Tina Lam and Michael Cheng are living their version of the American Dream.
The couple made headlines this week when a San Francisco Chronicle story outed their 2015 purchase of Presidio Terrace — a private cul-de-sac lined by 35 million-dollar mega-mansions.
An unpaid tax bill caused the City of San Francisco to put it up for sale, without the knowledge of the street’s wealthy residents. Lam, an engineer in Silicon Valley, and Cheng, a real estate agent, scooped up the street, its footpaths, and other “common ground” for $A113,000.
Now residents are up in arms, in part because the couple wants to charge them rent for using the street’s 120 parking spaces. The homeowners association has sued the couple and the city.
We visited the ultra-exclusive Presidio Terrace to see the street for ourselves.
Presidio Terrace is a block-long, oval street (and private development) that has been run by homeowners who live there since at least 1905, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.
It has attracted some of the wealthiest and most powerful politicians in California over the years, thanks to enhanced security and its isolated location at the top of the peninsula.
No one gets in or out without the hired private security knowing. A uniformed officer with Black Bear Security Services stands guard at the stone-gate entrance at all hours.
On the corner sits a Tudor-style home that once belonged to US Senator Dianne Feinstein and her husband, financier Richard C. Blum. Built in 1909, it contains 16 rooms.
Senator Feinstein grew up across the street from the home but always admired this mansion, with its storybook charm. She bought it through a family trust in 1985.
Senator Feinstein later passed it on to her daughter, Judge Katherine Feinstein, who sold the property for $A12 million in 2013, within weeks of listing it.
'She has loved this house since 1945 and I've told her it's just too much house for us right now and she said 'You know, life is short, be happy,'' Judge Feinstein told The Wall Street Journal.
Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi once lived in a Mission-revival mansion further up the street. The Democratic Party held many fundraising events there over the years.
Source: The Atlantic
The home last sold in 1990 for $A3.41 million, according to property records obtained online from the City and County of San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder.
A white Beaux Arts estate at the top of the cul-de-sac (you can barely see it between the trees) belonged to the late San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto. It boasts six bathrooms.
Mayor Alioto's former home last sold in 2013 for $A12 million, according to property records.
The median home value in the Presidio Heights neighbourhood topped $A6.44 million in June -- about four times the median home value in San Francisco, according to data from Zillow.
Residents pay an annual fee to the homeowner association. In 2013, that came out to $A4,308 per home, according to a listing for Mayor Alioto's mansion.
The association failed to pay a $A18-a-year property tax for three decades. It claims the city sent the bill to an outdated address, which caused penalties and interest to stack up.
In 2015, The Office of the Treasurer & Tax Collector went looking for someone to pay up. It listed the street in an online auction to recover $A1,256 in back taxes, penalties, and interest.
Along came Lam, a product line manager at software company VMware, and Cheng, a real-estate agent who brokers investment opportunities for high-net-worth individuals.
The couple is interested in charging the neighbourhood's deep-pocketed residents to park on Presidio Terrace. 'We could charge a reasonable rent on it,' Cheng told the Chronicle.
Unsurprisingly, residents are not happy -- more than two years after Lam and Cheng scooped up Presidio Terrace without their knowledge. Many were first made aware of the purchase in May, when a title-search company working on behalf of the couple contacted them to see if they were interested in buying back the property outside their homes.
'I was shocked to learn this could happen, and am deeply troubled that anyone would choose to take advantage of the situation and buy our street and footpaths,' one homeowner, who asked not to be named because of a pending suit, told the Chronicle.
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