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Magical 2-Story Gingerbread House Open at Fairmont Hotel

You really know when the winter holiday season is upon us when TV commercials are hocking stuff at is throughout the night, Christmas decorations go up along SF streets and the Gingerbread House at the Fairmont Hotel opens to the public.

So, as of now in 2017, the Fairmont Hotel’s famed, magic-strewn Gingerbread House is now receiving adults and children as houseguests. The hotel has been doing this for over a hundred years.

The house is 22 feet tall, making it a stunning two stories—bigger than some houses in SF. Walk into the middle of this splendorous, odorous abode and you’ll encounter a tiny kitchen awash with cookies ready to pop in an oven, a giant-size nutcracker, and a wonderful choo-choo train going round and round a snowed-in village.

Plus, the entire house is a baked wunderkind, as you can eat it as you tour it, but don’t do that because you’ll probably be put on Santa’s naughty list—it is frowned upon. However the hotel’s baking elves put together over 7,500 gingerbread bricks, hundreds of pounds of candy and over 2,000 pounds of icing to craft the house. The smell is divine and fills the entire lobby and wafts out the hotel main doors.

The house is open for free until January 1st, and you can also reserve holiday tea times at the hotel.

Tardy Book Borrowers Beware, SF Library Hiring Bill Collector

The folks at the San Francisco Public Library are getting serious when it comes to fines for books borrowed way beyond their due date. They’ve hired an outside gun, a bill collector for hire to track down and bring in borrowers who owe $100 or more in fines. And, guess what: there are 13,000 people crowding on that wanted poster.

No wonder a bill collector’s been brought into the fort. The San Francisco Examiner noted, “In the first-ever partnership, the library is paying the Office of Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Bureau of Delinquent Revenue $72,714 to collect on debts — some of which are 25 years old — in what’s being called the Collections Initiative Pilot.”

Library administrators explained that while the rather large amount of $100+ is owed by only 2 percent of the overdue book borrowers, these people make up over half of the overall total of fines owed.

The SFPL, in keeping with its municipal and helpful nature, offered an amnesty period earlier in 2017 so late borrowers could bring in books and get some love. But now the institution is ready to track down the perps and the money owed. They did say the process will not impact the patrons’ credit score.

San Francisco Demographics – Who We Are; Where We Come From; What We Believe; How We Live; What We Do

There is no city on the planet quite like ours, and here are some of the details. Compiled by Paragon Real Estate for your entertainment and, perhaps, mild edification.

Ancestry, Age, Religion, Education, Employment,
Language & Politics

A Miscellaneous Selection of Diverse Statistics

Selected Statistics by San Francisco Zip Code:
Income, Education, Foreign Birth & Homeownership

All our reports and analyses can be found here: Paragon Market Reports

San Francisco Real Estate Market Report
Bay Area County Markets & Demographics
SF Neighborhood Home Price Tables
SF Luxury House Market Update
SF Luxury Condo Market Update
Bay Area Apartment Building Market Report


All data herein is from a wide variety of third party sources deemed reliable – much of it from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, 2011-2015 – but it may contain errors, and is subject to revision. All data should be considered approximate or good-faith estimates.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group

Best and Coolest Ice Skating in SF and Around the Bay

Normally, we don’t put ice skating into the same sentence as San Francisco, but this is the season to dust off your ice skates (or rent them) and join the crowds of holiday cheer-makers gracefully (or not) gliding out on the rinks right here in our city, or around the Bay Area.

Yes, ice skating is a San Francisco tradition, right up there with cable cars, and our friends at sf.curbed.com have staked out an interactive map of the coolest ranks to make your edge marks on the ice. The icy cartography includes 10 rinks from San Jose up to Santa Rosa, and has pictures and blurbs to get you in the double Axel mood.

Here in the city, be sure to set your skating sights for the Holiday Ice Rink at Embarcadero Center. This rink is touted as the largest outdoor rink in the Bay Area and is open till January 7, with tickets running $7 – $12 general, and skate rental is $5.

Then, there is the classic Holiday Ice Rink at Union Square where you can skate and then eat and then shop around one of the city’s most enjoyable squares. Open 10am to 11:30pm every day, with a cost of $18 for adults and $13 for kids under 9 and the skates are thrown into the bargain.

Click here for the interactive map of Bay Area ice skating rinks.

Better Things to Do in San Francisco on Black Friday

Yes, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving (which is an ennobling giving of thanks,) is somewhat of a lack of light as it’s purpose is to shop for wheelbarrows of stuff at great prices. But, hopefully, this more stuff are gifts given with a beautiful spirit of holiday cheer and generosity. However, not everybody is out there grimacing in long lines to stores and fighting off enemies at the cash-register gates. Some of us like to do other stuff.

For us San Franciscans who like to spend Black Friday by anti-shopping, sf.curbed.com has put together an interactive map page of free pastimes on BF that should lift your heart, spirit and Thanksgiving-stuffed body. The first stop on the map are the Filbert Street Stairs in Telegraph Hill. If you haven’t done these, then prepare for a calorie-burning workout, plus some famed parrots to look out for, the Grace Marchant Gardens and a wooden plank sidewalk along Napier Lane that is lined with charming pre-1900 cottage type homes.

If you want to see how the bespoke 1% live, sfcurbed.com recommends heading over to Billionaire’s Row at Pacific Heights. Here you’ll walk and marvel at multi million dollar homes that are setting records in the real estate world for prices in SF, and stand out for architectural aplomb and novel-like history. There’s also another set of steps over here to explore: Lyons Street Steps.

Click here for the complete list of free Black Friday alternative events.

Affordability & the Cost of Housing in the SF Bay Area

Home prices, affordability percentages, monthly housing costs and income requirements for SF, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Alameda, Contra Costa & Solano Counties

This national affordability chart above employs a different methodology than the CA county charts below: The graphed chart values (percentages) have totally different meanings.

San Francisco & Marin Counties: Long-Term Overviews

The California Association of Realtors recently released its Housing Affordability Index (HAI) for the 3rd quarter of 2017, which measures the percentage of households that can afford to buy the median priced single family dwelling (house).

In this analysis, affordability is affected by 3 major factors: county median house price, mortgage interest rates, and the distribution of household incomes within the county. (Housing Affordability Index Methodology). The HAI uses house prices exclusively and if condos were included in the calculation, median home prices would decline, affordability would increase and income requirements and PITI costs would be reduced as well. (SF now has more condo sales than house sales, but that is not the case in other Bay Area counties.)

By definition, half the homes sold in any given county were at prices below the median sales price, i.e. there were numerous homes that were more affordable than the median prices used in this analysis. However, any way one slices it, the Bay Area has one of the most expensive – if not the most expensive – and least affordable housing markets in the country. That impacts our society and economy in a number of important ways.

Since many of the figures don’t change that much quarter to quarter, we’ve only updated some of the charts in this report with Q3 2017 data.

Our Survey of Bay Area County Markets, Trends & Demographics

Year-over-Year Changes
Year over year, affordability declined in every Bay Area county as well as in almost every other county in the state.

Long-term Bay Area Housing Affordability Trends

Affordability Percentage by Bay Area County

Note that extremely low affordability readings converged across Bay Area counties at the top of the bubble in 2006-2007. So far, there has not been a similar convergence in our current market, though affordability is generally dropping as prices increase. Most counties now have higher, and sometimes much higher, home prices than in 2007 (see chart later in report), but their affordability percentages are higher now too, instead of lower. The reason behind that apparent contradiction is the approximate 40% decline in interest rates, 2007 to 2016, as well as some increase in median household incomes.Extremely low interest rates have subsidized increasing home prices to a large degree in recent years.

San Francisco is still 5 percentage points above its all-time affordability low of 8%, last reached in Q3 2007 (even though its median house price has increased about 50% during that period). Other Bay Area counties (except for San Mateo) have appreciably higher affordability percentages, for the time being. Generally speaking, as one moves farther away from the heart of the high-tech boom, San Francisco and Silicon Valley, affordability increases.

Monthly Ownership Cost at Median Sales Price

Minimum Qualifying Income to Buy Median Priced House
Assumes 20% down payment and including principal, interest, property tax and insurance costs.

Bay Area Median House Prices

Before the high-tech boom, Marin, a famously affluent county for long time, had the highest median house price. But the high-tech boom accelerated median home prices in San Francisco and San Mateo faster and higher.

Additional chart: Median condo sales prices by county

San Francisco has a much larger and more expensive condo market than other local counties, and is the only county with a very substantial luxury condo market – one that is growing significantly with recent new-condo project construction.

Income, Affluence & Poverty

Santa Clara, San Mateo and Marin Counties have the highest median household (HH) income in the Bay Area. Though the median HH income figures of these 3 counties are almost double the national figure, their median house prices are 4 to 5 times higher, an indication that income dollars can go a lot farther in other parts of the country than they do here. Indeed an income that in other places puts you close to the top of the local register of affluence, living grandly in a 6-bedroom mansion, in the Bay Area might qualify you as perhaps slightly-upper-middle class, living in an attractive but unostentatious, moderate-sized home that costs twice what the mansion did (though, this being the Bay Area, you are probably still driving a very expensive car).

On the other hand, you live in one of the most beautiful, highly educated, culturally rich, economically dynamic, and open-minded metropolitan areas in the world.

Behind median HH incomes, each county also has enclaves of both extreme wealth and poverty within its borders.

Very generally speaking, in the Bay Area counties, renters typically have a median household income about half that of homeowners. In San Francisco, where the majority of residents are in tenant households, that significantly reduces the overall median HH income figure. The picture of housing affordability for renters in the city is ameliorated or complicated by its strong rent control laws (which, however, don’t impact extremely high market rents for someone newly renting an apartment) .

Additional chart: Homeownership Rates by County

Additional chart: Population Demographics – Children & Residents Living Alone

San Francisco has the lowest percentage of residents under 18 of any major city in the U.S. (It is famously said that there are more dogs in the city than there are children.) It also has an extremely high percentage of residents who live in single-person households – 39% – which is a further factor depressing median household income below markets with similar housing costs.

The Bay Area has approximately 2.8 million households. Of those, approximately 124,000 households have incomes of $500,000 and above, which would generally be considered to place them in the top 1% in the country by annual income. At 7.5%, Marin has the highest percentage of top 1% households, followed by San Mateo at 6.2%. With approximately 38,000 top 1% households, Santa Clara, the Bay Area’s most populous county, has by far the largest number of these very affluent households, while San Francisco has about 22,000.

It should be noted that besides high incomes per se, another factor in the Bay Area housing boom of recent years has been the stupendous generation of trillions of dollars in brand new wealth from soaring high-tech stock market values, stock options and IPOs. Thousands of sudden new millionaires, as well as many more who didn’t quite hit that level, supercharged real estate markets (especially those in the heart of the high-tech boom) as these newly affluent residents looked to buy their first homes, perhaps with all cash, or upgrade from existing ones. That is something not seen in most other areas of the country, certainly not to the degree experienced locally, and is a dynamic outside typical affordability calculations. This increase in new wealth has slowed or even declined in the past 12 months as the high-tech boom has cooled (temporarily or not, as time will tell). Still, there are dozens of local private companies, usually start-ups, some of them very large – such as Uber, Airbnb and Palantir – which are considered to be in the possible-IPO pipeline. If the IPO climate improves and successful IPOs follow, a new surge of newly affluent home buyers may follow.

Additional chart: Bay Area Populations by County

A look at two very different income segments in the Bay Area, those households making less than $35,000 and those making more than $200,000. The $35,000 threshold is not an ironclad definition of poverty, especially since housing costs (by area, and whether market rate, subsidized or rent-controlled), household sizes and personal circumstances vary widely, though it is clearly difficult for most area families trying to live on that income. At over 25%, San Francisco has the highest percentage of households with incomes under $35,000 and, at 22%, Marin has the highest percentage making $200,000 and above.

Amid all the staggering affluence in the Bay Area, and huge amounts of new wealth generated by our recent high-tech boom, very significant percentages of the population still live in poverty, especially if our extremely high housing costs are factored into the calculation. (The above chart calculates poverty rates by different criteria, the higher one factoring in local costs of living.) The economic boom has helped them if it resulted in new, better paying jobs, unfortunately not as common a phenomenon as one would wish for the least affluent. It hurt them, sometimes harshly, if their housing costs escalated with the increase in market rates.

Mortgage Interest Rates since 1981

Interest rates play an enormous role in affordability via ongoing monthly housing costs, and interest rates, after their recent post-election jump are about 35% lower than in 2007. To a large degree this has subsidized the increase in home prices for many home buyers. It is famously difficult to predict interest rate movements, though there is general agreement. Any substantial increase in interest rates would severely negatively impact already low housing affordability rates.

Longer-Term Trends in Prices and Rents

The same economic and demographic forces have been putting pressure on both home prices and apartment rents.

Bay Area Median House Prices since 1990

If one looks at charts graphing affordability percentages, home prices, market rents, hiring/employment trends and to some degree even stock market trends, one sees how often major economic indicators move up or down in parallel.

Monthly Rental Housing Costs

The recent economic boom has added approximately 600,000 new jobs in the Bay Area over the past 6 years, with about 100,000 in San Francisco alone – with a corresponding surge in county populations. Most new arrivals look to rent before considering the possibility of buying. The affordability challenges for renters (unless ameliorated by rent control or subsidized rates) has probably been even greater than that for buyers, since renters don’t benefit from any significant tax benefits, from the extremely low, long-term interest rates, or by home-price appreciation trends increasing the value of their homes (and their net worth). In fact, housing-price appreciation usually only increases rents without any corresponding financial advantage to the tenant. Rents in the city have been plateauing in recent quarters and may even be beginning to decline as the hiring frenzy has slowed and an influx of new apartment buildings have come onto the market – but they are still the highest in the country.

Bay Area Rent Report

Affordable Housing Stock & Construction in San Francisco

Additional Chart: Affordable Housing Construction Trends in San Francisco

There may be no bigger political and social issue in San Francisco right now than the supply (or lack) of affordable housing: Battles are being fought, continuously and furiously, in the Board of Supervisors, at the ballot box and the Planning Department by a wide variety of highly-committed interests, from tenants’ rights and neighborhood groups to anti-growth factions and developers (to name a few). It is an extremely complicated and difficult-to-resolve issue, especially exacerbated by nimby-ism and the high cost of construction in the city. SPUR, a local non-profit dedicated to Bay Area civic planning policy, estimated in 2014 that the cost to build an 800 square foot, below-market-rate unit in a 100-unit project in San Francisco was $469,800 – and we have seen higher estimates as well.

This fascinating graphic above, based on SF Controller’s Office estimates from late 2013, breaks down SF housing supply by rental and ownership units, and further divides rental by those under rent control. All the units labeled supportive, deed restricted and public housing could be considered affordable housing to one degree or another, i.e. by their fundamental nature their residents are not paying and will never pay market-rate housing costs. (Units under rent control will typically go to market rate upon vacancy and re-rental, though rent increases will then be limited going forward.) Adjusted for recent construction, there are roughly 34,500 of these units out of the city total of about 382,500, or a little over 9% of housing stock. Section 8 subsidized housing would add another 9,000 units.

There are currently many thousands of affordable housing units, of all kinds, somewhere in the long-term SF Planning Department pipeline of new construction, though many of them are in giant projects like Treasure Island and Candlestick Park/Hunter’s Point, which may be decades in the building. But it is generally agreed that new supply will never come close to meeting the massive demand for affordable housing, further complicated by the question of what exactly affordable means in a city with a median home price 5 times the national median, typically well beyond the means of people such as teachers and members of the police force. One corollary of increasing affordable housing contribution requirements for developers and extremely high building costs is that developers are concentrating on building very expensive market-rate units – luxury and ultra-luxury condos and apartments – to make up the difference.

Other reports you might find interesting:

Survey of SF Bay Area Real Estate Markets
10 Factors behind the San Francisco Real Estate Market
30+ Years of San Francisco Bay Area Real Estate Cycles
San Francisco Neighborhood Affordability

All our analyses can be found here: Paragon Market Reports

Our sincere gratitude to Leslie Appleton-Young, VP & Chief Economist, Oscar Wei, Senior Economist, and Azad Amir-Ghassemi, research analyst, of the California Association of Realtors, for their gracious assistance in supplying underlying data for the CAR Housing Affordability Index calculations.

These analyses were made in good faith with data from sources deemed reliable, but they may contain errors and are subject to revision. All numbers should be considered general estimates and approximations.

© 2017 Paragon Real Estate Group

Best Turkey Dining-Out Spots in San Francisco

One week to Thanksgiving Day 2017 in the city by the bay, and if you’re finding your kitchen just too small for feast-making or don’t feel like all that feast-making, then be thankful there are so many fine restaurants offering so many different interpretations on the turkey celebration meal.

To help us navigate all the possibilities, sf.eater.com has put together an interactive SF city map of 15 eateries they feel are offering this year’s supreme turkey dining. This map is a culinary range so don’t expect all these restaurants to carry the roasted bird, stuffing and ultra rich gravy. Some, for example, are going to serve you sushi, but it will be Michelin-starred sushi.

Make reservations now, of course.

Here’s a peak at the gobble gobble offerings:

  • 1300 on Fillmore: 3 seatings for the day, each with a 3-course feast that includes buttermilk fried quail, butternut squash risotto, not too mention the perfect oven-roasted turkey.
  • Balboa Café: Menu includes kobacha squash soup, pumpkin risotto, New York Steak, and turkey dressed with Autumn herb stuffing.
  • Brenda’s French Soul Food: a Tenderloin morning-to-lunch spot serving up deep fried turkey and pumpkin pie pancakes with gingersnap streusel. Umm.


Go to the turkey-dining-out map here.

2017 SF Holiday Events Calendar

There are many great things to enjoy in our wonderful Bay Area now through January. Take a look at some of the events that will “Add a little sparkle to your holidays” in our events guide this winter season.

Even a Fire-Gutted SF House is On the Market for Big $

San Francisco is the town of quirky, sometimes bizarre, real estate. We have a luxury condo tower that is sinking into the ground and leaning over 15 inches to the northwest (Millennium Tower), and monthly renting of a Fedex Truck (no plumbing for $600) and a backyard tent (for $400). And many other examples of surreal real estate.

Now, take the case of the burnt-out shell of a house on 121 Gates Street that burned in a 2-alarm fire in 2016 in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. It was gutted but still standing—a 600-square foot one-bed, one-bath house built in 1907, the year after the great SF Earthquake.

Now, the Bernal Heights charred walls-and-frame of a house is on the market for $800,000 (and will require extensive tearing down and rebuilding). That is almost the median price for a home in the entire Bay Area, while the median price for a house in California is $555,400. The ad now lists as a sale pending.

It’s expected that this house will go well over asking. A precedent for this kind of action is an “extensively damaged, uninhabitable” house in Sunset listed in early 2016 for $600,000 and ended up selling for $950,000.