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Brand new downtown condos are selling for deep discounts—or just sitting empty

A person stands inside, silhouetted against floor-to-ceiling windows, overlooking a cityscape with tall, modern buildings and a bridge in the background.
Robyn Kaufman, a specialist in highrise condominiums, said there is more room to negotiate on price for brand new homes. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

On paper, the condos at the Serif and OneEleven SF buildings in Mid-Market check off a lot of boxes for a first-time home buyer in San Francisco.

They’re newly constructed, have great views and are stuffed with luxe amenities. In a city known for its exorbitant housing costs and dismal record on housing production, these are the kind of move-in ready listings that would normally be grabbed quickly, particularly with the discount that comes from buying directly from the builder. 

But these are not normal times. In downtown, a combination of a mass office exodus and interest rate spike has eliminated a large swath of would-be buyers from the market, resulting in condo prices falling across the board.

A quick scan on Zillow highlights a handful of similar properties—mainly centered in SoMa— with the following qualities: Newly built, never occupied, and experiencing major price cuts. 

Granted, these apartment-sized dwellings might not fit the stereotypical image of the American Dream, but they are still property one can own and trade (or rent out) down the line. 

A busy urban street scene with people walking, a modern multi-story building, trees, a city bus labeled "Clean Air Vehicle," and scattered orange traffic cones.
The Serif SF at 960 Market Street opened in 2022 during the latest residential market contraction, fueled by an exodus of office workers and high interest rates. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
A modern room with large windows, couches, a person standing, bookshelves, a table with chairs, and some greenery inside and outside. The room has an outdoor view.
A sliding glass door opens to a solarium to the rooftop at Serif SF at 960 Market St. The building is stuffed with other luxury amenities including a pet spa and sharable ZipCars. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Historically, condos have served as a sort of stepping stone for younger buyers in between renting and owning a single-family home, said Robyn Kaufman, a longtime real estate agent who specializes in downtown high-rises. “The past two years have thrown a wrench in many of those plans,” she said. 

Since mortgages are still prohibitively expensive for many because of high interest rates, motivated sellers are beginning to acknowledge it’s time to meet buyers where they are. That means price cuts of more than 25% off the top of the market.  

Builders of these new properties are also driven to get properties off their hands. “[Individual] sellers might not have the room or motivation to budge on their price,” Kaufman said. “But a developer does. They want the building to sell out as quickly as possible so they can get out.” 

In real estate, timing is everything. Consider the Serif, for example, which contains 242 units. The luxury complex, with views of Market Street on one side and Turk Street on the other, opened in 2022 in the midst of a residential market contraction. Today, it is still less than half occupied. As a result, studios originally priced at around $500,000 are now being listed for about $350,000. 

Local developer Group I conceived of the project back when an influx of new housing was built to meet the demand of tech companies flocking to Mid-Market. The Serif includes a fitness center, a pet spa, a rooftop lounge, and even ZipCars for residents to share. The white modernist flatiron-style building is also connected to the newly opened 236-room Line Hotel and a branch of LA cult-favorite café Alfred Coffee on the ground floor. 

A modern living room with wooden chairs around a black table, a large window, a plant, a white cabinet, and a vibrant painting on a white wall.
At least half of the 242 units at the Serif SF are still on the market. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
The image shows several tall glass skyscrapers closely packed together, reflecting the sky and neighboring buildings. The buildings have a modern, sleek design.
The Lumina towers seen from a soon to be on the market unit at The Metropolitan at 333 1st Street. San Francisco's eastern waterfront transformed in the last 20 years from an industrial center. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“You’re only going to get those sorts of amenities in downtown,” said realtor Nick Spangler, who showed The Standard another brand new condo down the street at 588 Minna St. 

The seller purchased the unit last year for $475,000 in anticipation of moving to San Francisco, but has now listed it for sale at the same price after those plans fell apart. 

The building, known as OneEleven, is a collection of 39 units, and is also only about half full. When it first opened in 2021, online reviews skewered the property for its proximity to the corner of 7th and Market Street, which has struggled with issues around drug dealing and crime

But the recent reopenings of three hotels across the street from OneEleven late last year have improved street conditions drastically, according to Spangler. During a recent visit last week, the entrance and alleyway flanking the property were clean and clear. 

This image shows a busy urban street lined with buildings, trees, and red bus lanes, with skyscrapers in the background under a clear blue sky.
The luxury complex Serif which has spectacular views of downtown, is still less than half occupied and the studios originally priced at roughly $500,000 are now being listed near $350,000.  | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

“Everyone who’s toured recently has been pleasantly surprised,” Spangler said.

According to Compass data, the median price for a downtown San Francisco condo right now is just shy of $1 million. In areas close to Van Ness and Civic Center, that number drops as low as $590,000. In contrast, the median price for a single-family home, depending on the neighborhood, ranges between $1 million to $6.7 million. 

Spangler and Kaufman are practicing what they preach to prospective buyers in choosing downtown over other neighborhoods. Spangler himself lives at One Rincon Hill and Kaufman at The Metropolitan—both skyscrapers erected in the 2000s as San Francisco’s eastern waterfront started its transformation from an industrial center.

Before then, the city’s condo stock was concentrated on the north side of the city, where the best views of the bay were. However, restrictive height and density limits meant new developments were scarce, thus driving sale prices and maintenance costs up as those buildings aged. 

A tidy and brightly lit room with modern furniture features a man standing near a window. The room includes a sofa, round coffee table, large paintings, and houseplants.
Real estate agent Nicholas Spangler inside a new condo for sale at OneEleven at 588 Minna Street. The seller is listing the home for the same price they paid for it last year. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard
A woman stands in an empty, sunlit room with large floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing a cityscape of tall buildings, and she points towards the outside view.
Real estate agent Robyn Kaufman in a soon to be on the market condo at The Metropolitan. In today's market, she thinks the 1,200 square feet unit can fetch around $1.5 million. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Therefore, if you’re a buyer in the market, downtown is the place to go if you’re looking for the best value, Kaufman says. “Don’t just think of it as negotiating on price,” she said. “Depending on the developer, you can get credit back towards upgrades [renovations], HOA dues, or even bigger storage units.” 

Whereas for truly motivated sellers, Kaufman said there’s a fine line between sparking a bidding war and languishing on the market. 

Recently, a $50,000 haircut helped move a sale along for her client at 333 Bush St., a rare commercial skyscraper with condos on the top seven floors. 

“At the end of the day, the buyer has to feel like they got a good deal too,” she said.