Buyers finding most area homes too costly

When Roberta Morales got the e-mail from her friend, she almost fell out of her chair — a $400,000 house for sale in San Francisco!

“I said, ‘What are you smoking? There’s no house for that price in San Francisco,’” Morales remembered. “But then I drove by, and it really does exist.”

Morales recounted the exchange during her tour of 149 Mangels, a 1910 one-bedroom home in San Francisco’s Sunnyside neighborhood. She stood in the basement next to a wall made out of cardboard Frosted Flakes boxes that she could have punched her arm through.

Even with real estate weakening nationwide, homes in San Francisco remain out of reach for many. The median price stood at a daunting $771,000 in October, according to DataQuick, a real estate information service. Just 6.8 percent of homes in San Francisco and the Peninsula are affordable to families earning median income here, according to the California Building Industry Association.

With a starting overbid of $394,250, 149 Mangels seemed, at first glance, quite the bargain. Not to mention the home’s back windows, which reveal what architect Wing Lee, visiting with a potential client, called a “million dollar view.”

But it’s no dream house. In fact, potential buyers indicated they’d probably have to put several hundred thousands dollars into the house just to make it habitable.

For starters, the concrete foundation for the 870-square-foot home ends about a quarter of the way into the ground floor. Upstairs, walls and floors are stained and peeling. And the items inside reveal the final days of the two elderly people who lived there before moving to convalescent homes: cigarettes on the nightstand; sugar and canned soup on the kitchen table; posters of kittens dressing the walls of thetiny makeshift bedroom in the basement; frog magnets attached to the refrigerator.

It’s the cheapest home Century 21 Hartford Properties has listed in years, Sales Manager Romeo Aurelio said. On the opposite end, Aurelio has listings for $18 million homes in Sea Cliff and Pacific Heights.

“We got 100 phone calls in one weekend about this house,” Aurelio said. “But you can weed out 75 percent of those calls. Anybody who sees a property listed for that price in San Francisco, all your people looking in the entry level of the market, are going to be interested. But when they actually see the property and find out what needs to be done, they’re not going to have the capital to rehab the property or the know-how or resources to do it themselves.”

Lest anyone be confused, the house was described in blunt terms: “Major Fixer Upper needs everything. Buyers and agents beware of unstable building, floors, dry-rot and foundations. Enter at your own risk.”

That blurb was floated on local blogs this past week as a slight reality check — even with a softening market, even with rising interest rates, in San Francisco, this is the best $400,000 will buy you.

Or not. At a court proceeding Tuesday morning, the house went for $524,250 after a frenzied bidding process.

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