. That means that a worker would need to make $79 an hour, or $153,000 a year, to rent the average apartment in San Francisco without spending more than 30% of his pre-tax income on rent. I don’t know how much McDonalds pays their hamburger flippers in San Francisco, but I’m pretty sure that it is considerably less than $153,000 a year. There are a lot of people working for minimum wage in San Francisco, but where do they live? I really can’t figure that out. The people who work at McDonalds and Walgreens in the City must live someplace – but where?

In Defense Of Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is often called a tourist trap, but I don’t think that’s fair or true. The term ‘tourist trap’ implies that a place was created to attract tourists and rip them off, selling them tacky souvenirs and terrible, overpriced food. Well Yes, there are a lot of silly attractions and tacky souvenirs for sale at Fisherman’s Wharf, but there are also a lot of really great things to see and do there, and many of the best things are either cheap or free.pier39
  • Sea lions. On some days, especially in summer, there can be 500 to 1,000 sea lions at Pier 39. Even though I’ve seen the sea lions at Pier 39 a hundred times, I can still spend an hour watching them without getting bored. I think they are fascinating. From the size of the crowds at Pier 39, it seems like a lot of other people think so too. They are not trained sea lions. They don’t do tricks. They spend their time sleeping, barking at each other, quarreling for control of choice real estate, scratching their heads with their flippers, and yawning. They yawn a lot. I think that watching sea lions is the best thing to do at Fisherman’s Wharf, and it’s free.
  • ‘F’ streetcars. The ‘F’ line antique streetcars run along the Embarcadero from downtown to Fisherman’s Wharf. It is one of 3 great ways to get there. Some tourists wonder if these streetcars are really be as old as the city says they are. They are. These are not reproductions of old streetcars. They are just very well maintained. Riding an ‘F’ streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf costs only $2.
  • Oakland ferry. The second great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf is on the Oakland ferry. On the ride to Pier 41 from Oakland, you get to see wonderful views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and you get to pass under the Bay Bridge. The ferry costs around $5.
  • Cable car. The third great way to get to Fisherman’s Wharf is by cable car. Although 2 cable car lines go to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Hyde Street line is the most interesting. It goes up and down the steepest hills and ends at Ghirardelli Square.
  • Boudin’s Bakery. Boudin makes the best sourdough bread in San Francisco, and they make a lot of it. You can watch the bakers making sourdough bread shaped like alligators, crabs, turtles, etc. It’s one of many good places to have lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf. Not all the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf are lousy and overpriced, although the number of bad restaurants there admittedly exceeds the number of good ones. But – isn’t that true everywhere?
  • Ghirardelli Square ice cream parlor. If there is a better ice cream parlor in San Francisco, I don’t know where it is. They serve ice cream they way it should be served, with generous portions of high quality ice cream in old-fashioned glass ice cream dishes, not styrofoam cups, and covered with whipped cream, not ‘whipped topping.’
  • Interesting stores. Some of the stores on Pier 39 are really quite interesting. They are not all tourist junk shops. Among the stores I like are the Houdini magic shop, Chocolate Heaven, Puppets on the Pier, and the NFL / College Shop, which has an astonishingly large selection of sports team clothing. In addition, some of the places on the pier that sell food products make them in their windows, which can be very interesting to watch. Frankly, I have picked up some of my best chocolate-making ideas by watching people making candy in the windows of chocolate stores around Fisherman’s Wharf.

Do You Make $79 An Hour?

The real estate web site Zillow recently calculated how much a single renter has to earn in order to afford the average apartment in 20 cities across the United States. Landlords typically assume that a tenant can afford to spend up to 30% of his pre-tax income on rent. Assuming that, and assuming that a tenant is working full time (40 hours a week), Zillow says that a person would have to be getting paid $79 a hour in order to rent the average apartment in San Francisco. The median priced apartment in San Francisco is now $3,950 a month.
Now, I am pretty sure that most people living in San Francisco make less than $79 an hour. The minimum wage in San Francisco is now $11.05 an hour. It scheduled to rise to $15.00 an hour by 2018. I can’t figure out how people who work at minimum-wage jobs can afford to live in San Francisco or Berkeley, but I know that many do.

What Rich Dot-Comers Are Buying These Days.

The latest toy that rich dot-comers are buying these days is big houses in ritzy neighborhoods in San Francisco. The price of these houses is going up astonishingly fast. A house in Pacific Heights just sold for $39 million, the highest priced house listed on the MLS in the U.S. This house sold for $27 million just 3 years ago, which shows just how rapidly high-end houses in San Francisco are appreciating. There are several other houses for sale in Pacific Heights and on Russian Hill for $30 million or more. The property tax in San Francisco on a $39 million house is about $1 million a year. To see what $39 million gets you in San Francisco, go to: $39 Million House.

Shrinking Bay Area Apartments

Apartments are getting smaller and smaller in San Francisco and Berkeley. As a general rule, the newer the building, the smaller the rooms. 8′ x 8′ bedrooms are now common in new buildings, including expensive ones. And now, micro apartments measuring only 240 square feet are popping up all over San Francisco. Not to be outdone, the city of Berkeley has given permits to build 160 square foot apartments, and construction of them will begin soon. 160 square feet is the size of a one-car garage. These apartments are so small that every room has to serve multiple functions. For example, in the micro apartments scheduled to be built on Shattuck Avenue near Berkeley Bowl, the kitchen table will have a foot pedal underneath it. When you press down on the pedal, it will lower the table. Then you can cover the table with a mattress that is stored in the wall. Although micro apartments are small, they are not cheap. Most of the ones in San Francisco rent for over $2,000 a month. Would you pay $2,000 a month for an apartment that is so small that you have to sleep on the kitchen table?

LivingRoom1Rooms in existing buildings are shrinking too. Many landlords are moving walls within apartments in order to create more bedrooms. They take space from other rooms, usually living rooms. I have seen recently remodeled apartments in downtown Berkeley with living rooms that are only 5 to 6 feet wide. You can touch the 2 opposite walls by stretching out your arms.

What’s Driving The Rent Explosion in San Francisco?

The average 1 bedroom apartment in the Financial District of San Francisco is now $3,500 a month, making it the most expensive rental housing market in the United States, even beating Manhattan. Despite the high rent, the vacancy rate in downtown San Francisco is almost zero. San Francisco has been expensive for a long time, but what’s driving the current rent explosion? It’s the dot-coms. Internet companies in the Bay Area are growing rapidly, and unlike the dot-com boom of the 1990s, this time they are making money, and lots of it. Bay area internet companies are having a hard time finding enough employees. They all need young, smart, well educated, tech savvy people, and lots of them, and they can’t find them in Silicon Valley. The problem is that the kind of people they need don’t want to live in Silicon Valley. While Palo Alto is undeniably clean and safe, it is also dull. Young, tech savvy people want to live in San Francisco, so the dot-coms are expanding there. They have to. Besides, not all the dot-coms are based in Silicon Valley. A lot of internet companies are headquartered in San Francisco and always have been, and they are also growing. This includes Twitter, Yelp, Craigslist, Salesforce, Digg, and dozens of others. There is a limited supply of new rental housing being built in San Francisco, and a lot of well-paid techies are competing for it.

Berkeley Central. Berkeley is getting the spillover effect from all this. Rents in Berkeley are lower than downtown San Francisco, and San Francisco is only a 20 minute subway ride away. The newest apartment houses in Berkeley used to cater to college students, but now they are targeting San Francisco commuters, and commuters can afford to pay higher rent than college students. Berkeley’s newest apartment house is Berkeley Central. It is located at 2055 Center Street, just a few steps away from the downtown Berkeley BART station. 1 bedroom apartments rent for $3,000 a month, and 2 bedrooms start at $3,500 a month. Larger 2 bedroom units go for up to $6,000 a month. Parking is extra.

Windowless bedrooms. A lot of the apartments at Berkeley Central have windowless bedrooms. This is an architectural trend that I don’t like. Actually, the bedrooms aren’t windowless. They have windows, but the windows are not on exterior walls and don’t face outside. The windows face into the apartment. This means that when someone is in the kitchen washing the dishes, he is looking into your bedroom through the window separating the 2 rooms! It seems to me that if someone is paying $3,000 a month for a 1 bedroom apartment, the bedroom should have a window that faces outdoors. Berkeley Central isn’t the only building like this. A lot of new buildings in this area have bedrooms with windows that face inside the apartment. As I said, it’s a trend that I don’t like.