Nasty surprises for East Bay homeowners?
April 3, 2012 10:37 AM   Subscribe

What's horrible about owning a home in Berkeley, Oakland, or Albany?

Asking for a friend:

My friend is thinking of buying a house in Berkeley, Oakland, or Albany, sometime in the next five years or so.

He's been a renter in San Francisco for several years.

What annoying surprises might await him? Are there any little-known weirdnesses about city ordinances or culture that are likely to drive him crazy? Is he more likely to find his city government irritating if he lives in Albany or Oakland? Is it true you're not allowed to have a backyard grill in Berkeley?

He's pretty Californian and green, so the general vibe of the East Bay will probably be pretty comfortable for him. Likewise, he knows that Oakland is not one big murder zone, and that all three cities are likely to have safer and less-safe neighborhoods. He's fairly handy, and somewhat prepared for the extra maintenance of being a homeowner vs. renter.

Any info about specific annoyances in any of these cities would be most appreciated - as would any info about which of the three is better for homeowners.

Bonus points for online forums where he could find out more (aside from City-Data or Berkeley Parents, which he knows about).

Extra special bonus points: there was a comment somewhere on MetaFilter in which someone said there's a block or two on the Berkeley-Oakland border where the fronts of the houses are in one city and the backs are in the other city, which meant garbage collection was done by one city but permits etc. were done by the other city. Apparently the homeowners there love that situation. Specifics about WHY they love it and where that block is would be awesome.

posted by kristi to Law & Government (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Property taxes. He should check out for some of the gripes.
posted by parmanparman at 10:47 AM on April 3, 2012

Well, there's the Hayward Fault.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:22 AM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

All these cities are on a hillside near an ocean, so drainage and sewerage can be a dream or a nightmare, depending on the grade and where your house is in relation to the sewer line and storm drain. When I lived in Oakland, our house was on the low side of a street that had the main sewer line buried under the middle of the street. The lowest point in our house's drainage system was lower than the sewer line. Under certain conditions, raw sewage would erupt from a grate in the driveway and... uh... fertilize the lawn. You may not want that.

Once, on a very rainy day, I saw someone slip and fall on the street because the runoff was strong enough to lift the cover off the storm drain. As she stepped on it, the storm drain cover skateboarded out from under her.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 11:22 AM on April 3, 2012

The permit process to get work done on your home can be Byzantine. (e.g. electrical & drainage safety requirements, seismic upgrades.) If possible, try to buy a home that doesn't need a lot of work. But not true that you can't have an outdoor grill; I know at least 2 people in a densely-populated part of Berk who use theirs regularly. There are, however, occasional "Spare-the-Air Days" when you're not allowed to burn wood in your fireplace.
posted by Lettuce_Leaves at 11:30 AM on April 3, 2012

Albany is really small. There aren't usually a lot of properties on the market there. It has a good school district, so house prices in Albany are inflated compared to surrounding areas and buying can be very competitive. Not uncommon for homes in Albany to be sold above the asking price.

Also, most municipalities require that you replace the sewer lateral when you buy a home. That'll run $3-4K.
posted by gnutron at 12:12 PM on April 3, 2012

They all have weird and different politics, though Berkeley seems to take the cake on sheer corruption in the building permits and home renovations department.

If you want to just hear me bitch about living in Albany, please memail me. I got tangentially involved in city politics but never owned a home there.

Does he have kids? If not, his options are a lot wider and if I were him I'd look at Oakland as well as the Richmond hills. The Richmond hills (aka "Richmond View") are pretty awesome, and relatively cheap.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2012

When I lived in Berkeley I found that people in the neighborhood felt much freer to get up your nose about stuff. How you park your car. How you take out your trash. How you care for your dog. This was usually done in an anonymous or otherwise passive-agressive kind of way, in a way that left me feeling that Berkeley was big enough for anonymity but small enough for it to be pueblo pequeño, infierno grande. That being said, I loved living there and missed it terribly when we moved down to the Peninsula.

We did have a backyard grill, but we also lived up in the hills, where the fire restrictions are there for a very good reason, and certainly would not use it when the fire danger was high.
posted by ambrosia at 2:14 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

How you park your car.

Figure this out before you move in. Oakland is especially eager to give out $80 residential permit parking tickets (2 hour parking M-F 8 am - 6 pm unless you have a zone 'A' sticker, for example).

As for fire stuff, you have to keep a 10 or 12 foot distance from the building clear of brush, including tree branches high up. And if you have trees on your property it can get complicated. It gets even more complicated when the base of the tree crosses the property line.

Fun Oakland anecdote: No more than two houses can be built between two streets. The city decides what is a street or not, and the one-lane road about 75 yards behind our house is not a street. So the developer that bought the property just behind us (and the neighbors) can't do anything with it, and our neighborhood has a de facto open space park!
posted by clorox at 8:55 PM on April 3, 2012

There is also Point Richmond if he is looking for a nice Bay Area enclave. If he is wedded to Berkeley/Albany area than the pricy but well positioned Elmwood area of Berkeley is one of my favorites. You may want to avoid south Berkeley because of the density of undergraduates. North Berkeley is nice and has more graduate students.

If he has debating a condo then he needs to be real careful dealing with earthquake retrofit issues that the other holders may whammy him with doing or not doing, as was the case in the place I lived.
posted by jadepearl at 6:58 AM on April 4, 2012

My friends in Oakland have cited frightening crime.
posted by jander03 at 10:42 PM on April 4, 2012

Thanks, everyone - great answers!

If anyone else wants to chime in, here are a few responses to earlier comments:

* no kids
* not really interested in a condo

posted by kristi at 10:14 AM on April 6, 2012

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