March 12, 2012

Inside A San Francisco Wife-Swapper's House And Actions

479 Douglass New Kitchen

In October 2009, the then two-bedroom single-family home at 479 Douglass Street was listed for $779,000 with its upper level "tenant-occupied by [a] longtime [elderly] gentleman" paying $490 per month in rent.

In November 2009, the sale of 479 Douglass closed escrow with recorded contract price of $850,000 with the tenant in place. That December, an "anonymous" complaint was filed with the city noting a "possible illegal unit on [the] second floor" and two kitchens in the single-family home.

Without a history of any permits to convert the property from a legal single family house to a two-unit dwelling, a permit was issued to remove the second kitchen and convert the property back into a single family dwelling, without the elderly tenant in place.

A year later, permits were issued to raise, extend, and rebuild 479 Douglass which has returned to the market as a modern four-bedroom Noe Valley home listed for $2,895,000.

Oh, and about that headline, the seller is Stephen Fowler of ABC's Wife Swap fame.

∙ Listing: 479 Douglass (4/3.5) - $2,895,000 []

First Published: March 12, 2012 9:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Brilliant!, I just toured the place yesterday very nicely done as well, congrats to the developers

Posted by: mikey woodz at March 12, 2012 10:10 AM

once a douche, always a douche?

Posted by: curmudgeon at March 12, 2012 10:19 AM

opps missed the headline......taking back my congrats comment

Posted by: mikey woodz at March 12, 2012 10:24 AM

Is it just me or does the kitchen seem like it is in the hallway?

Posted by: CSK at March 12, 2012 10:41 AM

Interesting story in the Mar 2011 NVV:

Perhaps with this sale NV gets one step closer to de-douchification?

Posted by: no_ vally at March 12, 2012 10:47 AM

he was smarter,better educated and wealthier
but a douche for saying it out loud.

Posted by: fowler at March 12, 2012 10:50 AM

A textbook case of "New Money."

Posted by: EH at March 12, 2012 10:52 AM

It looks very well done, but it's too bad they didn't continue the kitchen cabinet molding up to the ceiling.

Posted by: lyqwyd at March 12, 2012 12:28 PM

According to the website, Thermador range and oven have been installed. Can one of you kitchen snobs tell me if that's the same quality as Viking or Wolf? Or did the developer make a budge decision?

Also, why no square footage listed on the website or MLS. The plans are shown on the website, so clearly somebody knows the square footage. Same thing with 1340 Cole St - no square footage listed.

Isn't it disingenuous not to list square footage, especially when it's right there on the plans used to remodel the home? Isn't this done so that developers/realtors can verbally inflate the square footage - and support a higher offer price - without committing to anything in writing (which could get them in to trouble)?

Posted by: DataDude at March 12, 2012 1:07 PM

Viking, Sub Zero, etc. are what most of the real estate crowd "expects" to see in high end places. Speaking from personal experience, I've had difficulty living with these brands, especially on maintenance.

A friend recently redid his entire kitchen with Thermador, knowing but not caring it wasn't "up to standard". Tell you what, it turned our *really* nicely...

Posted by: Joshua at March 12, 2012 1:14 PM

"Isn't it disingenuous not to list square footage, especially when it's right there on the plans used to remodel the home?"

Unfortunately computing square footage isn't as easy as just measuring the interior area. There are various rules about what can and cannot be counted as living space. Closets? Stairwells? Storage rooms off of the garage? Decks? Hallways? Pitched roof attic conversion?

If an agent lists the square footage then they're liable if that number turns out wrong. And you can get it wrong just by making an honest mistake.

It would be nice if agents could quote footage with a margin of error: 1800 sq.ft. +-10%. That way agents would be more comfortable quoting size without worrying about a lawsuit. Buyers who need a more precise number can measure the property themselves.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 12, 2012 1:31 PM

Thermador is just as good as subzero and wolf, bosch/gaggenau and thermador are all under the same holding company/ being the lower end and gaggenau being the highest of the three

Posted by: mikey woodz at March 12, 2012 1:33 PM

Milkshake - fair point.

What the agent could do, to add transparency but protect against a lawsuit, is say "1,800 square feet per architect's plans" or "1,800 sq ft, including stairways, closets, storage and attic."

I betcha a malted milkshake the agents at both houses are verbally quoting square footage. Can anybody who has been to one of the open houses confirm this?

If a buyer is getting an appraisal, the appraiser will calculate the square footage, but by then, if you based your offer on 3,000 sq ft and the house is really only 2,700 sq ft, at $1,000 per sq ft, the seller's just pocketed $300,000. Sure, you can back out of the contract or try to negotiate a lower price, but by that point if it's a hot property, there will probably be a back up offer (also based on inflated verbal square footage), so the seller probably won't be too keen to negotiate price.

Most people wouldn't include exterior decks in square footage calculation. It would be nice if the square footage calculation were more standardized.

Posted by: DataDude at March 12, 2012 1:47 PM

Strange, no shots of the exterior. How does one evaluate curb appeal?

Posted by: sanfrantim at March 12, 2012 1:47 PM

"How does one evaluate curb appeal?"

If you can't visit the property in person, there's always google maps, which shows a cute yet somewhat small house with a hideous telephone pole in front of it (click on picture of yellow house on left side of screen to get enlargement). Why didn't they include exterior shot? Mystery solved:,479+Douglass+St,+San+Francisco,+CA+94114&gl=us&ei=v2heT_XjM8fM2AX_7_HdDg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=title&resnum=1&ved=0CCkQ8gEwAA

Posted by: DataDude at March 12, 2012 2:28 PM

There are sets of rules for calculating square footage. The American Institute of Architects even publishes a standard:

Posted by: redseca2 at March 12, 2012 2:47 PM

From a n00b perspective - I find it interesting there's so much questionable gray area in the RE field. MLS monopolization, DOM, asking/selling prices, square footage, etc. From an engineering viewpoint it seem like all/most of this stuff would be trivial to standardize and make transparent.

Or is all justifiable in some way I'm missing?

Posted by: lolcat_94123 at March 12, 2012 2:47 PM


Posted by: HENRY WILLFUL at March 12, 2012 2:57 PM

My neighbors also bought out an elderly "protected" tenant paying $1500 a month in rent... It only cost the new owners 6 figures... The old man replaced his wife's Porsche and his old 2002 Mercedes E class with a nice new BMW and new Mercedes. I'm assuming they just moved into their second home in Sonoma since they were living there most of the year anyway. So who knows what the older gentleman's back story is... Just saying..

Posted by: Denis at March 12, 2012 3:29 PM

Re: exterior shot. Strangely, there is one when you look at the Redfin listing, although not one on the 479 site. But the mystery is solved by the fact that it is on the split (bi-level) part of Douglas, so you can't back up enough to get a decent shot, and the shot on Redfin is severely acute.

On the douchebaggery issue...this has been really bothering me. If that guy deliberately went in and bought what most people thought was a property with a long-term protected tenant property, but then got him out by an anonymous call to the DBI, then I suppose some folks on here would say that's just an informed investor "creating value", but to me it is about the most cynical approach I can imagine. If, on the other hand, the buyer recognized his savvy purchase, and offered the guy a nice buy out, the story would be different. But it doesn't smell that way, but I suppose we're pre-disposed to think the guy is a jerk (despite the efforts at rehabilitation by Corrie Anders).

Posted by: curmudgeon at March 12, 2012 3:33 PM

back to subzero and wolf, bosch/gaggenau and thermador

so what applance brand is appropriate for a house at a certain pricepoint.

you don't put wolf in a $300,000 dollar house but how about
at $750,000
$1 mil
$1.5 mil
$2 mil ?

Posted by: meep at March 12, 2012 3:48 PM

TO DENIS AT 3:29PM.....

Posted by: HENRY WILLFUL at March 12, 2012 4:12 PM

lolcat_94123, we discuss this all the time on socketsite.

No, it's not justifiable, except that asymmetric information is essentially how lots of people make money in real estate assuming a short hold period. So the current state of affairs is not going to change except due to regulatory pressure or legislation.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at March 12, 2012 4:30 PM

@ Henry Willful,

Did you manage to save any money while paying much less than market-rate rent for many years?

Posted by: [anon.ed] at March 12, 2012 4:34 PM

As an elderly protected tenant and a multi-millionaire, I thank the kind folks of San Francisco everyday. I have a condo on Miami Beach and a house in Kona. I also rent a nice 2-bedroom flat near 479 Douglass for $830 a month. It is cheaper than one night at the Ritz.

I am keeping my rent-controlled rental apartment for as long as I live. If the owner wants to evict ne, they'll have to pay me $300,000. People in San Francisco are very kind.

Posted by: Old Protected tenant at March 12, 2012 4:42 PM

Sorry Henry, Im still one who thinks people should be able to do what they'd like with a property they bought with their own hard-earned money, and Im not sure of this guys situation but it shouldn't be a new owners (or old owner for that matters) job to subsidize tenants rent so extremely

Posted by: mikey woodz at March 12, 2012 4:43 PM

Old Protected tenant, two words, "Ellis Act."

Posted by: anon at March 12, 2012 5:19 PM

lolcat_94123 - Don't look towards the real estate industry to improve the flow of information. It is in their interest to remain as gatekeepers to basic info. Without that control it would be hard to gouge naive homeowners justify their commissions. But teh internets keep chipping away at the empire.

DataDude - Before I understood the legal perils that agents face when quoting footage I'd often ask at open houses if the square footage wasn't listed on the marketing sheet. No agent ever stated anything to me and I sometimes got strange looks which I know realize is the "Are you trying to get me sued?" look.

In the face of no good solid info I just took it on myself to answer the questions. Eyeballing interior space can be done fairly accurately. You calibrate yourself by estimating a room's size with your eyes and then measuring it with a tape measure. Do this enough and you'll be able to guess within +- 5% which is good enough to make a contingent offer.

As a bonus I started to notice that not all space is created equal. So I'd estimate the space and then bin it into three categories. At one end are very usable spaces with high ceilings. At the other end are less usable spaces like hallways and storage spaces. So two homes might have the same footage but the value of their footage could be quite different. You'll never get that level of important detail from marketing materials.

FWIW, I'd assign value to raised decks and roof decks since they do increase the amount of outdoor living space.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 12, 2012 5:32 PM

Ellis Act will lower the value of a 2-unit building by more than $300,000 and it takes more than one year and at least $50,000 of legal fees. My kind landlord will gladly pay me $300,000 if they want to sell the building.
I love San Francisco, especially its rent control law. It is so wonderful.

Posted by: Old Protected tenant at March 12, 2012 6:06 PM

HENRY WILLFUL (with his caps lock key stuck)wrote:

> OFF ?

I bet he would be happy to rent a room in Henry's house at a below market rent...

Posted by: FormerAptBroker at March 12, 2012 6:13 PM

@ OPt

I assume you are being facetious, although there are many people doing similar in SF, but your comment regarding Ellis evicions:

"Ellis Act will lower the value of a 2-unit building by more than $300,000"

is worth commenting on.

Any evidence for such a claim? I've looked and It doesn't seem to affect the value much. It's only really a problem for a buyer intending to rent. For TIC owners it doesn't really matter (except that you can't condo convert), since they are intending to owner occupy.

I'm sure there's some minor impact to price when compared to a vacant and unrestricted building, but for a building with a long term rent controlled tenant it probably significantly increases the value of the property.

Posted by: lyqwyd at March 12, 2012 6:22 PM

Do they not have tools out there to calculate the sq footage? Using a tape measure seems to inefficient. There's gotta be something; its not a very hard problem.

Clear out the furniture, stick something on the floor near the middle that shoots out 360 degree laser field. Do it in every room. Boom, you're done in the amount of time it takes to walk into every room. A smart one should work even with furniture in place.

Posted by: lolcat_94123 at March 12, 2012 7:20 PM

I must be misunderstanding something because isn't this essentially a story about "value creation" through figuring out a way to kick out an elderly tenant?

Posted by: mrl at March 12, 2012 7:59 PM

^ yea and about $1m of construction costs, and a 3 yr hold

Posted by: mikey woodz at March 12, 2012 8:08 PM

A room at the ritz in sf can be had for $469/night. Also, I find it curious that Mr. Willful has the skill to call out "TO DENIS AT 3:29PM....."

Life isn't fair.

Posted by: eddy at March 12, 2012 8:11 PM

@ Meep

In multimillion-dollar properties, you put a La Cornue Chateau. The top of the line, hand-made in France to order.

Posted by: Happy Tree at March 12, 2012 10:22 PM

lolcat_94123 - taking basic measurements isn't that hard. Classifying space (excluding staircases for example) and and then merging the individual measurements (recognizing overlaps or identifying where space wasn't properly scanned at all) is a lot harder.

Not an impossible problem to solve though it really isn't that hard to use a measuring tape. An average home needs about 20 minutes to measure and then about the same amount of "reckoning" time to add it all up. Eyeballing is even faster.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 12, 2012 11:30 PM

New poster here. As a neighbor to this house, I would note that this is a fantastic location for kids - dead end street, neighborly (and meticulous, maintenance-wise) neighbors on the block and not too far up the hill to make walking to 24th street painful. I am not shilling, I just really like this block compared to my own.

On stoves, in my experience of house hunting in SF, the Viking classes up the million dollar category and is the default for the next couple of million, category-wise. Wolf not quite good enough and the others can seem esoteric, especially to new money/non designer buyers (and again, only in the up to, say, $3m price range/in my experience). We went with viking and it always gets a positive comment, whether the guest is a VC or admin assistant.

I am not political but am glad to see this house fixed up; there are a few glaring eyesores in the neighborhood where I wish the elderly owners would move on to quarters where the lack of upkeep wasn't an eyesore (e.g., in a condo). That said, I realize that may be me in forty years....

Posted by: NoeCastro Border at March 13, 2012 9:19 AM

I find it a bit amusing that people choose their kitchen appliances based on out-of-the-box aesthetics. They're pieces of equipment for running a kitchen, not fine art. A three hundred dollar gas range/oven combo cooks just as well as its seven thousand dollar Euro counterpart.

Appearance does matter. Another way to think about good looking appliances is to consider how they will hold up over time. Can it take the beating of regular use? How easy is it to clean up? The mid-range offerings from the cheap domestic manufacturers score pretty well.

Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 13, 2012 9:41 AM


I don't understand - was the cane also rented? Did he get it at cane-controlled prices? Seems unfair to me.

Posted by: wrath at March 13, 2012 1:53 PM

Fowler is looking pretty old and haggard in the video of the public hearing where he defended his efforts to evict the poor tenant. Most interesting is his wife talking about how she personally soothed the 80 year old evicted man by talking to him with her healing powers throughout the process. CREEPY!

Posted by: Ted at March 14, 2012 8:40 PM


Posted by: curmudgeon at March 19, 2012 9:33 AM

479 Douglass: selling price: 3 Million.

Posted by: 94114 at April 3, 2012 11:58 AM


Posted by: sparky-b at April 3, 2012 1:54 PM

Indeed, plan-B.

Permabears used to talk of money heaven. What would be the proper wording? Money nursery?

Posted by: lol at April 3, 2012 2:31 PM

pretty good for Mr. wife-swapper (I guess, I have no idea what the build costs were). imagine how much more it would have fetched at the bubble peak. Still pretty good.

Posted by: anon at April 3, 2012 2:58 PM

How much more do you think it would have got at the peak? I would venture to say $0 more.

Posted by: sparky-b at April 3, 2012 3:22 PM

I wonder how many 3M houses were sold in NV at bubble peak? Apart from the oddball outlier like the firehouse and such. Congrats to the seller, job well done.

Posted by: lol at April 3, 2012 3:39 PM

I think it would have sold for less during the last market. Per MLS six SFRS have sold for 3M or more in Noe Valley. Four of them are post-correction. And only 14 for 2.9M or more, but eight post-correction. Twenty-one for 2.8M or more, 11 post-correction (three within the past 30 days). IMO 2.8-3M is still very much the Noe pricing glass ceiling. The sales that exceed it are only now beginning to become less exceptional as the City continues to gentrify southward.

Posted by: [anon.ed] at April 3, 2012 3:58 PM

3.5 - 3.7 million in 2007.

Look at 2705 Buchanan. Just sold for about the same amount, 3.1 million so a good comp, although in a better neighborhood. 225,000 less than 7 years ago, i.e. before the peak. Hard data on that one. On a new place we can all say "would have only sold for 2 million" or "no, would have sold for 4 million". So any such argument is just pointless rambling.

Posted by: anon at April 3, 2012 4:18 PM

"3.5 - 3.7 million in 2007."


and then this

"2705 Buchanan. Just sold for about the same amount, 3.1 million so a good comp, although in a better neighborhood"


I'm not getting into it. That's not how comps are thought of in reality. And I just noticed 479 Douglass is a half block into the Castro side of the Noe/Castro border anyway.

Posted by: [anon.ed] at April 3, 2012 4:50 PM

Speaking of crickets, there's still a chance to get on the record for the apples-to-apples sale of 152 Clipper and 946 Elizabeth before their outcomes are known.

Posted by: SocketSite at April 4, 2012 11:17 AM

Once again, speaking of crickets, apples-to-apples versus medians, and the "hot, hot, hot" Noe Valley market, the list price for 946 Elizabeth has just been reduced. There's still time to get on the record before it's sold or withdrawn.

Posted by: SocketSite at April 6, 2012 11:41 AM

Lots of posters already weighed in on Elizabeth, so it's hardly crickets. But crickets from you on 350 Hill so far, that's for sure. Man. Such spin on here any more. As if D5 isn't trading briskly right now? Come on.

[Editor’s Note: Good catch with respect to 350 Hill.

If by "spin" you mean trying to differentiate between a "hot" uptick in activity versus appreciation, or actually understand what’s behind those multiple offers, we’re guilty as charged.

And while a few people have weighed in on 946 Elizabeth and 152 Clipper, there’s still an opportunity to go on the record if you think you know Noe prior to either close.]

Posted by: anon.ed at April 6, 2012 1:16 PM

You didn't understand what was behind that multiple offer on Cesar Chavez. Nor did the various articles. I told you.

Posted by: [anon.ed] at April 6, 2012 2:54 PM

And who is talking appreciation anyway? Nobody. Among its numerous other deep flaws Case Shiller doesn't factor depreciation in, either. Some of those 2002-2003 builds are looking pretty dated right about now.

Posted by: [anon.ed] at April 6, 2012 3:08 PM

You didn't understand what was behind that multiple offer on Cesar Chavez. Nor did the various articles. I told you.

Believe it or not, when an architecturally significant property with views is listed 25 percent below the selling price of an average neighborhood home on a price per square foot basis, we have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. What you did tell us, however, is that the agent actually admitted to having mispriced the property from the start.

And who is talking appreciation anyway? Nobody.

Well, when you say things like "I think it would have sold for less during the last market," you are.

Posted by: SocketSite at April 6, 2012 5:54 PM

No, I'm not talking about appreciation, actually. You cannot have it both ways, Johnny Appleseed. Developed for sale in a D5 market that rarely saw a 3M sale, or developed for sale in a D5 market that more frequently observes 3M sales, that's the point. Not the appreciation of a contemporary home. Once again, your scrutiny of words in posts would better serve understanding if cast elsewhere. Lol.

And as to the CC house, the aspect of the huge garden level developable space (that all the articles ignored, and that the buyer was banking on when he mentioned selling for more in 5 years) had a great deal to do with the interest as well. Ignore the other fact I relayed. It matters little.

Posted by: anon.ed at April 6, 2012 7:30 PM

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