How To Buy A House in San Francisco – Misconceptions Debunked

How To Buy A House in San Francisco: Debunking the Myths

I’m going to explain how to buy a house in San Francisco and debunk common misconceptions so you can become a successful homeowner.

Myth #1: You don’t need to be underwritten in order to buy a house

I talk to buyers all the time that want to wait to get a pre-approval until after they find a house. This can be a big mistake because getting pre-approved and underwritten can take as long as a week. 

Homes in San Francisco can sell in a matter of days. Sometimes the offer dates are set for less than a week after a house is listed. Getting pre-approved is essential, otherwise you risk missing getting the house you want.  

Myth #2: Pulling your credit hurts your credit score

Inquiries for the same type of loan within a short period (usually 45 days) are considered a single inquiry and have no impact on your credit score.

However, keep this in mind: Avoid getting pre-approved by multiple lenders. It’s important to talk to one lender. Discuss your options and get pre-approved with a single lender to avoid multiple inquiries.

By getting fully underwritten you will be able to write a more competitive offer, which you may want to do if you are in a multiple offer situation. Getting pre-approved will also help you understand your budget. You don’t want to spend weeks or months looking at homes you can’t afford. 

I actually recommend getting pre-approved for your maximum budget. A lot of times buyers don’t want to be pushed beyond their artificially-created budget, but going back to get pre-approved later if you want to spend, say another $100,000 or $200,000, can be problematic in terms of timeline. 

One thing that is very important  is to make sure you are aligning your dreams with reality when it comes to budget and what you can afford.  

Myth #3: Zillow and Redfin can tell you what you can afford

Here’s a better approach that will save you a ton of  time and energy: Do a backward-looking exercise. Analyze past sales data with the criteria you want for let’s say, the last six months, in your desired area.

Star homes you think you would have bought and note what you liked about those properties.

Sometimes you may find that you don’t have a viable search, maybe there were only a few homes that came up. At that point, you can change three things: your budget (if you’re lucky), your neighborhood, and the size of the house. You may want to find other neighborhoods you could get into at a lower price. 

At the end of this exercise, you’ll have gathered the following information:

  • How many of your starred homes sold in the different neighborhoods you targeted?
  • What was the percentage of homes sold above or below listing price?
  • What percentage did it sell for over list price? 
  • What was the price per square foot in each neighborhood?

The knowledge you gather will help you know a good home when you see it.

One thing we teach our San Francisco buyers is that you pay about 15-20% for sun and 15-20% for walkability. If you want a certain type of neighborhood, it can be hard to figure out what the other neighborhoods are that you aren’t familiar with. You’re in luck!  On our YouTube channel, you will find tons of videos featuring San Francisco neighborhoods. Subscribe to our channel while you are there so you don’t miss anything!  

Myth #4: You can wait until the weekend to see a house

San Francisco is a highly competitive market, and that means:

  • Fast-moving inventory: Homes sell quickly!
  • Preemptive offers: Buyers may submit offers before the official offer date.

Your competition may be contacting their realtor within seconds of a house going on the market. If a house meets your needs, don’t wait to go see it. Preemptive offers can, and do, happen. It’s awful when there’s a house that you think you would have loved and you never even get to go see it. 

To stay competitive:

  • Be available to see houses on weekends. Block off your Sundays. 
  • Go see as many homes as you can. The more homes you get into, the more you will understand the market. 
  • If you love a house, contact your realtor immediately, even outside regular business hours. You want to get a phone call in case a preemptive offer comes in. 

Myth #5: There’s no open house etiquette

You want the listing agent to like you. Here are some tips for getting the most out of an open house: 

  • Be respectful: Introduce yourself and be polite.
  • Ask good questions: Save detailed questions for your own realtor.
  • Ask for a disclosure package and if they can walk you through any big red flags in person. 
  • Avoid sensitive topics: Don’t discuss price or make negative comments about the property.
  • Mind your surroundings: Don’t bring pets without permission, control children, and avoid private conversations within earshot of cameras. Remember: Sellers often monitor cameras inside and outside the house.
  • Don’t call the listing agent directly. Reach out to your agent so that they can contact the listing agent.

You’ve Found a House You Love! Now What? 

Make sure you call your agent right away and let them know. Your agent should be pointing out some things that maybe another buyer wouldn’t like for a house in that price point. Make sure that they walk through the pros and cons with you. And worst case scenario, if things are moving very quickly, they can see the home on their own and report back to you with any feedback that they have on the home. 

Myth #6: You can make an offer on a home without an agent

If you don’t have an agent, I’m going to be honest; you’re not in a great situation. 

I am shocked by the number of buyers that come into one of my open houses that don’t have an agent, and we’re taking offers in say, two days. Not to say that it can’t happen, but trying to get pre-approved, familiar with the market, familiar with the comps, go through the disclosures, pick an agent — all of these things in that short amount of time with that much pressure does not put you in a good situation. 

If I had to guess, I would think that these buyers may want to work with a listing agent. And honestly, that’s a really, really, really bad idea. That’s not something that we do when buyers approach us and ask us to represent them; we absolutely will not. We represent the seller. 

Make Multiple Visits 

It’s a good idea to go to the house multiple times. 

  • On your second or your third visit, you’re going to see things that you hadn’t seen before. Maybe you notice that the house next door is under construction, there’s a school on the block, or there’s a restaurant next door. 
  • Notice if there are people hanging around outside. Safety is definitely something that is a very personal preference and it’s something that you can only know and decide how you feel about an area or a home. 


The next thing that you want to do is you want to get an idea about the comps for the home. Reach out to your realtor, you’d ask them to pull the comps for you. Ideally, that realtor has sold a lot of homes and has been in a lot of these comps that they’re pulling for you, because pictures don’t always tell the whole story. 

Having some background insight into how a home sold should give you this information: 

  • How many offers did the home get?
  • Did it have a bad disclosure package, and if so, how did that affect the value?


The other thing that your realtor will want to find out is how competitive is it going to be? That involves calling and asking questions about:

  • The level of interest in the home. 
  • The seller’s reasons for selling.
  • Are there any certain things that they want to see included in the offer? For instance, sometimes sellers want rent backs and it’s helpful to know this type of information. 

There can be various ways that you can strengthen your offer if you have these insights.

Review Disclosures

Review the disclosure package. Hopefully, you’re working with a realtor that’s going to provide you with a summary and help you understand the red flags of the package and how one property compares to the other. For instance, you can discover if a $10,000 pest report seems reasonable on a property.

If your Realtor® is doing a good job, it will take them about 10 hours from the time that you tell them that you want to write an offer until they submit that offer. That includes running comps, doing the disclosure package, writing the offer, meeting with you, spending some time with you, making sure that you understand all of those things. 

So, again, the sooner you can let your realtor know that you’re interested in a property, the better. You don’t want to shortcut any of that time because it could mean that you’re missing information. 

Myth #7: You need to set a firm price

I hear this all the time from buyers: “I know for sure I don’t want to go above this price.” And I totally understand. 

The reality is, on the offer date, it may become apparent to you that somebody else is willing to pay more than that number. And if you hold to that number, what you’re going to find out is that the next house that’s probably very similar to this one that you wanted to buy is actually going to sell for more than this house. 

The way to get a better deal is actually not by painting yourself into a corner and deciding that you will not go above a certain price, but rather to buy the house. If you love the house, and can afford it, buy it. Do not buy it if you can’t afford it.

Be Available on Offer Day

Make sure that your schedule is light on the date of the offer. Contrary to popular belief, counter offers aren’t always on paper. I’d say something like 80% of the time, they are conversations. 

If your agent can’t reach you promptly, there’s a good chance that house is going to go to someone else. 

Myth #8: Your agent doesn’t matter

This is a big one. 

In truth, your agent can make or break your home buying experience. You may be tempted to work with a relative or friend, but keep in mind, the reputation of your agent really matters. 

Agents want to work with other agents that they trust and that they know have adequately prepared the buyer so that the deal will go smoothly. They want to avoid any bumps for their sellers. 

There are many agents in San Francisco to choose from, and this is going to be one of the most important choices you have to make when you are ready to buy a home. 

Here to Help You Make A Move

We would love the opportunity to help you successfully buy a home in San Francisco! We’d love to be your agent of choice if you are considering making a move in or out of the city. Reach out to us anytime.

If you’re looking for more information about real estate in and around San Francisco, check out our Youtube videos and explore our blog, or subscribe to our monthly newsletter. We cover everything from neighborhood reviews to market data. 

March 6, 2024
Buying a Home