256 Casitas Avenue Demo

Flipped for $2.2 million three months ago, an emergency demolition of the “totally renovated” Sherwood Forest home at 256 Casitas Avenue is underway in order to keep it from sliding down the hillside on which it’s perched and crushing the home below.

A neighbor first noticed signs of a failing foundation earlier this week when the new owners, who were planning to further renovate the home, were out of town for a funeral.

And while the owners had met with the City last month to discuss their plans for the house, which had included enclosing an open porch and raising the roof above the kitchen, an online search doesn’t reveal any permits for the touted renovation, which included “New Decks” and a “New kitchen,” prior to their purchase.

UPDATE: As 256 Casitas Avenue appeared this past June, again sans permits:

256 Casitas Avenue: June 2015

82 thoughts on “Emergency Demolition of a Newly Renovated $2.2M Home”
  1. If their insurance covers this loss then they just got the deal of a lifetime!! Brand new construction and no multi-year fight over demolition permits …

    1. Unless the foundation slipped > which probably means the lot is unbuildable…they would have a very pricey wailing wall.

  2. UPDATE: Our report has since updated above with respect to the new owners’ plans for the home and an apparent lack of permits for the touted “total renovation” prior to their purchase.

  3. You mean the new owners actually did not perform proper due diligence to find out or NOT if the renovation had been done with full permits?

    Buyer beware. Educate yourself.

    1. Virtually no residential buyer investigates past permit history – it’s just not done for SFH purchases and sales.

      1. The 3r report is a mandatory disclosure and shows building permit history.

        I suspect the former owners are not responsible for El Niño rains.

      2. May I amend your statement please?

        Virtually all thorough, careful, wise, well-advised residential buyers should investigate past permit history…

        I have bought and sold 5 homes in my lifetime and have ALWAYS reviewed permit history.

        1. You’re also someone who reads and comments on real estate blogs. I’ve had more than one R.E. broker express surprise that I was actually reading the purchase contract or the title report. Notwithstanding the fact that buying a home is the biggest financial decision most people will make, most people also get a sheaf of papers from their broker, initial and sign where indicated, and proceed to close with nary a clue about what they’ve just signed.

          1. That is a good argument against allowing escrow agents and brokers to do closings and require lawyers to do RE closings for residences. In many states, lawyers do closings. When I first came to CA two decades ago from the Northeast, I was shocked that lawyers were not present at RE closings for houses and condos.

        2. I would not spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on ANYTHING without reading every document I’m asked to sign, and that definitely includes the 3R report. I even scan through mortgage documents to ensure I don’t see any surprises. IMO, anyone who doesn’t read documents they are signing is a complete fool, and we know what happens to a fool and their money. There’s a reason you have to sign them — it proves you had the opportunity to, and should have, read them, and releases others — like your realtor — from liability.

          If I was only going to read one of that stack of documents, it would probably be the permit history.

          1. It is an interesting off-topic discussion you’re all having. However it’s becoming fairly clear that the situation in question has nothing whatsoever to do with what someone did or did not read or disclose.

      3. I purchased a house in 2014. Every single home that I looked at I reviewed the permit history for, even those I had no intention of making an offer on.

      4. Isn’t that what a 3R report basically amounts to? I think that’s pretty much a sine qua non of buying a house in SF.

  4. That’s sad and sudden. Hopefully, the adjacent houses are not threatened.

    This location appears to be in known landslide hazard zones for both rainfall and earthquake induced landslides. ABAG has maps.

    There are some disclosure requirements if it is, though that doesn’t mean that is what caused this. Could be a fight to assign blame. I wonder how much evidence is lost during the demo.

  5. I’d venture a guess that one or more lawsuits over this are virtually a certainty at this point.

  6. Homeowners insurance typically has explicit exclusions for damage due to earth movement, if I recall correctly.


  7. You can see the driveway repair on google map which looks like there was a separation allowing water infiltration. But it had a “patch”

  8. The original Redfin listing with its sideways pictures might have given the buyer some clue as the the seller’s attention to detail.

    All I can say is: holy smokes someone has a huge problem.

  9. UPDATE: A before picture has been added above. And once again, despite the dumpster and building materials onsite, perhaps for the touted “new decks” off the back of the home, we don’t see any building permits on record.

  10. Whether or not there were permits for the renovation seems irrelevant to the house sliding. Somehow I don’t think the “New Decks, New kitchen. Hardwood and tile flooring, New Appliances and New Paint! ” touted in the listing have any relation to the house sliding down the hill.

    1. You never know, if they had used the proper paints they could have prevented water intrusion into the soil.

    2. Speaking of the touted “New Decks” on the downhill side of the home, are you familiar with the impact of cantilevered loads?

      And of course, it’s probably safe to assume that the only non-permitted work performed on the house was limited to that which is referenced in the listing.

      1. Sure, if that’s the case, but where in your article or in the listing is it indicated that there are cantilevered decks?

  11. well, there are two “rock star” agents that are probably concerned this morning. one is a rock star in name, the other in performance. will be interesting to see the fallout.

    1. Yeah, I just looked up to see who the agents are that brokered this deal. Wow. This should get REALLY interesting.

  12. do real estate agents have any duty to research and disclose whether there is any unpermitted work, or are those things not within their responsibility?

    1. Standard real estate contracts (from realtor associations!) are written to insulate the agents from this liability. Unless the sellers have explicitly disclosed to their agent material information that neither they nor the agent share with buyers, the duty to disclose falls squarely on the sellers.

      1. that’s not correct, soccermom. the real estate contract contains language which specifically names the inclusion of a transfer disclosure statement. That document comes with a supplement, and the supplement speaks to unpermitted work quite clearly.

        1. As I said, the duty to disclose, including the information that is filled out on the Transfer Disclosure Statement you mention, is the obligation of the sellers, not the listing or selling agent. Agents perform a ‘Visual Inspection’ form (AVID – Agents Visual Inspection Disclosure) but they are under no obligation to tell a buyer if the house he wants to buy has un-permitted improvements.

          In fairness, this kind of research would be outside the scope of the real estate agent’s work expertise. The AVID form simply states what can be observed by walking through and around the house….

          1. That’s why lawyers should represent buyers at closing IMO. The brokers motivation, for the most part, is to collect the commission and therefore has misaligned interests with the buyer. The lawyer has a higher duty of care to the buyer. No commercial buyer (or lender) would ever allow a closing to occur without legal review. Yet, people in SF are buying $2-5 million homes with a part- time broker (have you watched Million Dollar Listing?!)and an escrow agent. A little nutty IMO.

          2. no, not really though. you said contracts are written to insulate. well, the contract stipulates the tds. the agents need to make sure the seller fills out the tds and supplement. not doing so would be the fault of the agent. so, insulate? i don’t like insulate for that instance.

          3. @JMO – But would a lawyer be able to tell buyers if their potential house had un-permitted work? Would a contractor? Lots of building practices and codes change over time. What was kosher 15 years ago may not be kosher now. Should every buyer rip apart the walls of every house he’s going to buy?

            It’s tough to get around the fact that the sellers need to be honest and complete in their disclosures. That’s why there is so much liability on sellers. I am afraid though, that if this big crack emerged after closing, it’s not really on the sellers. I feel terribly for the buyers. Seems more likely that water under the road has contributed to the problems (see below).

          4. Soccer: I do think that a lawyer may prompt buyers to ask questions or probe further even as the risk of queering the deal, which a broker looking at a big fat commission check may not. It’s just an alignment of interests and depth of knowledge question in my mind.

          5. I am sure a lawyer is more than able to come up with at least two hundred questions buyers can consider and detail each and possible scenario. At the end of the day, do you want the house or do you want to spend more time with your lawyer?

          6. @Amewsed – Precisely my thoughts. Seems a pot/kettle thing for a paid-hourly lawyer to claim his interest in posing many questions are more pure than an agent’s.

          7. A lawyer won’t be able to discover the potential landslide so it won’t help this buyer.

            Who is responsible for landslide? If this landslide was caused by water/sewer work, city should be responsible for the loss. But if the landslide is naturally occurring and proven to have nothing to do with the remodel, who should be responsible?

          8. I always go on the city government’s website to find complaints and permit histories for all the properties before the offers were written up (if I represent the buyer), or prior to putting the property on the market (if I represent the seller) and make it part of the disclosure packet. I have been a real estate broker for 30 years. I prefer not to be a dual agent.

        2. You probably would have needed an engineering and soils report to uncover something like this. This is outside the professional scope of a Realtor. As I point out to my clients, I am their Agent. I’m not their marriage counselor, I’m not their accountant and I’m not their divorce attorney. Caveat Emptor still has meaning, but as an agent, I’ve pulled out of deals in the past where I was unsure of hillside.

    2. You all may want to do some fact checking before throwing people under the bus. NO ONE here even mentions the work done by SFDWP and PGE on Casitas in the past 6 months.

      A huge below street-surface cistern was installed and just recently filled just up the street from this house. And PGE was digging up the street to install new gas lines.

      Interesting how a house that has been stable for 43 years develops a problem in just five days. Water is freely flowing from the garden retaining walls of the houses just below this house and has been for five plus days. This is with no significant rain to speak of for the past 10 days. Hmmmmmm… Water main break? Cistern leak? Sewer line break? Lots of heavy equipment on that street for nearly a year. Might be a bit to coincidental.

      1. Yes. it will be a while before all the facts are known. A cistern was installed on our street and it changed the underground water patterns. How do I know? We have an underground storm water system that collects water from our property then pumps it up to the curbside drain. It also collects water that is flowing underground, since it has been pumping occasionally even today – a week after our last rain. The pattern changed after the cistern was installed.

      2. Boom. This seems like a much more likely explanation to me than increased ‘deck loads.’ (Side note: My structural engineer friend plays bass in a punk band called ‘Cantilevered Load.’)

        Looking on Google Earth, there is a rear deck attached to the house in images from 2005 forward. Were the size of the decks increased? That’s not apparent to me from the listing photos, but I could be wrong.

        It doesn’t seem like putting in a new kitchen and re-facing some bathrooms could have changed the structural loads in this house significantly. The pictures don’t look very impressive either way – more like some home depot bath vanities and inexpensive granite counters. I doubt they were moving walls in this ‘renovation.’

  13. who buys a house without a permit report? it’s S.O.P. as part of due diligence to know the permit history of house you’re buying. anything less txt being fully informed is folly…. plus that’s what escrow insurance is for, these sort of inevitable F*ck-Ups… 🙁

  14. It is very unlikely that the unpermitted remodel has anything to do with the land sliding. Plus sellers most likely disclosed the unpermitted remodel, most buyers do not care about unpermitted interior remodel.

  15. People buy homes “as is” all the time. Yes, you can inspect, re-inspect all you want but if the house is desirable enough, there will be a buyer who is willing to waive all contingencies and inspection reports. Also, there are many off-market sales.

    1. I have no problem with people buying a house “as is”. But, do it with open eyes. Know what the “as is” condition is – PARTICULARLY if you are buying a home on a hillside. Now, in this case, it may turn out to be information that was not discoverable in a home inspection. But as a general matter, if one is going to assume risk, they should at least understand the risk that is being assumed.

      1. People who do so usually know their risk, or they take a gamble. I never buy a hillside home. Having been to several in Mill Valley and Oakland hills — dry rot on decks and the steep drop from deck isn’t worth it to me.

  16. Looks like the driveway started to sink after something was done to the water or sewer main. You can see they added an access through the concrete on the south side of the driveway in April of 2011, then it disappears in subsequent street view updates. The SFWD access panel in the driveway also changes between ’11 and ’13 when the driveway and brick walkway start sinking.

    1. Doubt it. Expert soil and structural engineers can determine if there was a link between the soil, foundation, and house.

  17. This is a landslide, it has nothing to do with remodel. Potentially the landslide also affects neighboring houses, let’s wait to see if any neighbors will be forced to be evacuated and their house demolished or foundation enforced.

    With the poor soil condition, this lot may never be rebuilt. The current owner may face a total loss.

  18. Lots of speculation and amateur conclusions being offered. Lets see what the investigations show. But when I bought a hillside home 30 years ago, my geo-technical advisor reminded me that “All hills are sliding, but its not always possible to tell when they will fail”. My garage began to tilt, so I demolished it and relocated it, then I strengthened the house’s foundation. So far, so good.

  19. Well, the hill will get plenty of geotech analysis now. The city ordered 5 houses (2 adjacent and 3 below) to hire eng and report the results. DPW better get out there to make sure their new cistern at the corner up the hill at Casitas/Lansdale isn’t turning the hillside into a gully. With all the lawyering-up and engineering-up, in true SF tradition: leave no turned stone unhurled.

    BTW, the house below this towards where it was slipping was once owned by Willie Mays.

    1. Or in San Francisco because there will be earthquakes.

      Or in the Oakland Hills because it’s all going to burn someday.

      Or in Sacramento, because the whole place is going to Katrina-flood any Winter now.

  20. Another house had similar landslide in Oakland hill. Now you might be able to buy the view houses for a discount, just make sure to make a landslide insurance.

  21. So SF Gate picked this story up now. Uncharacteristically for the Chronicle these days, they actually added to the narrative. There’s something more going on here than caveat emptor. Reading the story, it almost seems as if somebody or something uphill has caused a great deal of water to run down at these homes on Casitas. An absentee homeowner had a line severed? I wonder. Because one neighbor guy in this new piece is saying that his house has been through many worse sustained deluges than the current El Nino season has wrought thus far.

    1. Prior to running our report yesterday, we talked to the neighbor as well. The uphill issue, which might have contributed to the slide but we’d be surprised if significantly, is a hillside lot that has recently been cleared of trees but hasn’t been paved or otherwise cleared of its vegetation.

      1. I think it is amateurish to relate the landslide to the unpermitted remodel. It seems a common sense that this can not caused by interior remodel or even a deck replacement.

        1. But if the deck work was done in a licensed/permitted fashion, wouldn’t a structural engineer have been called in? Wouldn’t there have been inspections?

          And I’m sure the timeline will be closely examined going forward. If the cistern work was done six months ago, but the home was sold three months ago, did the seller know anything or detect any problems prior to sale?

          This could just be a totally random fluke of an event, but I’m sure alot of lawyers are going to be asking these questions and many more.

      2. If the comments about city’s water and sewer digging work is true, it can be a likely cause. This can be caused by a water pipe leak, or a change of course for the storm drain.

        [Editor’s Note: The comments are correct.]

    1. Yes, they are better than freeway style overhead lights, and they actually illuminate the sidewalk and not just the street. Parts of Ashbury Heights has them.

  22. There is a very good map of seismic hazards, including landslides, put out by the state of california and reproduced at this website.

    It is available as a PDF as well. I suggest anybody buying land in the SF area always check the address against this or an equivalent map. I have rejected more than one otherwise desirable property because it fell in one of the indicated hazard zones. It is almost malpractice that real estate agents don’t include this as part of a ‘buyer’s kit’.

    But maps aside, any purchaser considering property on a steep hillside or other ‘interesting’ site might be better served by an engineer’s assessment than by a standard home inspection….

  23. So, information in suggests an 8 inch diameter water main burst in the street above this house. That would do it.

    It is so interesting reading all the ignorant ranty posts and attacks about this sad situation. Apply some logic people. El Nino? Unpermitted work? Nope. A water main break could occur to nearly anyone of you, owner or renter and red tag your house. Get a clue.

    Some kudos to DWP for getting on checking this out. Hopefully thye get it repaired and th situation resolved asasp for the homeowners.

    1. Are you suggesting that the commenters on this and many other sites have a propensity to jump to conclusions absent complete information? And take delight in conjecture, victim-blaming and self aggrandizement?

    2. The amount of ignorant rants is amazing, even when people have suggested that the possibility of the water leak or sewer change. How can they believe that an unpermitted remodel can cause the landslide? It is beyond logic. Some of the people may genuinely think that’s a possibility. Others may simply want to make false claims that they do not even believe themselves. it is ok to be ignorant, but it serves no purpose to insist on false claims when better explanation is presented.

  24. I wonder how big of a line item the damages/liabilities will become in the city budget when this finally gets settled. I’m sure the general engineering contractor responsible had insurance, but my spidey-sense tells me city/county taxpayers will wind up compensating our unlucky homeowners here for some portion.

    Hopefully the other houses are alright.

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