50 Santa Ana Avenue (www.SocketSite.com)
A plugged-in reader went to the head of the site fifteen months ago for a must read comment concerning the actual cost of building a home in San Francisco. Our post on 235 Broderick sparked some excellent conversation over the past few days concerning the cost to renovate. And from the listing for the 2,417 square foot 50 Santa Ana Ave today:

Well designed Colonial style home in St. Francis Wood priced for a quick sale to a contractor or knowledgable (sic) buyer prepared to have renovations done. Appears to be structurally sound but needs roof, gutters, paint, kitchen and other cosmetics.

Now we’re not so naïve as to expect any responses from those who might be interested in this particular property, but we’d welcome any back of the envelope calculations, insight or debate from the rest.
The Actual Cost Of Building In San Francisco [SocketSite]
Permits And Plans In Place (For The House, Not The Buyers Sellers) [SocketSite]
∙ Listing: 50 Santa Ana Avenue (3/2.25) – $1,350,000 [MLS] [Map]

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by Adam

    A lot.
    “appears to be structurally sound” ha ha.
    Because it needs a new roof, chances are high there’s dry rot. If there’s dry rot, it probably needs new siding, re-wiring and plumbing changes, which will probably mean new sheet rock, flooring. Add in kitchen remodel and that requires electrical and plumbing code updating and moving, architectural, engineering, permit fees. Not to mention paint – interior and exterior. Exterior painting costs are obscene in SF, especially in tonier neighborhoods.
    I’d say add 400K at least for renovation.

  2. Posted by Jay

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned 2306 Geary before; single family home, contractors special. First

  3. Posted by Conifer

    If you are not a contractor, watch out for the sharks and sociopaths in that occupation. Be sure you have firm contracts, not merely estimates. Do not agree to “time and materials”. Be sure there is a time-line for completion, with enforceable penalties if not completed. Be sure there is no opportunity to “discover” other defects that “could not have been predicted.” In other words, unless you are a contractor yourself, or have equivalent experience, or an unconstrained budget and lots of free time, do not buy this.

  4. Posted by john

    A similar question. And not expecting exact numbers for sure. I own your basic 1200 sq ft 1925 California bungalow house in good shape. Concrete foundation, but no additional reinforcement in basement area around garage opening or otherwise. I am thinking about the possibility of expanding up and adding on a master bedroom suite, and bath. Say 400 to 500 square foot range. Does not need to be huge. Want lots of room for windows to take advantage of huge views. Small deck space too. Seems to be space to put stairs up where the current stairs from entryway are. Bathroom would be basically above the kitchen for easier access to plumbing.
    Who has had experience with such a project? What kinds of prices? B-level finishes. Basically to match the character of the 1925 house. Nothing over the top. But hopefully lots of glass. Probably a secondary heating system and tankless water heater for bath and stack laundry in closet

  5. Posted by San FronziScheme

    And do not forget to re-watch “The Money Pit” before jumping on a “contractor special”:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091541/

  6. Posted by noearch

    to john:
    lots of experience with your type of project, as a licensed architect.
    you will most likely need to upgrade and reinforce some of the foundations, add some shear walls in garage area. some structure from the new addition would go thru the main level..
    for budget costs, assume $275-300/sf for construction. that would be about $137k-150k. good quality construction; marvin windows, kohler bath fixtures, ceramic tile, etc.
    add about 12% for architect, struct. engineer and permit fees. these are approx. numbers but very appropriate for what you described. I design this type of work a lot.

  7. Posted by Rob

    In general what would people say is the average cost per square ft. to build in San Francisco and is that cost significantly different than the cost per sq. ft. to renovate.
    Certainly clear construction doesnt involve the unforeseens of renovation and I’m not including the costs for items related more to taste and design because you can do a kitchen for 20k or 100k, bathrooms for 10k to 80k and upwards, etc etc. I’m simply wondering what the perception of trade work alone is per sq. ft.?
    I did read that cost of building article, and while some of the cost were in fact believeable I really have to wonder what level are we really talking about building towards. Are we talking about building to a neighborhood jewel worthy of highligting someones architectural and interior design portfolio or are we talking about building a comfortable single family residence?
    I’d like to think i had built a moderate custom home (completed in 2006) and my final sq. ft. build cost was $168/sq. ft., with City/Utility fees around $18.5K. As for architects fees I cant speak to those as i simply built a two story that i designed myself, and then hired a structural firm in San Mateo to produce structural plans.

  8. Posted by paco

    good work rob,
    it shows that if you take initiative and actively manage your project you can build for a reasonable $amount/sq ft.
    or you could hire no arc for double that price…

  9. Posted by sparky

    Conifer, no contractor will sign onto not getting paid for unforseen situations. How do you see that going? Say the floor joists end up being 2×4′s. You wouldn’t expect it but it can happen. It won’t pass inspection, it has to be fixed. Do you expect that to be built into the initial pricing? If it is you won’t hire that contractor anyway.
    john, sounds like that is very doable. Lot’s of architects post here get there info. You will still have to do some seismic upgrade to the foundation and the existing floor, so build that into your cost.
    This place will cost about $400K. I think adam has a good number there.
    Great part of Saint Francis Woods. And money well spent compared to the finished products over there. I’ll do the work for whoever buys this. Give me a call.

  10. Posted by Conifer

    sparky wrote:
    Conifer, no contractor will sign onto not getting paid for unforseen situations. How do you see that going? Say the floor joists end up being 2×4′s. You wouldn’t expect it but it can happen. It won’t pass inspection, it has to be fixed. Do you expect that to be built into the initial pricing? If it is you won’t hire that contractor anyway.
    Right. But most deliberately underbid to get the contract and lock in the unwary. I know many dozens of people who have been through this, and only a handful were not cheated. This project is too big for an average intelligent person who is not accustomed to the world of contractors, which is culturally different from the rest of the middle class. The average contractor seems to have a sense of responsibility, obligation, time, reliability, honesty, self-esteem, very different from the average Joe or Jane. People think that because they are successful in their own field –say accountancy, teaching, law, medicine, business, banking, IT — they can cope with contractors. Very few can.
    Much better to buy a building with only a few projects to be done over time.

  11. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Lesse, needs roof, gutters, paint, kitchen and other cosmetics. I’ve done all of these and lot more (2 bathrooms, skylight, landscaping, refinished oak floors, ) and the total out of pocket cost was less than $60K. These projects were spread out over a period of about 8 years, so double that for a conservative $120K in today’s inflated dollars.
    Granted, I did most of the electrical and all of the landscaping and interior painting myself : that’s worth maybe another $50K. And on a smaller house. I’d say that this place could be redone for $200K or less today by an owner doing nothing but acting as the GC.
    But you’ve gotta be able to pick reasonable, skilled, and trustworthy contractors.
    My results won’t win any design awards and if I posted the pictures, the dwellists here would point and laugh. But the result was the conversion of a 60 year old house that was pretty much in its original state into a modern and comfortable home.
    There is no upper bound on what you can spend on a remodel.

  12. Posted by Robin

    Short answer, which nobody here seems to be answering, is that basic remodel costs at least $100 to $120 per square foot, for a whole house. And I’m talking basic ugly home depot bad part of town rental level stuff.
    Really nice livable quality work, or additions are always in the $250 to $300 per square foot range. At least.
    And the top of the line can be $500, $750 or above. If you are in St. Francis Wood, you’re at this level.
    Two things:
    NOBDOY should ever think they can pass off $100 per square foot work for $300 per square foot work. EVERYbody can tell from cheap work. Even if it’s painting. Or especially if it’s carpentry, tile and deck work. You can tell. It wreaks.
    NOBODY should ever take on a project of this size without extensive prior experience. This “be your own contractor” sham is just that, a lie.
    Having said this, I got started flipping houses 20 years ago and built myself a nice little empire by taking on projects this size. However. You should start small and gain experience. Small meaning, overseeing your own bathroom remodel or bedroom or exterior fix up. Then move on to kitchens, which are always much larger projects than you think. Then maybe a project with a ktichen/bath/painting combo situation. Then, maybe do a whole house. Only then.
    But don’t do this house. It’s too nice. It needs a top of the line contractor. They are hard as hell to find. You are better off hiring a professional designer who will sub it out. It’s always cheaper, less stressful, and more satisfying in the long run. Hiring a contractor is always risky. Hey, you went to high school with those bums. This is where they ended up. Would you trust that jerk? You shouldn’t. He’s probably a fat dolt.
    Designers know the good ones. Designers were the cool tomboys and the gay dudes you went to school with. They are smart and quit their jobs in marketing advertising and tech to do queeny work like this. Their work always looks great, and they know the contractor dudes who’ve turned christian, are clean and sober, and are reliable.
    Trust me. I’ve done this work for years. Most all the contractors and worker ant dudes out there are on drugs, crystal meth, or are fall down drunks.
    Finally, you would go to a mechanic who’s just getting started or a brain surgeon who hasn’t finished med school, or a lawyer without a degree or bar license. So NEVER use unlicensed person. EVER. Don’t learn the lesson the hard way.

  13. Posted by curmudgeon

    Robin you made my day

  14. Posted by noearch

    well…Robin certainly said a mouthful..most of it right on..some a bit over the top.
    nonetheless..well said. I guess I’m one of those “gay dudes” who became an architect.
    so, in a nutshell, I would budget $300/sf for a full remodel of this house..foundation to roof..the comes to about $725k. add 10-12% design fees and permits and you’ve done it.this is for high quality, high remodeling by a well qualified licensed contractor.
    now let the flames begin. let’s hear from Taco first.

  15. Posted by Carlos Ramirez

    Get at least 3 bids from contractors that work in that area. Always ask for a timeline and penalties if work exceeds the agreed upon time. There are a lot of good comments here already. Never be afraid to ask questions and ask as many as you can.

  16. Posted by Trip

    “NEVER use an unlicensed person. EVER.”
    Well, one nice benefit from using an unlicensed contractor is that you don’t have to pay them under California law. Not a cent, even for materials (actually, a case just came down ruling you don’t even have to pay a licensed contractor if the license had lapsed at the time of contracting — even if renewed by the time work started; keep your licenses current). That said, I wholeheartedly agree with the advice.

  17. Posted by "Dave"

    I have done major renovations on two properties in the Bay Area. First, I’d recommend ignoring the cost per sq/ft estimates. I’ve never found them to be terribly helpful (new construction? yes. renovation? not so much.)
    Second, get an inspection from a very reputable home inspector. You can’t tell much from the walk-through, especially if you haven’t done this before. A bad roof doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s rotted. I bought a very leaky victorian that was constructed entirely of redwood and there was zero dry rot…
    Also think about how you intend to use the house. Will you live there during remodel? Will you do it in six months or six years? Are you flipping it to sell? These will all impact your decisions. I’m about to do a $50K kitchen facelift in my current home but the kitchen has been fully functional for the last year, so I can afford to take my time and do some of the work myself.
    Having said all that, my architect uses the rule of thumb that building new is ~$200/sqft and renovation is ~$300/sqft. These are reasonable estimates but, as said above, take with a grain of salt.

  18. Posted by noearch

    @dave: some good points.
    I would simply revise the numbers as follows:
    renovation: $300 /sf and up.
    new construction: $400/sf and up.

  19. Posted by paco

    carlos is right (sparky is too!)
    get multiple quotes, ask lots of questions and try to visit/talk to previous jobs/clients. a job well done is NO accident.

  20. Posted by fluj

    That little Geary fixer has got to look interesting to somebody. Not for yours truly, I don’t see anybody paying big bucks to live on Geary right by the hospitals. But as a chance to get in the market? perhaps.

  21. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Robin ?? As in Robin of Meridian Builders ?? The builders of Casa Verde ?
    Welcome !

  22. Posted by sparky

    Robin,
    Wow I am a fat dolt bum jerk. Who I take it from what you were saying has a high school education…or best chance have turned christian and sober
    We contractors are all out to get you!

  23. Posted by sparky

    noearch,
    you have to have those backwards right; renovation costs more than new.
    Dave,
    Your architects numbers seem decent, if there additions involved. But don’t factor in an economy of scale, or that this place in an interior remodel. This 2400 foot place won’t be $300/ft. (720K); $400K will get you “nice” finish, St. Francis Wood equivelent product, or better. That is only $167/ft.

  24. Posted by Jimmy (Bitter Renter)

    So is new is cheaper and better than renovation… why not just accidentally knock/burn the place down and start over? Could save a few hundred $k that way.
    What’s the penalty for having an unfortunate fire while starting renovations and having to knock the condemned structure down.

  25. Posted by noearch

    sorry sparky..I think you’re wrong and disagree. I’ll stand by my numbers. again.
    The property in this thread could very well cost $300/sf to do a FULL REMODEL. remember, that’s how I came up with that number. a lesser scope of work would, of course, result in a lower cost.
    why do you people always try and lowball a number?
    $167/sf will get you cheap, cheap Home Depot crap, worse street in the worse block in Bayview.
    god, you people never listen.:)

  26. Posted by sparky

    SO you think that remodels cost less than new construction. Full remodels as you descibe. That what I think you have backwards. It is so much easier to to pour foundations and frame on a clean slate than shoring and pouring in sections, and furring, and leveling, etc.
    If I am wrong about my numbers I wouldn’t be in business. There is no addition here, and no foundation. It an existing shell that is being gutted. That $400K will go a long way, 1 kitchen, 2 baths…

  27. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    gotta disagree, noearch. My numbers come to less than $167/sf (real project(s), conservatively extrapolated and normalized numbers) and much better than Home Despot/Bayview results.
    Not gold plated top end results, but that wasn’t the desire either.

  28. Posted by paco

    notice how no arc (the expensive space planner) can tell us how much everything costs? ($300-$400/sq ft).
    meanwhile, in the real world, sparky actively does this for a living-he makes it all come together and is responsible for paying the costs. he has repeatedly given real FIRST HAND experience examples, and detailed prices.
    MOD and others (that’s MR. Taco to you, no arc..) have also reported real world first hand experiences.
    the difference here is that no arc is spending other people’s money, and we are spending (and saving) our own…

  29. Posted by noearch

    well..nobody is really right or wrong..that’s the downside with just chatting away here on this blog..none of us really knows the exact scope of work, the quality level desired, the complexities of “this particular house”.
    that’s the challenge. yes, someone could probably remodel it for $170/sf…but NOT a down to the studs full remodel..and for that price the quality is rock bottom, el cheapo.
    and who’s to say the house doesnt need major foundation work. most of that age do..who’s to know the plumbing and electrical are completely shot? who’s to say there isnt major termite or water damage? we don’t really know..
    however, my (opinion) numbers take those things into account. and in St. Francis Wood, the price point is HIGH END, like it or not..that’s why it’s entirely reasonable to spend $300/sf or more.
    as a side bar, I just finished some long meetings today with a contractor for a high end remodel I am designing in the Marina. He is quoting $450/sf for const. costs for a 3500sf project, and I concur.

  30. Posted by sparky

    Jimmy,
    if caught demo-ing on purpose without permits you get a 10 year moratorium. Basically it sits exactly how it looks the day your busted for the next 10 years, there have been a few of these around town; a Pac Hgts one a while back really stood out.
    noearch,
    As I stated earlier, I am happy to go with your numbers and bid on your projects. Hook me up.

  31. Posted by paco

    hey sparky,
    i enjoy your comments and insight.
    on the illegal demo thing; is it really 10years? i was noticing something written on a permit package that mentioned 5 years for “exceeding the scope of the work permitted”. i don’t have it here in front of me (its on the job site, natch…) so i’ll check back
    later.

  32. Posted by sparky

    Paco,
    I think it’s 10. exceeding the scope is a lesser evil. Sam as getting permits. No permit caught you pay 10x the cost, over the scope you pay 3x. I think for actual purposeful demo when you were told not to it’s 10. I have never done this so it’s just from what I recall.
    Noearch,
    Okay if your throwing in foundations then it goes up…and we all are very much guessing on this place. This is good but not ideal St.F wood so it should be top dollar.
    But more importantly hook me up with your Marina job. For real, let me bid it.

  33. Posted by noearch

    one more comment then I’m off to dinner and a nice long weekend.
    Taco- dude, how do you think I get my numbers? from:
    1. other contractors I work with all the time. they build my projects. they reinforce my proposed budgets with their actual costs. thats called REAL FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE.
    2. from 25 years experience as an architect in San Francisco, designing residential projects. Oh, gee. what do ya say we call that REAL FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE?
    Sparky quite often agrees with me. He has the experience from a contractors point of view, and I have mine as the architect. What’s unclear about this picture?
    Taco..you need to stop feeling threatened by my opinions here. they are just that.
    have a great weekend!

  34. Posted by Rob

    I’m definitely not going to argue with the architects and designers who visit the site as they know the ins and outs of their trade. All i can speak to is my own experience and when totally completed my 2750 sgft. home priced out at $212/sq.ft. to build.
    Yes i did remove a number of items from my contractors bid, simply because the dollar amount of those things meant a moderately significant savings of the Contractors O/P charge that i could avoid and doing it myself and simply have the contractor do the install.
    When screening contractors i admit that i did receive bids in that $300/sqft, $400/sqft range and really the only difference that i saw came from who the contractors employed (union vs. non-union etc.).
    Btw…not a single thing in my home came from Home Depot or is crappy big box contractor grade material.

  35. Posted by Mole Man

    This location is fabulous, but the house is trashed and outdated. Leave the roof leaking for a bit longer until the structure is critically damaged, then redo it. Even if the permit process then requires something that looks similar, new construction provides the opportunity to build something better and cheaper. If this were a classic structure then it would be worth saving, but it does not have that value.
    That the permit process makes this difficult is shameful and says a lot about how backward the City is right now. Many of the buildings that are being protected suck like bad drains; it’s a distraction.

  36. Posted by paco

    no arc,
    i’ll give you fairly high marks for being in biz in the city for 25 years if that’s really the case.
    i’m just curious…have you ever been the principal in these 25 years? when you say,
    “Taco- dude, how do you think I get my numbers? from:
    1. other contractors I work with all the time. they build my projects”
    do you mean your projects or your client’s projects?

  37. Posted by paco

    btw no arc,
    i know many, many people can, will and do pay the prices/sq ft
    that you state(++). mostly, people are too busy to effectively manage their own projects and that leads to higher costs. fair enough.
    the permit/construction process requires a fair amount of expertise and the tuition is indeed costly.

  38. Posted by Someone

    @conifer,
    Your comments are valid, but still missing big parts of the picture. I took a small house gutted it and made it into 3300 sqft with very high end finishes. The contractor I chose was an honest man, but certainly not the most efficient and in hindsight violated many of your requirements. We did switch to T&M mid way through the project because of a *LOT* of unforeseen problems as Sparky noted. In addition my wife kept changing her mind, and I’m very happy she did because the house got much better as a result.
    At the end I spent about $270/ft, roughly 60% more than the initial underbid. Took a 950K house and turned it into 2.7M-3M, so I’m ahead and could care less about being “reaped off”.
    My personal lesson, is make sure your first project leaves you with a LOT of margin of error.
    John’s project is the kind that I would never take upon, he is adding to little sqft to the house so the added value is likely to be below the cost and he will need to manage to a very tight budget.

  39. Posted by sometech

    just my $.02. I GC my own renovations as a full time developer / owner builder and my cost is generally around $160/ft^2 for a full rework of a building without major redesign and moderately nice finishes. But if I were doing this for someone else, I would like to make some profit even after eating a problem or 5. So to me, $200 / ft^2 seems reasonable for a remodel.
    Typical remodel:
    All new plumbing
    All new electrical
    New baths
    New kitchen
    some kind of major fix, eg foundation, windows…
    some walls moved
    floors redone
    roof redone
    ect…

  40. Posted by NoeValleyJim

    We just did a partial remodel, which included the kitchen. We took about half the house down to the studs, had all new electrical, plumbing and floor put in. The kitchen now has semi-custom Crystal cabinetry, Caesarstone countertops, Miele appliances, etc.
    Cost breakdown was as follows:
    35k – labor
    25k – cabinets
    5k – appliances
    10k – new hardwood floor
    1500 – permits
    This was for about 500 sq ft of the total place (per appraiser records).
    This took a place that was at cheap rental quality and made it pretty livable, certainly better than Home Depot quality. Not luxury either, but now it includes crown molding, wainscoting, window trim, recessed lighting and a new hardwood floor with custom inlay.
    My wife went to some extremes to save money, such as picking through the overstock pile at the Heath Ceramics factory in Sausalito for the tile.
    It is probably fair to include the forced air system we put in to replace the baseboard electrical and the windows, which were single pane aluminum frame before and now double panel vinyl – I know, this is not that nice, I wish I had put my foot down about this one. We had this work done separately, but will add it to the total.
    20k – windows for both units, so about half that
    12k – forced air
    So this is 97k for 500 sq ft, or about 200/sq ft.
    We hired a GC that was recommended by Gary at Kitchensync and we couldn’t be more pleased with his professionalism, time estimates or cost controls.
    This was just our experience, but a real world one. We did not hire an architect, but did have Gary from Kitchensync do some drawings to guide the GC. We got three bids for the project, all of which came in about the same price, but the guy we went with wanted to pull permits, which pushed him ahead of the other two. Overall, he charged about 30% more than his estimate, but our scope increased as well, so I can’t quibble. He also had his crew work Saturdays over Christmas Break to keep us on schedule.

  41. Posted by kathleen

    I have seen many, many remodels done “WBOA” – without benefit of architect. It generally shows and winds up costing you more than you save, in changes, delays and time wasted chasing down materials as well as when you finally go to sell.
    Architects, or at a minimum, a good interior desginer/contractor combo are must hires.
    I have done two full remodeled projects with Courtenay Griffith.
    She is great, and I recommend her to all my clients.
    My brother is a GC so if I plug him who will listen? No drug addicts, drunks or meth heads on his crew. Nice men who work hard six days a week and are skilled, awesome workers.
    I traveled the crew and put them up and fed them to work in Tahoe for two months for a down to the studs remodel and for another semi rebuild flew them to New York.
    I hired one guy on the ground in New York who could do things. I flew Courtenay and and a three man crew out from SF.
    I knew I would never be able to hire as many good workers on the ground there. And I knew what I could expect.
    It was worth it. The desinger fees rack up fast, but we got more done in five days them most people would get done in two months.
    I flew one worker in from Mexico City. Rock Star Crew.
    Wish I could do it all the time.

  42. Posted by dub dub

    This is a good thread. Keep it coming!
    We are in a “build or move” phase right now (leaning toward build, as the work “seems” minor), and this is useful info. Thanks everyone.
    We remodelled two bathrooms “WBOA”, but I would not dare do it with something more structural/drastic. This is because I am a coward, however :)

  43. Posted by David

    Strip 170 sq ft kitchen to studs, install off-the-shelf (but nice-looking, better than rental quality, but not custom) cabinets, upgrade electrical, plumbing, granite counters, new lighting, refinish floors, install French doors to backyard, replacing sliding glass door:
    $21,000
    Replace baseboards, refinish rest of house floors (tore out carpet), install 2 built-in cabinets (custom dining room, standard installed bookshelf in family room), install new fixtures, floors, and lighting in 2 bathrooms, new fireplace hearth & mantel, miscellaneous roof fixes, new gutters, new garage roof & gutters, new garage concrete pad:
    $34,000
    New front porch railing, stairs, & dormer above front door, bring interior staircase up to code:
    $6700
    Shore up about 15 feet of foundation, just breaking out and replacing concrete up to code:
    $14,500

  44. Posted by joe shmoe

    Depends on how far you go. What the actuarial people at my insurer tell me is that from scratch they calculate $350/sqft minimum construction cost for SF. From there it all depends on the finishes. So that’s a bit of a guideline.

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