In the first few months of the pandemic, the inventory of condos in San Francisco was the highest it had been in 15 years, as people rushed to get out of smaller spaces and move to places where they could find “starter homes” that were bigger, with outdoor space. Mostly, people didn’t go too far, though. Chronicle analysis of data from the U.S. Postal Service showed that the most popular county for San Francisco residents moving out during the pandemic was Alameda County, just over the Bay Bridge.
In part thanks to that migration pattern, the East Bay real estate market has gotten extremely competitive. Compass Realtor Anne Culbertson said single-family homes in Oakland are routinely selling for 30% to 40% over list price — and many are receiving dozens more offers than they would have in years past.
Real estate agents say the market is so cutthroat that some people now are choosing to stay in San Francisco, often in the smaller condos they wanted to be rid of, or focusing on larger condos instead of single-family homes. And, as a result, the condo market appears to be heating up again on both sides of the Bay Bridge.
So what does a “starter condo” look like these days? Here are two properties, one in San Francisco and one in Oakland, that exemplify some of the trends in both markets.
A shoebox-size two-bedroom in the heart of San Francisco urban life
List price: $985,000
Size: 700 square feet
Price per square foot: $1,407
Amenities: Remodeled kitchen, walk-out deck, shared yard with barbecue and fire pit, parking
Situated in the middle of the Mission Dolores neighborhood, this two-bedroom, one-bathroom condo would be considered on the higher end of San Francisco’s “starter condo” bracket, but in the category nonetheless, said Compass real estate agent Tal Klein, who is the listing agent on the property.
The market for $1 million and under in San Francisco is virtually only condos, Klein said, and there are very few of them at that. There are cheaper condos in neighborhoods like SoMa and Diamond Heights, but for centrally located locations like Mission Dolores, $1 million or slightly below is the minimum entry point for buyers. And for those properties, buyers will most likely be looking at one-bedrooms of less than 1,000 square feet or extremely tight two-bedrooms.
Compared with other places in the Bay Area, there are fewer single-family homes in San Francisco in general, which makes them even more difficult to come by. But those “starter homes” really start at $1.3 million, Klein says, and they would likely be in neighborhoods more on the outskirts of the city, such as the Excelsior, Portola and the Bayview. If you want something in the center of the city, you’ll be looking at $1.6 million — and it will probably be a fixer-upper, Klein added.
That dynamic has in part helped the condo market boot back up. Klein says that while the Guerrero Street condo is an example of a small starter home in the city, it’s a rarity because of its location, walkability and views (it’s a top-floor unit).
Artists were commissioned to make murals inside of the building, and the backyard has a shared vegetable garden that the occupants all look after.
“If you want to feel like you’re in a city and a community, this epitomizes it,” Klein said.
But the living quarters will be tight.
A three-bedroom with outdoor space in Uptown Oakland, but no parking
List price: $779,000
Size: 1,364 square feet
Price per square foot: $571 square feet
Amenities: Deck, shared backyard, top floor, washer and dryer
As far as “starter condos” in Oakland go, this three-bedroom, two-bathroom property is among the better — and bigger — of the bunch. It’s in a walkable, central neighborhood in Uptown, near Lake Merritt, and comes with ample outdoor space (both a deck and a backyard shared with just one other unit). But it has one potential downside: no parking.
In Oakland, “starter condos” can range anywhere from newly constructed properties to loft-style spaces, said Caldecott Properties Realtor Shalene Rose, who is co-listing the 21st Street property with Realtor Michael Braillard. And just like in San Francisco, Rose says she is seeing the condo market making a recovery from last year.
“We’re definitely seeing more exuberance in the market when it comes to condos, especially when they’re kind of unique and have some nice outdoor space,” Rose said.
“It continues to be a very competitive market,” she said. “The Bay Area is a very desirable and awesome place to live.”