A guy just transcribed 30 years of for-rent ads. Here’s what it taught us about housing prices
Michael Andersen

One problem with this is it doesn’t take into account the number of units that have been converted to condo status (thus taking them out of the rentable population) nor does it include any data about the number of homes purchased in San Francisco for ghost tenants. There are a LOT of condos and townhomes in SF that sit empty most of the year, with some newer condo buildings reporting 60 percent absentee tenants. Rich people wanting a permanent place to go to when they visit for a couple of weeks has probably driven the prices up a little, but it’s also decreased the amount of available space.

As a San Francisco native (now living in Seattle), I have been appalled by the increase in costs. When I lived there in the 80s and 90s, I remember a couple living above me in the Sunset who paid $330/month for a unit that was a duplicate of ours that cost us $850. Since they hadn’t moved in twelve years, the landlords (a large real estate holdings company) didn’t think it was worth the effort to go through screwing with their leasing costs, and their property taxes were probably covered. As soon as we moved out, they raised the rent on the space. Another place we lived in, a 550 sq. ft. studio in Pacific Heights, we also rented for $850. That had the feature of having Dino’s Pizza on the bottom floor, and this caused drunks who were trying to get into the foyer of the building to get out of the cold to occasionally call our unit at 3 in the morning, asking “IS DINO THERE?”. After I moved to Seattle in ’94, I checked the listings in the Chronicle every now and then, and within two years, that apartment building was renting studios for $1850. Trust me, even in Pacific Heights — not worth it.

So, while the average asking price may have only gone up twice as fast as inflation, I can’t afford to move back to my favorite city. Someone would have to quadruple my salary for me to afford it now. And that would only be so I could move into a condo in a less-than-ideal neighborhood. I lived there because it was the most vibrant, diverse city, with the coolest art & music scene anywhere, and a truly democratic attitude towards its citizens. That seems to have been lost somehow.

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