Updated 9:19 am, Sunday, August 18, 2013
Photo: Ian C. Bates, The Chronicle
In 2009, his firm opened The Bond, a 101-unit complex in Oakland’s Jack London Square area, as rental apartments. Now it’s switching the building over to condos, taking advantage of buyers’ avid appetites for real estate and the dearth of for-sale inventory. About a quarter of the units have sold in less than three months.
“Rents are rising too quickly that if you can make a down payment, the cost of ownership is lower than leasing,” Reynolds said. With a boutique hotel feel, the building has units ranging from $350,000 for a one-bedroom to $1.25 million for a top-floor galleria penthouse.
The Bond was always intended to start off as rentals and then switch to condos when the time was right. But other complexes that opened during the downturn intending to be for-sale had no choice but to become rentals “when the music stopped,” as Reynolds put it.
Condo to rental, back
For instance, the 125-unit Broadway Grand in Oakland, developed by Signature Properties, first opened as a condo complex, sold 17 units, and then switched to rentals as the market tanked, said Paul Zeger, a principal at PolarisPacific, which is marketing it and some other conversion projects. Last year it went condo again, and now has sold all but 11 of its units.
Similarly, the Skyline in San Jose with 121 units is now switching to condos after opening as rentals during the downturn. In Emeryville, the 424-unit Bridgewater is switching from rentals to condos. The current phase II, which started in June with 174 homes ranging from $185,000 to $450,000, is finding a receptive audience, said Alan Mark, president of the Mark Co., which is marketing the complex.
Other Oakland complexes, including 288 Third and Uptown, have already made the switch.
With only a few dozen condos on the market, the conversions stand out.
Some buildings benefit from Oakland transport changes. “Transportation options have blossomed with the Free B downtown Oakland shuttle (which runs along Broadway from Jack London Square to Downtown, Uptown and beyond) and the SouthSF Ferry for people in the tech world to get to work,” Feste said.
‘More for your money’
Then there’s the affordability factor.
“You get a lot more for your money in the East Bay,” said Mike Wilkes, who recently relocated from Portland, Ore., with his husband, Grant Barth. “We would pay easily over $1 million in San Francisco for something comparable to what we bought for under $700,000 at The Bond.”
The East Bay and South Bay apartment buildings’ switch to condos is worlds away from San Francisco’s contentious condo conversions of tenant-in-common units, which generally are in buildings with just a handful of units. The current breed of condo conversions involve properties that were approved as condos before they were even constructed. That means going condo is relatively simple.
“Demand has spiked for for-sale housing,” Zeger said. “Buildings that have a ‘condo map’ (meaning they’re already approved for condo sales) in the local municipality can just go to the Bureau of Real Estate” to get final approvals.
When a rental building goes condo, generally existing tenants have the first right to purchase their units at the public price. If they don’t want to buy, they finish out their leases, which can then be terminated by the developer. There’s also turnover in the normal course of affairs.
Harder to get a loan
“We gain vacancies through natural attrition as renters move out,” Reynolds said. “We then refurbish the units with new finishes and put them out for sale so part of the building is leased, part is owner-occupied.”
However, that mixture can make it harder to get a home loan. In today’s stricter climate, lenders often require a minimum percentage of owner-occupied units before they’ll issue mortgages in a condo complex.
“It’s much more difficult to get Fannie Mae approval when you’re converting a building,” Mark said. The agency requires condo conversions to pre-sell 70 percent of units to owner-occupants before it will back mortgages, he said, but sometimes agrees to reduce that requirement a degree.
The apartment-to-condo trajectory is less likely to happen in San Francisco, where about 8,000 rental units are under construction. That’s because most were financed in a way that requires they generate rental income for many years, Zeger said.