April 16, 2008

The Circle Of Life: From One To Five And Back Again (615 Buena Vista)

615 Buena Vista Avenue

615 Buena Vista Avenue was born a single-family home in 1906; was chopped up into a five unit building (and sold as such for $3,500,000 in 2006); and is now back to being billed as a single-family residence (plus "legal" one-bedroom on the lower level).

We’re big fans of the Arts and Crafts exterior, and equally so of the beautifully modern Haus Martin right next door (a fantastic juxtaposition which we wish more would embrace).

As far as the “approved plans and permits…[to] add a two car side-by-side garage,” don’t ask us. And as far as the listing photo(s), we'll just assume the wide-angle lens somehow got stuck on the photographer's camera that day.

∙ Listing: 615 Buena Vista Ave (5/3.5) - $3,895,000 [McGuire] [MLS]
Haus Martin And Cass Calder Smith Architecture [SocketSite]

First Published: April 16, 2008 9:49 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

At first I loved it, but then the pictures kept getting stranger and stranger. If it's a SFR + 1 unit, why are there three full kitchens? I seriously don't think the city would allow the removal of 4 fully functioning apartments. I wonder if the floor plan is a little funky?

Posted by: sleepiguy at April 16, 2008 10:08 AM

I heard that they actually never obtained permits to revert back to a SFR.

Posted by: fluj at April 16, 2008 10:25 AM

My understanding was that multiple units can be combined to form a SFR if that was the original condition of the house, and if that's the typical housing type of the neighborhood. It's harder to combine units which always existed separately.

Posted by: zzzzzzz at April 16, 2008 10:29 AM

went to the open house this weekend. it needs a lot of work to convert it back to a sfr. they've simply removed some of the doors and painted it. i'd guess between $1-1.5mm to make it a house that someone spending 3.9mm would appreciate and enjoy (you could do it for less, but ikea cabinets and home depot finishes probably won't cut it on a 3.9mm upfront investment. and this is assuming no significant structural work is needed).

that said, if you're into arts and crafts, it has some really amazing woodwork and original ornamentation. and the lot / view is spectacular - double wide and double deep. but i don't think the nabe will support a 5.5-6mm house once you're all done. just my opinion.

Posted by: open house at April 16, 2008 10:32 AM

No.. You cannot merge units even if the original floor plan was for a SFR. It reduces housing stock. It's borderline impossible to get something like that through planning.

Posted by: sleepiguy at April 16, 2008 10:33 AM

A lot of stories go with this house that was owned for many years by a real Haight-Ashbury character, including losing it for about 150K in unpaid taxes back in the '90's.

Posted by: redseca2 at April 16, 2008 10:41 AM

I merged my two unit (originally single family) 1900ish edwardian 13 years ago. I was told the same thing at Planning as zzzzzz repeats above. Has something changed in the interval?

Interestingly (ok, for me anyway), I lived in the back of the garage studio of the now "Haus Modern" when I arrived in SF in 1987. I always assumed it was originally built as the garage for 615. It would be great to see 615 truly restored.

Posted by: curmudgeon at April 16, 2008 10:49 AM

I live in a SFH that's officially zoned as 4-units (apparently because it used to be heavily split up a long time ago, though it's very difficult to imagine how-- 1 kitchen, 2.5 baths. Is this good or bad?

Posted by: sfer at April 16, 2008 11:12 AM

question 1 - have they completed the unit merger porcess or are they making it up ?? -- becuase whoever said it is a tough porcess -- getting thru planning commission and beyond appeal is correct.

question 2 -- would anyone be into this for 5 mil on bvp?? there have been some safety issues here and this is a huge number for the haight submarket??

Posted by: LP at April 16, 2008 11:14 AM

Yes, once approved as multiple units, it's difficult to "reconvert" back to a single family house. As for the two-car side-by-side garage, I think it's phooey - there are curb cut and other controls that make a traditional two-car garage very difficult to install, especially in an older house like this (unless it's in the backyard or otherwise does not affect the appearance of the primary structure) which will be automatically reviewed by a preservation technical specialist at Planning because of the age.

Posted by: Enthano at April 16, 2008 11:17 AM

Permit was issued. I'd bet they probably never got a permit to split it up in the first place, given that the permit was to "verify the unit count from 5 to 1".

http://services.sfgov.org/dbipts/default.aspx?page=PermitDetails

Posted by: tipster at April 16, 2008 12:29 PM

Permit was issued, but there's no indication that it went though the unit conversion process (which requires a mandatory Discretionary Review). In the permit tracking history, there is this query:

Legal description on present & proposed use, occupancy class & number of dwelling units are not consistant. Pls clarify.

So yeah.. fishy.

Posted by: PN at April 16, 2008 1:34 PM

If the building is actually bound to be a 5-unit, then either it will be 1 - a very funky 4M mansion or 2 - a commune for rich people or 3 - a rental property.

1 - 4M will buy you something very decent and historically relevant even in this town.
2 - Not a lot of rich sharing-types around here
3 - Rental? Say they rent the 5 places for 12K/month. With 30K+ of mortgage and taxes this is a losing proposition. Even with all cash, this would be a money-losing rental property.

The only escape is getting the permits and hope the market goes up.

I'll wait for the guy to default on 4 years of taxes in 2011 and will scoop this beauty dirt cheap at the fire-sale auction.

Posted by: San FroziScheme at April 16, 2008 2:09 PM

Yes, permission to convert to 5 units may have never been approved in the first place in which case reconversion to single family home would be more likely. Looking at the case history closer, it does appear that the conversion to single family was permitted possibly for this reason and that it bypassed the whole DR procedure as a result. Instead of DR, there's a notice of special restriction (NSR) connected to the latest building permit (which probably converted to SFH) by Planning that says the NSR was necessary to comply with the Planning Code. I don't know what that NSR says, but I bet it could shed some light on this.

Posted by: Enthano at April 16, 2008 3:14 PM

^ That sounds logical because a unit merger is a mandatory DR.

Posted by: sleepiguy at April 16, 2008 3:30 PM

So any idea how long it was a 5-unit building? Having stood in front of the planning commission for a unit conversion, I know that they don't care about restoring to an original configuration for the romance of it. If it was multiple units for decades then I think they'd decide to leave it that way.

Agreed, though - I'd like to see what's in the NSR.

Posted by: PN at April 16, 2008 3:48 PM

I swear.
Is it only me that rolls my eyes that it is even possible to be having this conversation of "is this a 4 unit complex or a SFH?"

why not just let owners have property rights?

then we could do away with all this rediculousness.

(*don't get me wrong, due to the horrendous zoning/planning around town we have to ask such questions... I just think it's silly that we've been reduced to this)

Posted by: ex SF-er at April 16, 2008 3:52 PM

This person who owned this building in the '90's I posted about earlier had health problems made much worse as a result of alcohol. This goes back to at least the mid "90's and is based purely on my memory from several dinner parties in the house at that time, but:

The Owner then was in poor health and a semi-retired executive formerly in a Fortune 100 company. They had been posted all over the world and had wonderful stories to tell of big expense accounts in Europe in the '60's. A lot of drugs, sex (gay) and bossa nova. He lived in the huge attic space and rented out various nooks and crannies as apartments. I phrase it that way because if you visit the house you will realize that with the big stair hall, how much of the house ends up as "public" space if broken into rental units.

I cannot imagine anything was ever done with a permit. A part of the Haight Ashbury local color of the time.


Posted by: redseca2 at April 16, 2008 4:10 PM

"...Is it only me that rolls my eyes that it is even possible to be having this conversation of "is this a 4 unit complex or a SFH?"

Exactly my sentiments. If people are truly concerned about families fleeing SF exhibit "A" should be the difficulty in combining units to form family-sized living spaces. The owner of this house should be able to reconfigure it as a SFH of right.

Posted by: zzzzzzz at April 16, 2008 4:38 PM

the same realtor who can't figure out how to sell the Maybeck in Forest HIll? Whew!

Posted by: JIm at April 16, 2008 7:03 PM

I've lived down the block for 20 years and its been split up all that time. Yes, the units are oddly configured. Incredible central stairway leads to a full floor ballroom on the top floor all with wonderful views of the park. Clueless about the value but there are some very expensive restored houses on the park including a (not "the") Sprekels family mansion now owned by a film persona. I'd love to see it restored, but who knows.

Posted by: bvneighbor at April 17, 2008 10:52 AM

Word on the street is the current seller never lived in the house. Bought it on a whim and has had a few parties there and lots of architecht visits. They spent 3.5m to get it.. over $100,000 on architechts and engineers, $300,000 in carrying costs ... so they are in at about4m. Fixing this wreck up is going to cost over $3m .. so they end up with a $7m mansion on buena vista...that crowd will go to presidio or pacific or sea cliff or somewhere with a view and other folks like them...

...unless one leaves pretty much as is or minor repairs (still a brick foundation, for example) this is not worth it at all. Romantic ... but not rationale!!!

Posted by: Midnightowl at May 1, 2008 6:19 PM

um, midnight,

you wrote "Fixing this wreck up is going to cost over $3m .."

if you really believe this i'd like to offer my services. i'll do it for $2million and still pocket half of that...win win ;)

Posted by: paco at May 1, 2008 6:38 PM

i checked this place out on sunday and i can tell you its a sweet peach of a place. its not all chopped up, its completely livable right now and its on a 9000 sq ft lot.

altho the $400-$600,000 quote for installing a garage is outrageous (for that kinda money you could hire a driving service for 15years..). the broker showed me a 3r report that shows this to be a SFR with legal extra unit so that's not really an issue.

is it worth #3.9mil? that's tough to say...

Posted by: paco at May 5, 2008 1:49 PM

sale pending

Posted by: paco at June 5, 2008 4:48 PM

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