Text: Kate Matijaca Hrga
My name is Kate Matijaca Hrga and I live in San Mateo, California, which is part of San Francisco Bay, and about 20 min from downtown San Francisco. Population of San Mateo County is 750.000, while the whole Bay area counts about 6.5 million people.
I was born and raised in Split, and have moved here in my early twenties, some 17 years ago, after I met my current husband. My husband has Croatian roots, but he is born Californian. He works as a stationary engineer at UCSF university campus in San Francisco, and I am currently stay at home mum, taking care of our two boys Toni and Marin.
Life in California is much faster paced than living in Croatia. It is multicultural area with people living together from all parts of the world. Being a foreigner myself I felt welcomed from the day one. When I first came to California, I have had cultural shock in it’s full. I still remember that I was under impression everything was oversized, huge and wide highways, big cars and trucks, big houses, huge buildings, spacious parks, huge schools and universities, large hotels… Another early memory of the US was food. Here you can eat at any time, any type of cuisine. It took me a while to get used to all different variety of food, and to kill the desire to eat something all the time. Another interesting fact is that most of the Americans do not cook at home. They dine out or order food, every meal, every day, and very often fast food. That is way there are so many overweight people here. As a real Croatian mum, I prepare and cook meals for my family every day, and very often Croatian cuisine. When “sarma” smells in the hallway, neighbors often come to ask what is cooking. J
San Francisco Bay Area is very rich and very expensive area, as it is home to Silicon Valley that serves as a global center for high technology and innovation. Metropolitan Area has the third-highest GDP per capita in the world. The area is home to many of the world’s largest high-tech corporations, as such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple… For this reason the life is very expensive and real estate prices are extremely high.
The San Francisco housing market is very fast, vivid and competitive. I have found interesting information about real estate market in SF Bay. Homes in San Francisco receive 3 offers on average and sell in around 29.5 days. The average sale price of a home in San Francisco was $1.41 million in the last quarter of 2020, which is 3.8% less than last year. The median list price in San Francisco was around $ 3.700 per square meter in 2020. Homebuyers need to earn more than $300,000 a year to be able to buy a home in San Francisco, however average yearly salary is $ 98.000.
We own a two bedroom apartment of about 90 m2 in apartment complex in downtown San Mateo. This 120.000 m2 garden apartment complex called Woodlake was built in mid 70’s. It consists of 22 three-floor buildings, which hold 990 apartment units. Designed as an inclusive residential enclave, the development includes apartment buildings and townhouses constructed in five clusters with a shopping center in the northwest corner. Each residential cluster features shared courtyards and a swimming pool. At the center of the property is a meandering lake with a fountain. The lake is surrounded by open lawns, curvilinear paths, benches and trees. The main swimming pool, recreation complex with fitness, gym, tennis courts, clubhouse for various events… are located adjacent to the lake. Fixed monthly fee that we pay is $ 500 which includes electricity, garbage, recycling, water and usage of all those amenities.
We have bought our apartment in 2005 for $ 465.000, which is about $ 5.170 per m2. We have payed 20 % of down payment, and 80 % through the bank loan with 3% interest rate. There is no property purchase tax that needs to be paid upon purchase as it is the case in Croatia. However there is 1 % property tax that is paid every year in two rates, one in April and one in December. Besides taxes, we are obligated to pay home insurance. The cost of it varies from company to company, but some average cost is about $35 per month for every $100,000 of home value. Today, 16 years after, our apartment is worth about $ 800.000, or about $ 8.900 per m2, which is more than 70 % higher in value, or about 5 % yearly increase.
In the event of selling the property, there could be taxes to pay. It depends on how long you owned and lived in the home before the sale and how much profit you made. If you owned and lived in the place for two of the five years before the sale, then up to $250,000 of profit is tax-free. If you are married and file a joint return, the tax-free amount doubles to $500,000. California taxes capital gains the same as ordinary income, at rates up to 13.3 percent.
San Francisco charges a transfer tax on each commercial and residential property sold, equal to a percentage of the property’s sale price. The transfer tax rate ranges from 0.5 percent to 2.5 percent and is typically paid by the seller. Another expense when selling a home is real estate agency fee which is 6 % of the agreed price. Therefore overall expense when selling a property in San Francisco is 6,5% – 8% or even more.
Very generally speaking, a buyer can expect that closing costs when buying a property will run anywhere from 1% to 3% of the purchase price, the major variable being the loan points charged by their lender (bank).
When selling or buying a home in US, it is very common to engage a real estate agent. There are no rules requiring you to sell your home with a real estate agent, however 90 % of the property sales in US are done through agencies. The standardized agent’s commission is 6 % and is completely paid by the seller. The buyer does not pay the agency. However, if one agent is representing the buyer, and the other agent is representing the seller, than it is common practice among agents that they split the 6% commission payed by the seller.