A few years ago I worked with an older — now retired — agent who said, “There are no bad neighborhoods in San Francisco anymore.” It felt like a bit of an over-generalization to me, but considering his senior status I politely agreed by not disagreeing. Those who know me will think this must have involved extraordinary self control on my part, because rarely do I find a reason to hold my tongue. Here we are today, and I feel this agent’s comment would be an understatement in the current real estate market. Owning a home anywhere in San Francisco is a fabulous thing, and if the area feels a bit edgy it is a plus for many buyers.
This does not mean that gourmet vanilla is out of fashion. Homes in the Northside are selling at between $5 million and $10 million, and currently there is a home at 2724 Pacific listed on the MLS for $30 million.
The real news here is that the recently reconfigured boundaries of the San Francisco MLS (multiple listing service) neighborhoods are already out of date in some areas. Who would not expect the new residents of the Upper Market, Castro, and Mission Dolores and the agents who work these areas to come up with names and boundaries to describe their gentrified neighborhoods?
The San Francisco MLS has added Mastro (the upper market and Castro area) and Baja Noe (borders between 21st and 23rd Streets and Dolores and Valencia) to their online maps. However, these are not searchable areas of the MLS. More recently the Quad has sprung to life. Exact borders here are difficult to name, because they do not all follow specific streets. The area partly covers from Mid-Market to the Castro, parts of Eureka Valley/Dolores Heights, the Inner Mission, and Noe Valley. In fact, the Quad is so new it is not on the MLS online map. Key to the new neighborhoods, more than being walk-to-coffee areas, is that they include the routes of the corporate shuttles and are walk-to-shuttle areas.
This is curious stuff, but what do these neighborhood name changes mean to sellers and buyers in San Francisco?
• As far as the San Francisco MLS goes, the boundaries of neighborhoods on the real estate map are even more important today than ever. Over 90 percent of all buyers begin their searches online. In San Francisco it is probably more like 99 percent, so these new neighborhood boundaries are important to learn. For example, if a search is for Noe Valley, it will not show listings in a several block area that is now being called Baja Noe and overlaps into the Inner Mission. This can be costly to homeowners who live in Baja Noe, but not Noe Valley. They will more likely than not miss out on reaching a group of well-heeled buyers unless their agent is carefully marketing their home while keeping in mind the importance of the micro neighborhood districts using the keyword “Baja Noe” in their online advertising.
• Sellers can certainly advertise their homes as being in the Mastro, Baja Noe, or the Quad, and buyers may search these keywords online for homes. Anything that will draw buyers to a home for sale is a benefit for sellers. This will also help buyers narrow the focus of their search.
• Online, both sellers and buyers are at the mercy of real estate search engines, where a location search must be configured by defined San Francisco neighborhood districts, zip code, or radius. To my knowledge, it is not yet possible to search online a free-form area such as the Quad that does not follow exact streets.
• Buyers who are looking to find a home in the Quad must search three areas: Mission Dolores, Eureka Valley/Dolores Heights, and the Inner Mission. This cuts a large swatch of area in the city, and I recommend that buyers become familiar with the names of the streets and alleys and even the street numbers so they can quickly scan new listings that come up in their search parameters. Also, this is when buyers really need an agent who is keeping up daily with new listings and will let them know as soon as a new home comes onto the market that meets their needs. The same is true of the Mastro and Baja Noe, of course.
Buyers shopping for a home in San Francisco know neighborhoods like the Mission and Bernal Heights have almost overnight become incredibly desirable, but only buyers on the cutting edge will be talking about Baja Noe, the Mastro, or the Quad. One thing we have all come to accept as the norm is that in San Francisco we are on the cutting edge of the universe as far as real estate goes, and to buy a home here it is important to know and understand the most current information available.
There is no easy solution to finding a home in San Francisco, but staying up-to-date with the evolution in the neighborhoods is important. Yesterday’s edgy neighborhood may well be tomorrow’s hot spot — with prices to prove it. How does a buyer keep up? Connect with a agent who works in San Francisco and understands the nuances of the San Francisco real estate market.