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April 7, 2022

Check “Special Use District” Before You Buy To Renovate

The rear of a fixer

Renovating a home can be a challenging endeavor in San Francisco. Permit reviews and approvals can take a very long time, especially if you’re aiming to expand “outside the envelope.” But there’s another layer that can pose a big obstacle to your plans—a “special use district.”

Knowing whether the home you’re buying and planning to extensively renovate is located within one of San Francisco’s “special use districts” is extremely important. These districts pop up in various neighborhoods and are designed to ensure that renovations or new construction fit in with neighborhood context or historical character.

For example, any major renovations for properties on the East Slope in Bernal Heights must be approved by the Bernal Heights East Slope Design Review Board. This group was formed in 1986 and has extensive renovation guidelines for homes in that part of the neighborhood. Failing to review those guidelines may result in a few surprises once you close escrow and attempt to start, say, your new rear addition.

Bottom line: Do some basic research before you commit to purchasing a property that will involve extensive exterior renovations. A good place to start is the Planning Department’s Property Information Map. You can plug in an address and review all the details about the property, including whether it’s in a special use district or if there are any historic preservation limitations.

It’s better to get a basic sense for the hoops you’ll have to jump through before you buy to renovate. San Francisco residential development comes with its quirks, hurdles and bureaucracy. Navigating a special use district ahead of time—and working with a knowledgeable, experience Realtor like me—can save you a massive headache and lots of money.

[Photo courtesy Corcoran Global Living]

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