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What’s Wrong With Housing In San Francisco, Part 2

For SaleBuying a house in San Francisco. That’s a whole new world now a days that is a far cry from when the houses were first built. Just to give you a little idea, my parents bought their house in 1954 when it was first built. Back then the rubric was that you earned in a week what you spent in a month and you put the excess aside to come up with a downpayment on a house. Back then a 20% downpayment was around $5-8k believe it or not. You continued on those same lines after purchasing the house so that you could use your excess money to pay off the mortgage on your home. Then when you had paid off your home and you were in your 50’s you could spend the some of the excess money on you and your wife [think back to the Cleaver family here]. When retirement came along you could sit back in your house living comfortably with a nice little nest egg to supplement your Social Security and when you died you would give your kids the house so they could sell it to get down payments on houses they would buy or if you only had one kid they would get the house.

Then in the 70’s though the market started to go through the roof and the houses that were bought in the 50’s suddenly were selling for 3-4 times the price they were bought at and the property tax started to go up. Every year you’d have to shell out more and more money to stay in your house until Proposition 13 passed. It actually wasn’t just for homeowners at the time as it is still in effect today, but since there aren’t that many people who’ve held on to their houses for 40-50 years you don’t see as much savings from it. If you buy a house today you won’t see the benefit for another 3o years unless there’s a huge housing market crash.

So let’s look at today. Houses from the time I was talking about have increased by 50%-100% depending on what part of town you’re talking about. There are a few parts of town where you can get an $800k house, that is if you aren’t going to push a $20k incentive on top and pay it all in cash like a few of the big techies can do today. 20% down would be $160k and your monthly payments would be about $4700. Add to that a property tax of $15,200/year and you’ve got to earn $71k just to pay off the mortgage and property tax. If you continue to pay it off for the next 30 years your property tax will increase a bit, but let’s say it stays at $15,200 for the sake of argument. When you retire at age 70 and you’ve put in the maximum amount possible to Social Security you’ll be getting $3,350/month. Hopefully you’ll have some set aside because more than one third of your SSI income will be going to pay off your property tax [that will probably increase a little in 30 years, but not much]. It’s not a very easy way to retire and keep your house anymore even if you’re a rich techie who bought it all in cash from day one. You still have that $15,200 every year until the tech bubble bursts and you have to find another job which may or may not be offering anywhere near the salary you’re making now. If you decided to buy one of those nice $1.5 million dollar homes you can pretty much double all the costs, but now you’ll be paying out three quarters of your SSI just to cover your property taxes. You better have a pretty huge nest egg tucked away because if you retire earlier your SSI income drops significantly.

The housing market has been artificially inflated due to the fact that there are people with more money who aren’t thinking ahead and are willing to throw it at things they thing they need now instead of looking down the road. Unless you’re planning on selling and retiring to a lesser expensive place like Costa Rica and can get a significant payback on your investment real estate isn’t a good long term investment anymore in San Francisco.

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What’s Wrong With Housing In San Francisco, Part 1

For RentThis took me awhile to put together so that’s why there’s been a delay. I’ve been talking with people over the past few weeks, many of whom have been in San Francisco for less than a year. As you all should be aware renting in San Francisco is ridiculous right now and it looks like it might only get worse over time.

I have heard people are paying anywhere from $1k-$5k for rent in this town and the difference really just depends on the number of roommates and the size of the closet you’re renting. I have to smirk when people say, I love living in Pacific Heights as they walk out of an unmarked door next to the garage that isn’t even ornate enough to be an entrance to an legal in-law or servants quarters on one of these mansions, but it’s more of a room built off of the garage that’s not fully furnished. A good deal for $2k-$3k in Pacific Heights I suppose. Many of these people have to make anywhere from $24k-$52k/year just to afford rent. That’s a pretty stiff bill when you think about it and many of them are resorting to credit cards which just brings them to a time when they run out of money after a year long spring break party where they end up owing a huge amount of money that they haven’t made since they weren’t making that to begin with.

These people are not rich. Last time I checked you didn’t move to San Francisco and move into Pacific Heights. It was a place the rich people of San Francisco earned, not bought. Most of the new renters I meet are 20 somethings with a job that might pay $25/hour that are supplementing their income from help from their parents or whoever can lend them some some money until they can get a better job. These people push up the rental prices, but don’t stay long. Most of these people aren’t even renting an apartment, but usually as mentioned above a room off a house…a very small room.

Then you have the people that have been renting for 10-20 years which due to rent control makes their landlords want to move them out. It’ll cost the landlord around $8k [or more] per person and the landlord will have to occupy the house for three years to successfully get an Ellis Act eviction to go through. That can be kind of costly in my neighborhood where a 3 bedroom house is renting for $5k, but has a fourth person living in the dining room and a fifth person living in the living room. Sometimes a couple or two will share a room pushing the price to get the renters out from $40-$56k. That’s almost a year’s rent and they have to live there for three years meaning the cost to the landlord can be in the $240k range.

If the landlord decides to flip the house and profit off the sale they better be sure they bought the house at least 10 years ago to make a decent return on their investment. Many of the landlords that I know of in my neighborhood haven’t owned the homes they purchased that long yet so they actually would do better just holding on and renting unless they’re going to pull an illegal Ellis Act eviction.

Even when renting was actually somewhat reasonable in San Francisco I always thought of it as a temporary sort of thing and I think that is part of the reason why most of the people I meet today have been in San Francisco for less than a year. San Francisco going back to the 1800’s was a happening place and if you look back on articles from the news back then you’ll see people complaining about how expensive it was to have to pay $3/month to rent a house and how San Francisco was turning into a town for only the rich.

People will always want to live here, not Daly City, not Oakland, but San Francisco proper. Sure a few might take the outlying areas and say they live in San Francisco, but they know full well that they don’t. If you’re seriously thinking of staying here longer than 10 years, renting at this point in time isn’t the best option anymore in my mind. If you’re lucky and you’ve got a landlord that likes you and isn’t trying to get rich [is there really a landlord like that anymore?] You might be able to work things out, but that’s a slim chance. For the long term you probably want to buy a house, or do you? See what I have to say tomorrow to find out what’s on my mind.

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Paying The Bills

I had realized that I got screwed yesterday. It turns out when you get a bill from a company you need to check it carefully and not just pay it off and forget about it. I paid my phone bill which was an astronomical $396 dollars and then started thinking. Why is it so high? I started looking at the numbers and realized a few things that I was paying that I didn’t need to pay.

1. I received a text message from a company called ClickGen that I ignored, but after contacting my phone company found out that the FCC actually allows this company to send text messages that if you don’t respond with OUT you get charged $9.99 a month. Lucky for me they reversed the charges.

2. We’re on the Universal Lifeline service because we don’t make money in the 1%’er range, yet we’re still charged tax for the people who receive Universal Lifeline service. That was fixed with the call.

3. The bill said I hadn’t paid last month’s bill so that was added in, but upon checking I had and I mentioned that I had proof that I had paid the previous bill. Upon hearing that they credited me $156.09 dollars which means my next bill will probably have to be paid in August.

Lots of us get bills and just pay them. Its a good time to look over every aspect of your bills because these companies while I won’t say a re totally unscrupulous don’t exactly have their act together because they let their computers do their thinking for them. Because of this they sometimes make mistakes, but they won’t admit that as long as you keep paying your bills.

Keep a good eye on the bills you  receive. I get emails from GoDaddy almost monthly telling me that my domain is about to expire yet I’ve never registered a domain with GoDaddy. These are tactics that companies use to get you to hand over money to them that you don’t need to and if you complain they’ll just say it was a computer error to try and avoid admittance of fault on their behalf.

If you keep your eye on your bills you might find that you have more money in your pocket at the end of the month so do what I have done so you don’t get taken.

Voice Over Work For Dinosaurs

As you might have read I do voice over work from time to time. There are several websites out there that are sort of social networks for people who do voice over work and those looking for voice over talent. It’s a good gig if you can get the work, but nowadays just about anyone with a decent voice can do voice over work.

Back when I was in college it was pretty much unheard of for people to do voice over work from their home. It was far too costly and computers were just starting to be looked at as a possibility for recording audio. Now, just about any computer you get can do it for you. One of the things that has been puzzling me though is that all of these websites for voice over talent ask if you have an ISDN set up. I was thinking about this one and remembered that ISDN was the precursor to DSL and Cable Modems and it is far more expensive with you having to purchase a $3000-$5000 box and pay between $50-$150/month, but for some reason voice over artists swear by it.

WHY? I have yet to get a good argument for why ISDN is necessary for good voice over work. It’s more than a tenth slower than DSL, The G.722 codec it uses is far inferior to say, Skype’s SILK_V3 codec and the whole process involves the artist sitting at a mic and it being recorded [usually] outside their home studio at another recording studio. Why not just record the raw voice over tracks and share a dropbox folder with the studio so they can pick them up? I actually provide finished audio files to my clients using dropbox and that has been working out just fine for them.

Many of the podcasters today have never had formal training in voice over work and many times they create the shows as a conversation over Skype that they record. These people aren’t even using a good microphone and they sound pretty good. The current voice over community is living in the world of the dinosaur. If you have a decent set up you don’t need all the professional sound booth materials to effectively record a voice over. You just need a quiet room and a good mic with high rolloff [that means the farther away you get the more the sound lowers].

I decided a few years ago when I was asked to do some voiceover work to deliberately use GarageBand just to see how it would work out. I could have used Pro Tools, or my favorite Digital Performer, but I wanted to see if GarageBand could hold up to it. Here’s what I got: California Academy of Sciences.

This was all created with a free program, royalty free music and a mic that costs about $150 [actually more like half that because it was a two mic set and I used the MXL 2001A]. I don’t have any form of sound insulation in the room I do the recording in, but it still turned out very good. So now I still don’t understand why the industry is sticking to these outmoded ways to doing business. If there are any voice over artists out there that read this please comment because I’d love to understand why.

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Sunset Boulevard’s Bureaucratic Medians

I just finished reading an article today in the West Portal Monthly about the medians on Sunset Boulevard. I knew something was up because I’ve noticed they’ve been tearing them up recently. Not all of them, but only a six block area of them. This got me wondering when I saw the new turf laid down and wondered how much that cost the taxpayers.

Now I have to admit that the median has been nothing but weeds for years with a few bits of grass thrown in so in some ways I’m happy to see it replanted but at what cost? $1.2 million dollars is the cost and why are we spending this much? Well apparently our supervisor Carmen Chu got the idea that it would be good to replace the 25 year system and install a new more water efficient for of grass called bentgrass. It says it uses about half the water of the previous weeds grass so I had to look into this new fangled grass.

Apparently, bentgrass is mostly used on golf course putting greens, lawn bowling and lawn tennis courts so that already sounds like it’s a kind of luxury grass. Here’s the kicker on what the demands are for growing this grass according to University of California’s Integrated Pest Management ProgramHigh maintenance. Creeping bentgrass requires frequent watering, mowing, aerating, and dethatching, and high levels of fertilizer.

Oops! Little mistake there. The article goes on to state that this new grass and the low flow watering system will save seven million gallons a year which could serve 120 single family homes in the Sunset. There’s a little hitch to this problem. That’s all reclaimed water. The only thing it’s good for is watering your lawn and maybe washing your car. Reclaimed water is filtered sewer water with some of the impurities removed. It is not fit for human consumption in any way shape or form, so it’s not saving water for human consumption one bit.

I’ve driven by the medians that have been finished and I’ve seen the sprinklers popping up. Because it’s new turf you have to water it more at first. These look just like the sprinklers we installed in our lawn. There’s nothing really specials about this that makes them anymore water efficient than mine, but they’ve got a lot more of them. They’re about one foot apart and these are still not too cheap.

The next phases of this is to reinstall new turf on either side of Sunset Boulevard. First the east side, then the west side. I’m not sure what that’s going to do to all the new trees they planted around the area recently, but I expect that some of them might be injured if they don’t carefully remove them or use smaller tillers to dig up the soil. What’s even more baffling is that some of those big trees there are very old and have some big root structures that have been tearing up the boulevard causing bumps  in the far right lanes in places.

Now it’s time for what would Eric do? [WWED?], well they should have pulled out the grass altogether and planted some of those nice aeoniums and other succulent like plants that we found grow if we water them and grow if we don’t. It would give us a very distinctive median that they’re doing in other parts of the city and it would take about five minutes of water every couple of weeks and a drive by once every month or so just to check if there was any overgrowth happening that needed to be trimmed back. Out across from Java Beach is a small little park that was built by the residents and it has lots of succulents planted that are just doing fine and it’s only watered by the rain. There are plenty of drought resistant plants that would have been a much better and cost effective choice, plus they clone very easily.

The other thing I question is why the other nine blocks of the boulevard are being left as is? Were there fewer donators to Carmen Chu’s campaign living north of Sunset and Rivera? If they had done it my way they could have saved money and done the entire boulevard and the extra water could be used in Golden Gater Park to make that as spectacular as it used to be.

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