Somehow, we thought we'd timed it perfectly. We'd saved up for decades (or at least my husband had — I'm a writer). We've lived in San Francisco for close to 20 years, sometimes holding down three jobs at a time and spending every available hour enmeshing ourselves in the cultural fabric of the city. Mortgage rates are insanely low; credit is loosening up again. We're not looking for anything extra-fancy, just somewhere with a little charm to finally set down financial roots and maybe even have enough room to start a family.
So boring! And yet, in the era of Zynga and Facebook ... so seemingly impossible.
Hunky Beau and I have spent the last year looking for a two-bedroom condo, and it has been hilarious. Sometimes Three Stooges hilarious, like when open houses are so mobbed you almost catch a flying checkbook in the eye. Sometimes Saturday Night Live hilarious, like the broker who introduced himself with, "If you know what gentrification means, then you'll know the rapidly gentrifying Bayview neighborhood might be for you!" But mostly The Office hilarious, like the time we excitedly put in a bid on a place right after the open house, only to be told there were seven bids already in, three of them $50,000-plus above asking, two all cash. Sad honk.
Of course, we're being a little fussy. If my husband and I are going to spend more than half a million for somewhere to live in San Francisco — and $500K is pretty much the base price here for a non-studio condo — then we want it to be situated somewhere we can bike to work in less than 30 minutes, easily accessible by Muni or within stumbling distance of the clubs, and built before 1940 with some charm intact. We may not be rich but, dammit, we're still gay. (Dear quickie-flip contractors: whoever told you all to slap horrid sandstone travertine tile into every bathroom and kitchen was wrong in the 1990s, and still is.)
And yes, we're small potatoes, too, and definitely more fortunate than most: I moved here when a tragic confluence of AIDS, earthquake, recession, and urban population incarceration made San Francisco real estate cheap, and it's only by virtue of a rent controlled apartment, one I've been basically trapped in since the first Internet Boom raised rents sky-high, that I've been able to stay in the city I love. Yet it's become especially obvious in the past three or four months — since Zynga went public in fact, and Facebook announced its IPO — that the market has become almost absurdly competitive.
Paula Gold-Nocella, managing broker at Vanguard Properties, confirmed my observations. "On top of the notoriously low inventory that's part of the winter season here, we're seeing an incredible interest due to recent technology developments," she said in a phone interview. "With Twitter moving in downtown, Saleforce, the Facebook IPO announcement ... the seller's market is especially hot right now. I have a broker down the Peninsula who's fielding offers where they're waiving the inspection contingency. And some sellers are most likely waiting to see what happens with Facebook. It's kind of a perfect storm that's brewing."
I don't think we've missed the buyers boat just yet — and for my friends who are renters I know the situation is getting far worse. But Oakland and the Outer Avenues are looking more and more attractive, even if that means remaking our lives from scratch to buy into the current economy. At least we may meet other artsy types there.