Noe Valley Voice March 2002

Renters Get Some Breathing Room

By Erin O'Briant

Everybody admits rents in Noe Valley are still high -- high enough to force lots of middle-income folks out of the neighborhood and to make the area prohibitively expensive for newcomers. But local experts say renters now have an edge in the Noe Valley housing market.

That doesn't mean prices are dirt-cheap. But prospective renters are starting to catch a break, and current tenants are having some luck in negotiating lower rent. In addition, landlords are working a little harder to find qualified tenants.

"The market has dropped substantially," said Joel Panzer, a local landlord and a property manager at RMC Property Management on Castro Street. According to Panzer, the super-inflated rental market of the past few years has vanished along with the dot-com horse it rode in on. "It wasn't real," he said. "We came alive for a few years, and the market exploded. Now everything is back to where it was five to six years ago."

Meanwhile, his clients are no longer renting out their property within minutes of advertising it. "A lot of landlords became used to hanging out a hankie and having a line of people waiting outside the door," Panzer said. Those days are over, at least for now, he said.

"The numbers are still going down for the whole city and have been for a year," noted Grey Todd, owner of Rent Tech Inc., a rental placement agency located in the Castro District.

According to Todd's current calculations, studio apartments in Noe Valley are renting for about the same as they were a year ago, while one- and two-bedroom units have come down more than 10 percent. Rents on multi-bedroom units have declined even more, Todd said.

"My educated speculation would be [that it is] because people who used to live in, say, two-bedroom places are moving into studios -- either moving or re-negotiating their rent," Todd said.

But Patric Ellsworth and his wife Diana are two prospective Noe Valley tenants who say prices are still too high. "There's a lot available," noted Ellsworth. "In probably three or four months we will be moving, and we're looking for a two-bedroom place for no more than $2,000.

"It seems most cases [in Noe Valley] that's about $500 too low," he said. "So at present we're leaning towards looking in Glen Park."

A quick survey of the Internet turns up quite a bit of rental stock in Noe Valley. And, just as Todd noted, the studios are none too cheap, while the two- and three-bedroom apartments could be affordable-- with roommates, that is.

A studio apartment at the corner of Noe and Cesar Chavez streets was listed for $1,195 per month; the owner of another studio on Diamond Street was asking $1,300. A prospective renter might be excited to see a studio listed for $750 per month, but might be disappointed to discover that the unit has no stove and only 350 square feet of space.

A three-bedroom flat in a Victorian at the corner of 24th and Church lists for $2,750. That's still not cheap, but less expensive than most of the available studios if three tenants shared the place.

The Ellsworths may soon find a rental in their price range. Listings show quite a few two-bedroom apartments for around $2,000 per month, including one for $2,100 on Chattanooga and another for $1,995 on 20th Street.

Whatever the prices, Ellsworth, Panzer, and Todd agree that property owners are far more flexible than they once were.

A year ago, nearly all landlords insisted on first and last months' rent, plus a security deposit equaling one month's rent, before a tenant could move in. Now, tenants may be able to get into a great place with much less cash. "First and last [months' rent up-front] is still really common, but beyond that a lot of places didn't ask for more than that," Ellsworth said.

As a landlord, Panzer himself has been forced to adjust to changing rental conditions. "I had to lower the rent 20 to 25 percent on an active tenant, and I installed a washer and dryer for another," he said. "That's $1,000 worth of equipment just to keep them happy for a few months."

Panzer also noted that many landlords are more willing to allow tenants with pets than they have been in the past.

Landlords are definitely more flexible, Panzer said, but that doesn't mean they will allow just anyone to live in their buildings. "They may take less in rents, but they shouldn't take less in people," he noted. "And the tenant should still insist on a quality rental."