The Big Scoop on Landmark #260

Michael de Young was the patriarch of one of the most powerful and influential families in San Francisco. He arrived to San Francisco during the Civil War years in 1854 from St. Louis with his mother Cornelia “Amelia” and brother Charles. De Young’s father, Miechel, was said too have died of a stroke during their journey.

In 1865, Michael and Charles entered the publishing business as teenagers by borrowing a $20 gold piece from their landlord. They used the money to buy an old desk, several fonts of used type, some newsprint, and then tucked themselves away in the corner of their landlord's Clay Street print shop. The brothers started with a free theater program sheet called The Daily Dramatic Chronicle, which debuted on January 16, 1865. The four-page Daily Dramatic conveyed itself to be "a daily record of affairs -- local, critical, and theatrical," but was seen as a gossip sheet. The two teenagers handed out the Daily Dramatic at hotels, theaters, restaurants, and saloons, and by the end of their first week they had payed their landlord back. According to the de Young’s, the Daily Dramatic Chronicle would be “the best advertising medium on the Pacific Coast.”

Dramatic+Chronicle.jpg

By the end of their first month, the de Young's had increased the circulation of their fledgling effort to over 2,000 copies. It was an encouraging start, but that successful first month would be soon forgotten when the de Young’s broke free from their role as upstarts and scored an even more remarkable coup.

Abraham Lincoln President of the United States 
assassinated by John Wilkes Booth

Word of the president's death appeared in the de Young’s first "extra" edition, hitting the streets several hours before the city's other daily journals reported on the national tragedy. The de Young’s had quickly legitimized their position as news reporters, marking the first pivotal step in their bid to become aggressive, competitive journalists. By the 1870s their paper was so influential and widely read that the de Young’s could make or break a politician, policy, business deal, or any other matter of importance in Northern California. We now know this paper as the San Francisco Chronicle.

Over the following years, Michael De Young and his wife Katherine had five children:

  • Charles de Young (1881–1913)

  • Helen de Young (1883–1969), who married George T. Cameron (1873–1955)

  • Constance Marie de Young (1885–1968), who married Joseph Oliver Tobin (1878–1978)

  • Kathleen Yvonne de Young (1888–1954), who married Ferdinand Thieriot (1883–1920)

  • Phyllis D. de Young (1892–1988), who married Nion Robert Tucker (1885–1950)


In 1911, Michael H. de Young purchased two lots on the south side of California Street between Gough and Octavia Streets, directly adjacent to his own estate. He gave the deeds to two of his daughters, Helen, wife of George E. Cameron, and Constance, wife of Joseph O. Tobin, an executive at Hibernia Bank and member of one of San Francisco's oldest and wealthiest families. Michael also offered to build homes on these lots for the couples and their young families. For a few years nothing happened as both the Tobin and Cameron families chose to live in the affluent town of Hillsborough, south of San Francisco. But in 1913, Michael’s wife Katherine succumbed to cancer and the couple’s only son, Charley, died in a fishing accident. These family tragedies prompted de Young’s daughters to reconsider their father’s earlier offer.

The M.H. and Katherine de Young estate at 1919 California Street

The M.H. and Katherine de Young estate at 1919 California Street

In 1915, de Young commissioned prominent architect Willis Polk to design a Tudor Gothic Revival style home on the lot adjacent the family estate. The original plan was to build two “mirror image” houses next to each other with a large half archway at the side of each house meant to complement, and complete, the neighboring home.

The “Tobin House” was first to be constructed and included a steeply pitched, slate-clad roof with projecting stuccoed chimneys topped with decorative copper chimney pots. A large, two-story bay window, with tall arched casement windows and small panes of leaded glass, dominates the eastern side of the front facade and is capped with Neo-Gothic inspired decorative panels. The half arch, formed with molded bands, leads into the a recessed side passage. The understated front door, east of the half arch, is accented with a lion’s head. With good fortune, Polk’s original intent of unpainted stucco, resembling stone to match the California Street lamp posts in front of the de Young mansion, has stood the test of time.

Ultimately, Helen de Young had plans other than to build a complementary home next to her happily ensconced sister, Constance. Thus, the second half of the mirror image house was never built leaving an abruptly ending archway where it meets the next building. The original de Young mansion met the wrecking ball in the 1940s, but not before portions of The Thin Man (1936), starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, were filmed there.

Today, 1969 California presents itself better than ever as it stands out among surrounding homes. The owners of this private residence have lovingly restored the interiors to keep the integrity and beauty of its original architecture. Willis and M. H. would be proud.

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher - SFMoMA

The LOFTY HEIGHTS Interview

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher

C A E N L U C I E R: As a girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do at a young age, talk about your current state of mind as SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design.

Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher: At a young age, I saw museum exhibitions as one way to address a gap in arts education and introduce important ideas, new forms and processes seen in architecture and design, and revisit history with a broad audience. I still have those goals as well as an interest in engaging in public dialogue with designers, museum visitors and colleagues. It’s more important than ever to listen, share and take action.

CL: How have you seen the Snoetta designed new museum substantiate the position of  SFMOMA on the national and international museum scene?

JDF: I’ve noticed that tremendous additions to SFMOMA’s collection, including the Fisher Collection loan, which were acquired during the building’s closure, broadened SFMOMA’s audience and engagement significantly.

CL: Is there a favorite work that you enjoy visiting in the museum?

JDF: It is always a treat to walk through the Dan Graham sculpture on the small outdoor balcony on the 4th floor overlooking the Yerba Buena Garden.

CL: In what direction do you see the Architecture and Design department at SFMOMA growing in the years ahead.

JDF: Now that the department and collection is well-established and going on thirty years at SFMOMA, we’ll continue to focus on works that generate new ideas and dialogues, while also turning our attention to visionary contemporary works from the Bay Area and beyond. 

CLICK TWICE   TO WATCH VIDEO  OF SFMOMA A+D COLLECTION

CLICK TWICE TO WATCH VIDEO OF SFMOMA A+D COLLECTION

CL: Your new show, Sea Ranch: Architecture, Environment, and Idealism, just opened. How did the idea develop from your initial proposal to a public exhibition.

JDF: SFMOMA’s Architecture + Design gallery has very high walls, and much of the original 1960s designs for The Sea Ranch are small hand-drawings. My colleague and co-curator on the exhibition, Joseph Becker and I decided to recreate a full-scale version of one of the earliest Condominium units to fill the central space, and surround it with drawings and photographs on the gallery walls. Since The Sea Ranch is a bit far, it was important that visitors have an opportunity to experience the interior configuration of the architecture. 

CL: What was your most exciting find during your research for the show?

JDF: There were so many exciting finds! Every day I have a new favorite. Constance Beeson’s 1966 film of a Halprin Workshop showing The Sea Ranch site and people experiencing nature with intent and intensity was as exciting as finding architect Joseph Esherick’s initial Hedgerow house studies. We looked at thousands of drawings and photographs, and narrowed it down to just under one hundred works on view—each one is a gem.

CL: It has been many years since your department published a book in conjunction with a show.  What did you learn from the process.

JDF: While the essay writing is arduous it is so rewarding, and feels like a luxury to be able to spend time considering a subject or period. A book is a more private experience than an exhibition, but can be revisited repeatedly. For me, it is a pleasure to return to an exhibition catalog and remember seeing each work depicted

CL: FOG Fair is this week.  What do you enjoy most about the fair?

JDF: I love speaking to so many people about exciting design for four days straight.

CL: How has FOG Art + Design supported your department’s efforts?

JDF: The FOG Forum supports SFMOMA’s Architecture + Design collection building.

JDF IN DISCUSSION  WITH   BOBBIE STAUFFACHER SOLOMON AT FOG FAIR 2019

JDF IN DISCUSSION WITH BOBBIE STAUFFACHER SOLOMON AT FOG FAIR 2019

CL: What are some of you favorite museums?

JDF: The Zumthor-designed Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany, the new Fondazione Prada in Milan by Koolhaas and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia in Mexico City, . . .

CL: Any favorite architects and designers?

JDF: The ones that keep surprising and challenging me!

JDF ON PANEL  WITH JONY IVE

JDF ON PANEL WITH JONY IVE

Visit SFMOMA

C A E N L U C I E R thanks Jennifer for taking the time to work on this piece with us.

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

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

San Francisco's Top 10 Private Sales in 2018

2920-Broadway-Street

2920 Broadway Street - $39,000,000

2006-Washington-Street

2006 Washington Street Maisonette - $25,000,000

840-El-Camino-del-mar

840 El Camino Del Mar - $21,900,000

34-Maple-Street

34 Maple Street - $18,500,000

3090-Pacific-Avenue

3090 Pacific Avenue - $16,500,000

3020-Pacific-Avenue

3020 Pacific Avenue - $16,500,000

19-Arguello-Boulevard

19 Arguello Boulevard - $12,800,000

3659-Washington-Street

3659 Washington Street - $12,500,000

2209-Pacific-Avenue

2209 Pacific Avenue - $12,300,000

2090-Vallejo-Street

2090 Vallejo Street - $12,000,000

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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