The best area to buy property in San Francisco is Golden Gate Heights. Golden Gate Heights is a quiet neighborhood that’s predominantly single-family homes on the west side. During and post pandemic, the best area to buy property is in less dense areas with more outdoor space, more views, and more parks.
For background, I have lived in San Francisco since 2001 and have research all the neighborhoods in San Francisco. Golden Gate Heights is a great neighborhood that’s still affordable and has plenty of upside appreciation potential.
The best area to buy property in any major city is in areas that are farther away from downtown where value is much better. Given we no longer have to commute or commute as much, the best value is found in the previously overlooked areas. You want to buy property in major cities that have more space and less density.
For too long, people and investors have been focused on buying property near downtown. This is no longer the case. In San Francisco, the most attractive properties are now on the west side.
The Best Area To Buy In Any Major City
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 0.3% 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. In Hong Kong, price 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 Asia, mostly China.
The global pandemic slowed down demand for real estate in San Francisco and other international cities. However, the demand is coming back. It is wise to buy big city real estate now before herd immunity is reached.
Hold On To Your Property For As Long As Possible
To sell property now is like selling Apple Inc. 10 years 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, Google, Apple, Uber, Lyft, Pinterest and AirBnB.
Apple alone has gained more than $1 trillion in market capitalization since 2014 and employs over 40,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area.
With over 10,000 newly minted tech IPO millionaires over the past several years thanks to Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Affirm, and more, real estate prices in the San Francisco Bay Area are likely to see a continued boost. Let’s not mention a 40% increase in the NASDAQ in 2020 and continued gains in 2021.
I’ve spoken to plenty of tech IPO employees and they all want to sell some stock and diversify their net worth into real estate. Many of these employees have seen a lion’s share of their net worth locked up for 3-8 years.
The housing market should stay strong for years to come. Therefore, hold onto your real estate for as long as possible, or strategically buy more real estate today.
General Strategies For Buying Property
If you want to buy property as an investment and as a great place to live, follow these rules. I’ve been a big city property investor since 2003.
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 8 years since statistics say that people change homes on average 8 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 $30 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.
The reason why Golden Gate Heights is the best area to buy property in San Francisco is because of its panoramic ocean views. In every major city int he world, property with panoramic ocean views sell at huge premiums. But not in San Francisco, yet. I strongly believe ocean-view homes in San Francisco are going to skyrocket in value. This is especially true given working from home is here to stay.
4) Buy property close to the best schools and convenient transportation.
Good schools are always at the top of every parent’s list. Spending on kids is almost inelastic because we all want what’s best for our kids. Therefore, properties in good school districts tend to always hold up better during downturns and go up faster during upturns.
For example, the west side of San Francisco has the best public schools because they are much more family-friendly. Further, the Chinese American International School (CAIS) purchased Mercy High School off 19th Avenue across from Stonestown Mall. As a result, even more families will want to buy property on the west side of San Francisco.
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. 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. They 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.
Buying a fixer-upper on the west side of San Francisco is a smart move. Properties on the west side of San Francisco often have larger lots where you can expand your home’s living area. Expansion is the easiest way to make money in real estate.
Just make sure you get a good contractor. Demand is high for remodeling post-pandemic.
The Best Place To Buy In San Francisco: Golden Gate Heights
The one neighborhood that fulfills all the criteria above is Golden Gate Heights. Golden Gate Heights and other neighborhoods on the west side are the best neighborhoods to buy in San Francisco. Post-pandemic there is a migration from east to west as people and families want more space.
In October 2020, I rented out my single family house to a family paying $6,700 a month. Before the pandemic, I would only get four roommates, who were almost always male. In 2021, the demand to rent and buy property on the west side of San Francisco is at all-time highs. The demand for rental properties should continue in 2022 and beyond.
If you don’t believe me, here are some property sale examples I’ve been tracking since the pandemic began. You are seeing demand for housing in Golden Gate Heights and other western neighborhoods really increase. More people want more space, better value, and cleaner air!
Why Golden Gate Heights Is The Best San Francisco Neighborhood
1) The Great Unknown
I surveyed ~200 people over six 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 200 or so people who have never heard of Golden Gate Heights, 50 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. 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.
2) Quiet Neighborhood With Low Crime
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. Single family homes hold their value much better during a downturn and appreciate much quicker during an upturn.
The streets in Golden Gate Heights are very clean. You have fewer vagrants who are willing to trek up the hill to cause a ruckus. As a result, there is less graffiti and noise. 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.
The crime rate in Golden Gate Heights is among the lowest in the city. There is less crime in neighborhoods that are on hills and that are more hidden.
3) Single Family Homes With 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. But you can still find some as of 2019, but they are getting fewer and fewer.
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? Panoramic views are extremely valuable. They trade at a massive premium in every other major city in the world, except for San Francisco.
4) Misconceptions About The Weather
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 during those foggy days, so was everywhere else in San Francisco. The fog will eventually get to all of San Francisco. Although, June is admittedly more foggy in the western parts of the city.
5) Fantastic Schools
If you look up any Golden Gate Heights property on Zillow or Redfin, you’ll see 10 out of 10 marks or “exemplary” marks in the schools section, which includes Clarendon Alternative Elementary, Alice Fong Elementary (Cantonese and Mandarin immersion), Lowell High School (magnet school), Lycée Francais (French 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. The public school is a lottery system that may get abolished. Some people the lottery system will eventually go away, creating an even bigger demand boom for GGH.
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. There is also a fantastic preschool called Stepping Stone on 7th Avenue.
Finally, the Chinese American International School will soon have a 5.5+-acre campus that will house Preschool through the 8th grade by 2023 on 19th Avenue across from Stonestown Mall. CAIS is the oldest mandarin immersion grade school in America. The new school is huge for parents and students interested in CAIS. It is also great for families on the west side of the city.
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.
Further, the invention of ridesharing by Uber and Lyft have made transportation extremely inexpensive. It used to cost $25 – $30 to take a tax from GGH to downtown San Francisco. Now, you can hop in an UberPool for just $5. They even have express pools now for even cheaper.
7) Less Inexpensive, Better Value
At an average price per square foot of ~$900, 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.
8) New Golden Gate Heights Playground In 2021
In 2021, the Let’s Play initiative remodel the Golden Gate Heights playground and field. It took a year to remodel. It is a wonderful playground for kids and dogs that is sheltered from the winds. There are also two tennis courts at the park.
9) Cleaner Air
The closer you are to the ocean, the more the air moves. The more the air moves, the more bad particles can clear out. This is especially important when wild fires hit.
During wild fire season, the air on the west side of San Francisco is consistently better than the east side, south side, and north side of San Francisco. You can check Purple Air online to see for yourself.
If you have asthma, any type of breathing issues, and/or young children, living in Golden Gate Heights is especially nice due to the constant breeze.
Golden Gate Heights Is The Top Area To Buy Property
I have lived in San Francisco since 2001 and I only discovered Golden Gate Heights in 2014. One day 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. 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 such as Salesforce, Facebook, Apple and Google.
Future Price Appreciation Of GGH
I see the average Golden Gate Heights view home reaching well over $1,400/sqft by 2025 if not sooner. 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. If you can own real assets that can be enjoyed and controlled by you, you are winning.
Property sellers in 2009-2012 are probably kicking themselves for selling if they did not reinvest their house proceeds. 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?
Other Great Neighborhoods To Buy In San Francisco
- Outer Sunset, Inner Sunset,
- Outer Richmond, Inner Richmond,
- Diamond Heights
- St. Francis Wood
- Forest Hill
Also, I recommend buying any property with ocean views, especially panoramic ocean views. The best area to buy property is on the west side of San Francisco.
And what do you know, TimeOut Magazine ranked San Francisco as the best city in the world in 2021. San Francisco has been a great city during the global pandemic. In addition to proper safety measures, the work opportunities have never been greater.
Invest In Real Estate Across America
San Francisco is one of the best international cities in the world. But it is expensive. Once you own a primary residence in San Francisco, it’s good to diversify your real estate holdings as well.
I suggest taking a look at Fundrise, one of the largest real estate crowdsourcing companies today. Fundrise is the creator of the private eREIT, which investments in high-quality commercial real estate across the country. Valuations are lower and cap rates are much higher elsewhere.
Further, I recommend taking a look at CrowdStreet, which provides investors individual commercial real estate opportunities in 18-hour cities. 18-hour cities have higher growth rates and lower valuations as well.
I’ve personally invested $810,000 in real estate crowdfunding for capital appreciation and passive income. As a father of two young kids, I want to earn income 100% passively.
Take Advantage Of Low Mortgage Rates
Credible allows you to compare offers from multiple banks from their quality network of lenders to find the best offer for you. You will get free, no-obligation quotes in minutes.
Take advantage of record-low mortgage rates. It’s one of the great things that has come out of the pandemic! For our latest house purchase, we were able to get a 7/1 jumbo ARM for 2.125% with no fees.
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