Take this Buyer's Quiz to Start focusing where you want to be in the City, where you can be in the City and discern what's more important to you now and 5 years from now.

Down Payment: How much do you have for a down payment? (assuming you're purchasing a residential property for yourself).


Excellent! Being able to put down this much is the gold standard of the post-2008 real estate reality. You won’t have to pay MIP (mortgage insurance premiums) or PMI (private mortgage insurance), which while tax-deductible are costlier ways of purchasing.


Once you’re below 20% there are some issues that start to pop up, but all is not lost. The gold standard for residential purchases is 20% (for buinesses or multi-units it’s 25%). There are such loans commonly reerred to as 80:10:10 loans whereby you’ll have a first mortgage of 80% of the purchase price and a second, smaller note for 10%. When added together the 10% down plus the 10% small note is a solid combination to lock in the bulk of your purcahse for 30 years at historically low mortgage rates. But if you’re a small business person and your bona fide business will use at least 51% of a building’s area, then SBA (U.S. Small Business Association) loans are availabe to you.


Ah, you’ve decided to go the FHA loan way — Federal Housing Administration way. In most places in the county, this is a great way to get into property for a very low down payment and a modest monthly mortgage insurance premium (MIP) for being under the magical 20% threshold that lenders like to see. In San Francisco, the FHA program is less atrractive because of maximum loan purchase amounts and because of very substantial MIP obligations. Plus, for condo purchases, the homeowner’s association must be certified annually and be an incorporated entity, thus the numbers of qualfiied condo buildings is fewer. The loan limit for a single-family home or a condominium is $729,750 (thereabouts). The maximums do go up for those buyin multiple units. In addition to high MIP ($900 on a $700,000+ purchase, MIP could be more than $900/month.


Congratulations! You’re about to either purchase something very affordable; are able to get your loan down to the conforming loan limit ($625,000) for San Francisco or someting more. Being able to put down more than 25 percent may also be a requirement for some TIC loans, buying a condo in a building with active/pending litigation or a multi-unit building or an investment property.

Neighbors: Are you a 'people person' who likes to deal with your neighbors in a way that’s more than Hello or Buh-bye?

Yes, I love people. "Do you need a dog sitter?"

You’re more communal than many. And as such you may want to think about buying a TIC or maybe even a two-unit building with friends. These are the arrangements whereby your neighbors are more than friends — in fact they may even be your business partners.

So-So. I Don't Mind But Want My Own Space

A condo may be a good choice for you; your neighbors are just that, your neighbors although you do have pay HOA dues and cooperate with the Board or other owners from time to time. You may want to also look at homes that are immediately adjacent to each other like the Sunset for example.

I just want to wave at them politely... across the yard.

Okay, so it seems you want a detached home. In these cases think about top-floor condos, penthouse condos, town home condos at the Arterra (300 Berry), the Radiance, One Rincon Hill for example. These homes or fully detached homes in St. Francis Wood, Miraloma Park, Glen Park or houses on corners of the block.

Get Me Far Away As Possible From Those People

Perhaps you should consider the Russian River? Acreage in Napa?

Rent Control: Which of the following years has the most impact on the rental market in San Francisco?


April of 2013 led to a pretty big change for the condo conversion system and for those folks who are renting in a TIC that will become a condo under the revised system as these folks will get the option of a lifetime lease. But this is a relatively limited number of people. So, this isn’t the correct answer.


Big earthquake this year that did change the city profoundly. But nothing much to do with the rental market today.


Bingo. This is the year the current Rent Ordinance came into effect. The major parts of the law create Rent Control and Eviction Control restrictions and guidelines for homes and multiple-units with occupancy permits issued before June 1979. Condos and Single-family homes (with no rented in-law units) are exempt from Rent Control but those built before 1979 are subject to Eviction Control. About 85% of the City’s units are among this group.

Duration: How long do you plan to stay at this destination property (in years)?

Two Years or Less

Whoh cowboy/cowgirl!  Selling so quickly after you buy has a key consequence that could put the idea on hold for a while as any appreciation you can in value will be taxed at the capital gains rate, which is now hovering around 37% for both California & Federal tax obligations combined. But if you use a property as your primary residence for 2 years (out of 5) then IRS section 121′s exclusions for any appreciation would apply having the potential of being able to shield $250,000 or $500,000 of any net proceeds from tax. Otherwise, consider a 1031 tax deferred exchange.

3-5 Years

This ownership duration is becoming more the norm today; they move into one home and have kids and move to the burbs. Another consideration is that folks are getting into the market to build and accumulate wealth-by-appreciation. If this is your time horizon then you should give some thought to shorter-term mortgage loans — 5- 7- or even 10-year adjustable rate loans that are fixed but based on a standard 30-year amortization schedule, but rates a lower and the entire note gets paid. And, it’s around 5 years when the balance of property appreciation and sales commission balances out in favor of selling so that it will be a net-positive experience.

10 to 20 years (or more)

Well get a home you can improve or that you’re happy with for the long haul. If you remodel, keep all your receipts as you may need them to help you with capital gains issues and adjustments to your home’s basis (i.e., purchase price). Under current law, you and a joint filer can have up to $500,000 of any net capital gains excluded from federal and state capital gains taxes which can average up to 37% (See IRS sect. 121).

Climate: In your opinion, in San Francisco, scarves are best worn:

All the Time.

If you think scarves are a year-round accessory then you’d probably like living nearer to the beaches (Sunset/Richmond) or you’re a hipster in the Mission!

Some of the Time

Anywhere east of Twin Peaks will probably be warm enough during the day so as to merit leaving your scarf at home. But most places in the City do get foggy at night and you can break out that scarf.


I hear Hawaii is nice this time of year!

Commute: How much do you like NPR's Morning Edition? All Things Considered? Do you mind if you end up making it through the entirety of either show on your way to or from work?

I Don't Mind. Even the Pledge Drives are Okay with Me.

If you’re okay with commuting for long periods of time, then you can live anywhere in the City especially the north and northeast parts of the city if your commute involves driving as it may take longer to get to and fro because there aren’t any major freeways that service those areas. If it’s via public transit then you’ll face longer commute times for those areas because there is no light rail nor BART service to those parts of the city.

Ugh. I want to be at work... like 10 minutes ago.

Depending on where you’re employed, SOMA may be the best for this. If you work in the Financial District it’s a hop-skip, lickedy-split journey on the MUNI or BART or even a walk. Same if you work in Civic Center.

Peace and Quiet: You sleep like...

Like it was a sport. Nothing can wake me.

If you can sleep through anything then you’ll have the most flexibility in your home search. You’ll be able to be in ground-floor condominiums. You’ll be able to buy homes with single-pane windows on busy streets like Oak, Fell, Gough, Bush, and so on.

The Princess with the pea in the bed. In other words you have a hard time sleeping.

Well, this is a tougher place to live if you can’t sleep easily. If this is the case, consider top-floor condos, detached single-family homes in the middle part of the City (like Miraloma and Forest Hill), the Sunset, and maybe even out to the beach. Alternatively, South Beach’s newer construction is good match for you because of thicker walls and concrete floors that absorb more sound than not.

On TICs vs Condos: If you could make 10-20% within 1 to 5 years (or 10 years in some cases) irrespective of the market, would you?

Yes! And I don't mind being business partners with my neighbors.

If you’re happy with dealing with lawyers and your neighbors in a much more substantial way than saying hello to them then you’re up for buying into or setting up a tenants in common. This is the arrangement that requires at least 20% down and where you’ll be limited in the number of lenders who will fund such a purchase. The reason why is that a purchase of a TIC is not like buying a house or a condo where each owner has their own title. Instead, there’s only one title among and between all of the TIC owners.

No, I'll just trust the market and/or that sounds to

Like most people in San Francisco you eschew the TIC arrangement. Sure it’s more complicated especially with the Board of Supervisors enacting major changes in April 2013. But take a think about it again if you’re being edged out otherwise and/or if your financial situation will change for the good in the next few years.

Kevin Ho is an excellent real estate agent. When I was looking for a real estate agent to buy a home, I had some basic criteria and he far exceeded it. He is friendly, smart, and very familiar with the legal side of buying a home. He is a genuine person who will look out for your best interests. I would highly recommend Kevin. It would be difficult to find a better agent.

— Gregg O., Water Engineer, Buyer & Homeowner (Golden Gate Heights)

What it Means to You: What significance does home ownership have for you?

It’s wise financially

Correct! You will build wealth if you own your property for more than 2 years (the minimum amount of time you need to own to avoid capital gain obligations). You get to deduct some of your mortgage interest and you’re buying into the American Dream. Okay, maybe that’s going to a bit far, but at least you’re getting money back unlike rent.

No more rent! But there's more....

Unlike rent, mortgage payments actually work for you. When you sell your home, the theory goes, you get your money back. Sure, that’s right but in the interim you’ll get the benefit of any equity you gain by being able to borrow against your home and you can deduct interest payments too.

True or False: When you buy a condo, you can pick and choose which rules you want to follow in the governing documents called the CC&Rs.


True: nope, see the next answer.


False: This is the correct answer. When you buy a condo (or even a tenancy in common), you are buying into a homeowner association and its rules. Rules are codified in the CC&Rs for condominium (and in a TIC agreement for TICs). As condition of your purchase, you are also agreeing to be bound by those very rules. Moreover, the homeowner’s association has some coercive power over you to make you abide by those rules by special assessments which could lead to liens against your title, court action, or by just social pressure.

Condos: The acronym "CC&R" stands for:

Conveyance, Clarifications & Restatement


Conveyances, Covenants and Rules

Sorry. Try again.

Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions


Conditions, Certification and Regulations


True or False. On Listing Information Accuracy. As a general matter, for current listings services like Trulia, Redfin and Zillow provide less accurate property information than what's available from the multiple listing service.


True. Apart from Redfin, those services have affirmatively said that they are NOT brokerages and therefore have less incentive to have the most current information for San Francisco listings. In fact, the Multiple Listing Service itself syndicates listing information to these services but only does so on a weekly basis and/or listing data more than a year old is removed. How helpful is this in your study of neighborhood price growth?!


Sad to say, but it’s true. Technology startups and the disruptive model doesn’t quite graft to real estate yet.

Home buyer goals illustrated

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