San Francisco Realtor

San Francisco Realtor

“Jay, it’s good to see you again.”

“Hey T.W.”

I was meeting our realtor, T.W.   She was excited to show me a house.  She called to say it was really special.

T.W. said, “Where is Marty? I thought she was coming?

“She got hung up at work.  She’ll join us after awhile if all goes well.”

“Do you want to wait for her?”

“No, let’s jump in.”

“Cause we were really lucky to get in there today. You are the first I think. I have got a very good relationship with the listing broker.”

“Great. Is this the gate?” I asked.

“Yes. She said she’d let us see it first because I never try to screw her.”


“But don’t worry. I would. If I needed to.”

“Oh… So, where is the house?”

“It’s up there.”

T.W. pointed up a winding staircase that seemed to rise into a jungle of branches and vines.

“I thought this was a park.”

“No wait till you see.”

We opened the gate and started up the steps.  T.W. counted each one out loud. The stairway jogged to the left and then jogged back to the right and then turned again before coming to a steep rise of a dozen stairs.

“This is sure twisty and turny,” I said.

“Yes, forty three,” she smiled, “isn’t it gorgeous, forty four…”

The stairs were particularly steep with narrow treads.  I climbed up and up and at the count of seventy-three emerged, breathing hard, onto a small grassy flat lawn.  On the left was a New England looking cottage, deep into disrepair, with a big porch in the front. The structure looked like the housing you sometimes see on a riverbank where there has been a flood.  Slightly cantilevered and pitched forward as if the underpinnings had been washed out. The porch in particular had gone off plumb. All it needed was a toothless man with a banjo.

Across the lawn to the right was a large modern shoebox of a house built of cement. The house had small windows, not as small as pillbox windows, but they had the same feel. Even though the house was modern and looked as solid as a brick, it had the same abandoned feel as the cottage.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” T.W. said.

“Looks like it needs a little work.”

“No. The view!”

“I was looking at the house.”

“Hah!” T.W. snorted.  “You’ll gut it.”

“That bad?”

“Disaster.  The last owner didn’t repair the roof and there’s water damage throughout.  It’s been empty for two years although I think somebody actually lives here once in a while.  It’s a Grateful Dead sort of situation. I can’t really tell. Oh, by the way, did I mention that the last owner died here?”

“No. I don’t think you did. Thanks.”

“Just so you know.” T.W. leaned toward me and whispered. “We have to tell if it’s in the last three years.”


T.W. was wearing a black shawl and a black and orange blouse beneath it.  She looked ready for a good bullfight.  She said, “But how about this?” and she turned and swept her shawled arm away from the house, leading my eyes to the view.  She looked like she was coaxing a bull to pass.  “Isn’t this spectacular?”

She was sort of right.  Looking east you could see over much of the city.  You could see the Transamerica building, you could see Coit Tower, you could see the white and dark buildings of San Francisco stretching south as well.  You could even see bits of the Bay to the east beyond the city and if you walked to the right spot, you could see the Bay Bridge.  Unfortunately there was a very large tree growing up from below the grade of the grassy lawn. The tree spread its branches wide at our eye level and blocked all the views of the bay to the north.

“Yes, it’s a lovely view.  But how would you get your groceries up here? ”

“Well it is a bit of a hike.”

“Seventy three steps. You counted them, T.W. All vertical.”

“Haha. Good one. Yes. I always do that. You like to know.”

“Isn’t 73 steps a lot?”

“Not as bad a some. And what about the view?”

“Yes it’s a gorgeous view, once you get here.”

“You’d put in an elevator.”

“An elevator?”

“Yes, you would want to have parking and right now there isn’t any – you don’t want to be stuck parking on the street – so you’d want to put in a garage.  And if you were doing a garage it would make sense to build an elevator up from the garage to the main house.”

“Where is there room for a garage?”

“You’d just dig into the hill underneath the house.  We’ve looked into it.  It can be done. They’ve got plans for it.  I can send them to you.”

“Really? And then you would add an elevator?”

“Yes, it is no problem just when you are doing the garage you dig up to the surface and put the elevator in through there so it comes up right through the foundation of the house and then you can take it up to the second floor.  That way when you drive in with your groceries you can take them straight up to the kitchen.”

“Sounds expensive.”

“Oh it’s not too bad, you just want to do it at the same time you redo the house so you don’t have two projects. You never want to do two projects in San Francisco.”

She went on, “But doesn’t that view make it all worthwhile?”

“Well it’s a beautiful view.  I wish you could see the water to the north.”

“That tree is in the way, isn’t it?”

“Totally. Could we take it down?”

“No, you can’t do that here.”

“Isn’t it on the property?”

“Yeah, it’s your tree, but that doesn’t matter.  You can’t take down a tree.  Not in San Francisco.”

“How long would it take to do a project like this?”

“Oh it’s not too bad. It takes you about 6 months to get started if you get a good contractor to get all the permits and you don’t have to fight with the neighbors or anything. And then you know maybe you can convince him to get the work started right away.  So you ought to be able to be all moved in in two years, maybe a little less.”

“That’s a big undertaking.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just knock it down and build a house?”

“You can’t do that in San Francisco.  It’s all historic.”

“This is historic?  Historic bomb shelter?”

T.W. laughed, “Yeah isn’t it?  But you don’t want to try to get permission to take a house down.  You just keep the outside and you build a whole new inside.  It adds a little bit to the cost of construction but that’s what everybody does.”

“So we would have to have a modern bomb shelter and a New England cottage on the same property?”

“Yeah, though you would be amazed at what a good architect could do.  I am sure it would be spectacular.  I mean,” she turned again and gave a flip of her cloak to the east, “wouldn’t this make it all worthwhile?”

“I’m not so sure.  You really think this is a good choice for us?”

“Where are you going to get a view like this at this price?”

“What price is that?”

She told me the price. Even after living in San Francisco for a year I couldn’t believe it.

“Wow, does that include the cost of the reconstruction?”

“Ha! Good one. No that’s just for the property.  But they’ll probably include the plans if you pay the architect.”

“Seems like a lot.”

T.W. snorted. “For this view?”

“Just saying it is a lot of money.”

“By the way, if you don’t like the way the main house is laid out you could turn it around.”


“Yeah we had another client do it.  When you are doing the reconstruction, you just pick it up and you turn it.  You can turn it 180 degrees if you want.  That way you still keep the same building envelope and you can have it just the way you want it.”

“How about that.”

“I bet Marty will love it.” T.W. said. “The view is really spectacular.”

“How serious do you think they are about the price?  Do you think they would come down?”

“I don’t know, they just listed it. We haven’t even got to the bidding deadline.”

“Bidding deadline? What does that mean?”

“The cut-off day for bids. They are asking for all bids by next Wednesday.  They won’t open any before then.”


“Yeah, bids. I keep forgetting you haven’t bought a house in San Francisco before.”

“No this is would be our first.”

“They don’t want to be inundated with offers on the first day that they list the property so they tell everybody they won’t accept any offers until the bidding deadline.”

“They’ll get more than one?”

“Probably, yeah.  If they priced it right. They really want a multi-offer situation.  Then they can get the best deal.”


“I mean you never know, but they just put up the listing yesterday that’s why I wanted to get you in so quickly so you would have time.”

“It is Monday. Wednesday is not a lot of time.”

“You have got two days!”

“But what about financing? In two days? Can I just make an offer contingent on getting financing?”

“Jay. Come on. You can’t really do that.  I mean you could do it, but that would discount your offer a lot.  I wouldn’t even bother.  You have to be able to buy the house, to buy the house.”

“I guess they think that that if they get a bunch of bids they’ll get closer to the asking price.”

“Not exactly. I mean you’re right that when it’s a multi-offer situation the bids go up. But they’ll get the asking price, if it’s priced right. All the bids will at least be the asking price. It is just a question of how much more.”


“Yeah, but it has to be priced right. You don’t want to set the asking price too high.  You want to encourage people to bid.  If you set the asking price too high you might scare off people.”

“Wow. So the price is set low?”

“Not too low, but not too high.”

“Then everybody puts in a bid and it goes to the person that bids the highest?”

“Well, sometimes they do it that way, but not usually.  Usually they let everyone put their bids in and then after the deadline they look at the bids then they’ll come back and ask people if they want to submit another bid so that everybody gets another chance.”

“So you could be bidding for more than one round?”

“Yeah I’ve seen it go for a couple.  But they don’t always sell it to the high bidder.  Sometimes they want a sell to one that has the cleanest offer. You never know. There’s no real rules.”

“Is this how all the houses are sold out here?”

“It’s just been over the last year since the market has gotten hot.  We had a recession here and real estate was really slow.  We had some houses that were on the market for a long time, but now everybody is ready to buy.”


“We get this a lot with people from the east coast. They love the city and are really anxious to move here and then they take a look at the real estate and decide that maybe they would rather stay put.”


“Yeah, I haven’t sold a house to somebody from the east coast in a long time. But one good thing going for you guys. Did I mention that the old owner died here?”

“You did.”

“Well some people won’t buy a house where the owner died.”


“And so that takes them out of the competition. Really good news for you guys.”


– Jay Duret