A San Francisco woman fed up with the Mission District’s rapid gentrification sold her home for hundreds of thousands of dollars under market value – but with a caveat.
Prospective buyers went through an application process designed to weed out people who didn’t respect the neighborhood or its diverse culture.
Catherine Lee sold her two-bedroom, Edwardian condo with garage parking and a marble fireplace on 23rd and Alabama streets for a non-negotiable $650,000. That's a steal when you consider that a veritable shack sold for $408,000 in the Mission District just a month ago.
Comparable houses in the same area have sold for more than $1 million, according to real estate website Zillow.
Lee, who is a filmmaking teacher living on a modest income, told San Francisco Magazine that she was flooded with potential buyers. None of them, however, seemed to understand that she was serious about the culture-centric application.
"I had a couple of real estate agents come by — you know, long, clicky nails and stiletto heels – who told me they had clients who would go way over asking price," she told the magazine. "I said, ‘OK, so what’s their cultural contribution?’ I never heard back."
That contribution, referred to as a "10-year cultural promissory note," asked prospective buyers to write about their ties to the city and enter a binding, decade-long commitment to provide something of cultural value to the community or to Lee herself.
The new owners also had to promise that they would abstain from griping about the the Mission District's Dia de los Muertos festival, the "Day of the Dead" holiday with roots in Mexico that celebrates the lives of friends and family members who have died. Out-of-area transplants had recently criticized the longstanding neighborhood event, much to Lee's dismay.
"The people showing up were maybe more professional," Lee told the magazine about her preference for the future owners. "I was really thinking, like, the doorman at Slim’s (music club)."
Still, solid offers poured in.
Applicants promised to create a local choir, donate to various foundations and give free legal help to immigrants.
One prospective buyer even met the cultural demands and offered an additional $100,000 on top of the asking price.
But no application seemed to beat that of writer Malena Watrous and her husband, composer Matt Shumaker, who eventually won the moneyless bidding war.
The couple offered free writing conferences, tickets to cultural events for Lee, and a generous donation to the Mission-based nonprofit La Cocina, among other culturally-sound gifts. It also didn’t hurt that the couple had strong ties to the neighborhood – both have lived in the city for a long time, and their son went to a nearby daycare.
"I knew then that they were a family who really lived in the Mission," Lee told the magazine.
Though her story has a happy ending, Lee admits that not everyone can afford to sell their house under market value. She told the magazine that the opportunity she had was one that ultimately worked well for her, and the unique goals she had for her former home.
As for the Shumaker-Wastrous clan, it appears the deal worked for them, too.
"That fear that we would be pushed out of the city was getting to us, even if we didn’t admit it," Wastrous told to the magazine. "Now we can’t wait to get home — and stay home."