Saturday, July 21, 2007

Feeling Fractional

Did I mention that our fractional loan has closed? After several months of meetings and paperwork and back and forth on the pros and cons our group completed the fractional refi. Hallelujah. Now I feel like I actually own the place, and could sell it if I had to, and get all my money out. (Since I bought into this building in 2000, for the past seven years I have been living with an unusually complicated financing arrangement, where part of our building was financed by the former owner, and part was a group loan through a bank, with all kinds of fine print about how the payments moved up and down in relation to Treasury notes and each other.) It was definitely time to modernize the finances. Double hallelujah.

Paris Pied-à-Terre

I recently went to see Sicko, documentary filmmakrer Michael Moore's new movie about the healthcare industry. To sum it up, people in London, Paris and Havana have universal access to quality healthcare, without the worries about pre-qualifying conditions, premium payments, denial of coverage and potentially bankrupting medical bills that we face in the USA.

As depicted in the film, life in Paris looked particulary civilized, with government-funded nannies folding baby clothes for new Moms, and a post-operative cancer patient sunning his way to health on the Cote d'Azur. Which got me thinking... Maybe it's time to invest in a little place in Paris, just in case my American HMO decides it's in their best interest to send me six feet under.

Andy Sirkin, the local real estate attorney who catalyzed the rise of TICs in San Francisco, features a link on his website to Paris Pied-à-Terre, which offers 1/12 ownership of gracious Parisian flats. Yes, it's a time share concept, which I have always been vaguely suspicious of, especially when I do the math. If they are charging $92,000 per 1/12, that makes a tidy profit for the developers. Far more than if the property were bought and sold outright to and from individual owners.

Let's say, for kicks, I was able to break my TIC into one month shares of $100,000 US and sell all of them. I'd make $1.2 million net instead of the $650,000 it might bring selling to one party. With that kind of profit, I could easily own outright a one bedroom pad here in SF, and a little studio in Paris, plus maybe even a cheap cabana on the Sea of Cortez in Baja, Mexico.

But still, the idea of a more evolved form of fractional ownership that goes beyond the free flight to Vegas timeshare presentation is intriguing. It's a concept that could take off, as boomers retire and have the freedom and means to explore other parts of the world, as well as the desire to claim all the potential fringe benefits that might go along with a foreign address.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

238-240 Linden Street

This two-unit TIC has a lot to recommend it - location, tasteful finishes and a spacious feeling. Built in 1907, the building been re-plumbed and re-wired, and the foundation upgraded. As a two unit building, you can bypass the condo lottery and proceed with conversion after one year of owner occupancy. In my view, this all makes it a property worth considering.

The lower unit is a duplex, with a master bedroom suite in the basement and kitchen, living, two additional bedrooms, another bath and sun room with laundry hookups at the street. I liked the open plan on the main floor, and the quality appliances in the kitchen, including a Viking range and a built-in wine chiller. Out-of-town guests could be put up very comfortably on this level, still leaving you an extra room for a home office. The master suite in the basement is tastefully done, and includes a sitting room, large closet and large bath. They have done a good job of taking advantage of the light well between buildings to let some natural sunshine in. The door to the basement storage areas for both units is off the master bedroom sitting room - a bit awkward. But if you are going to live in an old building there are going to be quirks.

The top floor is more light-filled, and although there are two bedrooms and two baths the layout seems a bit jiggy and cramped. A wall hookup for a flat panel TV faces the kitchen counter, making me think I'd have to get one of those fancy mod Euro couches on wheels so I could roll it out away from the wall every time I wanted to watch a movie straight on instead of at a 90 degree angle. The master bedroom opens with double doors out to the main living area. If your partner had a couple friends over (sipping wine from that chiller, no doubt) and you wanted to hit the hay early you would feel more or less on top of each other. All in all, I had the feeling that too many doors were crowding the walls of the main area, making the place feel neither open modern nor beaux arts historic. Something had gotten lost in the translation from then to now.

Which is probably why the realtor pounced on me to find out if I had any interest in the upper unit. Apparently there are several buyers seriously considering the duplex, but not so many expressing enthusiasm for the upper unit. I think part of the problem is that if sold as a TIC they have split the building 55% lower/45% upper, making the price for the much larger duplex only $55,000 more tham the smaller, more awkward upper unit. Normally I would say the upper unit is preferable, but in this case I think the split should have been closer to 60/40. The end result being that if you are game you could put in a bid below asking for the top unit, and use your creativity to arrange things in a way that would mask some of the upper unit's flaws.

Oh, one more comment to all those hoping to sell this (or any other) property. When you do your renovations, put in a decent bathtub. In contrast to the luxury kitchens there was not one decent tub in any of the four bathrooms. What good is the wine chiller if I can't take a deep soak while sipping my zinfandel?