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Buying San Francisco: Which starter condo near downtown would you pick for $500K?

Which starter condo near downtown SF would you buy? | Courtesy March Properties and Willomar Real Estate

Editor’s Note: There are few things San Franciscans love to talk about more than real estate. So in that spirit, the Standard presents Buying San Francisco, a profile of two homes going head to head in what’s quickly pivoted to a buyer’s market

Today’s half-million dollar question: Can you fit your life into 500 square feet? 

If the answer is “yes”—or even a strong “maybe”—here are two San Francisco “starters” right in the center of the city that you can pick up for a cool $500,000-ish.

So while last week, we featured two homes clocking in at around $3.5 million for thousands of square feet, this week—with apologies to Michelle Obama—we go low. (And for the uninitiated, yes, $500,000 for a condo in San Francisco is low.)

Ready for the challenge? Read on for details, click through the gallery above for photos, and decide: Which would you buy?  The SoMa Techie Dream or The Classic on Van Ness?

The SoMa Techie Dream

1288 Howard St. #116 | $585,000
1 bedroom/1 bathroom | 557 square feet

JUST THE FACTS: This newly constructed building features a daytime doorman, a well-appointed gym, a bike room, a roof deck, 24-hour security and parking (for an extra $100,000). The condo has washer/dryer hookups built in and hidden kitchen appliances for that touch of modernity. A spiral staircase winds to the second-floor loft bedroom.

The small kitchen of 1288 Howard St. #116 includes hidden appliances and is open to a dining area/living alcove. | Courtesy March Properties

WHO’S IT FOR: This building is perfect for the tech worker who doesn’t want to worry about anything. It’s an easy walk or bike to Pinterest, Square, Dolby, Uber or Twitter (unless you’re sleeping there, obvi) among other companies, and a quick hop onto U.S. 101 in case you need to put in face time farther south.  

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The condo is at the intersection of Ninth and Howard, at the center of a neighborhood in transition. Tech companies, the Harvest Market and several SROs call the area home. 

The kitchen, dining area and living room are visible from the loft at 1288 Howard St. #116. Unfortunately, there’s no convenient place to mount your TV. | Courtesy March Properties

POSITIVES: At $405, the HOA fee is hard to beat for a building like this. The wind-screened roof deck is a major plus for outdoor space, and with its fire pits, grills, outdoor kitchen and all-weather mounted TV, I immediately went into party-planning mode. (You just need to reserve the roof ahead of time for big events.)

NEGATIVES: This unit faces the ground-floor courtyard, which is open to strangers during daytime hours, so you’ll definitely want to install the optional shades, which will probably make the place seem a bit enclosed. After all, the neighborhood is in transition.

Ground-floor units at 1288 Howard St. like #116 look out on a pedestrian throughway, which is open to the public during daytime hours. | Courtesy March Properties

The Classic SF Location

2415 Van Ness #304 | $520,000
1 bedroom/1 bathroom | Approximately 617 square feet

JUST THE FACTS: This third-floor junior one-bedroom is in a classic 1926 building that includes a shared small deck and laundry room. The unit has a real, eat-in kitchen and a decent-sized living room. The building has an elevator that’s set to be refurbished in the spring. 

The kitchen of 2415 Van Ness Ave. #304 includes a small dining area and decent counter space and storage. | Courtesy Willowmar Real Estate

WHO’S IT FOR: This unit would make a perfect starter condo for a young, single professional or couple who works Downtown or near City Hall and likes to frequent the restaurants and bars of Polk Gulch or Chestnut Street.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD: The building sits in a quintessential San Francisco hub, between Union Street and Russian Hill. It’s an easy walk to the waterfront and Fort Mason, as well as the House of Prime for anytime the parents are in town and want a good martini and a hunk of meat the size of a baby’s head. (OK, that may be a slight exaggeration.) 

The living area of the junior one-bedroom at 2415 Van Ness Ave. #304 opens to the bedroom space. | Courtesy Willowmar Real Estate

POSITIVES: Say it now: location, location, location. The newly completed Van Ness rapid bus line promises much-needed, quick north-south travel. And an added plus are the super-close tech shuttle buses, including those to Apple, Facebook and Genentech.

NEGATIVES: The condo seems to have been renovated in the ’80s: Note the wall-to-wall carpeting in the bedroom, which is semi-open to the living area, and mirrored walls. After all, who wants to watch themselves eat in the kitchen? The place could use a simple update.  

The bedroom of 2415 Van Ness Ave. #304 has a large cutout opening to the living room. | Courtesy Willowmar Real Estate

Click through the gallery at the top of the page for more photos of each property.