The Best Area To Buy Property In San Francisco (Or Any Major City) Today

Golden Gate Heights View

View From Grand View Park, San Francisco

I realize not everybody lives in San Francisco, but there are insights into this article that can help you find the best area to buy property in your respective city as well. I’m just going to use San Francisco as an example since I live here.

If you want to buy real estate as an investment, it’s important the area not only has a strong domestic demand curve due to a robust labor market, but also a strong international demand curve as well. It’s the international demand curve that really lifts prices higher during good times.

Less than 0.5% of the housing stock is for sale at any given moment. It doesn’t take much to create a property bidding frenzy if you add international buyers to the mix of domestic buyers. Prices in London are being driven by Russian and Middle Eastern tycoons. Prices in Hong Kong are being driven by the wealthy Mainland Chinese. Prices in Singapore are being driven by wealthy Indonesians and expats. While prices in San Francisco are being driven by the tech boom, low interest rates, restrictive building codes, limited land and foreign buyers from China and Russia.

To sell property now is like selling Apple Inc. at $390 a while ago. Your property may have appreciated a lot since purchase, but there’s still a long ways to go if you can hold on. Thankfully for buyers, couples will always get divorced, homeowners will always want to upgrade or downgrade, and companies will always lay off or relocate their employees. There just isn’t enough supply to meet demand in San Francisco, and it’s unlikely there ever will be enough supply with the rise of tech powerhouses such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple.

Apple alone has gained more than $100 billion in market capitalization in 2014 and employs over 20,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now imagine what will happen to housing demand when Pinterest, Airbnb, Dropbox, and Uber go public in the next several years? They are hiring like crazy at $70,000 – $200,000 a pop and already have valuations in the $5 – $17 billion dollar range, each.

GENERAL PROPERTY BUYING STRATEGIES

1) Buy in an up and coming neighborhood. “Up and coming” is usually a euphemism for a not so great neighborhood. But there are various levels of “up and coming.” In San Francisco, the Tenderloin District has been “up and coming” ever since I came here in 2001. It’s strange there is such a high density of homeless people, prostitution, and drug dealers in such a small district close to the expensive shops in Union Square. But the idea is that if you can wait out the seediness, you will be rewarded with monetary gains since you get to buy at a large discount to median prices. The key is to estimate a discovery period of no longer than 7 years since statistics say that people change homes on average 7 years. You don’t want to be stuck waiting 20 years for your neighborhood to improve. You might die before then!

2) Buy in the most prime neighborhood possible. Prime neighborhoods are almost always fully built out with little supply. Turnover is sparse and when there is something available, hoards of people flock to the property. Even if you wanted to buy a $25 million house on Broadway and Lyon St. in Pacific Heights, aka “The Gold Coast” you can’t because none are available. Buying in a prime neighborhood is like being at the top of the triangle. The demand, or base of the triangle just continues to widen with job and population growth. People have a tendency to want what they can’t get.

3) Buy properties with a unique competitive advantage. Every home is different. Some might have much larger lots. Others might be situated on a quiet cul-de-sac or have sweeping ocean views. Properties surrounding the four sides of a park will always be highly sought after. Some would say simply owning a single family home in San Francisco, or a brownstone in Manhattan is a unique competitive advantage because of the cost and rarity of such properties compared to condos. Maybe you can’t afford to buy a single family home in the Marina district, but maybe you can afford to buy a smaller home 15 minutes further west in Parkside on a quiet street.

4) Buy property close to the best schools and convenient transportation. Good schools are always at the top of every parent’s list. Given spending on kids is almost inelastic because we all want what’s best for our kids, properties in good school districts tend to always hold up better during downturns and go up faster during upturns.

5) Buy property in a micro area few people have ever heard of. There are areas in each city where plenty of people have never heard of. Once everybody has heard of the area, it’s too late because you’ll be trying to outbid every Dick and Nancy when that unique property that comes up. Take a realtor map and circle some neighborhoods that look nice, but you’ve never visited before. Too often real estate buyers congregate around a certain set of areas. In San Francisco, they are: Pacific Heights, Cow Hollow, Marina, Cole Valley, Presidio Heights, Lower Haight, Hayes Valley, SOMA, and Noe Valley. If one can look outside of these neighborhoods (there are 50+ neighborhoods in SF), one will be amazed at how much more they can get.

6) Buy property from an out-of-town listing agent. The real estate industry has its own little silos just like every other industry. Everybody pretty much knows everybody or has heard of everybody. If you have an Oakland-based agent list a San Francisco property, there’s not the same type of love or attention. As a result, opportunities generally arise where you can do more negotiating because there will be less demand. The out of town listing agent is generally much less savvy about pricing and drumming up as much marketing attention as possible.

7) Buy a property that is an un-staged, fixer-upper. Many people have a very difficult time visualizing how space is used. This is the reason why staging companies exist, to help you with your lack of imagination and sell you the dream of what could be. To develop your sense of visualization, I encourage you to go to as many staged open houses as possible. Most people aren’t very connected with the construction world either. Finding a contractor, an electrician, a plumber, a brick-layer, a painter, and a landscaper are daunting tasks. Even if you find them, you might not have any idea about the right cost or timing. But if you do have experience remodeling homes, then you have a good leg up on the competition. Sweat equity turns into real equity.

THE BEST PLACE TO BUY IN SAN FRANCISCO: GOLDEN GATE HEIGHTS

The one neighborhood that fulfills all the criteria above is Golden Gate Heights.

Map Of San Francisco Neighborhoods

* The Great Unknown. I surveyed ~120 people over three months and only about 10% of them have ever heard of Golden Gate Heights. Yet 95% of them know the location of top-notch UCSF Medical and the hot Inner Sunset. Of the 100 or so people who have never heard of Golden Gate Heights, 30 of them included real estate agents, which was absolutely baffling since that’s their job. Meanwhile, I checked a relatively popular real estate blog called Curbed SF, and they don’t even have Golden Gate Heights listed on their homepage as one of their listed neighborhoods. For a real estate blog that posts about SF real estate 1-3X a day without knowing Golden Gate Heights is an incredible opportunity for savvy buyers to get ahead of the rush.

* Quiet Neighborhood. Practically all the properties in Golden Gate Heights consists of single family homes instead of condos. As a result, the neighborhood is family friendly and much less dense than other areas of San Francisco if you like more peace and quiet. The streets are very clean as you have fewer vagrants who are willing to trek up the hill to cause a ruckus, tag public utilities, or break into homes. Many homes are fully detached compared to homes that share walls in many other areas of San Francisco. At the same time, Golden Gate Heights is just a 10 minute walk away from all the restaurants, bars, and shops in the red hot Inner Sunset on 10th/9th and Irving St. There are over 50 restaurants within that five block circle.

* Ocean Views. The unique competitive advantage of Golden Gate Heights is that many of the homes face west towards the ocean. I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be able to find single family homes with 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms in San Francisco for under $2 million with panoramic ocean views. Every time I go on vacation, I choose the pool or courtyard view because the ocean view rooms are more than double the price. But now, can you imagine being able to watch an ocean view sunset for the rest of your life in the comfort of your own home? Priceless I say.

* Misconceptions. The greatest opportunities emerge when there is some type of unfound prejudice. Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix spoke at my business school commencement in 2006 at UC Berkeley. Netflix stock was at $10 and every single sell-side analyst was predicting Netflix’s death. The stock has since returned 40X and has made plenty of people very wealthy who had the foresight to see the online streaming potential. The same curious phenomena is happening in San Francisco among different neighborhoods.

No matter where you live in San Francisco, if an area is west of where you live, there will be prejudice against that area due to the belief that area is foggier than your own. The reality is, if it’s foggy in Golden Gate Heights, it’s foggy in the Marina (east). And if it’s foggy in the Marina, it’s foggy downtown (east of the Marina). Only in the Mission and SOMA districts is it less foggy, but the fog eventually gets to there too. Prejudice is due to ignorance. To check out the foggy perception myself, I drove to Golden Gate Heights 35 times over a three month period to go hiking at Grand View Park and search for homes. I found that only three of the 35 times the area was foggy, but so was everywhere else in San Francisco. The fog will eventually got to all of San Francisco, although June is admittedly more foggy in the western parts of the city.

* Fantastic Schools: If you look up any Golden Gate Heights property on Zillow or Trulia, you’ll see 10 out of 10 marks or “exemplary” marks in the schools section, which includes Clarendon Alternative Elementary, Alice Fong Elementary, and Lowell High School (magnet school). These high marks are in deep contrasts to many other public schools in the city. Unfortunately, the logic of getting into your local public school is not a guarantee in San Francisco. If a resident wants to send their child to private school, they can send them to St. Ignatius College Prep about 20 blocks away in the Outer Sunset.

* Transportation: Transportation is convenient with the 6 Bus or N-Judah train both going downtown. There is also the 6 bus that shuttles residents south of Golden Gate Heights and into the Inner Sunset. There is also the 91 bus the brings residents along 19th avenue, through the Presidio north, along Fisherman’s Wharf, and back into downtown for one big circle. Golden Gate Heights, Parkside, West Portal, Ingleside Heights, Merced Heights and other neighborhoods close by are going to become highly coveted areas because they can easily shoot down Highway 1 to 280 to get to all the tech/internet companies down south. Convenience to the highway heading south is why Noe Valley really started heating up about five to seven years ago.

* Inexpensive: At an average price per square foot of ~$600-$800, Golden Gate Heights is an absolute steal compared to other neighborhoods in San Francisco. There is no major international city I can think of where one can buy a single family home with ocean views for under $1,000/sft. I have researched properties in Hong Kong, Singapore, New York City, London, and Mumbai and everything is way over $1,000/sqft. When a 1,530 sqft, 2/2.5 Pacific Heights/Cow Hollow/Marina area home with no views sells for $3.4 million ($2,200/sqft), it is an inevitability that prices will start rising elsewhere.

EXPAND YOUR PROPERTY HUNT

Golden Gate Heights Sunset

Priceless Golden Gate Heights Sunset in June

I have lived in San Francisco for over 13 years and I just discovered Golden Gate Heights in 2014 because I decided to expand my search and really do some deep due diligence. I just assumed it was financially impossible to get a home with ocean views so I never looked. It’s kind of like never asking out a super model because you think you have no chance…. until you do.

The majority of prime real estate in San Francisco is closer to $1,100-$1,500 per square foot if we exclude the $3.4 million “outlier” mentioned above at $2,200/sqft. But even at $1,500/sqft, that’s still cheaper than the $2,000 – $3,000 per square foot in places like Hong Kong, London, and Manhattan. San Francisco is turning into a major international city before our eyes with all the cranes downtown due to the profitability of tech firms e.g. Facebook is set to pull in over $10 billion in revenue and $2.5 billion in net profits in 2014. Revenue and earnings are estimated to grow in the double digits for years.

I see the average Golden Gate Heights view home reaching well over $1,000/sqft by 2019 if not sooner as long as the economy remains stable. Let’s just hope local residences discover Golden Gate Heights before foreign buyers do. From what I know and hear, Chinese and Russian buyers are buying prime properties around the nation in droves, sight unseen.

Property will always be my favorite asset class to build wealth. And real wealth is all about generating cash flow and owning real assets that can be enjoyed and controlled by you. Property sellers in 2009-2011 are probably kicking themselves for selling if they did not roll their proceeds into a new property or alternative investment. 10 years from now, property sellers will probably be kicking themselves again for selling in Golden Gate Heights and other parts of San Francisco.

The power of inflation cannot be beat. Sooner or later there will be a marketing term, “Four million dollar views” instead of “million dollar views.” After all, who can buy gas for $1 a gallon anymore?

About the author: Sam is a real estate enthusiast who first started investing in SF in 2003 after sitting on the sidelines for a couple years to learn about the various neighborhoods. He owns two rental properties in San Francisco’s north end, one vacation rental in Lake Tahoe, and property in Honolulu. Sam received an MBA with an emphasis in finance and real estate from UC Berkeley in 2006. Roughly 35% of his net worth is made up of real estate, with the rest in stocks, bonds, private equity, CDs, and an internet business. The best real estate advice he’s ever gotten: never sell. 

Recommendations For Homebuyers Or Homeowners:

* Check Your Credit Score: Take a moment to check your free TransUnion credit score through GoFreeCredit.com, a company I trust. 30% of credit reports have errors, which could put a serious hamper on your refinancing or new loan borrowing abilities. I had a $8 late payment I didn’t even know I owed crush my score by 100 points come up during my last refinance. The average credit score for approved mortgage applicants is around 741 now. Do you know where you stand?

* Shop Around For A Mortgage: LendingTree Mortgage offers some of the lowest refinance rates today because they have a huge network of lenders to pull from. If you’re looking to buy a new home, get a HELOC, or refinance your existing mortgage, consider using LendingTree to get multiple offer comparisons in a matter of minutes. When banks compete, you win.

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    My friend was just suggesting something similar recently. He wants to buy in an up and coming area in NYC since the prime neighborhoods are too expensive. Even Bushwick in BK which is not the greatest area is seen as up and coming…and some realtors have started to call it “East Williamsburg” to make it sound fancier. It seems like any area that is convenient to the subways and close enough to Manhattan will do well.

  2. AC says

    I am leaving Austin, TX and moving to DC this summer. I am doing what I can to find the best neighborhood and resale potential in 7-8 years in northern VA. It seems that inside the beltway, garages, and houses that back up to wooded lots are the most attractive to home buyers. I agree that competitive advantages are key. I found that in my current neighborhood in Austin and I bought while people were still not seeing the potential of the neighborhood. One thing that I would add is to overlook the inside photos and just concentrate on the area. In fact, buy a home that needs fixing so you can negotiate a better price. You can also add your own touch as well. People who have already gone in and replaced everything and put granite on their countertops have likely grossly inflated the price already.

    • says

      I totally agree with buying an unstaged, fixer. It’s hard for people to imagine space without design, hence why there are so many staged homes. And it’s hard for people to get their mind around doing the remodeling. But if you have someone you can depend on, at a good price, s/he is well worth it!

    • Rob says

      AC, do you have any idea what areas in/around Austin meet these criteria that Sam has written about?? My son is contemplating transferring there in a few months for work, the company is in Cedar Park. Any insight on the ” up and coming” type neighborhoods would be great, he doesnt have any kids yet, so the school issue really isnt an issue. Thanks for any help.

      • Jon says

        78702– Central East Austin is quickly gentrifying. Directly adjacent to downtown, state capital, and UT, but still relative bargains to be found.

      • AC says

        I would advise your son to stay west of I-35. If he is looking at Austin proper he should look at houses inside of 183 close to Burnet or Lamar. There are probably some gems still in that area if he doesn’t mind fixing something up. Otherwise East Austin is still up and coming but too far for your son. Commuting into Cedar Park from Round Rock will probably be a good option. I don’t know much about the town, but it will be easier on him than Austin, because of the property taxes.

      • AC says

        It’s hard to find bargains now in Austin. Everything is growing fast! If he works in Cedar Park, he should consider living there or in Round Rock for an easy commute. If he really wants to living Austin (which I don’t blame him), he should look for a place just south of 183 close to Burnet. I doubt there is anything there reasonable that doesn’t require some fixing up, but it’s close to a lot of what makes Austin a great city.

        I live South, which there is nothing better! However, that would be a nightmare commute for your son everyday!

        • Rob says

          Thanks for the replies, just one other question if i may. Being that my son is is only 25 and doesnt really have much ” life experience” yet, I’m trying to do as much leg work as i can for him. Is there any areas around Austin and/or Cedar Park that you would consider ” combat zones ” or ” i wouldnt live there if it was free ” areas to absolutely stay away from? Thanks again.

          • AC says

            I guess seedier is a relative term, because there are very few rough neighborhoods. East Austin used to be like that, but it’s experiencing a renaissance. He needs to make a visit out there 1-2 times to get a feel for some places, before signing into anything. The further away west of I-35 the better.

        • says

          Just take a vacation to SF or NYC, check out some properties, and everywhere will feel like a bargain!

          Coming from one of the more expensive and established neighborhoods in SF, Golden Gate Heights felt like Austin prices for example. $650-$800/sqft with ocean views is dirt cheap.

  3. Austin says

    Great points on your strategies.

    It would be neat to crowd-source qualitative reviews like this for various cities.

  4. Mike says

    Love the SF map! Good luck on your property search.
    Readers from other areas could probably make a similar map using city-datadotcom.
    A great way to discover great neighborhood gems.

    Research!

    • says

      Thanks. There are so many opportunities once you aggressively hit the payment and look, and see, and wait, and feel. So many buyers rely on their agents to show them what’s out there. And so many agents are going with the herd.

  5. says

    I was glad to see you mention #4) purchasing in a good school district. That’s is the tactic we have taken with our rental properties, buying in the best school district in our area. Every time we have a vacancy they get snapped up quickly. People can’t purchase in the area because property values are high or they can’t get a mortgage. So rental property becomes their only way in.

  6. SP says

    Just a note – Lowell isn’t a neighborhood high school. It’s the city’s magnet school; admission requires an application rather akin to college.

    However, if your kids were to get into Lowell, then yes, the location is ideal :) Guessing that the local high school for GGH would be Lincoln.

    • says

      You are correct! But every parent must believe their kid is smart enough to go to a good public school, and I’m biased for public schools because I attended both growing up, and public schools were just fine.

      • SP says

        I went to Lowell, so I’m definitely biased toward saying public school education is great. ;)

        Personally, I’m all for public school education. I think you learn a lot socially and in a worldly sense that you can’t elsewhere; book learning can be supplemented far more easily.

  7. G says

    I am looking for a new home and my primary lookout is good schools (rating 7-10), as I have kids. I use Redfin.com. They give me the school ratings on the map with the property prices as I search in selected zipcodes. It is interesting to see that expensive homes are around good rated schools or vice versa. I think that would definately make the home easier to sell (later), or for rent and chances of getting good tenants increases too. I think that is a safe route to build wealth when you always have positive income. I would hate to have to evict someone, have massive damages on the buildings or a property sitting in the market for a long time. I hope to find something soon.

  8. G says

    Redfin.com helps me find the prices I can afford with school ratings next to each other on the map. I like that feature. I used that on my first home. It was a location noone was willing to move into until recently. I am planning on my second property now – only because I need to move to a better school district and closer to work. My only concern towards building wealth through property is the nightmare stories I have heard on how the law is always more protective on the renters, eviction notices, damage done on properties etc. Anyone have any advice on those? Maybe that is a good topic to write about Sam ;-)

  9. SF Buyer says

    Super thorough article! Blows all the articles by The Chronicle or other real estate blogs which act more like gossip magazines out of the water.

    I’ve never heard of Golden Gate Heights as well, so I’ll definitely check out the neighborhood. The Inner Sunset is great, and it’s funny you mention the fog. It’s foggy everywhere when it’s foggy. I totally agree with you that there is some snobbery regarding the weather, wherever one lives.

    I lost out on five properties already in SF in the more known areas. Thanks for the suggestion. Hope nobody else finds out :)

    • SF Local says

      Hmmmm. You must be new to San francisco, because if you weren’t you’d know that it can be foggy, gray and in the 50′s in some parts of the city, and at the same time brilliantly sunny and in the 70′s in other parts. The “fingers” of fog come in on predictable and regular intervals, and usually only cover certain areas of the city during the day (and this get’s more extreme in the summer months, when the Central Valley heats up and sucks in the cold air coming of the Pacific). As someone who lives in an area just inside and on the edge of one of the fog “fingers”, I can tell you that it’s no fun looking up and seeing grey for days on end during the summer, while at the same time being able to see the blue sky at the edges of the horizon, and knowing that elsewhere in SF people are enjoying a warm and sunny day.

      • says

        What’s wrong with going to Hawaii for vacation during the summer?

        Or cheaper yet, driving a little East? The fog catches up to us all in SF during the day. It’s just a matter of time.

  10. says

    My uncle used to buy fixer-uper in Jersey City, NJ and made a lot of money with them. Jersey City is across the river from NYC and it’s booming right now. I don’t really have the funds right now to get into a house, but if I did I would buy there.

  11. says

    These are all good points! I used them to buy in SF about 9 years ago. In addition, there were a few more to avoid such as the foggy areas, areas prone to earthquakes, properties unable to get earthquake insurance and tenants in common (TIC) properties. We ended up in Lower Pacific Heights.

  12. Ace says

    Sam,

    I like that photo! You can clearly see Golden Gate Park and Lands End. Actually the Presidio too.

    Did you take it?

    • says

      I took it indeed. I take 95% of all photos here on this site.

      Grand View Park has the most amazing view in all of SF. Now think about the views of some of the Golden Gate Height homes.

  13. john cranshaw says

    I have lived 20 years two blocks away from the photo you have from Grand View Park. We have unobstructed ocean views, plenty of parking space, and the safest neighborhood in San Francisco. It has always mystified me why this wasn’t a “hot” neighborhood for real estate. Looks like it might be now, and I have mixed feelings about that. I love our neighborhood just the way it is.

    • says

      Sorry to slowly put GGH on the map, even though it’s always been there. Perhaps you’d like to sell me your house? :)

      I’m baffled by folks selling in this area at such low prices.

      1745 16th Ave just closed on 6/2 at $1.465 mil and is an absolute steal given its 2,400 foot size. I thought it would go for at least $1.6-$1.7 million. It’s views are obstructed though. But man, well done by the buyers! If the property was marketed better, I’m sure it would have sold for $1.6+.

  14. says

    Another option to take if location is not your prime characteristic is to buy foreclosed properties, these could be slightly cheaper than the market price. Property sale by auction, can also be a sleek avenue to acquire cheap but interesting property.

  15. says

    This post rocks! Wow. Even as long as I have lived in San Francisco there are still new things that I learn about this that amaze me, and this is one of them. I have not heard of Golden Gate Heights either but it sounds wonderful. San Francisco sometimes seems small but there are so many areas that I still haven’t spent much time in even after nine or so years and this neighborhood is one of them.

    Last year I finally started spending some time in the mission and loved it. I need to continue exploring more neighborhoods because San Francisco has so much to offer and I love that the food, weather, and diversity are amazing.

    I have not been following the property market too closely in detail, but I do know that it is absolutely crazy, so that is cool that there is such a sweet hidden gem left at great value. I can see GGH taking off as more people find out about it. SF property is hot, hot, hot!

    • says

      Amen.

      We are likely to land in Texas when the time comes — nice economic dynamism with mostly reasonable home prices.

      • says

        Yep, same here.

        My house is the cheapest one in my neighborhood- we paid $187,500 (I think???) earlier this year. Not only it is on 1/3 of an acre, but it’s 2,000 s.f. with four bedrooms and 2.5 baths. It’s also fancy schmancy with granite, custom woodwork, and a professionally landscaped yard. I have no idea what it would cost in a big city, but I know I probably couldn’t afford it. I guess it’s what you get used to. I would rather have a really nice house and live in a not-so-cool place, I guess. Less pressure.

        • SP says

          Not everyone buying does it for investment purposes. I’m hoping to find something in SF, though that dream gets further and further away. Why do I keep trying? I’m a native SF person… being in a “cool” location has nothing to do with it, it’s all about being near family. I’m also very much a big-city person.

          There are other intangibles, too, because I’m an ethnic minority. I’m utterly certain people are very nice in cheaper parts of the country, but it can be a very isolating, unhappy experience if you feel like the only one of your kind (race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc) anywhere.

          Believe me, I’d like a nice house too! But I’ve tried to live elsewhere, and I know for me it won’t work.

    • says

      Ah, many would say they don’t get people living in the rural MidWest either.

      But I’ve found one of the best strategies for achieving financial independence sooner is to make your money in a great international city, and then downsize to a cheaper city.

      Once you live in NYC, SF, HK, London, Singapore, Paris, etc… practically EVERYTHING else is cheaper. But to go in reverse is much more difficult.

      • AC says

        That’s my plan for moving to DC.

        I will add that even though you don’t think you will consider the potential of a home purchase, it is very important to consider resale value in case you need to sell it right away for a job transfer or other significant life event.

    • Ace says

      I hear you. I’d take the beautiful Ohio farm land; laid-back, friendly, and good looking natives, any day. Great quality of life.

      You’re not missing much in these overpriced cities. Heavy traffic, higher crime, no place to park.

      And I was just driving around Manhattan a few weeks ago. It’s ok to visit….. But really? Why would anyone want to live there unless they had to? And I’m a Chicago guy, so I’m no stranger to city living.

      Best solution….. Buy rental properties in those locations, but live elsewhere!

      If you want the dense city experience, just visit for the weekend.

            • Ace says

              You’re dodging the question.

              Quality of life is a very deep complex construct that goes way beyond real estate prices. And no….. You don’t always get what you pay for.

              In most cases, you pay higher housing prices simply because there isn’t enough housing being built in that particular area.

              I’ll take a 2000 sq ft ranch with it’s own private lake any day over some condo in a city. Room to breath!

          • SP says

            A person can love an area regardless of how much the real estate costs. If you like having lots of space, that’s great that what you like is so cheap. But some of us need the intangibles that an urban area affords to be happy. Turns out a lot of other people have the same idea, so… it’s expensive.

            • Ace says

              I don’t disagree that many folks just need urban busyness. But “quality of life” is much deeper than real estate prices.

              You don’t always get what you pay for.

            • SP says

              Well, in my case… It’s true I like urban busy-ness, but I could find in other, cheaper states for sure. But what keeps me in SF is that I can’t buy the same level of cultural diversity nor the concentration of my ethnic background in Ohio. Plus, all my family’s here, too. I don’t doubt a lakeside home would be a lovely existence, but it’d be awfully lonely to not share it easily and often with family/friends.

            • Ace says

              What about the intangibles of rural living?

              And remember…..I’m a big city guy. I think this is a very fair question. We should be asking this.

              And what if an individual has access to both: lives in a rural or semi-rural area but has a relatively short drive to a dense urban area?

            • Ace says

              Hey SP,

              I think you might be shocked as to how much the rest of country has changed. For example Columbus:

              http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/hello-columbus/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

              And…. One of my favorite Wisconsin cities: Madison.
              Ever been to Madison? Beautiful place. A whole lot water around there. Much diversity. Nearby farm land.

              You may not have family there, but, I think it’s a good example of a very open minded, cosmopolitan demographic in a semi-rural area.

              I hope someone from these areas takes the time to add to our thread? Or areas like this?

            • SP says

              Ace –

              For my own experience as an ethnic minority, I’ve had such a difference in quality of life when living in an area where there isn’t any ethnic majority (SF) versus where I’m still very obviously a minority but I’ve got a little bit of company.

              Looking at the Columbus, OH 2010 census demographics, it’s overwhelmingly European-American (67%), with the next largest group being African-American (22%). Latino-Americans and Asian-Americans are just 5%. (Latino-Americans are also 4% of the population.) Madison is even less diverse overall, skewing even more heavily toward Euro-Americans (79%) as the dominant group, with 7% African-American, 7% Asian, and 7% Latino-American.

              Contrast that with SF, which is 48% Euro-American, 7% African-American, 14% Latino-American, and 33% Asian-American; NYC, which is 50% Euro-American, 16% African-American, 10% Asian-American, and 27% Latino-American; and LA, which is 41% Euro-American, 9% African-American, 10% Asian American, and 53% Latino-American.

              Given that my group is Asian-American, there’s going to be a huge difference for me (emphasis: for me!) in how comfortable I feel in SF & the bay area versus Ohio. I do think for ethnic minorities, being in a place where you feel like there’s a sizable density of people who share your culture and outlook is a huge draw. Huge (expensive) cities tend to offer that as an option. But I don’t think that means other people can’t want or love something different than what makes me comfortable/happy.

              As to your question about semi-rural living… I think it’s an option for sure. But in CA specifically, it’s become so developed around the ultra-dense urban hubs that there aren’t really any semi-rural areas within reasonable driving distance. San Jose used to be farmland and orchards just fifty years ago… even twenty years ago, I remember much of it still being undeveloped. Now it’s heavy with strip malls and suburban housing.

            • Ace says

              Thanks SP for the well thought out response.

              You threw many numbers out there. Did you notice that the population size of Columbus and San Francisco are comparable?

              It was no accident that I chose Columbus as a talking point.

              I get what you’re saying. It just feels like such a constraining attitude, but I do understand the comfort of living in the town you grew up in. Everybody has that.

              Anyway, good luck to you.

              I’m stilling hoping that someone living in some of these areas could chime in and add some insight.

  16. JayK says

    I live in a two flat building on Funston near Judah.

    One of the best things about this location is hiking in GG Heights, just up the hill.

    I hope the word doesn’t get out too soon how great the neighborhood is.

    Cheers

    JayK

  17. says

    My criteria for buying are totally personal – I want a rural lot, at least 1 acre with trees, some slope is okay but needs to be flat enough to play with the dogs, no/minimal light pollution, less than 1 hr from work, quiet area, I’m willing to do work on the house as long as it’s properly priced. I’m hoping to make this my “forever” home so although I’m taking resale into account it isn’t a high priority.

    When I bought my current house I knew it was just a starter home so I bought a slightly run down house in an up-and-coming neighborhood, made some updates, did a lot of DIY to save money, and five years later I’m under contract for almost twice what I bought it for.

  18. nbsdmp says

    Sam, so does the vast majority of the population of SF fall in the 1%’er club? Even if you put 20% on $1.5M property you have to have a big income to get a jumbo mortgage that size. Are the qualification rules different out there or is everybody just that rich? Hard to imagine there is not a little irrational exuberance involved…(same thing is going on here actually).

    • says

      About 35% of the SF population own. I don’t think they are mostly 1%ers at all. Mostly dual-income folks making $70,000 – $200,000 each = $140,000 – $400,000 total.

      35-40% of the buyers are cash buyers or offer no financing contigency.

      Given rates are at 2.625% – 4% for the majority of borrowers, you only need to make around $200,000 to afford a $1 million mortgage, which I think is the IDEAL COMBO for tax deductions, and minimizing AMT.

      http://www.financialsamurai.com/the-ideal-mortgage-amount-is-1-million-dollars/

      • nbsdmp says

        Yes, I understand that you can technically afford payments on a $1M mortgage if you make $200k, I just did not think that mortgage companies were lending like that anymore…at least in the Midwest they are not (just had this conversation with some bank exec’s last night).

        I would guess that their is a pretty high concentration of wealth in the greater SF area for sure.

  19. Steve says

    Market going wacky down here in San Carlos, CA. More rebuilds to bring homes up to 2800 sq feet on a 7200 sq foot plot than you can shake a stick at. Friends of friends of ours just bought that size house — move in condition — newly rebuilt — for $2.1 million. Bubble. Licious. In a fairly middling town.

  20. says

    Great article! Great tips, especially the one about working with an realtor from out of town. I was really lucky with my house. My street was still a little rough in 2009, but it’s changed a lot over the past five years.

  21. SFist says

    Is there a reason you left out Chinatown and The Castro? on your map, two of the most iconic neighborhoods in SF.

    • says

      No particular reason. I left out Telegraph Hill too, but it’s there. I was trying to highlight the neighborhoods that are showing a lot of demand/change, while pegging traditional older neighborhoods like Pac Heights.

      Do you have a map of SF with annotations or a post you’d like to share? I’m happy to post it.

  22. SF Lover says

    Great post and great analysis on Golden Gate Heights! The SF property market is crazy now, and it’s totally a herd mentality, I agree. A lot of people wrote off Bernal Heights and the Dogpatch area, and now look at them. Even Hunter’s Point/Bay View has condos going for $900/sqft now.

    People selling in Golden Gate Heights are crazy for selling so cheap now. It’s so funny when you are a buyer of property you should convince sellers that the world is coming to an end and they should sell now and vice versa.

    I 100% agree with your assessment on the market still having a long ways to run. The Inner Sunset is great and GGH is a logical choice to look for homes. Access to 19th AVe/Highway 1 is huge for South Bay commuters.

  23. John says

    Sam,
    Do you think Bayview or Hunters point will ever be cleaned up of the criminal elements making it a desirable place to live? My friend and I were having this discussion since Mission is no longer as dangerous with Twitter and all yuppies moving in

  24. nick says

    Great post!

    We looked at Golden Gate Heights as well when we house hunted in the City and property there has definitely been selling at more reasonable rates (by SF standards, at least) … Generally around $700/sqft.

    That being said, I just wanted to clarify three things you mentioned. One of the biggest turn offs for us for GGH is even though it was “close” to the N-Judah, it was an incredibly steep walk. Using hillmapper.com, you can see we’re talking about a 4 block walk up a 16 degree grade… not something to scoff at.

    Also, I think it depends on time of year, but we definitely see more fog in GGH than we do on the eastern sides of the city… It’s just a fact. It’s fine to acknowledge that, I personally think the fog is really cool and magical. It’s a distinctly San Francisco thing. But it does happen alot more often there. I don’t know if your drives were during the past few months, but the difference really only happens from June – August when the California Current collides with the Pacific. (In fact, a coworker lives in the Outer Richmond and it’s already started this summer.) I’d imagine if you did the same drives in July, you’d see a marked difference.

    Finally, ‘local schools’ are pretty much irrelevant in San Francisco. The entire system is a Unified System, which means kids are not automatically sent to their local school. You have a pretty complex application system, and yes while location is a factor, it is far from the only factor. This pretty much negates the “good school district” pricing advantage that most cities exhibit (a notable example is Park Slope in Brooklyn, NY)

    But aside from that, I agree with lots of your assessments. GGH/Inner Sunset is great for people who work Downtown and great for people who work in the Peninsula (taking Laguna Honda down to Glen Park to 280 is definitely the fastest way to get South)

    Good luck with your hunt!

    • says

      Hi Nick,

      You’re right about the June – August fog. But it is definitely more foggy everywhere in SF now. I went yesterday and it was definitely foggy there, but also foggy in Pacific Heights and freezing and foggy and windy downtown.

      There is some type of illusion that one part of SF is warm and sunny and one part out west is freezing cold and foggy. It doesn’t work that way in SF.

      Where did you end up buying?

      • nick says

        We ended up following a lot of the advice you laid out in the article. We found a property that had motivated sellers, needed a bit of work (it was in a nicely maintained complex but the actual unit was last renovated in the mid 80s) and had limited showings (they didn’t want to have people walking through their house.)

        We ended up in Potrero Hill in the end and are glad the hunt is over! The house hunt was incredibly stressful and demoralizing (getting outbid by 40% on a house in the Inner Sunset really was a blow.)

        Good luck with your search!

  25. Pete says

    I just bought a totally renovated 5 BR, 3 BA, 2,100 square foot single family home in the Outer Richmond for $1.25M, and couldn’t be happier. After getting married and selling my Marina Condo 2 1/2 years ago, I have researched neighborhoods and looked for single family homes all over the City, and the Outer Richmond is the best value by far. We are 2 blocks from GG Park, 12 blocks from the ocean, and just a few blocks from Lincoln Park Golf Course, Palace of Fine Arts, and Land’s End. You can see the ocean from our deck. Right now Outer Richmond is a terrific value. For some reason, property in this part of the Richmond is discounted relative to Mid- and Inner- Richmond, even though the quality of neighborhoods varies block to block irrespective of what part of the Richmond you live in, the weather is the same, and the express bus from Outer Richmond takes the same amount of time to get to the FiDi as the express bus from the Inner Richmond (I know this first-hand, as I have lived in both neighborhoods). What’s more, Balboa Street in Outer Richmond is filled with nice shops, restaurants and even a movie theater, whereas mid-Richmond has nothing similar. Outer Richmond is a quiet, safe neighborhood, with many single family homes. I think it is much better than Inner Sunset or Golden Gate Heights, since I believe it’s far better to stay north of Golden Gate Park, surrounded by premium neighborhoods (most of the best neighborhoods are in the northern part of the City). When the techie singles currently living in condos in the Mission and SOMA get married, they are sure to come out this way….I wonder why you have no remarks related to this great neighborhood.

    • says

      Pete, it’s natural to be biased for our respective neighborhoods where we bought. I guess when I think about living out there where you are, I think, and probably many other people think they’d just focus on Sea Cliff, and nowhere else.

      If you are beyond the Central Richmond (~20-30 ave), restaurants/bars etc gets sparse, and then there’s the colder weather.

      In terms of location, being in the top left hand corner of the SF Map is inconvenient for those who want to work down south and downtown. If you are in the Inner Sunset or Golden Gate Heights, it’s easy to get down south at the very least, and take N-Judah downtown.

      There are many fantastic neighborhoods south of Golden Gate Park, such as Noe Valley.

      The Outer Richmond could very well be the next great SF investment. The question is: What is the competitive advantage to living out there?

      For Golden Gate Heights, it’s the multi-million dollar panoramic ocean views.

      • Pete says

        Sam,

        Thanks for responding to my post. To be clear, my preference for the Outer Richmond is not a bias but based on 2 1/2 years of thoroughly exploring the City for a new home after my family outgrew my Marina Condo (I had also spent a few years exploring the city before I bought that property). Let me explain:

        From your reply I can see that you are not aware there are about 8 blocks of great shops, restaurants and even a movie theater in the Outer Richmond on Balboa Street between 31st and 39th Avenues–I didn’t know this either until I had explored this great neighborhood. I invite you to check it out!

        Also, as I said, we have an ocean view, too, right off of our back deck. Not only that, we can walk to the ocean, which is just 12 blocks away.

        While Seacliff is great and adjacent to the Outer Richmond, you will need $3M+ to get into that small, tony neighborhood. In the Outer Richmond, you can get a single family home for around $1M. My house was remodeled down to the studs, and cost just $1.25M for a 5 BR, 3BA 2100 square foot single family home with great finishes and a nice, useable back yard for my son.

        The commute from Outer Richmond to the FiDi is terrific, and there are several express buses serving this neighborhood that quickly get you downtown. Muni express bus 31AX serves the Outer Richmond near Balboa Street and it takes just 25 minutes to get to the FiDi where I work, virtually the same amount of time it took me to get to work when I lived in the Inner Richmond and took the 1BX. (The Outer Richmond express buses serve a few blocks in this neighborhood, then head straight downtown). Similarly, the 38AX takes 25 minutes to get to the FiDi, for those who live near Geary in the Outer Richmond (I’m more partial to the south part of the Outer Richmond).

        The weather in Outer Richmond is virtually the same as that in the Inner Richmond (I rented in the Inner Richmond for a year, so I know.)

        So the competitive advantages are: (1) Close proximity to the Ocean, GG Park, Ocean, Lincoln Park and Palace of Fine Arts; (2) Quick and convenient commute downtown; (3) Great neighborhood shops and restaurants; (4) safe and quiet location in the North side of the City, which contains most of the best neighborhoods nearby (Seacliff, Presidio Heights, Marina, Pacific Heights, etc.); and (5) relatively low cost for all the above.

        Please consider the above–you might look out here for your next investment or even to live!

        Thanks again, Sam, I really enjoyed your article.

        Pete

        • says

          Sounds good Pete. I definitely believe that there’s great value in Outer Richmond, and you are right that I’m not too familiar with 31-39th Avenues and Balboa. I was just highlighting why I didn’t highlight it, and why others may not think about it as well. It’s OK to have biases. Everybody has their biases on location, which is part of my post.

          BTW, why did you sell 2.5 years ago in the Marina? Why not hold on until you bought your new house? Just curious to know your story as the Marina area is hot, hot, hot right now.

  26. Hollister says

    Interesting article. Wondering if on one of your journeys through the Golden Gate heights, have you ever wandered into its neighbor the Inner Parkside? This relatively unknown area has many if not all of the strengths that Golden Gate heights has, being unknown, ocean views almost as good as GGH, equal if not better access to 19th Ave./280 south, equal if not better public transportation via proximity to west portal where 3 MUNI lines run through (L,K,M), and most importantly, relatively cheap. I think GGH is close to jumping the shark so to speak, however the Inner Parkside basically has all the element of GGH while still having retaining Parkside pricing. However, recent sales and offerings are disturbing my basic assumptions.

    • says

      I see value in Inner Parkside as well. The entire area close to 19th avenue south with views are a goldmine IMO. Best value in SF over the next five years.

      I think GGH is more interest now because it’s closer to the center of SF, and it’s closer to the Inner Sunset which is red hot. I’ve looked around aggressively there, and things are going bonkers. Irving and 10th/9th is a great spot with a lot of good food and diversity.

      Interest will first spread to GGH and then to Inner Parkside and move south once all the homes in GGH are scooped up.

  27. Chuck says

    Interesting how we look at neighborhoods outside the city proper as prices go above affordability.

    What about Westwood Highlands? We just locked in a place there. Close to St Francis wood, rare (for this city) detached houses, and safe nice neighborhood close to city transport.

    Satisfied paying about $850 a foot for a 1400 house that isn’t a fixer. Looks like we are in sf to stay for a while. There are many worse places to be. Love the blog btw.

  28. John Cranshaw says

    Just curious what you think of the potential for the Forest Knolls area of San Francisco? Upsides: quiet, fantastic views, easy parking, near good schools (though as some posters have noted, that can be a bit of a crap shoot in SF), right by UCSF Medical Center. Also, seems somewhat sunnier and less windy than where we live in Golden Gates Heights and has lots of forests and hiking trails. Has some of the same views as Golden Gates Heights, just a bit higher up. Downside: steep hill (which is what gets you the good views, of course). It is interesting that the property we bought there a year ago comes with a fair amount of land with allowance for building another building, provided they are connected by a staircase. I’m no real estate whiz, but it seems that may possibly have potential.

    • says

      Sounds good to me John. I think the crazy prices in the Marina, Pac Heights, Presidio Heights, etc will force more people to look around our great city.

      I do like to walk to restaurants and stuff though. Is Forest Knolls walkable anywhere?

      • John Cranshaw says

        Unfortunately, as it is a steep hill walking to stores and GG Park is tough. Walk to UCSF Medical Center is easy. I guess we have to wait for Google’s self-driving cars to pick us up, then it will be a more desirable neighborhood. Nice homes, however, and fantastic views. And I hear the forests there are going be be designated a bird sanctuary which is not bad for a major city.

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