From ABC’s Nightline last night: “Herding the ‘White Elephants’: A look at how hard unloading a mega-mansion has become in today’s economy.” Shockers. At least to those who aren’t plugged-in…

58 thoughts on “San Francisco’s “2008 Luxury Tour” Scorecard To Date: No Sales”
  1. I enjoyed the part when the saleswoman said that sophisticated and smart buyers were buying right now and that people who were waiting would be sorry!!!
    Same spin as 2007 and 2008. Expect the same spin next year, and the year after, and the year after…
    I suggest the NAR amend its playbook to stop throwing this BS at us knowingly. This is getting ridiculous.

  2. Think Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House being stampeded by the crowd while repeating, “Remain Calm! All is well!”

  3. That’s a great video! LOL about Olivia Decker Hsu and her spin on that silly Belvedere estate.
    A personal note that’s relevant for discussions of the GD and property value. The Helmsley property in Greenwich is Dunellen Hall (521 Round Hill Road). I used to bike ride by it 4-5 times per week (I lived about a mile away) in the late 1990s. It’s a very impressive property (26 acres) on a totally different level from just about anything in Belvedere I’ve seen (I must have bike ridden by the $65M Hsu listing – now $48M lol – a dozen times but I don’t recognize it).
    That Greenwich estate was built for $1M approx in 1915 or so. It was sold in mid-50s I think for…. $1M! ZERO appreciation in about 30 years. I think it later changed hands for about $3M in the 1970s, and Leona’s tax basis is somewhere around $10-15M. This was all big news on the East Coast a decade ago when the Queen of Mean went to jail for tax evasion.
    It’s for sale now at $95M, down from $125M I think.

  4. Sophisticated and smart buyers will be purchasing the very second they get wind that prices are upward bound. That hasn’t happened, yet. Meanwhile, all these mega-mansion buyers need to recuperate their savings before they start buying again…

  5. Sorry, I should have fact checked a bit before writing the above from memory. It looks like the Helmsley estate in Greenwich was sold for $1M in the late 1960s, not the 1950s. So 50 years without any appreciation!
    Good thing we got off the gold standard completely in 1971 and there was a “Bubbles” Greenspan or else Leona’s estate would be a lot smaller!

  6. But you’re all missing the point. See all the traffic at the open houses? That means there is a lot of “pent up demand.” The “interest is there” and homes that are “priced right” are still “selling quickly.” It’s “impossible to time the bottom” and you’re never going to see $50,000 Pac Heights houses, so “it is a good time to buy.” Besides, all you in the “doom and gloom crowd” have probably never owned property so, well, just so there . . .

  7. Sophisticated and smart buyers will be purchasing the very second they get wind that prices are upward bound.
    That’s the “V shaped” theory that everyone on the bull side hopes for. Watch out for Dead Cat Bounces though. This market has punished even the “smart and sophisticated” as the extent of this colossal Ponzi Scheme is being exposed.
    I think we’re in for a “L shaped” pattern for the next 5 years or more. Or maybe Japan redux.
    Pain is growing across all segments of society and the reality that a house is not a winning lottery ticket will stay in the collective psyche for a while.
    If the current sustained flow of dismal numbers and stories goes on, this new reality will settle down durably. The 2000s will serve as a cautionary tale of rags-to-riches-to-rags-again that only led to delusion and recession.

  8. These videos invariably make the agents look ridiculous: “Now it’s the right price!” Um, says who? Where does she even get these numbers? I still don’t believe that these properties would’ve sold for close to asking in any market. The extraordinarily high prices always seemed like gimmicks to garner some free press.
    The high-end market is still pretty dead and there’s no sign of a recovery for hugely expensive homes… However, I spoke to two of my neighbors yesterday who can’t wait to buy 2 bedroom condos in prime D7 in 2010 and fully expect 30-40% off 07 pricing. This is totally anecdotal, but it made me wonder if the psychology of buying is changing a bit. It’s gone from, “I’ll stay in my rent controlled apartment forever,” to “Holy crap! I may actually be able to afford something, so I’m going to spend the next year or so aggressively saving.”

  9. That said, I’m really curious about what will happen to the high-end SFH market this spring. There are some properties coming on the market that totally caught me off guard. As we’ve seen again and again, it’s pretty much all stuff purchased in the last 5 years.

  10. I cannot help but think it would be more than a dead cat bounce if mortgage rates drop to 4.5%, the stock market keeps floundering, and prices continue to dribble down until they hit some sort of magic sweet spot.
    Sure, the average American has 16K of credit card debt, but that masks the rest of the country that’s been waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity, and isn’t in such dire straits.
    But all bets are off if mortgage rates don’t drop further, unemployment spreads like conjunctivitis, lenders continue to be overly paranoid bungholes directly proportional to the cheap sluts that they were during the boom years (my credit score is ~810 and they’ve just about convinced me *not* to refinance), and congress directs its stimulus towards pork instead of infrastructure.
    Which is a long way of saying that even I’d buy something if I thought the bottom were near, the seller was desperate, and the place rocked. But I suspect that perfect storm will never materialize because what qualified buyer wouldn’t jump on that?

  11. @Sleepiguy “Holy crap! I may actually be able to afford something, so I’m going to spend the next year or so aggressively saving.”
    This is exactly the way I’ve been feeling the past couple of years – it’s putting a damper on my mani-pedi habit but that’s not a bad thing. 😉
    I just hope we’re not outbid by all the other bargain hunters next year. 😀

  12. Of all the agents they could have interviewed to represent the Bay Area they pick Olivia Hsu Decker. Bring a book. I especially liked the part at the end where they say none of her houses sold after her little billionaires tour. She needs someone to do PR for her, because she is making herself look “real bad”.

  13. A V shaped housing recovery is not likely. Housing prices are being subsidized by low interest rates, but prices are being restrained by jobs and expectations that housing prices will fall further.
    The country is extending jobless benefits and will do so for awhile. In case you weren’t aware, employers pay into a fund from which those benefits are taken. The fund is taxed as a percentage of your payroll. The more money your ex employees get, the higher your rate. That makes it more expensive for employers to hire, and way too expensive to lay more people off if they hire too many, so any recovery could be “jobless” for quite awhile.
    When business starts picking up, money will flow out of treasuries and back into corporate bonds. Interest rates on treasuries will rise, eliminating the housing subsidy. So you’ll have rising interest rates, but no jobs for awhile. The translation is that the subsidizing forces on housing prices will end, but the restraining forces will continue. That will likely mean that housing prices will fall or not rise, for a while, even after any recovery. So you’ll have plenty of time. That means you can avoid the inevitable ups that will be trumpeted with great fanfare by you know who.
    However, interest rates are zero so all we have is a stimulus to bring us out of this quickly, and the last stimulus didn’t work. With savings gutted, and retirement looming, I doubt we’ll see things go back to the way they were, and it’s possible that most of the stimulus will be saved, not spent. If that happens, look out, because we’ll be out of ammunition, and at that point, the only thing that will work is to let the markets of all types free fall to its equilibrium point.
    Anyone who saw Intel’s earnings report this morning will tell you the expected bloodbath is materializing worse than anyone thought and tech is getting absolutely clobbered. It surprised even me.

  14. Unless a home is well within a person’s means, right now is a dicey time to buy. Might as well go to Las Vegas and put your money on a table. I think anything goes…truly, anything goes….but, it is not going up anytime soon. It is a matter of when.
    No, I do not see this as a V. Hopefully, for everyone’s sake, it is a U (combo of L and V)….

  15. tipster,
    I agree with almost all you said, but I think you forget the effect of the US balance of payments getting back in line once foreigners stop funding our borrowing. In a world of $50 oil and a poor American consumer, there is much less money to buy bonds (US or corporate).
    The scenario for housing prices stabilizing or going up in the next few years requires a perfect storm of favorable events, IMHO. There are many ways (as you point out) for things to get better as far as home prices are concerned (where affordability = better).

  16. A V shaped housing recovery is not likely.
    I’ll go out of a limb here: A V-shaped recovery isn’t going to happen.
    Until housing prices stop with the 30% YOY declines, buyers are unlikely to buy and lenders are unlikely to lend, particularly since bank appraisers have suddenly got religion over property values such that they are even able to under these conditions. (Argue all you want whether or not those types of declines are occurring in SF – it won’t matter to your lender.)
    4.5% interest rates as suggested elsewhere are unlikely to occur except for the “best of the best” borrowers – and then only for conforming loans, which will be of little help in SF.
    Best to settle in for the remainder of 2009…

  17. sleepiguy — your neighbors are the wise ones that didn’t over-leverage themselves in this market and resisted, with great pain, the urge to follow the buyer crowd. They are being rewarded, or at least vindicated, by the current conditions. The psychology of renting when you clearly have the ‘means and desire’ to own is difficult. What you are hearing deep down from these folks is that they are ready, willing and able to move — but I guarantee you that these people will continue to make sound financial decisions; and will not purchase a place unless the market has truly come way off its highs.
    So I don’t think you are seeing a change in sentiment, but what you are seeing is that these people are openly admitting how badly that want to own real estate. Home Ownership is a very psychological asset and for that reason I really don’t think we’re going to see wide-spread 40% declines in the market.
    Sure, there will be select places that sell for below market and push the market to more realistic prices. Take the Green street SFH View Home that just closed for $2.75M. This is an astoundingly low price IMO. This home would have easily closed for $3.5 – $3.75 only a year ago. Curious what you think of that home in terms of a comp. But those owners had 40 years of equity and needed to sell so they found a (rare) buyer in this market. So, does this represent a 30% decline in PH SFH prices? I can tell you for sure that if it did sell for $3.5 last year — there is no way in hell the owners would have sold it at $2.75 unless the bank forced them to do so.
    My point here is that current owners at high prices aren’t going to take these types of hits unless they are forced to do so. I’ve long said that if I were looking to buy I would tell my agent to not even bother showing me a home that was purchased after 2003 because the owners aren’t going have a realistic view of value. I still think that Laurel St SFH presents an opportunity for someone to steal with a persistent low ball offer. Even with that insane garage.
    PS: Got any info on the off-market condo at stiener/sac? 2 lower units already closed and they are selling the top unit. Curious if you got any intel on the developer/development.

  18. Eddy,
    Don’t you feel as if the lot size is adversely affecting the Laurel street property? It’s like one off the corner. If the lot sat two off the corner it would be nearly twice as large. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lovely home and it would have sold for more a year ago. But the home takes up most of the lot. Nowadays for 3.75M people in that market will likely want grounds.

  19. Buy High, Sell Low said:
    the rest of the country that’s been waiting on the sidelines for an opportunity
    Think again. The ownership society has brought homeownership rates to roughly 75% which is close to an all time high. In short, there’s not a huge potential pool of creditworthy renters to tap as they bought en masse these last 6 years.
    Sure there are 60% or so renters in SF which looks like a lot. You can say some are on the sidelines. But most are getting a very sweet deal from rent control and are not going to give up their cheap cheap rent for a lifetime of indebture to a bank and a state.

  20. What was the address of the green street property? 2.75 for a SFR on the view side of that street seems like a very good deal. 2.8 on the other side of Filbert was a good deal back in 2005/2006.

  21. Has the Green Street property been on socketsite? At that price, if on the north side of the street with a view, it must have very few square feet to sell at 2.7.

  22. Original ask on 2686 Green was $3.5. I think it sold for under $1k psf. It had $1700 psf view potential circa 2007 if it were updated and there were options to add some SqFt as well.
    Fluj, the Laurel st home is overpriced but it is owned by a long time family who has lots of room to negotiate. Would they take $3M? Maybe — I bet you the agent wishes someone would make the offer!

  23. Joe, I’m with you man. It was a killer opportunity. Hated to watch it sit there and not buy it myself but the truth is that $2.75 may have been too much as well. But I can tell you that it is the most accurate comp I’ve seen in a long while.
    As for sqft it shows as 2600 on propertyshark and there was easily opportunity to add 500+ real livable area. This was the type of place that if flipped properly could have gotten $5.9M last year.

  24. So many good deals! And so cheap! I can’t believe it! People will snap them up like hotcakes when they realise how cheap this is!
    Buy now or be sorry for ever! This is the bottom people!

  25. At 2800 square feet, needing remodel, $2.75m was a bargain only in the sense of the view and garage. We will need more comps at $1000/square foot with northern views before we can say the market is falling for “middle” price prime property in PacHts and nearby.
    The possible additional 500 sq ft may require Planning approval, and a confronting a “D R Requester” in front of the Planning Commission. An unpleasant and expensive experience, with no guarantee of success, since at least three of them will probably vote as usual that the new owner doesn’t “need” the space.

  26. @SFS — your comment isn’t even contextually appropriate? Please try to add some useful insight.
    @Conifer — you’re not going to see too many 1000 psf homes in PH with these type of views. The additional SqFt would have all been internal / structural changes not requiring any approvals. If you wanted to convert the Solarium which may have been a possibility but certainly would be met with massive resistance there was another 250sqft to be had. Look at the floorplans on the McGuire site if you want to see what I’m talking about. I’m not saying this place was the deal of the century but there isn’t another north side view home for under $3M comp in any condition on record for as long as I’ve been watching this market. This was an interesting property / unique situation given the owners intent to sell and it makes for a pretty accurate comp.

  27. @SFS Only 60% renters in SF? That seems low to my gut. Do you have data? I can only find it for SF/Oakland/Fremont combined.

  28. eddy,
    I agree that this was a bargain, but alone it does not speak to a fall in this price range in this neighborhood. I agree that there will not be too many more at $1k/sqft. I wonder if the lot may be small, and if there is a garden.
    Size is a big deal in PacHts, and while this may be much, much better than a condo of the same size, it is also much worse than a big house, regardless of sqft price. If they can get the 500 extra, and the 250 solarium, as you note, it will help the value a lot.
    Still one of the best deals in a while.
    Do we know who bought it?

  29. Conifer – the lot is basically the size of the house. There is no garden or yard to speak of (maybe 100 sq ft in the shade).

  30. eddy,
    I see we have a new self-proclaimed moderator here, guardian of what’s relevant and what’s not. Thanks for the advice, but no thanks.
    A simple comment: I couldn’t stop scratching my head looking at the back-and-forth exchange about how a SFH at 1000/foot is so affordable… Sure it’s cheaper than 2 years ago. But it’s neither cheap nor affordable. This is only SF. Get real.

  31. rr,
    I had posted a gov link a few months back showing numbers in the low 60s. I couldn’t find it this time, but there’s another study giving basically the same numbers:
    Follow this link and go to page 7:
    Rental units: 200,087
    Owner-occupied units: 105,497
    That’s about 65% (in 1990) in units. I don’t know if this reflects population as well.
    Anyone with newer data will be welcome to chime in.

  32. Talk about location. 2686 Green is the REAL S.F.! The new price for 2686 should make overpaying Noe buyers pause and reflect at what is happening in other prime parts of the city.

  33. Stupid question, but why is this such a big deal? There seems to be a lot of SFRs in D7 for under a thousand a foot.

  34. @SFS, not trying to moderate, was just kindly asking for some relevant commentary rather than the totally out-of-left-field-Tourette-like babble that you posted above.
    @astonished, that is a very good point. I can think of some SFHs D7 that sold recently that this place makes fools of…
    @Dude, D7 is big and anything with a view has an +400-700psf tacked on to it. This place not only had a view, but had it from 2 levels and was on par with Ellison’s in terms of quality. So if you subtract the view premium at a conservative 450psf, you get a pretty nice situated / located property in D7b that effectively sold for 550psf. This is very significant as far as I’m concerned.
    2219 Pacific is going to be another very interesting comp when it sells, and I predict that it will sell below its current ask. Clearly the seller wants this place gone.

  35. “Talk about location. 2686 Green is the REAL S.F.! The new price for 2686 should make overpaying Noe buyers pause and reflect at what is happening in other prime parts of the city.”
    @ astonished, It’s still over 1000 a foot and it needed work?
    Fronzi, you bit Foolio and it came off lame.

  36. eddy,
    This Tourette-like babble as you kindly say is the Realtor talk we’ve been fed for years now. All buzz words and no substance. Some of it can be heard in the interview and if I remember well that was the original start of the thread.
    How’s that for relevance?

  37. Eddy isn’t even a realtor, is he? So how’s that for relevance? It’s totally freaking irrelevant.
    Come on Fronzi. You fired off a quick sarcastic dig because you often say stuff without thinking it through, and you took notice of Foolio’s field day yesterday.
    We all see you working.

  38. @fluj
    “We all see you working.”
    Shouldn’t you be as well? Oops, sorry… I forgot about that little problem with the RE market.

  39. Honestly, the petty banter is tiresome.
    we all get it: Realtors are salespeople. Realtors are not always ethical. Realtors are “xxx”
    one can now replace “Realtors” with almost any profession, including my own (doctor).
    I’m as angry as anybody that realtors were held up as unbiased experts, and also about the role they plaed in this scenario. but it takes two to tango.
    the angry masses would have created a bubble with or without the Realtors… the realtors simply profited from it.
    but we all get that now. no need to go over that old tripe again.
    just argue your point, and let it stand on its own merit. it really reduces one’s argument when one devolves into petty name-throwing and identity outing and pissing contests.
    as for the topic:
    I would be shocked if many people, even the wealthy, buy too much anytime soon. The financial world right now is being rocked by the worst thing ever: uncertainty and lack of trust.
    The Madoff scandal is more important than many realize. Many RICH people lost a ton of their worth there. Add in the Indian fraud story today, and you have loss of confidence. Right now, even the rich cannot be sure that their money is safe.
    You don’t buy $10M homes when you have to think about where your money is, and who is in control of it.
    I’ve been watching closely and have gotten a few glimmers of credit market healing, but it’s too hard to distill through our communist financial system. at some point things will thaw, and homes will start selling again. but that time doesn’t appear to be now IMO. no surprise, these things take time (years). we’ll have to see where our communist leaders decide to put our taxpayer money.
    I think a big test is the end of the month when O takes power. my guess is that he’ll put out a decisive plan, and then we can start to sort things out. what is privelaged, and what thrown to the dogs.

  40. @SFS, you have the opening post in this thread. You’re point/position on SS is clear to all. You’re follow up post was just silly. I regret calling you out on it in retrospect. Again, not trying to start a flame war which is where this is going. Just looking to keep the discussion constructive; and you’ve posted relevant posts in the past. The snipes just decrease your relevance.
    @fluj, I’m not a realtor.

  41. @SFS, you have the opening post in this thread. You’re point/position on SS is clear to all.
    Yup. I’m with the market. If it’s bear market, I’m a bear. When it’s a bull market, I’ll be a bull. I never said anything different. My nom-de-guerre couldn’t be more clear for what I think of today’s situation. SF Real Estate is a crumbling Ponzi Scheme. But so is RE in many other places as well as part of the financial system that fueled this Ponzi. Those who deny this should get a whiff of fresh air once in a while.
    You’re follow up post was just silly.
    Sure, whatever. So are the valuations and expectations of District 7 which is what my post targeted ;).
    I regret calling you out on it in retrospect.
    I was not expecting any response and you took me by surprise. That I got so much attention with a 10-second joke makes it even sillier, doesn’t it?
    Again, not trying to start a flame war which is where this is going.
    You noticed I am not responding to certain posts designed for a violent reaction. You’ll have to look somewhere else for the source of a “flaming war”.
    Just looking to keep the discussion constructive; and you’ve posted relevant posts in the past. The snipes just decrease your relevance.
    That’s a very paternalistic comment. You can’t post this kind of stuff to grown ups and expect anything productive in return.

  42. Conifer – the lot is basically the size of the house. There is no garden or yard to speak of (maybe 100 sq ft in the shade).
    Posted by: Joe Blfstyk
    That no doubt contributed to the low price, but 2686 is in one of the best neighborhoods in San Francisco. They are calling it Cow Hollow, but it is one block north, downhill from Vallejo. Vallejo and Pacific (to the south) are siblings of the Gold Coast of Broadway from Divis to Lyon. So not only the view, but the location is almost as good as it gets.
    Also the house is wider than it appears from the front because of setbacks east and west.
    A very good deal for a buyer who is happy to have 2800 square feet.

  43. “Eddy isn’t even a realtor, is he?”
    We are all realtors. Its one of the few jobs which requires no qualification other than a driver’s license.

  44. Can’t we all just get along?
    Posted by: San FronziScheme at January 7, 2009 9:20 PM
    Interesting choice of words, considering what’s going on in the bay area right now.

  45. “communist financial system” ???
    Criticism is well and good, but abuse of the language doesn’t help anyone. Communism is where people stand in line for goods produced and allocated by workers in cooperation with the state. The vast majority of American companies would vanish in such a system. Using words just a bit more carefully can help avoid misunderstandings and focus on the core content of what you are saying.
    This is a critically important distinction because the events that led to this bust had to do with capitalist entities, most notably big companies and the very rich, having a feeding frenzy. Even with all of the limitations and corruption that are endemic to Communist systems, nothing remotely similar to this gorging of the rich has ever occured in such a state. They are quite simply too poor to support the kind of boom that would lead to this serious of a bust.

  46. “expect anything productive in return”
    After a quickie rote dismissal, you make this comment? You went to the “buy now or lose out forever” card, ascribing your patented “Realtor” dismissal to folks who simply happen follow D7 closely?
    You’re not “in” any market. You’re “on” an internet message board.

  47. Mole Man: I think you misunderstood my meaning.
    in the past we had a capitalistic style of economy (although obviously a little to “free market” for my taste)
    The “communist financial system” of which I spoke is the financial system we have NOW (not last year), with the Federal govt owning or having significant control over most of the financial companies in America. (Bear Stearns, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, Goldman, etc).
    The communist financial system is the new system we have where the government itself proclaimed that NO big bank will be allowed to fail. Enforced with Trillions upon trillions of taxpayer money and federal debt. That, my friend, is communism.
    not pure communism, and not perhaps not marxist communism, that is true.
    going back to my real point: it’s hard to tell what’s happening with the economy right now because of the MASSIVE govt intervention in all things financial.
    artificially low discount window rate
    Federal Guarantees of debt
    govt goal of 4% mortgages
    etc etc etc. the list goes on and on.
    thus, it’s hard to tell if the credit markets are healing or not given the fact that most of the credit right now is govt sponsored or govt controlled or govt led. state run, if you will.
    so if you want precise wording: it’s hard to tell what’s going on because of the significant crony capitalism and abuse of govt market intervention leading to a significantly state-controlled financial sytsem. better?

  48. It’s too easy and fun to get caught up here and I admit to poking for the sake of it. Somehow I think our interests are all more aligned than any of us realize. Best to all!

  49. “@fluj
    “We all see you working.”
    Shouldn’t you be as well? Oops, sorry… I forgot about that little problem with the RE market.”
    You’re right. It’s difficult to find the time. I mean, I have a facebook profile to update and stuff.
    Jorge, guy, ease back on the internet stalker thing. You’re not only just creeping me out any more.

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