How does San Francisco real estate really stack up to NYC?

NYC vs. SF: Which one wins?

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By now, you’ve probably heard that San Francisco and New York City’s real estate markets are fairly similar (read: both expensive and cutthroat). In fact, according to Rent Jungle, one-bedroom apartments in San Francisco rent for, on average, $3,096 a month, while NYC one-bedrooms average $3,152;  San Francisco's two-bedrooms, the site says, rent for $4,126. In New York, that average is actually less—$3,932. 

"Like New York, people in San Francisco make do with what the city has to offer if they’re dedicated to urban living," says Joseph Lucier of Sotheby's International Realty in San Francisco. 

We checked in with brokers here and in the city by the Bay, and residents who've lived in both places to find out how real estate in our two cities are similar and diffferent:

In SF, you won't work with a rental broker or pay a fee.

One of the biggest surprises for San Francisco transplants new to NYC is the whole concept of a renter's broker, says Jessica Bryant, a relocation specialist with Bond New York who says she often meets clients straight from JFK airport. In SF, landlords pay a listing agent to list their apartment, and the renter pays nothing. And, according to Lucier, Craigslist is still the go-to spot for finding apartment rentals. "Even high-end ones," he says.

But believe it or not, NYC rentals may have lower sticker prices.

"There's less variance in price in San Francisco," says Jeremy Clemenson, who recently moved back to New York from  San Fran. "You can find cheaper deals in NYC if you’re willing to leave Manhattan." That said, he says the high-end in NYC "feels more high end" both in terms of prices and amenities.  "The high-end buildings in NYC have full-size gyms, basketball courts, yoga studios, private restaurants, movie theaters, doggie day care, etc.," says Clemenson.

In fact, he says, "The most expensive one-bedroom in SF right now is $8000 per month (as per Craigslist) and there are only two listings above $6000 per month. The most expensive one-bedroom in NYC (per StreetEasy) is $18K and there are 46 listings over $10,000 per month."

"San Francisco is, generally, a lot more expensive than New York," says Nathan Harmata, who recently relocated back to New York from the Bay Area. "Three years ago, when I lived here, I'd say New York City was more expensive, but not now. Prices in San Francisco have increased a lot, and you don't see that as much in New York," he says. "I'm basically seeing the same rental prices I saw there years ago here."

The San Francisco rental and sales markets might actually be more competitive.

"If you're a landlord and you have an open house on Saturday, and 20 people show up, five will usually have their cashier’s check and applciations filled out," says Lucier. "You have to go ready to sell on the dotted line, especially in a desirable area like Pacific Heights or the Marina or Russian Hill."

That's because San Francisco is smaller than New York City, as are its buildings (most have several units, not hundreds of apartments). And if you haven't heard, there's something of a tech boom going on. So, while there's a lot of development going on in San Francisco now, there's still a shortage of inventory, say experts. At the end of last year, according to RedFin, the number of new listings for sale was down 18 percent over the year before. 

For the past three years, rental inventory was particularly tight, says Jeff Plocher, an agent with Vanguard. But in the last month or so, there's been some relief. "The supply for rental apartments has increased somewhat in the last three weeks," he says. "And the demand has decreased as a result."

But you might actually get a bit more space for your money out there (but it will be a little).

"People often come to New York from San Francisco with their California king beds, thinking they'll fit in their new NYC apartments. They usually have to get rid of them," says Bond's Bryant. 

"From looking at places to rent and seeing where friends in both cities live, I would say that the average square footage is higher in San Francisco than New York City (for the same number of bedrooms)," says Clemenson.

"From what I've seen and heard you get a little more space here in San Francisco," says Plocher. On average here, we're looking at $1,000-$1,200 a square foot, he says. The average price per square foot in New York is $1,459 according to Trulia.

"I think they're pretty even," says Bryant in terms of space. "That's why most people moving here from San Francisco don't generally go into massive financial shock and seem to have realistic expectations." she says.

San Francisco is more of a car city, but that's changing.

"A lot of people who move here from San Francisco come with cars, and they're not used to paying $300 to $500 a month for a spot," says Bryant.

San Francisco rentals come with parking spots about 50 percent of the time and sales about 70 percent of the time, says Plocher. You can get a parking permit for street parking rather easily, but you have to go to a city office for parking and prove that you reside in a certain zone, he says. Finding street parking is another story (sound familiar?).

"A parking spot is worth about $100,000 in listing price, and that's a gated interior parking spot," says Lucier.

The demand for parking spaces seems to be decreasing. "Most of the millenials who are related to the tech industry don't even have cars," says Plocher. "All of the major tech companies have luxury buses that take them to their offices in the Bay Area, anyway."

Uber is also popular for zipping around within the city. "I'm working on a deal in Pacific Heights right now, and the parking spot is tandem (meaning  two car owners will have to juggle to get out)." It's a $980,000 two-bedroom, "but the guy who's buying the place is a 27-year-old tech guy who doesn't care about the parking issues. He only uses his car on the weekends and Ubers otherwise," says Lucier (A less-than-perfect spot like that, Lucier says, is worth more like $50,000).

The housing stock is very different.

In San Francisco, because of height limitations, most of the housing stock comes in the form of “flats”—two-to-six-unit buildings, and about 90 percent are walk-ups. But in SF, unlike NYC, you pay a premium for top floors, because they’re wood-framed buildings and you can hear people walking around if you're on a lower floor. Plus, the views are better the higher you go.

"We have elevator buildings, but they're not the majority," says Lucier. "Most of the apartment buildings with elevators in the 1980s got condo’d," he says.

And most San Francisco buildings are amenity-free. Sure they may have lots of green spaces and beautiful weather, but do they have climbing walls and spin rooms in their buildings? No. In fact, even doormen are rare, especially in rentals.

There are co-ops and condos in both, but the co-op process is easier out West.

"San Francisco has co-ops, but the process is not even close to New York," says Lucier. "You need to fill out a co-op board package, but even in super high-end co-ops, you're just meeting with the president of the board. And it's pretty much a shoe-in that you'll get accepted."  The breakdown Lucier says, is about 30 percent co-ops, 70 percent condos.

Apartments going over-ask is common in both places, but maybe even more so in SF.

5600-square-foot house in Pacific Heights was recently on the market for $8.2 million. The general manager of the Warriors bought it for $10.95 million, says Lucier. "And with his offer he gave a signed pair of hightops from Stephen Curry."

The most competition of all, when it comes to sales, is for condos in the $800,000 to $1.5 million range. (Again, sound familiar?) "In the last six months, condos between $1 million and $1.25 had an average overbid of 8.62 percent in the prime neighborhoods," says Lucier.

Bitch about the MTA all you want, but transportation in SF is worse.

"In San Francisco, you’re more limited to certain neighborhoods because of transportation issues," says Harmata. "In NYC, you can compromise and live in a cheaper neighborhood, further away, because you have the public transportation options."

In our fair city, on the other hand, there's the subway which, L train woes, outer Queens, and the Bronx and Staten Island notwithstanding, make much of the city accessible. "In San Francisco, the BART doesn’t cover that much of the city, and the CalTrain is limited, too. Buses are unreliable and bad. In New York, even in neighborhoods that are far away, if you’re close to a subway station you’re good," he says.



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