Alexander Clark Real Estate

‘The Front Steps’: Is This “The Best Value” In SF?

We’re always keeping an eye out for interesting neighborhood listings, and here’s one that caught our eye: A five bed, five bath, 3,300-plus square foot Laurel Heights house advertised as “one of the best home values in San Francisco” for $2.5 million.

Yes, it’s a $2.5 million bargain–or at least, that’s the idea. Is it true? You know nothing gets our motor running like housing data, so let’s see.

Looking back at every publicly listed home sale of similarly sized properties in the past 12 months, only two sold for less in the Richmond.

One was a seven bed, seven bath 16th Avenue setup that closed in October for $1.5 million.

However, that lot was actually two units, so the real room count for each home was obviously lower.

The second was a seven-bedroom offering on 27th Avenue that went for $1.6 million. But not only was that also similarly a two-unit affair, it actually wasn’t even built yet! The sale was for the land and permits only.

And the next home of a comparable size anywhere near the neighborhood cleared $3 million. So, case closed, it seems.

But wait, why limit ourselves to just one neighborhood? After all, the ad claims this is one of the best values in all of San Francisco, right?

Well, casting our net a little bit wider turns up only four more similarly sized homes that sold for less across the entire city during that period, and once again none of them are single-family buildings. Indeed, one of these properties sported THREE separate in-law units behind the main house.

Now of course, “value” is in the eye of the beholder: Maybe for this kind of cash, you’re a buyer who would actually prefer to have all those in-laws bundled in.

But when it comes to just this one home we must admit, at least for now, that there’s truth in the advertising: A house of these proportions just doesn’t sell for this kind of money in SF these days.

So why is this one? Well, we can think of one potential answer: See, one other thing you’ve got to make sure to check when evaluating a home listing is the most recent sale. When did this same place sell last, and how much did it go for?

Just seven years ago, this same property netted a $2.1 million payday. Prices for single-family homes in San Francisco have only soared since then (even the pandemic did not really slow their ascent all that much ) and although $400,000 is in most contexts a lot of money, even people who are not shrewd real estate hustlers can probably tell that’s just not a market-value markup.

Some of you are presumably already ahead of us on this one: A house like this might list for a lot less than its contemporaries, but that doesn’t mean it will sell for less.

And what’s one reliable way to drive prices higher? Ironically, by pricing lower, drawing a lot of attention, and juicing the incentive for more people to bid.

Mind you, we’re not saying that’s necessarily what’s going on here; we have to include such a disclaimer, both because we weren’t around for the conversations about pricing this home and also because some sellers get a little hot under the collar if you speculate that they’re pricing low, as if they’ve been accused of cheating or something.

How can we really tell what a home like this is worth? Well, just keep your eye on it and in no time at all, we’ll know.

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