Yes, You Can Buy a Home in SF for Well Under $1M


After years of searching in Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville and all the outlying areas, long-time San Francisco renter Marie and her husband Mark were starting to feel like they would have to move out of the Bay Area if they wanted to own a home. One sunny Friday afternoon last fall, Marie was sitting in her friend Pooja’s kitchen having that conversation that all Bay Area residents seem to be having these days: “Do I need to leave the City (or even the entire Bay Area) if I want to buy a home? I just don’t or rather can’t pay $1M. It seems that the only answer is to leave, like so many of my friends have.”

When Pooja was unable to convince Marie that this did not have to be the case, she finally just reached for her phone, dialed her real estate agent Matt Woebcke, and handed the phone to Marie. She took the phone and before Matt could say a thing she blurted out: “I don’t want to move to Oakland! Or buy a cracker box apartment in a bad area!” Matt, sensing her frustration and desperation, simply said “Tell me what you need, tell me what you want.”

Marie: Matt was delightful, a breath of fresh air. He immediately calmed me down. Unlike every real estate agent before him, the first thing he asked wasn’t “Is your loan approved?” He didn’t start off by throwing a lot of condescending negativity my way about what we couldn’t do or have. Instead we discussed size, neighborhoods, parking needs. It was so refreshing to not be treated like a child because I didn’t have a cool million in the bank as the down payment. He literally talked me off the ledge over my assumption that a home in SF was at least $800K or even $1M or more.

Matt: I asked her where they were living now, what they currently have, and what they would like to have in their new place. They definitely needed more space, more closets, and good walkability. My goal was to get them into a better space than what they had with their rental.

Marie: Within a day he had three potential properties for us to see that had all the things we desired. It turns out that it’s pretty easy to find a one bedroom, one bath in San Francisco for well under one million dollars. Which was shocking. I still didn’t believe it. But Matt really understands the markets, neighborhood by neighborhood.

That very next Sunday, Matt took us to the first listing. As we walked in, he immediately started imaging with with us, he started dreaming with us, helping us to find the vision of a home. He went right to the possibilities. He could tell we were shocked that we could get a place and excited at the possibility.

Matt: It was a bit of an odd situation. An out-of-town realtor was marketing the property -- that really helped us out. They did a very cheap staging that basically devalued the unit. There was no sign, there were no open houses. It was a gift. But I wanted to be sure they understood what else was out there, so I sent them on to a few other places.

They called me four hours later wanting to meet up for a glass of wine. It’s pretty unusual for someone to make a decision that quickly but timing is critical. Someone else was going to discover that place. So I nudged them to jump.

Marie: Matt encouraged us to make an offer but not in a ‘you better or else’ way. He started this very nice dance where he nudged us when necessary but let us process the opportunity at the pace we needed. When you’re spending all the money you have in the world, you need someone who will work with you on a psychological as well as a practical level. When you’ve been battling with the Bay Area housing market, you need hope. And he gave us cautious, realistic hope.

Matt: Realtors can act as the expert and the boss. And for some people that works. But if you’re not listening, you’re never going to match your client with their perfect house. So my goal is to really understand exactly what they want. And find it.

Marie: Matt listened and dreamed with us. He didn’t barrage us with all the reasons we couldn’t buy a home for under $1M. We knew that in spades because every real estate agent for years led with telling us what we couldn’t do -- they didn’t spend much time telling us what was possible. With Matt, it was all about the possibilities and in the end, that’s what made it work.

Marie and Mark closed on their new San Francisco home three weeks after they put in an offer. Shortly after going into contract, they were measuring the unit but kept getting interrupted by people walking through, as the seller had forgotten to take down the listing. Over and over again they heard people say how wonderful the place was and how disappointed they were that it was already taken. They knew then how lucky they were that they had Matt to guide, listen, nudge, and dream them through the process. And the best part, they didn’t have to move out of their beloved San Francisco. Wow!


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