Your $1.5 Million Dollar Starter Home: Living Small Making Big Bucks

Expensive Small House
$1.5 million for 1,260 sqft

All real estate is local. San Francisco is clearly the most beautiful city in America (you know it's true). But, there's a steep price to pay to live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Housing is expensive. Even a starter home is far from affordable for a lot of people.

Example Of A Starter Home In San Francisco

Real estate is my favorite asset class and I follow the SF market very closely. The real estate market is hot. At the time of writing, the cheapest single family house on the market in San Francisco's north-end has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and 1,266 square feet of living space for $1.5 million.

The location is good, but $1.5 million is pricey for a starter home! The kitchen and bathroom upstairs is outdated, and there is not even a small yard to play around in. Maybe the house will sell for $1.4 million. But, that's a large sum of money to pay for a small house without views.

There are two bedrooms upstairs where a couple and child can sleep. Downstairs is the third bedroom behind the garage. But, the problem is that you've got to walk through the garage to get to the third bedroom. Hey, at least there is a garage right?

I really hope the owners get $1.5 million or more for the house. If so, there is no doubt in my mind that real estate is back with a vengeance here in San Francisco. The funny thing is, my Manhattan friends are salivating that $1.5 million can get a stand alone house with a garage! Surely they'd have to pay over $2 million in NYC for a starter home.

The Second Cheapest House In San Francisco's North End

Balcony overlooking Bay
$3.5 million house with Bay View

The second cheapest house next to the Bay is a trust sale for $3.5 million. That's right, the next cheapest house on the market is $2 million more!

I actually think this house is worth it. It has 4,000 square feet, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and views of the Bay. However, it needs about $500,000 in work to make it sweet. If I was a tech executive worth $15-20 million, I'd buy this house hands down.

The upstairs has a huge living room and balcony overlooking the Bay. There's even an elevator in the back to help carry older folks with bad knees up from street level. The house is on a busy street. But, that's OK since the street quiets down at night, when you're at home and sleeping anyway.

The rest of the 10 or so houses on the market in this area range from $3.6 million all the way up to $36 million. That price range is way beyond what a starter home should cost. There clearly is not enough inventory for the “average” $400,000-$500,000 a year couple looking to buy a reasonable $1.5-$2.5 million dollar home.

How About A Mega Mansion?

$18 Million Mansion Give Or Take
$18 million mansion give or take a few million

For all you entrepreneurs out there who were able to cash out like Mark Pincus at Zynga at $12/share, here's a nice $15 million mega mansion for you! The house is incredible, with views of the Bay sitting high atop Pacific Heights.

In fact, I didn't realize until recently that I met the owners last year at Marissa Mayer's party. They sold their company Bebo (yep, never heard of it either) to AOL for some $850 million bucks in cash. And they were the majority owners! In 2010, AOL sold Bebo for only around $10 million, a nice 99% loss.

To get rich, remember to always identify the donkey in the room with the biggest empire building aspirations! The funny thing about this house is that even after spending $15 million or so dollars, you've still got a neighbor just a couple feet away from you!

Related: Reasons Not To Buy A House From A Millionaire Investor

Don't Forget To Not Sell

San Francisco Home Prices After Facebook IPO
Thank goodness I didn't sell!

The first starter house above for $1.5 million was purchased 7 years ago for $1.21 million. At 1,266 square feet, it's not exactly spacious for a family of three.

However, for so many other people living around the world, 1,266 square feet is plenty! These homeowners will have to pay $75,000 in commissions + another $10,00 in real estate transfer taxes and other fees just to move. That's just crazy.

The second house for $3.5 million is a trust sale. The owners passed away, and the trust is liquidating this asset which will probably get distributed amongst the heirs. The home has been in the family for decades and has likely risen in value by over 10X, providing a huge windfall for the trustees.

As for the final home, does it really matter? They can do whatever they want with their money and they'll still have more than enough. The owners are great contributors of Charity Water and are very nice people.

Starter Home Inventory Issues

Regular homeowners feel the heat of the rental market and know it's just a matter of time before property prices head much higher. Given there is a lack of inventory, homeowners don't want to sell because they can't buy anything either. There becomes a vicious loop that lasts until a raging bull market returns.

Furthermore, almost everybody I know has refinanced their mortgages lower. As a result, home ownership is the cheapest ever for existing owners. I'm personally paying 60% less in mortgage interest from seven years ago for example (5.75% down to 2.625% rate). Imagine the cash flow increase of paying 60% less in interest while seeing a 50% rise in rents in the past 8 years.

Sellers today will punch themselves in the face 10 years from now when they see their old homes go for much higher. The only sellers I see are forced sellers. Don't be one of them.

To easily find values of properties you want to buy, or look for properties in specific locations, check out I check the site 3X a week to see how my properties are being valued by the market and comparables sales.

Wealth Building Recommendations

Explore real estate crowdsourcing opportunities. If you don't have the downpayment to buy a property, don't want to deal with the hassle of managing real estate, or don't want to tie up your liquidity in physical real estate, take a look at Fundrise, one of the largest real estate crowdsourcing companies today.

Real estate is a key component of a diversified portfolio. Real estate crowdsourcing allows you to be more flexible in your real estate investments by investing beyond just where you live for the best returns possible.

For example, cap rates are around 3% in San Francisco and New York City, but over 10% in the Midwest if you're looking for strictly investing income returns. Sign up and take a look at all the residential and commercial investment opportunities around the country Fundrise has to offer. It's free to look.

Fundrise Due Diligence Funnel
Less than 5% of the real estate deals shown gets through the Fundrise funnel

Shop around for a mortgage: Check the latest mortgage rates online with Credible. Get multiple no-obligation quotes from competing lenders. The more competing quotes you can get, the higher your chance of getting the lowest rate possible. When banks compete, you win.

19 thoughts on “Your $1.5 Million Dollar Starter Home: Living Small Making Big Bucks”

  1. In Texas real estate can be really really cheap. Nearby there is a 15000 square foot castle built on seventy acres up for 2.7 million. They used to hold weddings in the main hall. Also has all of the trimmings of a full equestrian ranch.

  2. In my neighborhood, $1.5mil will get you a very nice “family” home, not a mansion, but not a shack with a great view of the valley (with a steeper price tag comes a higher elevation – or lower if you’re near the coast). For $3.5mil that’s definitely closer to a mansion, but without very much land. And, yes, I think those prices are ridiculous but there are plenty of people who are willing to pay them. ;)

  3. I wouldn’t have believed those prices were real if I didn’t live in SF. It’s a burn what real estate costs here, but wow are there some absolutely amazing properties. And it’s nice being able to be in the city too. I was in Mountain View yesterday and although it’s nice, chill, and suburban, I was thinking “get me back to SF!”

  4. Bahaha. I think I was on Bebo up til about late 2007 shortly after starting university…

    In my suburb (15 minutes from the CBD) $1.5m would get a fairly nice 3 bedder standalone or bigger. In the CBD? A whole lot less. I’m not going to depress myself right now by looking up listings.

  5. I could easily pick up a 6,000 sq. ft. house out my way in NJ for a mere $800k-$850k. That would include about 2-3 acres of land and probably a swimming pool, with a well landscaped yard.
    Now, what I should do is get a tiny place there and work in SF, and simply pay all my bills back home. With incomes like that, they’d all be paid off completely (including mortgage) in 2-3 years. :-)

  6. Kim@Eyesonthedollar

    You could buy a ranch with megamansion included for $1.5 mill here. If I was spending that much here, I’d buy 15 rental houses. SF is a beautiful city, but with my doctorate degree, I’d never be able to afford a house there. I guess we’ll just come for vacations. For some reason, I can drive over a mountain pass in a blizzard, but the thought of earthquakes scares me to death.

  7. In my neighborhood, $1.5m will net a palace. There are some huge mansions to be had here but would I want to spend $1.5m on one? In a word, NO. $3.5m ….. I don’t think I’ve seen a house sell for that much here. It would be a rarity indeed. The Mojave is like that.

  8. For 1.5 million I’m pretty sure I could get a penthouse condo at one of the many condos on the beach here in Panama City Beach. I could also buy a house directly on the beach I’m pretty sure. Honestly I don’t care though because I’ll never buy a house in that price range. I paid less than $80k for my 2 bed 1.5 bath townhome 3 blocks from the beach :)

  9. I live in NYC so I had to laugh at this one. You nailed the nuttiness perfectly. You can buy a nice sized ranch in Texas for the price of a studio apt…

  10. Over $1,200 a square foot is over the top. The estate sale is a better deal (less than $900 per square foot). It seems San Francisco is overheating a little. Pricing is coming back somewhat in Los Angeles , but expensive homes are starting to slow down. There are only so many people who can afford those homes and most pay cash.

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