Good Sound Mitigations Make Good Neighbors

Most old buildings in San Francisco are built of wood (even if there is stucco or other siding), and sound transmission can be intense. You can pay a million and a half for a condo and still hear every footfall or shriek from the teenager or toddler upstairs. Or you could have these horrible neighbors upstairs (heaven forbid). This is why many condo associations require 75% carpet over hardwood.

Noisy Buildings - Good sound travel mitigations make good neighbors

Concrete buildings are much quieter so they are a good choice if you are especially sensitive to sound or a very light sleeper. These quieter buildings are primarily newer construction, or sometimes older industrial conversions. Typically they are larger concrete buildings in more urban neighborhoods.  An added bonus is that these buildings are more likely have access to Internet alternatives to Comcast or AT&T, such as MegaPath or Monkeybrains.


If you prefer the older San Francisco architecture, or smaller buildings, or you are already in a neighborhood that is mostly older construction, you may have to navigate noise issues with your neighbors. Tread carefully here. I have seen drama over noise escalate between neighbors, create a lot of stress, and reduce property value more than 15%.


A lovely wooden building, possibly noisy inside.

Saving money by not doing sound reduction ended up being expensive for my clients who eventually chose to sell their home to feel peace in their lives. They did the right thing and disclosed the sound conflicts, there by also avoiding lawsuits, but the buyer got a really good deal because not everyone wants to move into the middle unit of a 3 unit building with a history of acrimony over sound.

Total “sound proofing” is not really possible in these old wood buildings, but you can definitely take the edge off. At minimum a carpet and a pad on 75% of the floor is a good start, which is a typical condo requirement. Double paned windows and solid core doors make a big difference. If those are not enough there are multiple vinyls for sound blocking and foams for sound absorption available, also Green Glue, and Quiet Rock.

Colleague Pete Fisler did extensive research which led to his use of the following method in his personal condo. The ceiling was dropped 1 1/2″ with metal channels, then applied with Green Glue sheet rock, which is a double layer of sheet rock with Green Glue product in between. He said it solved the problem. 

Brick Wall Insulation

Acoustic dampening materials can be put in the floor or the ceiling or both, depending on ceiling heights. In small buildings I suggest discussing with your neighbors the idea of installing sound reduction materials in all the units. Treat it as a building expense and pay for it collectively with the HOA dues. Teamwork is soooo much more fun than neighbor wars.


Notting Hill via

 Thank You to Pete Fisler, Diane Hourany and Chiare Hwang.


Another Beautiful Stairwell

On tour last week I loved the stairway of this beautiful old home on 10th Ave in the Inner Richmond district.


It is on the lovely 500 block of 10th Avenue that feels like Jordan Park, mostly larger free standing homes.



Not surprisingly it is pending already. So the transaction is likely to have been cash, non-contingent, as so many sales are now.


Another lovely stairwell as lightwell, doing it’s job of connecting the floors with light.

May your Friday be filled with well-lit connections.

Split Bathroom – Yes or No?


Splitbath2 Splitbath1

In San Francisco we have a somewhat rare phenomenon known as the “split bath.” I’ve heard they have them in New York and D.C. (Philly and Pittsberg?), and am still researching their history, but the gist is that the toilet has its own room, separate from the tub or shower. This is very helpful when sharing space with multiple kids or roommates. Inexplicably there is rarely a sink in the toilet room.

A client making decisions about a bathroom remodel recently asked the following questions.

“What helps the resale value of the place?

1. Make toilet room into a full w/c with sink?

2. Add toilet to bathroom area?

3. Does having a separate shower and tub in the same room add significant value? Or would a shower/ tub combo be sufficient?”

The answers? Well, it depends.

My first thought was that younger buyers prefer an updated merged bath, or actually 2 updated full baths if they can get them. I happened to be holding an open house at a unit with an older split bath this weekend, so I conducted an informal survey, and the strong opinions surprised me. There were a couple of successful long time agents who confidently said merging them was definitely the obvious the way to go, but then several mom’s with kids who said “No! We need the split bath!” 

splitbath3 splitbath4

Over all response was an even split (heh).  Many said “if I can only have 1 bath I want it split, but I really want two baths”. I also put it out to my Zephyr colleagues, whose recommendation was “1.5 baths, if at all possible, 2 full is the best“, seems like the best advice. Also definitely a tiny sink in with toilet in the half bath.  There are some really cool tiny sinks these days, including some that recycle the water.  They are tiny, so great for half baths, but not, as a client/friend has pointed out, so great for other sink purposes, such as toothbrushing and make up application. For that the bigger sink in the full bath will have to do.


Holiday time in the San Francisco microclimates

Poinsettia! Full grown! In the Mission! 
The cheerful resident said its been here at least 20 years.
Yes, those red “petals” are actually “bracts“, the little yellow things are the flowers. 
You can use that little fact to impress people at your holiday gathering, tell them you got it from your microclimate nerd realtor.  Ooh, and here’s a cool microclimate weather forecast, (whole Bay Area) and here’s that great app (SF only) to help you dress in the morning.

And then there’s these guys…

And on the west side of town, where these things will not grow…

Times are not easy and there is much suffering in the world. In lieu of more news about bidding battles I offer a little San Francisco Beauty as a tonic and as nutrition…  with my wishes for blessed holidays for all.