During renovations of a pre-quake Victorian last year, a plugged-in tipster discovers a scrap of San Francisco newspaper dated September 18, 1903.
The text of the boxed ad (click image to enlarge):

Lot and cottage of 6 rooms and bath; high basement; situated on Mason st. within 120 feet of the Fairmount Hotel, cor California and Mason sts.; this is a forced sale and will be closed out for $3100, the amount of the mortgage. DAVIDSON & LEIGH. 219 Montgomery.

In the words of our tipster, “seems like short sales were common even back then.”
We also love the bit about Willits atop the page. And yes, a short sale would have actually been for less than the amount of the mortgage, but that’s such 21st century thinking.

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Comments from “Plugged-In” Readers

  1. Posted by tipster

    Apparently “instant equity!” is not a modern Realtor innovation, judging from the ad above that one.

  2. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    Do I read correctly that this is for a 6’x120′ lot ? That seems like a large sum for such a small slice. In the same year 50×150′ lots were selling in downtown SJ’s best neighborhood for about $6000, including the house.
    [Editor’s Note: We’d be willing to bet that was supposed to read 60×120.]
    [Editor’s Note Redux: And we would have lost, but we think tipster would have won.]

  3. Posted by Rillion

    I don’t know about it being 60×120. Since it says that lots nearby have been selling for $600 per front foot. If it really had 60 feet frontage then they would claiming it was worth a lot more than $12,000 as 60 x 600 = $36,000.

  4. Posted by sfrenegade

    If this was on the east side of Mason, it’s got torn down for the Intercontinental. If on the west side, it either got torn down or got turned into one of those row houses.
    I guess Davidson & Leigh didn’t want to point out that it’s near “Hooker Alley.”

  5. Posted by tipster

    Do I read correctly that this is for a 6’x120′ lot ?
    Um, it says it’s “27:6 x 120”. I assumed that meant 27’6″ x 120.

  6. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    OK, I had read that as lot #27, size 6×120. I think your guess at 27.5′ wide jibes with Rillion’s observation that this area is worth $600 per frontage foot. 27.5*600 = 16500 which is a lot closer to the claimed $12000 “market value”.
    And funny thing about the other add encouraging people to buy in the path of development in Willits. Willits is a nice town though didn’t experience the growth project from that railway extension 100 years ago.

  7. Posted by kaya

    When I think of Willits, I think of fortified growing patches, not rail terminii. What will prop 19 do to the real estate bubble there if it passes?

  8. Posted by inmycountry

    27:6 x 120 = 27′-6″ x 120′-0″
    A fairly standard lot size for the district.

  9. Posted by Rillion

    Yeah I was reading it the same way as MoD, Lot 27. The 27’6″ does make more sense. One of the few times I’m going to say I agree with tipster. 😉

  10. Posted by John

    In today’s money, that distressed cottage is selling for $73,000.
    At least, according the the standard definition of inflation.

  11. Posted by jon

    $3100 in 1903 was a fair chunk of change.

  12. Posted by sfrenegade

    For comparison, Pete Campbell’s salary on Mad Men was $3500/year in 1960. And he lives in a 2/2 at 83rd and Park in Manhattan, which cost $30,000.
    But 1903 was a different San Francisco too. You didn’t have all the restrictions on land use that you have now. The population was between 350-400K and 95% white, and SF was around the 9th or 10th largest city in the country by population (now the 12th). (little brother San Jose has grown taller and is #10)
    Oh, and large parts of the western part of the city were still sand dunes! Parkside hadn’t been built yet.

  13. Posted by Skirunman

    I’m a big fan of Mad Men. I think in 1960 Pete was a Jr. AE and could not afford his new apartment. This was covered in an episode where he argues with his wife and I think they borrow the money from the Bank of Mom & Dad. In season 2 his salary jumps to more like $350/week, which is what Kenny Cosgrove makes. This is more like $125k/year in 2010 dollars. Still could not afford that place on Park Ave today though! Don Draper is making $45k/year or more like $350k today, but rakes in $500k on sale of company or about $3.5M.

  14. Posted by John

    If I recall correctly, inflation in the 20th century caused prices to go up about 20X in the US. By 1930, prices were already 10X higher than in 1900, but by 1940 prices were almost back to even, so the 20X happened between 1940 and 2000.
    When I watch an old movie, I can’t help mentally calculating the prices … usually of food items.
    Seems clear that real estate in SF has outpaced inflation; no way to buy that cottage for $73K today. On the other hand, it is a very different city. Was SF so desirable in 1903? (I guess, not if you knew what was coming in 3 years.)
    Real estate didn’t start taking off until the 80’s right? And then, slumped again until the mid 90’s?

  15. Posted by Debtpocalypse

    September 1903 was the tail end of the “Rich Man’s Panic”:
    “I am surprised at the condition of the stock market,” he told reporters who met his ship. “It is not natural. The causes are purely artificial, and they rest on a false basis. I do not believe there was ever a better time to invest in reasonable securities. I have come back stripped for the fray, and I am going down into Wall Street.”
    Gates immediately plunged into the market, forming a syndicate to buy up those shares he felt were underpriced. Nevertheless, the market collapsed in the spring and fell heavily through early summer.
    This so-called Rich Man’s Panic was over by late August, and J. P. Morgan’s return from his annual European art-collecting expedition helped restore confidence. By October, prices were on the way up.
    One suspects the forced sales in these ads were the result of an unexpected and abrupt change in access to credit by over-leveraged real estate speculators amid the crisis of 1903.
    Sure is encouraging to see how we learned the lesson from the experience. Not.

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