SF Apartment : September 2016


The Upside of Upkeep

by Kilby Stenkamp

San Francisco’s fall weather is magnificent; September to November is typically warm and inviting. As the holidays and rainy season approach, time is running short to start planning your fall maintenance to-do list. A friend of mine, who lives in a two-unit building, always proactively plans for his fall maintenance in the spring, especially with all the building going on in San Francisco; I think he may be onto something. Unless you’re doing big exterior jobs, like full exterior painting or installing a new roof, there is still time to put together a simple punch list of maintenance items to accomplish. Proactive fall maintenance will protect the long-term value of your investment, extend the life of your appliances, and keep your property in peak operating condition.

Values of 2-4–unit buildings, including mixed-use, are strong. Year to date 2016, at the time of this article, 241 properties were sold citywide. A spectacular, vacant, three-unit building sold in the Marina for a high of $5,385,000 (the median sales price in that neighborhood was $1,835,000, and the lowest sale price was $810,000). The average days on market was 49, which is 9 days longer than the same time period in 2015. Year to date 2016, the price per square foot was $640.25, and properties sold an average of 105.17 percent over asking. Last year during the same time period, 300 properties sold, the high was a four-unit trophy building, with views and three vacant units that sold at $6,000,613. The median sales price was $1,795,878; the lowest sale price was $485,000. Average price per square foot was $405.84, and on average properties sold for 125.63 percent over the asking price. The smaller properties are great for first-time investors or owner users.

For many of us, real estate investments in San Francisco can amount to our retirement plan. With such an important asset, it’s hugely important to do annual maintenance checks, and the fall is a perfect time for it. Make a complete assessment of your property, inside and out, and create a short- and long-term list of projects, keeping your budget in mind. Sometimes inexpensive fixes, like caulking for example, can save you a lot of money later.

Someone once told me that a roof is a homeowner’s first line of defense in protecting their investment. Without a properly functioning roof, water damage can, and will, occur. It’s always best to proactively approach roof and related repairs, rather than discover a leaky roof during the rainy season. Check on gutters and downspouts, and inspect joints and brackets. The main function of a gutter system is to channel water off the roof and away from the foundation. A backed-up gutter can cause water to pour over the sides of the building and pool around the foundation, potentially causing major damage or even mold. Fascia boards that hold gutter systems in place are generally made of wood. When gutters clog and fill with water, they can pull away from the building, creating the potential for siding and wood fascia to deteriorate and rot. I had quite a difficult time with one building, where a neighboring tree frequently shed its leaves into the gutters and forced water up under the eaves. I had to clean the gutters several times a year, but this was far better than dealing with the time-consuming and costly alternative of waiting for the real damage to occur.

Check foundations. Caulking is an inexpensive and easy fix for sealing cracks, openings, and seams around pipes. Also check windows and doorframes. Caulking can prevent leakage and seal air gaps. While you’re outside, check for peeling or blistering paint. Recently, I represented a buyer on a multi-unit property who discovered that the east wall of the building hadn’t been painted in years. It was blocked by an adjacent building and had gone unnoticed.

With another property, after a very thorough insurance inspection, the inspector noted that the street trees were up against the building, which can cause damage over time. A quick call to 311 took care of the trees. Prior to the rainy season, make sure you cut away overgrown bushes or tree limbs that contact or impact siding, gutters, and the roof. Take the opportunity to put away items that aren’t weather proof, like chairs and outdoor furniture. It’s very important to check decks, stairs, supports, and railings to make sure they are solid and secure. A good coat of sealer is a cost-effective approach and can help extend the life of decks and railings. Power washing is always a good idea prior to a sealing coat.

If the property is tenant occupied, access will require a 24-hour notice, allowing an opportunity to make sure the lease is in compliance. Make sure you properly notice tenants for entry. If you’re a member of the San Francisco Apartment Association, download the correct form from the website; if you’re not a member, you should be. Remember, you can’t just notice a tenant without one of the reasons offered on the form. I’ve found that “To install, repair, test, and/or maintain the smoke detectors and/or carbon monoxide detectors” is the easiest approach. Take a few batteries with you and remember that the law now requires battery-operated smoke detectors to have a ten-year life span. It’s also a good idea to have a few new smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors on hand.

While you’re inside a unit, observe if anything else needs attention. If the tenant is home, engage in a conversation about anything that needs repair or improvement. Check exhaust fans, heating units, and under sinks to make sure everything is functioning properly. Take a look at the water heater, boiler, elevator, laundry machines, and any other appliances. Check fire extinguisher certification tags to make sure they’re current. Make sure exits, breezeways, and hallways aren’t blocked with tenants’ bikes or storage items that create a liability and a fire hazard. Adjust lighting timers and check for burned out bulbs. Check windows and doors to make sure they are secure and that they close properly. Recently, we purchased a battery-powered alarm for the door to the roof at a hardware store; it was very easy to install.

There are all kinds of printable property maintenance check lists online; just do a quick search to find them. If you’ve employed a property management company, ask if they are doing annual property maintenance checks.

Now is the time to start thinking about proactive maintenance, before the holidays roll in and the rainy season starts. Preventative maintenance can protect your long-term investment.

Kilby Stenkamp is a realtor at Keller Williams. She can be reached at kilby@KW.com or 415-370-7582.