Property

The Richmond District, San Francisco: An Old Favorite Still Beckons

A neighborhood known for its diversity — and with its own ‘New Chinatown’ — can be a competitive place to find a house.

In San Francisco’s Richmond District

The Richmond District, San Francisco: An Old Favorite Still Beckons

Peter Prato for The New York Times

Andrew and Natasha Sinyaver probably should have hired a real estate agent when they were buying a new home in San Francisco’s Richmond District, but their 12-year-old daughter beat them to it.

The couple, who are originally from Russia, were living in a three-bedroom condo in the Richmond with their three children and 140-pound St. Bernard when their middle daughter declared that she was done sharing a room with her younger sister.

The Richmond District, San Francisco: An Old Favorite Still Beckons

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By The New York Times

The Sinyavers, who are Jewish, walk to the Richmond Torah Center-Chabad on 10th Avenue every Sabbath morning. One Saturday last summer, as they were walking home, their daughter announced that they would be making a stop at an open house.

“There was no search,” said Ms. Sinyaver, 43, who works as the planning supply manager for a vitamin company. “I really loved our old house and I always told her we’re not moving anywhere.”

But their daughter had been scoping out real estate on the internet and found a four-story, gut-renovated house for sale in the neighborhood. It was modern and light-filled, with a roof deck, ocean views and a wide, fenced backyard. Best of all, it had five bedrooms and six bathrooms, meaning none of the children would have to share.

“We were not looking,” said Mr. Sinyaver, also 43 and the founder and chief executive of iConnect Consulting. “But we walked in and realized we really liked it.” Two weeks later, they were in contract.

The Richmond District, San Francisco: An Old Favorite Still Beckons

Balboa Street in the Outer Richmond is a bustling commercial thoroughfare, and home to the Balboa Theater, which opened in 1926, as well as a variety of ethnic eateries.Credit…Peter Prato for The New York Times

The home was listed for $2.995 million. The Sinyavers qualified for a bridge loan, offered $3 million for the house and arrived in August. They sold the condo for $1.9 million a few months later. Their St. Bernard loves the big backyard and the children love having their own spaces, as well as a dedicated first-floor playroom. But the best part, the couple said, is that they were able to stay in their neighborhood in the Outer Richmond, close to the coast.

“We decided a long time ago that the suburbs are not our thing,” Ms. Sinyaver said. “There are quieter parts of San Francisco, but here in the Richmond you see people out at all hours of the day. We prefer it that way.”

For Madhavi Maheshwari, 37, the hunt for a house in the Richmond took a lot longer. She and her husband, Lee, 41, spent six years searching for the perfect home before closing on a five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath house in the neighborhood six months ago.

In those six years they had two children, and their budget increased as they moved up in their careers (she is a strategy director at Salesforce; he helps lead business development at LinkedIn). They wanted several bedrooms; to be within walking distance of restaurants, bars and open space; and they didn’t want to have to do any remodeling. By the end of their search they were renting in nearby Buena Vista Park, which they appreciated for its green spaces and proximity to Golden Gate Park. But they couldn’t find a home within their budget that they loved there.

“We really did not want to compromise on having a yard and having four bedrooms,” said Ms. Maheshwari. “So when you don’t want to compromise on those things, you have to compromise on where you are.”

They focused on the Inner Richmond, which sits east of Park Presidio Boulevard and is packed with more restaurants and shops, offering $3.186 million for an Edwardian rowhouse with a remodeled interior. It ticked all the boxes in terms of budget and size, it was three blocks from the bustling main drag of Clement Street, and best of all, it sat less than a block from Golden Gate Park.

“I had given up hope of ever finding a place in the city,” she said. “So when we found this house, it was like the clouds parted.”

The Richmond District is large in terms of San Francisco neighborhoods, sandwiched for 50 blocks between Golden Gate Park and the Presidio national park site, and stretching west from the University of San Francisco to the rugged coastline of the city’s northeast corner.

The Inner Richmond, at its eastern edge, is historically Asian-American, and so rich with Chinese restaurants, shops and businesses that it is often referred to as New Chinatown. To its west, the Outer Richmond offers quieter streets and a more residential feel, although both Geary Boulevard and Balboa Street hum with diverse shops and businesses that pay tribute to the area’s multicultural heritage.

696 FIFTH AVENUE | A two-unit house with two bedrooms, one bath on the first floor, and three bedrooms, one bath on the second floor, built in 1914 on 0.05 aces. is listed at $1.995 million. 415-682-2614Credit…Peter Prato for The New York Times

After a period of increases, home sale prices are relatively flat. Prices are generally higher in the Inner Richmond than the Outer Richmond, sometimes significantly so, and highest along Lake Street, the area that borders the Presidio.

In 2017, 114 homes were sold in the Richmond, at a median home price of $1.65 million, according to the San Francisco Association of Realtors. In 2018, 134 homes were sold in the neighborhood at a median price of $1.8 million. So far in 2019, there have been 122 home sales, at a median price of $2 million.

For renters, studios and one-bedroom apartments run in the $2,000 to $3,000 range; larger units will cost around $4,000 or even $5,000 a month.

Edward Young was born in China before coming to the Richmond from Hong Kong with his parents in 1962. The Fair Housing Act was several years off. At the time, he said, his parents were regularly told by real estate agents that Asian families were not welcome in the Richmond District.

795 EIGHTH AVENUE, No. 201 | A two-bedroom, one-bath condo, built in 1996 on 0.3 acres, is listed at $975,000. 408-483-1391Credit…Peter Prato for The New York Times

“There have been so many changes,” said Mr. Young, 73, a real estate investor and retired electrical engineer who still owns several apartment buildings in the neighborhood. In the early 1960s, the Richmond was populated mainly by Russian, Jewish and Irish-American immigrants; today Asians make up close to half of its residents, according to figures compiled by city-data.com.

The area’s vibrant Asian heritage is on full display along Clement Street, which cuts through the district and in Inner Richmond becomes crowded with shops and restaurants. What it’s not crowded with, though, are tourists.

“Everybody knows about Chinatown in San Francisco, right?” said Heather Stoltz, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway whose Irish and Norwegian family has had roots in the district since the 1800s. “When you think about where to go for authentic Chinese food or products, it’s either Chinatown or right here.”

678 39th AVENUE | A three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath house, built in 1924 on 0.07 acres, is listed at $1.695 million. 415-656-6779Credit…Peter Prato for The New York Times

Sarah Bacon, 47, who owns a vegan cafe in the neighborhood and manages a local blog, richmondsfblog.com, says the mix of cultures in the Richmond is one of her favorite things about life there. “From both a resident perspective and a restaurant perspective, the Richmond District is very ethnically diverse,” she said. “You can always find something interesting in the Richmond District, but it’s definitely not pretentious. Some areas have really nice real estate, but it has working-class roots and the overall vibe is very down to earth.”

Like all of San Francisco, the Richmond faces a housing shortage, Ms. Stoltz said. Over the past decade, prices have risen and new residents — many of whom work in San Francisco’s tech industry — have begun moving in.

When asked if he was worried about the neighborhood losing its historically Chinese character, Mr. Young pointed out that most Chinese residents own their homes rather than rent.

588 41ST AVENUE| A two-bedroom, two-bath unit, built in 1941, is listed at $929,000. 415-321-7011Credit…Peter Prato for The New York Times

“Once Chinese families buy a home, they will never leave,” he said with a laugh. “They will stay there and when they die they will pass it on to their children.”

The San Francisco Unified School District operates six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in the Richmond District.

At every level, students at schools in the Richmond District outperform their peers in both the school district and in state standardized testing.

At Presidio Middle School, 72 percent of eighth graders taking the California Smarter Balanced Assessment Exam during the 2018-19 school year met benchmarks for English language arts, compared to 57 percent in the school district and 49 percent across California. In mathematics, 74 percent met benchmarks, compared with 50 percent across the school district and 36 percent statewide. (According to the California Department of Education, students with scores at or above benchmark levels on these tests are ready for higher-level coursework.)

At George Washington High School during the 2017-18 school year, 80 percent of students taking the SAT exam met benchmarks for English, compared with 76 percent across the school district and 71 percent across California, and 69 percent met benchmarks in math, compared with 66 percent of students across the school district and 51 percent across the state. (For the SATs, the College Board defines students as “college ready” when their test scores meet a benchmark of 480 in English and in 530 in math.)

The Richmond is a 20-minute drive from downtown San Francisco and a one-hour drive from Silicon Valley. A number of public buses serve the area; a ride to Union Square takes 40 minutes and costs $3 each way. The area is served by dozens of bus lines, including the No. 1-California, which runs on an express route that cuts the ride time to downtown by half, as well as the Nos. 28 and 39, which connect riders to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.

Long before the Richmond District was populated by young families, it was filled with spirits. The area was referred to as “Outside Lands” because it was beyond the boundaries of San Francisco when California became a state in 1850; instead, its land was used for cemeteries, a practice that lasted decades beyond its incorporation into greater San Francisco in 1866.

George Turner Marsh was one of the Richmond District’s first developers; he named his home after his birthplace of Richmond, Australia. The name Richmond District was formally adopted by the San Francisco board of supervisors in 1890.

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