Red Oak Realty agent Simon Black started his Saturday open house for a trendy loft-style apartment in the San Francisco Bay Area with a troubling surprise.
The 140-unit condo development across the road, 3800 San Pablo Ave in Emeryville, had been on fire since the early hours of the morning.
The heat emanating from it had cracked the windows of the very attractive one-bedroom, fourth floor apartment he was marketing.
Black, who was helping out listing agent Hanna Kearns, had to ask the police if he was allowed to go into his property’s building at 3801 San Pablo Ave because the street was cordoned off.
Fortunately, said the remarkably sunny Black, just the external panes of the double-paned windows were affected, so when you were inside the condo, it wasn’t a problem.
This was the second time the ill-fated development, a Holliday Development project, has caught fire, a real shame since this part of the Bay Area is crying out for housing, and the development was scheduled for completion in October.
Founder and president of Holliday Developments Rick Holliday will start rebuilding again, with even more security and fencing, no doubt. Insurance will cover the extra expenses.
But for now a massive team of investigators are pouring over the fire scene, trying to figure out if arson was involved and who did it.
Holliday told the East Bay Business News that it would be harder to get financing for housing developments in the East Bay as a consequence of the latest fire, which he believes was caused by arson.
“This feels like a war on housing in the East Bay,” Holliday said. “It’s really horrible because we’ve had the worst housing crisis. All it’s going to do is make it more difficult for other people to build housing — affordable, market-rate, blended income, whatever,” he said. “The problem’s bigger than our building.”
The developer has said the project will be delayed another nine months at least.
According to Black, the people attending the open houses Saturday and Sunday seemed to have read about the incident and were not too fazed. The listing was one of few sales of the building’s 36 units, which were built in 2009.
A week prior, Black told the neighbors about the upcoming open houses and invited them to pop in for homemade cookies and an opportunity to see what the owner had done with the home.
Now, on this unusual weekend, their presence was a godsend: Whenever a potential buyer asked about the area’s safety, a neighbor was within earshot to answer the question with far more authenticity than Black could.
The fact that the building had internal parking was another big selling point.
Homebuyers looking in Emeryville — a popular “corridor city” running between Oakland and Berkeley, close to San Francisco — are seasoned shoppers who must be extraordinarily tenacious to find homes.
“Quite honestly, they were more interested in seeing the apartment,” Black said. “Most people didn’t realize they were going to get a front row seat of the burning building. That was an initial shock, perhaps, but people quickly returned to the matter at hand.”
Kearns, the Red Oak Realty listing agent for the apartment, said that marketing for the $409,000, 566-square-foot unit will continue as planned and is poised to entice a number of bids.
Kearns said she has received “dozens” of requests for disclosure packages since last Thursday.
The apartment is appealing to single owners, millennials and Generation Xers, she said.
Pro-development vs. anti-development
All East Bay Properties’ Jason Crouch and Red Oak Realty’s Julia Temple, long established Emeryville agents, are concerned that this second fire is a reaction to something that plagues Emeryville like a lot of other popular real estate hot spots.
For a long time, Emeryville, a vibrant business and retail hub where Pixar Animation studios is based, has contended with pro-development groups and anti-development groups, according to Crouch.
He saw the anti-development side when he sat as a resident on the steering committee of the city’s general plan. “There were people advocating for negative growth,” he said.
Temple added: “I think we need to address the bigger issue coming out in these incidents — that of gentrification and of people being displaced. That’s the larger issue at hand.
“I know a lot of people who I grew up with here. They go away to college; they get degrees, but they can’t start their families here, so they move elsewhere where they don’t have support of their families.
“They have to go somewhere else to survive, even though they are college-educated. There is a lot of animosity here about that — that could be in play here.”
The price tags that come with living in Emeryville say it all. The average one-bedroom condo is selling for $425,000 and the average two bedroom for $600,000 to $650,000.
Meanwhile, the median income in Emeryville has gone up to $70,000, Temple said.