March 13, 2013

Can’t Sell As A Single-Family Home? Pitch It As A Tech Incubator!

21 Buena Vista Avenue 2013

Having cut the list price for the 8,000 square foot single-family home at 21 Buena Vista Avenue by $600,000 last month, the listing agent for the property is now taking a new tack, touting its potential as a "Tech Incubator" and headquarters which "will invigorate your staff and surely help inspire the creative juices which could add to the bottom line."

Note that 21 Buena Vista Avenue East is zoned for residential, not commercial, use. Then again, so is the 6,744 square foot house at 170 Saint Germain which Peter Thiel rented to house members of his "hero accelerator" known as The Glint.

UPDATE (3/14): The page on the listing agent's website touting the property's potential as a "Tech Incubator" has been hastily removed.

The Witches Hat (21 Buena Vista Avenue) Is Back [SocketSite]
A Glimpse Inside "The Glint" And The Story Behind "The Mansion" [SocketSite]

First Published: March 13, 2013 11:30 AM

Comments from "Plugged In" Readers

Really? This is the kind of thing you think to yourself but don't actually put on the listing.

Oh, and this too... "This place is flippin’ amazing."

And last, what exactly are the zoning issues with running a 'headquarters' out of a private home?

Posted by: eddy at March 13, 2013 11:49 AM

Well, the owner of 170 Saint Germain is a libertarian. Of course mere zoning rules don't apply to Nietzschian Übermensches such as Peter Thiel. Such rules only apply to the little people, the "sheeple", the Randian "moochers" who get in the way of the Great Men who move history and produce all human progress.

Thiel funded that whole Seasteading initiative from a while back. Wonder what happened to that?

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at March 13, 2013 12:14 PM

"According to Section 204.1 of the San Francisco Planning Code, the principal use of a residence must remain as a dwelling unit in Residential and Neighborhood Commercial districts. The general rule of thumb for home office use is that the business function is minor and incidental to the primary use of the house or apartment as a residence. One cannot have clients coming to the home, nor display advertising or any other physical alteration that is non-residential in character. A typical allowable home office consists of utilization of a computer, desk, file cabinet(s) and phone to interact with customers or other persons off-site related to some commercial activity."

Incubator would likley be an illegal use.

Posted by: Michael at March 13, 2013 12:36 PM

This is interesting, a commercial use that may be more valuable than a single family residence.

In general single family use has been the most profitable for several decades in good residential neighborhoods in San Francisco.

That is why the "progressives" are opposed to "Dwelling Unit Mergers," something entirely ordinary in other cities.

Could this be a harbinger of "Dwelling Unit Divisions"?

Posted by: conifer at March 13, 2013 2:23 PM

Problem: Property won't sell
Solution: Narrow the market to the tiniest sliver possible.


Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at March 13, 2013 2:45 PM


what makes you think single family is the most profitable?

Posted by: lyqwyd at March 13, 2013 3:19 PM

This building was originally a tatered rooming house when it was purchased for renovation.

I assume the developer had a degree of choice in how many units to convert it to, and they chose one single family home (though with two kitchens, that may indicate some indecision).

Easily this could have been three units with parking, which would have been perfect for this location, or four units with less parking.

But if they had gone that route we wouldn't have anything to talk about today.

Posted by: redseca2 at March 13, 2013 3:40 PM

In the northern areas, with which I am most familiar, single family homes are more valuable, especially those that were built that way and later chopped up.

Posted by: conifer at March 13, 2013 3:59 PM

This building was originally a tatered rooming house

It may have been a tattered rooming house before the current owner bought it, but it was 'originally' a single-family home.

Posted by: BobN at March 13, 2013 6:43 PM

I see it as a reflection of wealth inequality. If inequality is high, with a few people possessing a great deal of cash, it makes more sense to make it one enormous house to attract one high roller than four middle-income people (whatever that means in this city). If inequality were low, then the four would outbid the one.

Not much we can do about it, but it's a sad commentary on our times.

Posted by: Alai at March 14, 2013 2:14 AM


It's definitely polarizing and unsettling for some of us who were educated with the idea that recycling capital through moderate redistribution was a core value of our society. 30 years of post-Reaganian economy took a chunk out of the New Deal. It proved that money does not really trickle down. Gotcha!

Now that wealth has accumulated back to pre-GD proportions, going back is a dauting task. Not that I am complaining. I am doing more than fine.

Smithers, release the hounds.

Posted by: lol at March 14, 2013 10:05 AM

So...the realtor is blatantly marketing it for an illegal use? Classic and klassy.

Posted by: nonanon at March 14, 2013 10:12 AM

The illegality of using a residence for a business in a location where zoning doesn't allow it isn't that big of a hurdle, and the listing agent is probably taking that into account.

As I understand it, all one would have to do is go through the process of obtaining a conditional use authorization and if the neighbors aren't opposed (because you aren't trying to run a massage studio, for example), then it isn't that big of a deal.

I still don't think that a libertarian ideologue like Peter Thiel would actually do that for 170 Saint Germain, however.

Posted by: Brahma (incensed renter) at March 14, 2013 11:39 AM

Actually, this house was built as a residence for a doctor. He himself converted it to a hospital, and it was later converted to a boarding house. It has been renovated piecemeal over the years, and still feels like a maze, with no single style dominating inside. What it will take to make it a true single-family again is for the price to drop appreciably, and for someone to put in several hundred thousand to unify its disjointed interior design (a la the old Hormel mansion up the street). But as it is now, I think the price has a way to go before anyone will seriously entertain diving in...

Posted by: GAR at March 14, 2013 11:26 PM


If the houses that have been chopped up (meaning they are no longer SFHs) are more expensive I don't see how that makes single families more profitable.

Posted by: lyqwyd at March 14, 2013 11:33 PM

In the northern areas, they are worth much more in their original form as single family houses. With or without the blessings of the city, almost any house that was chopped up gets converted back when sold.

Posted by: conifer at March 15, 2013 12:33 AM

UPDATE: The page on the agent's website touting the property's potential as a "Tech Incubator" has been hastily removed.

Posted by: SocketSite at March 15, 2013 9:46 AM

After three months on the market, a price reduction and the quickly retracted sales pitch above, the listing for 21 Buena Vista Avenue has been withdrawn from the MLS without a reported sale.

Posted by: SocketSite at April 1, 2013 1:34 PM

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