||The Real Estate Adviser
Buying from an unknown property
I have lived in a two-flat building in San Francisco for 42 years,
the first 22 with my family in one of the two units (where my mother
still lives), and 20 years in the other flat. I've rented the entire
time and have not had a written rental agreement for about a decade.
I split my time between the two flats. We're extremely fortunate
to benefit from rent control. A hands-off realty firm manages the
This is my family home and I don't want that
to change when my mother, who is 86, no longer occupies her rental
unit. I am interested in purchasing the building but don't know
whether I am being realistic or how I would go about it. I am a
single, 50-year-old female with no dependents and an excellent credit
record and stable income. How do I broach the subject -- and with
whom? What are my options should the owner decline my offer?
I Kept My Hearth in San Francisco
Dear I Kept:
First, broach the topic with the realty firm you're sending your
monthly check to. Call the company directly, tell them your intent
and ask for the name and contact information of the owner. If you
have no success on the phone, send them a letter with a request
that they forward it to the owner.
Neither approach may work. The property manager
may not want to lose an account and may ignore you or say something
like, "The property isn't for sale and you shouldn't bother
Your next step then should be to visit your local
property tax assessor/appraisal office. The name and mailing address
for the owner of every property is listed there and is available
to the public.
In many cities and counties, this information is easily
accessible on the Internet. The International Association of Assessing
Officers provides a state-by-state listing of assessing
office Web sites. For your building, visit the San Francisco
of the Assessor and type in your address to get the owner's
name and address and property-value information. Or, call 415-554-5516.
And remember: Despite what the rental office
may say, just about every property is for sale at the right price.
But know this going in: Property values have
changed a bit in many areas of the country, including the Bay Area
in the last four decades, as you no doubt expect. And as a model
tenant, it's likely you've kept up both flats well and your place
is in good shape, perhaps minus some minor upgrading.
Realtor John Lee of Pacific Union San Francisco,
a 17-year veteran in the business locally, estimates your beloved
two-flat domicile is probably worth $700,000 to $800,000, depending
on where it's located.
I'm not sure what you're paying in rent per
month, but after all those years, it's a safe assumption that it's
well under market rate of newer units that were built after June
1979, which aren't regulated by San Francisco rent control laws.
So if you buy your place, your monthly payments will likely skyrocket.
Still, there's nothing like home ownership and the knowledge that
you control the fate of the other flat in a building that has been
your home for 42 years.
With your good credit and a hearty down payment,
the place could well be yours. The owner may agree to sell it to
you (as an obviously motivated buyer), and then move on to another
income-producing property elsewhere in town with a pretty profit
Should the owner decline to sell, your only
option is to remain in your flat and hope your new neighbor is tolerable.
If another family member of yours is interested in filling the vacancy,
the owner/landlord could probably accommodate that as a concession,
assuming you'd want that.
-- Posted: Jan. 17, 2004