SOLD: Quintessential Pacific Heights Residence

This beautiful top floor, two bedroom condominium sold in four days! This swift sale bridged the gap to allow our sellers a stress free purchase of a larger Pacific Heights home. They were thrilled with our seamless sales cycle.

$1, 550,000 - Seller Represented

Iconic Coca Cola Sign

Coca+Cola+SF.jpg

San Francisco History

Standing 112 feet above Bryant Street atop a three-story building in San Francisco's South of Market area, the Coca Cola billboard has been a landmark for drivers going to and from the Bay Bridge since 1937 -- One year after the bridge opened to traffic.

The Spencerian script of the logo with its glowing background in a shade known as Coca-Cola Red was originally illuminated with neon. It alternately twinkled and shone for the better part of seven decades, but in 2010 it began showing its age.

Seventy-feet long and 30 feet high, the new sign is about the same size as its predecessor, but the look at night is crisper and the colors seem more vibrant.

The work to remove the original lighting system and reface the billboard with 4,800 CFLs for the white lettering and strip LEDs for the background took crews working day and night. The billboard was dark for only four days.

When I return from a long trip, I can always count on one of my favorite signs to light up and welcome me back to San Francisco. I am sure for years to come.......

The Survival of Landmark #7

Audiffred Building

Landmark #7
1-21 Mission Street

In the late 1800’s, Hippolite d'Audiffret ("Audiffred"), a Frenchman who had been living in Mexico, reportedly walked to San Francisco from Veracruz due to the increasing French nationals unpopularity with native Mexican country men and women. Upon his arrival in the city, Hippolite d'Audiffret built a profitable business selling charcoal in Chinatown. The Audiffred Building was constructed for him in 1889 to presumably house his business. Over the years this corner building had many tales of survival that added to the fabric of its legacy. This history and it’s unusual architectural style led to the Audiffred Building being designated Landmark #7. To this day, it is one of the few surviving buildings on the waterfront.

1906
San Francisco had the busiest waterfront on the west coast with a harbor filled with ships, bustling commerce, and shops serving every maritime need. At the turn of the 19th century, the Audiffred Building’s first floor retail spaces were rented to a restaurant and three saloons. The Bulkhead Saloon was one of these tenants.

In an attempt to stop the fires following the 1906 earthquake, the San Francisco Fire Department wanted to create a firebreak between the burning city and the wharfs. They blasted every other building with dynamite except the Ferry Building. As the tale is told, the fireman spared the Audiffred Building because they received an offer they couldn’t refuse. The very wise bartender at the Bulkhead saloon bribed the firemen with a keg of whiskey and a cart full of wine if they would spare the building. Needless to say, the building was saved.

“The very wise bartender at the Bulkhead Saloon bribed the firemen with a keg of whiskey and a cart full of wine if they would spare the building. Needless to say, the building was saved.”

1934
The Audiffred Building served as headquarters for the 1934 West Coast Waterfront strike that lasted eighty-three days when longshoreman in every west coast port walked out. The strike peaked with “Bloody Thursday,” a day when sailors Howard Sperry and Nick Bordoise were shot dead by police outside. A monument commemorates this tragedy at the corner of Steuart and Mission streets.

1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike , As A Monument, Dedicated To Events Or People, As An Exhibit of Art

1934 West Coast Waterfront Strike, As A Monument, Dedicated To Events Or People, As An Exhibit of Art

1946 - 1955
With the decline of San Francisco's waterfront in the mid-twentieth century, the Seven Seas Club for homeless sailors moved into the building in 1946. Bohemian artists and writers including Elmer BischoffHoward HackFrank LobdellHassel Smith, Martin Snipper, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti occupied lofts and studios on the two upper floors. The living spaces had no electricity and were condemned in 1955 as unsafe for living quarters.

1978
A fire from a gas main break gutted the building in 1978 leaving it scheduled for demolition. The building was saved by public demand. The Audiffred Building became the City of San Francisco's Landmark #7 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in May 1981.

1983 – 1984
A domed penthouse was added in the reconstruction after the fire. The building was subsequently bought by real estate developer Dustan Mills. In 1983–1984 it was refurbished and repurposed into office space by William E. Cullen.

1991
It was restored over a two-year period, and then in 1991, after the removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, the handsome building again saw the light of day.

1993 - Present
Since 1993, the Audiffred Building has housed Boulevard restaurant.

A Balancing Act

Disparities Between Listing and Sales Prices Signal a Need to Adjust to Cooling Market

How both buyers and sellers should act in the face of a real estate slowdown

Across the U.S., home buyers are demonstrating less urgency than they have in recent years, according to an October market report from Redfin. While demand remains strong, the report found, over one-third of homes for sale nationwide had a price cut of more than 1%, with discounts on the rise compared to last year.  

The gap between homes’ listing prices and sales prices is widening in a number of markets. The California Association of Realtors, for instance, found that the state’s sales-to-list-price ratio hit its lowest point in 20 months in October.

A large disparity between listing and sales prices can indicate that sellers are increasingly out of step with a changing market, and it may be time for a reality check—as well as discounts on listing prices.

In a sales situation, buyers and sellers alike must keep as up to date as possible on market data and set realistic expectations. Sellers often err on the side of using obsolete comps to price their homes, which leads eventually to discounts in a cooling market. Buyers, on the other hand, must keep in mind that discounts don’t mean huge bargains, but rather increased negotiability.

"We often see houses listed with the expectation of sellers that pricing has been continuing upward, and a lot of times, they price their homes by extrapolating continued upward market movement," said Paul Habibi, professor at the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate. "But once the market stalls out, those houses sit on the market for longer, there’s a scarcity of buyers, and lower bids. Sellers start to lower their asking prices or else accept offers below list."

However, real estate analysts say, a decrease in sales-to-list-price ratios does not forebode a significant downturn.

"If you look at the broader economy, the fundamentals are still strong," said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist with Redfin. "The GDP is growing, and unemployment is low. Sales prices are still growing. In order for it to be a real reason to worry, prices would have to start going negative."

Still, it pays for both buyers and sellers to be armed with the most current information about the state of this slight cooldown in the U.S., and to know how to interpret and act on disparities between asking and sales prices.

Where We Are Seeing Disparities Now

The hot Seattle real estate market seems to have reached a turning point, with the average home selling for 0.6% below listing price in October, the first time prices were below asking since 2014.

"Prices have gone up so much recently in Seattle that buyers have reached a point where they’re saying they’re not going to accept these," Ms. Fairweather said. "And with mortgage interest rates going up, more people are thinking of renting instead of buying."

Seattle is not the only market experiencing a slowdown in sales and sales prices. In Los Angeles, too, 23.8% of sellers sold their homes for below the listing price this September, while the median home price in Los Angeles County saw a 3.6% gain, the smallest in three years.

"We’ve had double-digit annual price increases in several of the years after the recession," Mr. Habibi said. "Now we’re seeing the market start to slow down because the pace of annual increases is generally unsustainable at that rate."

Third quarter market reports also reflected a cooling of home sales in Manhattan. The borough is experiencing its most significant slowdown in a decade, with sales declining by 11% compared to quarter three of last year, according to Stribling & Associates. As in Seattle and Los Angeles, this is leading to an increase in disparities between asking and sales prices.

"On the whole, there is more negotiability, and an increase in inventory," said Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, president of Stribling & Associates. "We had a real run, but we’re definitely seeing a slowdown. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing."

What These Disparities Mean

Nationwide, home sales are decreasing, and property is lingering on the market for longer. But other real estate experts agree with Ms. Stribling-Kivlan that this does not presage a major economic downturn.

Instead, they say, the trend represents a normalizing of the market after moving for several years at a frenetic pace.

"There are consistent clues that we’re seeing a shift in the velocity of the market, and moving away from an extreme sellers market," said Javier Vivas, director of economic research for Realtor.com. "There’s some uncertainty that happens when you’re coming down from great heights. But those higher-priced, historically hot markets are really now getting more of that correction and moderation."

Another challenge for luxury real estate in some areas is oversupply. In Manhattan, a construction boom of high-end condos has led developers to begin dropping their asking prices. The average price of a Manhattan apartment decreased  4% to $1.93 million in the third quarter of this year plus, there’s a seven-month supply of apartments, up from a five-month supply last year.

But again, this data should not be interpreted as a sign of impending crisis. And the diversity of the market in New York means that what is true for one sector may not be the case for another.

"New York is fragmented, with co-ops, condos, resales, and new development, as well as borough by borough," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan pointed out. "It’s been interesting to watch the very high end, which has had increased activity to some degree. For the very wealthy, there has been an incredible amount of wealth created in terms of the stock side of this economy. They may be buying for less money, but they’re seeing a good deal and taking advantage."

How Buyers Should Respond

One advantage buyers seem to have over sellers is their access to more current information about markets.

"Sellers may be pricing based on comps that are months old. In a changing market, what your neighbor’s home sold for a few months ago may not be what you can sell for now," Ms. Fairweather said. "Meanwhile, buyers are looking at what’s currently on the market and really trying to get the best value."

However, buyers may be vulnerable to a misunderstanding of what a slight slowing of the pace of the market means for them. They should not, experts caution, expect to land substantial bargains.

"There’s a misconception that prices will decline at some point," Mr. Vivas said. "It can happen in extreme cases, but usually prices don’t decline in a growing economy. It’s about a deceleration in the pace of growth."

And at the high end, he added, some investors may be sitting tight to see how they will be impacted by the changes to the U.S. tax code enacted at the beginning of 2018, which has placed tighter restrictions on the deductions wealthy homeowners can take for property taxes and mortgage interest.

"The big wild card is the tax impact, especially at the end," Mr. Vivas said. "In tracking this entire year, the consensus is the impact [of the new tax code] is being buffered by the fact that people haven’t received their tax filings yet. We might see that come April and May, people think twice about where they put their money."

How Sellers Should Respond

Just as closely analyzing the most current data on home sales is crucial for buyers, sellers, too, must seek out the most up-to-date information  to price their homes correctly.

The current increase in disparities between asking and sales prices indicates that many sellers, though, are setting their home’s value according to an earlier, faster market.

"Sellers notoriously overshoot fair values because of personal attachment to their place of residence," Mr. Habibi said.

However, he cautioned, sellers cannot necessarily rely on agents to provide the best dollar value for their home, either: "Agents do the opposite. They under-list to sell quickly and move on to the next listing. One needs to look at the actual data and be as objective as possible."

Studying the most current market data is critical to listing your home as closely as possible to what buyers will now realistically be willing to pay. Sellers should look at homes that have gone into contract in their area recently, taking into consideration asking and sales prices, and the amount of time those properties sat on the market.

It’s also important to hire a seasoned broker who has experience selling in cooling markets.

"They can take an analysis of the raw data and use it to justify what a good price guide would be," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan said. "They’ll also have an anecdotal idea of what people out there are looking for."

Be prepared, too, for your home to attract fewer would-be buyers and to linger on the market for longer than it would have in the faster-paced market of previous years.

"Buyers are now going to have more options, and there’s not as much urgency, and not as many multiple offers," Mr. Vivas said. "Be prepared for single-offer scenarios. Some properties will stay on the market longer, but they will sell. But the premium you were getting in 2016 is probably not going to be there in 2018 or 2019."

All this may persuade those thinking of selling to put their plans on pause and wait to see if the market speeds up again. But you should figure more than just raw data into your calculus of whether now is the right time to sell.

"Residential real estate is an emotional commodity. People see prices coming down and get a little hesitant," Ms. Stribling-Kivlan said. "But great fortunes are made in a changing market. Just because prices are down doesn’t mean you have to wait it out. Figure out what your personal and financial needs are."

Originally Published in The Wall Street Journal, November 23, 2018

Investing in Real Estate with Your IRA

Real estate can fund your retirement—but brace yourself for lots of risk and rules.

Self-directed individual retirement accounts allow people to diversify their investments into assets other than the traditional stocks, bonds and mutual funds that make up most retirement plans. Examples of alternative investments include real estate, precious metals and oil and gas holdings. The catch: The IRS requires a qualified trustee or custodian to administer the assets, such as handling transactions and managing paperwork and reports. So far, only about two dozen companies in the U.S. can act as custodians of self-directed IRAs. 

One of these is Advanta IRA, a self-directed retirement plan administrator in Largo, Fla., which oversees about $820 million in assets. “A lot of our clients are already real-estate investors, so their IRA is simply a new source of capital,” says Scott Maurer, director of business development for Advanta IRA. “And for others, they don’t like being at the whim of the stock market.”

At Advanta, investors open an account, fund it by transferring cash from an existing IRA, and then identify the property they wish to purchase—which typically is a single-family house that will be rented out. Advanta purchases the property on behalf of the investor’s IRA. Nearly all the transactions are cash deals, bypassing mortgage lenders. Rental income from the property is remitted to Advanta, which also pays the bills for the property. The cost for this service: about $200 to open the account and purchase the property and then a flat $295 a year to manage the account. (The company doesn’t handle property repairs or maintenance, tasks typically performed by a property-management company.)

The rules governing real-estate IRAs are anything but simple. IRA owners are forbidden from engaging in certain transactions regarding the property. Even something as simple as mowing the lawn of a property you own in an IRA can run afoul of IRS regulations—and render the account owner susceptible to losing the IRA’s tax-favored status, which could trigger taxes and penalties. That’s because IRS rules require contributions to an IRA to be made in cash, not in services, Mr. Maurer says. In fact, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report on retirement security last month and stated that “people who invest their retirement accounts in unconventional assets—such as real estate or virtual currency—may be placing their savings at risk.”

Bob Starks has been purchasing real estate for his IRA since 2009. “I do have some stocks and bonds, but 80% of my IRA is in real estate,” says Mr. Starks, a commercial real-estate agent in Duluth, Ga., who owns five rental houses and a small apartment building. He’s also flipped over 20 houses through his IRA. 

Since Mr. Starks is 71½ years old, he’s now required to take required minimum distributions of his retirement funds, so he’s tapping his rental income.

JUMBO JUNGLE TIPS

Here are some things to consider when creating a real-estate IRA. Consult a tax professional or financial adviser for the finer points of self-directed plans.

• Not for everyone. “There are plenty of easy opportunities to invest in real estate using mainstream methods like mutual funds or real-estate investment trusts,” says Mari Adam, a certified financial planner in Boca Raton, Fla. “It only makes sense to do direct real-estate investments if you’re a seasoned pro and are convinced the project you’re investing in is an absolute winner.” 

• Hire a property manager. The best way to ensure that you comply with applicable landlord-tenant laws and avoid prohibited transactions is to hire a third-party professional to manage the properties in your IRA. Expect to pay a commission equal to the first month’s rent and 6% to 10% of the monthly rent thereafter, says Mr. Starks. 

• Distribution options.Some investors take distributions from their real-estate IRAs “in kind,” by having the account administrator actually deed to them a percentage of the property, according to Jason Craig, president of the Entrust Group, a self-directed IRA administrator in Oakland, Calif. “For example, I can take out a 10% distribution and then re-register the asset so my IRA owns 90% and I personally own 10%,” he says.

 

By Robyn A. Friedman 

Originally Published in the Wall Street Journal

Cass Calder Smith - CCS Architecture

The Urbane Taste Maker

By Joseph Lucier

It was half way through a relaxed lunch at Absinthe earlier this year, when I realized the man across the table was simply my type of guy. Well-educated, urbane, and witty with just the right amount of New Yorker mixed into the conversation. Cass Calder Smith publicly wove himself into the hearts of San Franciscans with his smash hit design of Restaurant LuLu only to offer encore performances in Rose Pistola, Perbacco, and Twenty Five Lusk. Venturing further into the more private world of his residential practice, one will see in Mr. Calder Smith’s refined hand a talent for capturing the elusive je ne sais quoi that makes a home feel just right. With an interdisciplinary firm supported by offices in New York and San Francisco, Cass remains informed and engaged by a metropolitan lifestyle that excites the mind and propels his creative spirit.

CASS CALDER SMITH

CASS CALDER SMITH

Joseph Lucier: What is your current state of mind regarding your practice and projects that your firm is working on? 

Cass Calder Smith: My state of mind feels pretty well-balanced with a nice amount of architectural satisfaction, based on working with some great clients that have remarkable projects.  From a creative standpoint, there is also a nice balance between residential and commercial work, where we are doing both the architecture and the interiors. We have new projects starting up that demand fresh ideas and others with construction finishing, which is gratifying as they come to life. My firm has three other partners and a very skilled staff with diverse experience.  We have worked together a long time, which has a notable calming factor. 

 JL: How did growing up with successful creative parents foster your early interest in design and architecture? 

CCS: It was always appealing having parents with creative careers and more so since many of their friends had similar careers. In a general way, I saw the creative process in action and so later in life as I studied architecture it felt like a familiar culture. My father Howard Smith was particularly influential due to his immersive success as a journalist and academy-award winning film maker in 1960’s-70’s New York City. He was ambitious, creative, and worked really hard…strongly believed in ideas as a kind of currency. That was a very motivating influence and still is in relation to the process of architectural design.  When my parents split up in the 70’s, my mother moved us to an off-the-grid California commune where everybody built their own outlaw houses from scratch – many of which I helped on as a teenager. This taught me a lot about design and building, and also a sense for craft and materials.

JL: Talk about your studies at UC Berkeley and how they gave you both a foundation and a jumping off point for your career.

CCS: I loved going to Cal – both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student five years later. I teach a studio there every few semesters so I keep in touch with academia.  By the time I was a graduate student, I was pretty grounded already, due to being a self-employed designer-builder during the five years between degrees. This led me to delve further into design and theory rather than practical reality since I knew I would get back to that in the real world soon. For my two years of graduate school I occupied myself in a series of excellent design studios and seminars, which were very fortifying and led to a good amount of creative confidence. As a jumping off point, I was very fortunate to start getting commissions as I was still studying and so by the time I finished, I just kept going project by project.  Two pivotal ones that I began while a student and then finished soon after were a large modernist house in Belvedere and the smash-hit Restaurant LuLu in SF. With those two projects under my belt and a degree from Berkeley, I rented an office in South Park, carefully hired some staff, and officially launched.  

JL: As a firm with offices in New York and San Francisco, do you find any distinct East/West coast cultural or design maxims that differentiate client tastes and needs?

CCS: I would say the differences are noticeable, but subtle. New York is such a cauldron of ambition and commerce, which leads to a higher intensity – and so that influences many aspects that range from getting selected to creative expectations. From the corner store to the design studio, it’s just more competitive.  In the Bay Area, I find that clients are a little more open to new ideas and are also very much involved as collaborators, which I enjoy, and think is very valuable to the success of their projects. In New York, the clients tend to have us ‘do our thing’ with less of a collaborative ethos. Peoples lifestyles are more casual and less urban on the west coast and so since we aim to design projects (especially houses) to align with people’s lifestyles, that drives design in certain ways.  

JL: Does your interdisciplinary practice of working in the hospitality, commercial, and residential spaces offer a fruitful design feedback loop? 

CCS: Yes, but possibly more so in their opposites.  The restaurants we work on we interpret and design as ‘public places’ with the attributes of shared space, drama, people-watching, and socializing. Homes are very much the opposite with the attributes of privacy, retreat, personalized space, and are lifestyle-specific.  Those differences have established a clarity of thinking that helps derive concepts that work for each.  On a similarity level, we do like to work with more residential materials within restaurants because we know that people enjoy them and feel more comfortable around what they live with.  The commercial kitchen has made its way into the home over the years as we have all seen and so this back and forth is always evolving with interest. As my firm has designed a lot of homes and restaurants in the Bay Area, one common thread to both is that they are generally designed for our local lifestyle culture, which I refer to as ‘casual modernism’.  We also work on show rooms, offices, and some writers’ studios.  My sense is that having a range of design experience makes any architect better for any individual project type. 

 JL: When given the opportunity to design a home from the ground up, talk about your process of siting the property. 

CCS: That’s my favorite commission, and siting a house is often the most important creative act and problem to solve. First, I get to know the site as deeply as possible.  I will go there at different times of the day, observe the sun, wind, views, and often sketch what is there for a richer awareness of the characteristics. This analysis and research then directly leads to design. Its best for the client to be on site for part or all of this - as they always have valuable insight.  Then it’s about creating as many ways of siting the house as possible and this usually entails thinking about what the shape and general design of the house will be. The key factors are views, solar orientation, and topography, and how to maximize the indoor-outdoor dynamic.  On large sites its sometimes the macro solving of where to put the house, not just about how best to situate it. Then once there’s a solution, have it staked out to be sure it’s as expected.  Often there will be tweaks from this. 

SEADRIFT LAGOON HOME

SEADRIFT LAGOON HOME

JL: Who are the architects, both past and current, that inspire you?

CCS: From the past; Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Richard Neutra, and Alvar Alto to name a few for their distinct and pioneering modernism, plus a few artists like Donald Judd and Andy Warhol, and Fred Sandback. Current Architects include the talented Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & Demeuron, Saana, and Tadao Ando.    

 JL: When discussing architectural heritage, which cities would you most likely spotlight?

CCS: You’ve got to start with Rome since it spans almost every era and historical movement. Paris is great as textbook urbanism and drop-dead beauty. Tokyo always amazes. I’m partial to New York as a native, but Chicago is really the city for exemplary American Architecture – especially the twentieth century. I have been getting back into Venice the last few years too…the water, no cars, a place kind of preserved.

JL: What does the experience of teaching students at UC offer you? 

CCS: Having a balance between practice and academia just feels right as an architect. The better you feel, the better your think. It’s motivating to be around the young energetic talent. It also makes you walk your talk more than usual, since there’s a lot of explaining to students to think conceptually and as outside of the box as possible and then back at the office you can’t forget that.  Design schools are really creative and artistic places and so being part of that feels like it keeps you on your game. It’s also nice to give back with design knowledge and wisdom. 

 JL: What did you get out of your involvement with the Civic Design Review Committee for the SF Arts Commission.

CCS: That was a pretty vast experience for eight years with much more responsibility than I expected. In public hearings we reviewed and then approved every public building to be built in SF over that time. This ranged from Moscone’s expansion, to libraries, to play structures in parks…essentially anything on city-owned property. I acquired a lot of valuable experience from my involvement on much larger scale buildings than I work on in my practice, and also got to work with some of the top architects in the Bay Area. Public- sector work is different than private-sector, and so that added experience helped my perspective on all work. It’s good for architects to work in various scales and so this was a benefit to the continuous learning curve.

JL: What is your favorite weekend getaway?
CCS: I frequently stay home designing and drawing at a nice big table, but if not then weekends at the Chateaux Marmont in LA are always liberating. I also enjoy Indian Springs in Calistoga floating around in that big warm pool.  

JL: Bucket list items yet to be realized?
CCS: For travel; Cairo and the Nile, then Marfa Texas. Someday I want to build my own Glass House in the country. Since I gave up motorcycles, I want to start car racing.

JL: Favorite restaurants? Internationally, nationally and locally.
CCS: Internationally; J-Sheeky and The Woolsey in London. I’m a little more into the classics. Nationally, I jump to New York, where I like Oya, Marea, and Houseman. And   Locally, I still and will always love Zuni. I’m a big fan of Hog Island Oyster, and also Poncho Villa Taqueria too. 

JL: What are you currently reading?
CCS: Always reading a New Yorker striving to keep up, but also finishing up Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography. 

Visit CCS Architecture

Many thanks to Cass Calder Smith and Melissa Werner for working with me on this feature!

Photo Credits: Colin Miller, Paul Dyer, Joe Fletcher, Eric Laignel.




Danny Bernadini - Upscale Construction

Building Upscale

Working with some of the best architects in the world, spending time creatively solving problems for clients and building a home from the ground up are just a few of the things that make a day at the office so fulfilling for Danny Bernardini of Upscale Construction.  As a native San Franciscan, Bernardini has been hooked on building since he was a child.  To this day, we see the child inside of him is still very much alive with his infectious curiosity, good will and an inherent ability to keep the creative process of home building a win-win process for all involved.  CaenLucier had a moment to catch up with Danny between appointments at a favorite watering hole near his Union Street offices.

Danny Bernadini, Tony Kelley & Brad Hayes

Danny Bernadini, Tony Kelley & Brad Hayes

CaenLucier: What was it that led you to becoming a general contractor in San Francisco?  How and when was Upscale Construction formed?

Danny Bernardini: I loved building as a child.  When my father hired a contractor to do any work around the house, I sat there and looked and tried to help anywhere I could.  As I grew older, I wanted to get into development, so I worked for a general contractor in Marin, then got my license and started Upscale Construction in 1995.  I saved enough money to start doing some home flipping, but then got my first break on high end home remodeling via a VC who saw one of the homes I flipped.  Soon after that, the word got out and Upscale Construction grew to where we are today based on client/architect/ real estate agent references.

CL: The city is a competitive market for high-end building firms.  What sets Upscale apart for the competition?

DB: I truly believe our core values set us apart.  We try to instill in our team what got us to where we are today, which is a company based on mutual respect, creativity, and customer service.

Mutual Respect – Treat all members on the project team, whether it is the laborer, sub-contractor, project manager, client, or architect with the mutual respect you would want.  You want everyone on site and involved in the project to have a positive attitude towards working in the client's best interest.  If everyone is well respected, you will get that positive attitude reflected in their work.

Creativity – Custom building comes with challenges behind every door.  We found that our creativity to problem solving was one of the reasons many of our clients liked working with us.  We empower our team to think out of the box to solve problems and to be proactive in doing so.  No idea is a dumb one.

Customer Service – The design/build industry is based on customer service.  After all, we are building the homes people quite often live in for the balance of their lives.  Without customer service, you can’t gain a complete understanding of what the client wants out of their home.  If you don’t understand that facet, how can you really build their dream home?

CL: What is your favorite part of the design/build process?

DB: I personally love seeing what gets accomplished on the site.  When I was a laborer/carpenter, and even now, I found myself losing what we call “valuable time” at the end of the day walking through the job site looking at what got accomplished.  There is nothing better than knowing you built something from scratch! This is why I don’t see this time as time lost.  I actually value this time.  On that note, I miss swinging the hammer, so I do a lot of that at my own home.  I am enjoying teaching my son to do so!

Pierce+Street.jpeg

CL: What are the challenges that are presented when working with an existing home in town?

DB: One of the bigger challenges is trying to keep the neighbors happy.  Let’s face it, there is construction occurring on every other house these days.  The neighbors are constantly faced with double parked cars, noise, debris, etc. We try to make it as easy as possible on the neighborhood and we try to set up a relationship with the neighbors so they know they can come to us with any issues.  We have heard some people say "at least Upscale Construction will be the builder."  If a neighbor has to deal with a job site, most feel at ease knowing it is us managing the construction.

Another big challenge is communication.  I feel we are great builders, but to be honest, I think there are a ton of great builders.  I believe our communication style reduces the challenge of the actual build out for the clients and architects we work with.

CL: Are there any particular architects that your enjoy working with?

DB: We are really blessed in San Francisco to have some of the best architects in the world!  I enjoy working most with architects that are good collaborators and involve us in the early budgeting phase. Just take a look at our signs around town and you will see many of the talented architects with whom we work.

CL: With San Francisco as a tech hub, what new technology has come into play in your profession?

DB: Home automation is more and more prevalent in the homes we are building.  Savant home control systems seem to be one of the more popular choices out there.  Also, 90% of the homes are installing radiant heat throughout.  The day of the forced air systems seems to be going away. 

CL: What would your dream project look like?

DB: Something with a Bat Cave, unlimited budget, unlimited schedule, pleasant neighbors, and at a site with unlimited parking...wouldn’t that be nice!  We recently completed a Mid-Century home in Sea Cliff where the design was true to the original design, but modernized for how peole live today.  The client happened to be the architect.  For him to build his dream home in the vernacular I most enjoy was a treat!!

CL: How would you advise people looking to do a large scale renovation or “ground up” project to best interview builders?

DB: Interview your general contractors to best understand how they work.  Be collaborative with them and the design team to achieve your budget.  Share your budget.  Share your goals.   If you can find the team that is your advocate (team being the right architect, engineers, and general contractor) then you have made a great start.  I would not put several general contractors up against each other. There is a fallacy that people think they will get the best price by doing this.  The problem there is you have too many sub contractors bidding on the project and the sub selection might be based on price only versus right fit.  The subs will also only give so much effort to bidding it and they will miss scope.  They have little motivation to bid it if they know they have little odds of getting the job.  I could go on and on, but it is key to find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency.

"Find the team members you truly believe have got your back, then make sure they are capable of the build, capable of managing the build, and capable of open, effective communication and transparency."

CL: What are the common mistakes that clients make during the construction part of a new home?

DB: They change their minds too much!! I am not sure about the exact psychology behind it all, but it seems a lot of client’s want something but hold back until construction starts to add it.  For example, we do a lot of pre-construction analysis with clients and commonly the "off the cuff" cost is too high.  So we then work with the design team and client to cut the cost to something they are happy with.  Then we start...mid-stream they add most of the items we discussed (and cut) back into the project.  The big problem then becomes the changes cost more than originally budgeted.  There is a sequence we try to keep in construction.  Disrupting it costs time and time is money.   I understand there are many variables in making decisions, but if a client knows for sure that they are going to do something tell us early so we can do it for the best price and in the proper sequence.

CL: What architectural style do you most gravitate towards?

DB: Contemporary and Mid-Century Modern.

CL: What would you do if not building San Francisco’s finest residences?

DB: I would sell produce.  It was my first job on Union Street as a kid and I loved it!

CL: What is your favorite SF restaurant?

DB: Tony’s Pizza in North Beach.  I grew up hanging out in North Beach and I love pizza!!

CL: What do you like to do in your time off? 

DB: I enjoy working on construction projects around my house, golf (which I never have time to do), and tennis with my family.  Most of all, I love spending time with my wife and kids.  I am a workaholic so the time I do spend with them is precious.

Healdsburg Dreaming

Healdsburg Dreaming

Vallejo Street Chic

Vallejo Street Chic

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CaenLucier would like to thank Danny Bernardini for his time with LOFTY HEIGHTS!

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Gary Hutton - Gary Hutton Design

La Dolce Vita

By Joseph Lucier

Gary Hutton's atelier along the bustle of Polk Street is an oasis of filtered light and elegant balance emitting an aura of omnipotent stability rooted in decades of experience and creative talent.  As a self described "elder of design," Gary offers clients a creative experience distilled from a time when interiors were assembled with artistic craft and measured patience.  In addition, Gary Hutton Design produces furnishings that whisper luxury through a marriage of design prowess and partnerships with master fabricators and craftspeople. Most of all though, it is Gary's affable personality and enthusiasm for the journey that gives his clientele the courage to leap into the unknown with him to create uniquely individual residences, always with yearning for la dolce vita.  

Gary Hutton

Gary Hutton

CaenLucier: How does the city of San Francisco influence and inspire you?

Gary Hutton: Having grown up only an hour south of the city, San Francisco was always accessible and part of my family’s regular outings.  So, the City was always part of my consciousness.  What struck me most when I actually moved here in 1973 was the openness and acceptance of all sorts of crazy lives and points of view.  The freedom to be one’s authentic self is an inspiration every day.

CL: Describe the lasting impact of studying under Wayne Thiebaud, Robert Arnison, and Bill Wiley during your undergraduate years at UC Davis?

GH: The faculty at UC Davis instilled in me an intellectual curiosity that stays with me to this day. Each of these artists strove in their own way to find a new or better avenue to do the things they did.  Parameters were to be questioned and re-evaluated, sometimes kept, and sometimes thrown out.  These incredible artists taught me to always look deeper.

CL: How have your professional relationships helped your career?

GH: In design school one day a professor said, “Look around the room. The people here will be the most important assets in your career”.  While that didn’t exactly turn out to be true, the general principle is such. It is most true that the job of an interior designer cannot be accomplished alone.  There are so many moving parts, from the realtor to the builder to the curtain maker.  Each and every one is vital in making a project a success.  It is also paramount to let these professionals do their jobs, as they usually know more about their part than you!

CL: What has changed and what has stayed the same over your time as a designer?

GH: In the many long years that I’ve been in this industry, from sample boy at Scalamandre while in school to my current status as one of the elders of Design in San Francisco, I have witnessed interior design go from an artistic craft-based business to one of corporate conglomerates facilitating a very real commoditization of thought. One only needs to take a cursory look to see that there is a very real lack of individuality.  These large conglomerates are selling a “look” and the public is thoughtlessly eating it up.  What remains the same is the dedication of real design professionals who look beyond the online trends and do great work regardless of style.

CL: What advice would you offer the new crop of designers in San Francisco?

GH: Step away from the computer! There is no program or VR in the world that will give you the sensation of sitting on a down filled, mohair velvet covered sofa.  Nor is there a monitor in the world that can convey the exquisite luster of a bi-colored silk taffeta.  The computer can be a useful tool, but it cannot deliver a sensual experience.  If our interiors do not produce a sensual experience, we have failed.  And remember that information is NOT knowledge.  Experience creates knowledge.  Get out into the world and learn.

CL: What makes your satisfied with a project? How do you measure your success?

GH: Design is problem solving, unlike art which is self-expression.  This nugget of truth was beaten into us as students at CCA. It is my yardstick to measure success and satisfaction.  If the myriads of problems that make up a project are resolved then I can take some satisfaction in that.  Of course, a happy client at the end is very important, but invariably if the problems are solved the client IS happy.  Sometimes the problem is perfecting the furniture plan to work with the client’s particular situation.  Sometimes the problem is divining what the client really wants versus what they ask for. When one “gets it right” that is success.  That is what motivates me every day.

CL: Talk about the importance of your relationships with the fabricators that create your furniture designs?

GH: In some ways being an interior designer is like being Jeff Koons.  There is a conceptual whole that must be made real by a team that understands the nuance that differentiates this design from someone else’s. Designers, like Mr. Koons, seldom, if ever, actually do the physical work.  I have been blessed to have developed a group of superior craftsmen and women who share that passion.  To make something as minimal as my “A” Series tables requires craftsmanship that is extraordinary.  I do believe that there is a Zen energy that lives in pieces that people have put their heart and soul into.  This quiet energy of near perfection is what we strive for in every piece.  It does take a village.

Gary Hutton Custom Creations

Gary Hutton Custom Creations

CL: Your four decade relationship with art collector Chara Schreyer culminated in the 2016 publication, ART HOUSE. What benefits have you enjoyed during these years of patronage? What has this collaboration taught you?

GH: How does one even begin to broach the subject of a 40 year collaboration?  In a very real sense, we grew up together.  Chara had not yet begun collecting in a serious way and I was just starting out on my own.  We did many projects outside of those in the book.  We explored together developing a mutual trust and a love of material invention. Most of the time it worked.  Of course there were failures, but that trust never wavered.  Understand please, that we didn’t always agree about specifics and to this day sometimes still don't, but we always agreed on the concept and what the final goals were. Chara has taught me that there is real value in trust as well as beauty.

Gary Hutton & Chara Schreyer

Gary Hutton & Chara Schreyer

ART HOUSE by Assouline


CL:  Favorite weekend getaway?

GH: Going to my boyfriend’s house in Vallejo

CL: Favorite restaurants? Locally, nationally, globally.

GH: We are so lucky here in the Bay Area.  We have choices that are the envy of the world, but I always go back to Zuni.  I have been going there since the early 80’s when the kitchen was a Webber grill out in the alley behind the restaurant. I recently had the pleasure of eating at Upland in NYC.  Wonderful food, beautiful place, and lively crowd.  One felt immersed in New York City energy! In LA, I always go to Luques. It is exquisite food without being precious.  I HATE tweezer food.  It is a low-key environment that was actually one of Barbara Barry’s first restaurant interiors. In Paris, I love the newly re-done café at the Ritz.  That room is my ideal of what Elegant French is all about and the food is good too!

CL: What are you reading?

GH: I am currently reading or have just finished four books that I am mad about!

Stoned, Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden. This is a gorgeous read.  The language is beautiful and it opens the door to a new view of world history.  This is my second time reading it and it is even better than the first!

The Art Instinct Beauty Pleasure and Human Evolution by Denis Dutton. Not exactly an easy read, but this book has changed the way I see the world and the aesthetic choices that we make every day.

The Gourmand’s Way: Six Americans in Paris and the Birth of a New Gastronomy by Justin Spring. Wildly interesting read about the overlap of Americans in Paris after WWll.  Some are familiar (Childs, MFK Fisher, Toklas, Olney) and some are not (Liebling and Lichine), but all with a major impact on American food today.  Fun read with tons of information.

Hollywood by Charles Bukowski. I admit that I bought it because an artist I admire, John Register, did the cover art, and Martin Muller of Modernism Gallery gifted me with a signed print of it many years ago.  You can see it at Bix too!  A classic down and dirty story of the underbelly of LA told as only Bukowski could.  Keep it away from the kids!

CL: Secret guilty pleasure?

GH: Eating chocolate bars with almonds and sea salt while binge watching the Canadian PBS show “How it's Made.”

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Thank you Gary for your work on this feature.

Buying a Home With an LLC: A Primer

In a world where social media is driven by tweets, likes, posts and shares, privacy is an especially valuable commodity.

To that end, many home buyers and real-estate investors form limited-liability companies with cryptic names when purchasing property. This appeals to the publicity shy, but LLCs also help homeowners avoid scams, identity theft and frivolous lawsuits.

LLCs have long been popular. In Florida, for example, two-thirds (66.6%) of all new business entities formed in 2017 were domestic LLCs, according to the Florida Department of State. But because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in effect since Jan. 1, provides favorable tax treatment to so-called pass-through business entities such as partnerships, S corporations and LLCs, the use of LLCs is expected to explode.

Investors like Scott Wood use LLCs to take title to their real-estate holdings. Mr. Wood, an employee-benefits consultant from Scottsdale, Ariz., sold an insurance business in 2006 for “eight figures” and invested the proceeds in commercial and residential real estate. Each property was purchased in the name of a separate LLC he set up for that purpose.

“My main objective was to be able to safely invest funds and have my assets protected,” he says. “Real estate comes with various unknown risks, and I didn’t want to do it in my own name so people were able to monitor and track what I was investing in. An LLC is simple, easy, inexpensive and protective.”

LLCs are relatively easy to set up, but specific requirements vary by state.

In Delaware, for example—a state popular for business formations of all types—the state Division of Corporations offers a downloadable form that asks the name of the LLC, as well as the name and address of a registered agent in Delaware. The document needs to be signed and filed, and a $90 fee paid. A Delaware LLC must pay annual taxes in the amount of $300.

Although Delaware is among the states that maintain the confidentiality of an LLC’s members, other states require disclosure. In those states, even if a property is purchased under an LLC, it may be possible to discover the names of the true owners of the property.

But while the majority of LLC owners are law-abiding citizens, LLCs can also provide anonymity to embezzlers, drug traffickers, money launderers, tax evaders, those seeking to skirt campaign-finance laws and others who wish to hide or obscure illicit funds.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from New York City, is drafting legislation that wouldn’t necessarily curb the use of LLCs, but would require that LLCs organized or authorized to do business in New York publicly disclose a list of their beneficial owners.

“In New York, we have very archaic laws around LLCs, which is a great concern,” he says. “In many cases, tenants don’t know who their landlord is. On a larger level, New Yorkers don’t know who is behind many, if not most, of these LLCs—and unlike other corporate entities, even the New York Department of State does not know.”

But some investors say that increased disclosure requirements would have a chilling effect on their use of LLCs. “I would probably do a lot less investing in real estate if I couldn’t have the title held in an LLC,” Mr. Wood says.

Paul M. Fann, a Scottsdale-based accountant who regularly works with real-estate investors to set up LLCs, is concerned that efforts to crack down on LLCs and require disclosure of owners would be bad for business.

“It makes for great public discourse, but it makes no sense for economics and for investing,” he says. “There are fabulous reasons to use an LLC, and states that want our business will not want to alienate investors by requiring openness and more disclosure.”

Originally Published March 7, 2018 in Wall Street Journal