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San Francisco property price, location and history - modern day
3. i'll be right back
manynames wrote in little_details
Hi everyone,

I have a character who lives in San Francisco. I am well aware of the extremely high cost of living and the ridiculousness of the property market!

She owns a small house, which she inherited from her father. He was born somewhere between 1940 - 1945, was a lawyer and bought the house some time before 1980 (with the assistance of an inheritance, if required). My character inherited the house upon his death in approximately 2007.

It's a small house, two bedrooms, one bathroom, which ideally has either an attic or a basement. I've done a fair amount of research into modern day San Francisco, but it's harder to extrapolate backwards - I don't need to know the areas young, single professionals would want to buy houses in now, but where they'd have wanted to buy in the late 70s. The purchaser was white and straight, but not especially conservative. He'd have not anticipated it ever being a family home, and would have wanted to be near amenities and social places.

My questions are:

1. In what area is he likely to have bought a house?
2. How much did he buy it for?

I've browsed a reasonable amount of property listings for San Francisco and seen plenty of the type of homes I'm imagining, in various areas, for between $800k and $1.2 million. I just need the history! Thank you in advance.

#1 probability: Duboce Triangle. The area bracketed by Church/Fillmore, Market, and Noe Streets, and Duboce Park. Good transit access, supermarkets, bars, etc. It's next to the Haight and the Castro. The Haight was not a nice neighborhood in those days. I don't know if it was called that then. Most of the houses are larger but there are Edwardian cottages of the kind you're describing.

Second choice: Upper Market, above the Castro. Side streets have plenty of cottages of that type. Area has fewer amenities

Third choice: West Portal. Decent shops and amenities (no supermarket at that time, however, just a small one up on Portola, not really walkable).

Fourth choice: Noe Valley/Glen Park. Supermarkets not far away, solidly working-class neighborhoods.

Cost for a small place would likely be $20K-$35K depending on condition and so on. For your protagonist, an important part of the story is that under California law she inherits her father's tax rate along with the property, as property is not reassessed on inheritance. So all her peers will envy her/hate her.

If you need an exact number, you can fool around online in the SF Assessor-Recorder's records, looking at lot/block parcel information, or call the SFPL and ask there.

That's great, thank you. I'd been wondering how she'd afford to live in the place for long enough, so that's especially helpful.

For your character's lifestyle purposes, the property taxes really are the most important part, and whether or not the place has a garage. You can aim high and give a modern assessed value of $60K or $80K with the slight permissible escalation and add-on assessments such as bonds, and she's still paying peanuts.

Another obvious possibility for a lawyer buying a house in the mid-late 70s would be the Marina; it wouldn't have a basement, though. Near a lot of bars and restaurants, and also a good supermarket. Duboce Triangle was a little iffy back then, wasn't it? Noe Valley or Upper Market are very plausible, though, as is the inner Richmond.

I was thinking Duboce Triangle was questionable, also—sandwiched between the sketchy Haight and super-gay Castro—but totally agree on all the other suggestions.

BTW, "basement" in SF is often at street level, part of the garage, and there are stairs both outside and inside (and in the back yard) to get to the main living level. Most houses in the Richmond District are set up that way.

If you have a house which is built into the side of a hill, then what is ground level at the front is often a basement by the back. I grew up near Japantown in a house like that.

That's true—a friend of mine lived in a house like that on Twin Peaks until it was condemned after the Loma Prieta quake.

Grew up in a Connecticut in a home where about half the front of the basement was ground level. The rest of it was about half underground.

That's true, the Marina Safeway was rightly known as the best Safeway on earth for hooking up! Even better. I was thinking of transit access, but yeah, if he was young, single, and looking for action: Marina or close vicinity.

The construction of the typical Marina house with the garage on the lower level could answer as a "basement," maybe.

I was thinking of near clubs and concert venues.

Seconding Duboce Triangle or possibly out in the avenues, either the Sunset or Richmond Districts. Basements are basically non-existent because San Francisco is at sea level and is in large parts on fairly soft, unstable soil (see the Marina District collapses in the Loma Prieta earthquake for examples). Attics the way you would think of them on the East Coast also really aren't prevalent, though small ones more like rafters/crawl spaces are fairly common in the peaks of Victorian and similar style houses. Large enough for storage, but not large enough that they'd ever be, for example, converted into an extra room like you see in some houses in other regions.

I was thinking Dubose! I lived around there in 1979 and it's a gorgeous neighborhood full of Painted Ladies. It had a reputation as a Lesbian Neighborhood, which did not mean it was 100% Lesbian. It meant that there was a significant minority of lesbians and that people who just moved in probably were comfortable with Lesbians. Couples tended to rent flats there, while gay men clustered in the Castro District.

The Haight was changing. It was getting gentrified, the hippie thing had died out but some ratty places were still available.

Her dad probably bought it as a Fixer Upper. Sorry but I don't know the house prices. I was so poor I didn't even think about buying as a fantasy. But it would've been easily within a lawyer's income if an inheritance let him get a good down payment on a mortgage. A significant one might have given him a relatively short or small mortgage and a paid-up house long before she inherited. Especially if what he bought was a run-down Victorian and then he did the renovations himself or had them done by locals. A lot of people saved money on renovations by bringing in gangs of friends. House painters though tended to be professionals, the style was picking out all the gingerbread in different shades of a good color like blue or tan or green or pink, or contrasting colors with several shades in one of them. No one painted their house the same color as the one next door.

Usually it was the only house that exact color - green with burgundy accents or shaded blue or violet with a bit of gold or something, shell pink with white and blue shades, just whatever you liked. Decorators did like pink and green for a while. Decorating was a thing.

You could get plasterers who made new rosettes and bits of molding and wainscoting patterns too, you could renovate historically inside and out if you put the money and time into it. Or modern interior/fancy exterior, either way. Rosette restoring was VERY popular.

This is very plausible and the Dubose Triangle is a very nice neighborhood. It had low crime and interesting eclectic people. I recall living there with a lesbian commune upstairs, my lover and I and roommate downstairs, and a straight couple on the ground floor. There were a number of interracial couples in the neighborhood, almost as many as lesbians, because it was a diversity neighborhood. Very tiny or nonexistent lawns. Lots of window boxes and people doing pot gardening on porches or if they had them, balconies. Lots of bay and bow windows.

Hope this helps!

BTW it is spelled Dubose Street. Hope that helps!

Thank you, it's great to hear some firsthand information, especially the sort of detail that wouldn't come up from research!