Yes, yes, Noe Valley, say eager SF home buyers

The two-bedroom Noe Valley house had an unorthodox layout and looked like a 1980s Tahoe cabin.

Taking those flaws into consideration, Realtor Bernard Katzmann listed it for $1.1 million at the inauspicious sales time of Thanksgiving. Then he watched in amazement as 22 offers came in – many for all cash – and it ended up selling for $1.54 million.

“Lots of tech companies were represented” among the bidders, he said. “I heard that many buyers want to get in now before Facebook goes public (and spawns scores of new millionaires), which is pushing demand.”

In a still-moribund real estate market, Noe Valley stands out as a neighborhood buoyed by positive fiscal forces.

All the money flowing into tech firms, and all the tech jobs being created in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, have been a boon for Noe Valley because of its fortuitous location for Peninsula, South Bay and downtown commutes, along with its walkable, small-town feel, family-friendly vibe (it’s called “stroller valley”), and charming, albeit pricey, Victorians.

“It’s like a little village within the city,” said Sally Smith, co-publisher and editor of the Noe Valley Voice, the monthly neighborhood newspaper. “It has that community feeling that everybody wants.”

“Noe Valley is a favorite neighborhood for techies because it’s so close to 101 and 280,” said Tim Gullicksen, an agent with Zephyr Real Estate. “It’s a pain to live on the north side of San Francisco because they have to get all the way through town to get to the freeways.”

Tech firms’ buses a plus

The private bus routes sponsored by tech firms are a draw, said Zephyr agent Danielle Lazier. “We see a lot of first-time buyers from tech companies who still want to have a city lifestyle; they don’t want to live in the suburbs, but they work down south. What I notice is when people from Google, Apple, Yahoo and Genentech come in for a first meeting, we literally draw a line in the city because of the commute. Noe Valley is at the top of the list, then Bernal, Mission, Dolores, Cole Valley.”

The numbers tell the story. The median sales price in San Francisco has tumbled to $653,000, down 22 percent from its 2007 peak of $840,000, according to real estate information service Dataquick. That’s a far less dramatic slide than most other California cities. But in ZIP code 94114, which includes Noe Valley and the Castro, the median sales price for single-family homes now stands at $1.332 million, only 5 percent below its 2007 peak of $1.406 million. The median condo price is $820,000, down 8.5 percent from its 2007 peak of $896,000.

“It’s not completely bulletproof, but it’s more stable than other areas,” Lazier said. “Not everything sells over asking price the way it used to.”

Noe isn’t the only San Francisco neighborhood whose cachet has insulated it from the real estate downturn. ZIP codes 94117 (Haight-Ashbury/Cole Valley) and 94123 (Marina/Cow Hollow), for instance, have seen even less pricing impact.

Tight inventory is one factor that keeps Noe Valley prices up. Last year, 163 existing single-family homes, 143 existing condos and 10 new residences changed hands in the ZIP code, Dataquick reported.

Location, location, location

“Noe Valley has several things going for it,” said Jed Kolko, chief economist at real estate site “Being closer to the Silicon Valley commute than other desirable parts of the city is a big plus. It’s also convenient to downtown. And it’s a neighborhood where there’s not a lot of new construction to relieve price pressure as more people go after pretty much the same number of homes.”

Brendan Collins, owner of Collins Construction, buys “fixer” houses, remodels and expands them, and then sells them. Noe Valley, where the older Victorians and Edwardians are modest in size because they were built for working-class families, is particularly fertile ground because it is such a desirable neighborhood for families, he said.

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