Upstairs Downsizing

Now I’ve seen everything. I was over in San Carlos this week, both to make the rounds and to talk to the folks selling condos at Wheeler Plaza. I began by taking a look at the mixed-use building under construction at the corner of San Carlos Avenue and Chestnut Street, the 1501 San Carlos Avenue project:

It looks nearly done, and I’m hoping that they have some sort of open house so that I can see what the six condominiums (on the three upper floors) look like. But I’m really wondering just who might go into the ground floor retail space; this isn’t exactly located where I would expect to find a retailer (although it isn’t that far off from other retailers, so maybe I’m not the best judge).

Walking along San Carlos Avenue from the above-pictured project to Wheeler Plaza, I passed the following sign, and did a double-take:

It wasn’t the bit about Therapy House that gave me pause. It was the sign below, advertising “Domestic Match, Private Chef Match, Estate Staffing.”

I know that our real-estate prices are high, and that there are a number of wealthy people living in our area, but are there really enough to support a business that matches homeowners with private chefs? Naturally I took a look at their website, and they say that “We make it simple for you to find the ideal chef for your home, yacht, or office.” Huh. While I wish that I was wealthy enough to be able to use their services, I guess I’ll just have to settle for dreaming. Oh, if you aren’t looking for a chef but are looking for other household help, they also have a website for Domestic Match. Go wild…

On to Wheeler Plaza. This project is so big that it’s gotten difficult to photograph. Here is a very recent image showing part of the Walnut Street side of the building:

Workers are madly working on the exterior, and should be wrapping up fairly soon. The guy you see in the above picture appears to be part of a crew taking down some of the scaffolding, so it will probably look a lot better in very short order. There is still a lot of work to be done, however, even just on the outside. For instance, a lot of sidewalk work still needs to be done, and at the moment crews have blocked off the alley between the Wheeler Plaza buildings and the retail buildings along Laurel Street, apparently for a complete repaving.

The Wheeler Plaza project is located in San Carlos and sits at the corner of San Carlos Avenue and Walnut Street. It extends close to Laurel Street in one direction and Cherry Street in another, although there remains a line of retail spaces along those streets that aren’t part of the project. The five-story Wheeler Plaza building replaced a very popular parking lot and a handful of retail buildings along San Carlos Avenue. This building contains:

  • a two-level public parking garage with 252 spaces (the surface parking lot that originally was there had 187 spaces). The vehicular entrance to the public parking garage can be seen along the right side of the above photo; cars enter and exit the garage from Walnut Avenue. Pedestrians, however, can walk out from the garage in a variety of directions, including into the alley that separates the Wheeler Plaza building from the shops along Laurel Street.
  • a single-level underground garage for residential parking (only). This garage is accessed through a separate entrance also off Walnut Street, at the south end of the building.
  • five restaurant or retail spaces totaling just about 10,000 square feet. All of these spaces are side-by-side and face San Carlos Avenue.
  • 109 for-sale condominiums on floors three through five.

The public parking garage has been open for over a year now — the builder worked hard to make that public parking available once again to the public as soon as they could — but the rest of the building remains off limits to the general public. All except for the “Sales Gallery,” that is.

The Sales Gallery, I quickly learned, is in one of the building’s retail spaces. Given all of the work that is going on at the moment, however, getting to it, especially for someone who is on foot, is a bit tricky. The San Carlos Avenue side of the building, where the main entrances to all of the building’s retail spaces will be, is still under active construction, so although the contractor has provided a temporary, protected walkway along that side for pedestrians, not only can you not enter the building that way, you can’t really even see into the spaces to see where the Sales Gallery is. Fortunately, there are one or two signs that directed me to the parking garage. If I had been driving it would have been simple enough to simply drive into the garage. However, the pedestrian entrance to the garage from Walnut Street is not accessible at the moment, so I walked around to the alley behind the building, where there are two pedestrian entrances.

Unfortunately, the pedestrian entrance off the temporary parking lot where Foodville once stood was also temporarily inaccessible: crews were rebuilding the alley that runs the length of the Wheeler Plaza building. There is another garage entrance further down the alley, however, so I walked down Laurel Street to the Wells Fargo Bank and then proceeded through their parking lot to the alley. Although alley work was going on here, too, the contractor had provided a temporary pedestrian bridge that let me cross.

Immediately upon entering the garage I was greeted by these signs:

Clearly I was on the right track! I followed the arrows, which led me to a rather nondescript door in the north wall of the parking garage. This door led me into the tunnel that will eventually run from the alley to Walnut Street. Whether or not this tunnel will be fully open to the public when the building is complete is not clear to me; the retail spaces all have back doors that open into this tunnel, and it is possible that this will be for their exclusive use, so that they can bring in goods and take out trash and such. It is a good-sized tunnel, though, and the plans show the floor as being some sort of brick or tile, so perhaps it will indeed be usable by the public. On this particular outing I didn’t take a picture of the tunnel, but here is a photo of it that I took back in March:

Note the open doors; these lead into the retail spaces. In the distance you can see the arch that leads out to Walnut Street (I’m standing just inside the building from the alley; to my left, and slightly behind me, is an entrance to the public parking garage).

Although people were actively working on the tunnel’s floor while I was there, I avoided them as best I could and crossed over to the back door marked with a Sales Gallery sign. Once inside I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it!

My first view of the Sales Gallery was of a large table littered with hard hats. I’m pretty sure that if you are serious about buying a particular unit the salesperson will take you to see it, but you’ll have to wear a hard hat since everything is still very much under construction. It was clear, though, that the action lay ahead, so I walked past the table and past two glass-walled sales offices to the front of the retail space. It was here that I was greeted by the one salesman that was on duty that day.

Although we are likely years away from actually doing so — if we ever do — my wife and I have started talking about downsizing into a condominium of sorts. We currently own our home, and would like to continue owning, so rental apartments are out. Condominiums have a great deal of appeal, particularly because we are doing an increasing amount of travel these days — our family is scattered all over the country — and I like the idea of a secure building where we can simply walk out the door and be gone for weeks at a time without worry. As I’ve mentioned before, we’d really like a place that is all on one level (preferably a high level, with nice views). It’s no problem now, but down the line I can imagine a time when stairs might be an issue. So a townhouse-style condominium, which is typically spread out over three floors, is out.

Pretty much all of the condominiums being built in Redwood City these days are townhouse-style. That includes not only the 131 condominiums being built along Redwood Creek at 1548 Maple Street, but also the 33 condominiums being built at the corner of El Camino Real and Hopkins Avenue, on the former site of Honda Redwood City. It also includes the 10-unit condominium project that was approved for the parcel at 910 Woodside Road, where Thaibodia Bistro currently operates. That project was approved back in January of 2017, and a building permit was issued in December of that year, but there has been no visible activity on the project, and the restaurant continues to operate. However, that project does seem to remain alive: just three weeks ago the building department received a new request for building permits. Assuming that approval is (re)granted, perhaps that project will get off the ground soon.

Getting back to Wheeler Plaza, Raymond, the salesman I spoke to, was happy to tell me all about the project. Unlike what is being built in Redwood City, each of these condominiums exists entirely on one level. The project’s 109 condos can be found on floors three through five of the building, and have a variety of sizes and floor plans. Although I couldn’t actually see any of them, I was able to see the next-best thing: the Sales Gallery includes a complete mock-up of a one-bedroom unit, right down to the front door and the doorbell with the unit’s number plate. So I essentially got to tour one of their smaller units.

The condo I toured had a nice-sized kitchen, a combined living/dining space, a small, but serviceable bedroom, and a generously sized bathroom. To begin with, here is the bedroom:

In the real unit, of course, those windows would not be opaque. Depending upon where the unit is located within the building, it would either look out on one of the surrounding streets (or the alley), or into one of the two private courtyards, which are located on the third floor.

Here is a view of the bathroom. As you can see, the fixtures and finishes appear to be of a nice quality:

Look into the mirror and you can get a glimpse of the shower. I should note that although the bathrooms are generous and the doorways are wide — which is particularly nice for the elderly and the handicapped — all of the showers in the entire building are tub/shower combinations, so plan on stepping over a rather high-sided tub when you want to rinse off.

Here is a view of the unit’s living room:

Unfortunately I was taking these pictures with my iPhone, and thus couldn’t take a wide-angle shot that would show the dining space as well. But you can see a bit of the dining table and part of two dining chairs along the left edge of the picture.

The patio doors face the same direction as the bedroom window. Note that most of the condominiums in “The Residences at Wheeler Plaza” (as the condominium portion of the project is formally called) do have a balcony or patio of some sort, although not all do. And those balconies vary in size; most appear to be quite small.

Lastly, here is a view of the kitchen:

All of the appliances — including the in-unit washer/dryer set (all of the units have their own clothes washer and dryer, which in this unit was in a closet behind where I was standing when I took the above picture) — appear to be made by Bosch. The countertops are, I believe, quartz. As for the floors, you get tile in the bathrooms, carpet in the bedrooms, and some sort of manufactured wood (or wood-like) product in the kitchen, living, dining, and hallway spaces. All-in-all, everything looks good, and appears to be of high quality. Do note that if you are considering one of these units, all of the fixtures, finishes, and appliances have already been selected by the builder: you don’t get a choice.

As for unit layouts and sizes, they range from a one-bedroom, 762-square-foot unit to a three-bedroom, 1,495-square-foot unit. The building contains 38 one-bedroom units, 49 two-bedroom units, and 22 three-bedroom units. One-bedroom units have a single assigned parking space in the resident’s garage, while three-bedroom units are assigned two side-by-side parking spaces. Two-bedroom units vary, however, depending upon the unit: some have only a single assigned parking space, while others have two tandem spaces and yet others have two side-by-side parking spaces. Which you get, and where they are in the garage, are not up to the buyer: specific parking spaces have already been assigned to each unit. Finally, while on the subject of parking, know that the resident’s garage doesn’t have any EV chargers. The public garage is slated to get at least three, however.

Before I get to pricing, a brief word about amenities. Brief, because there aren’t many. To quote the fact sheet I was given, “There are NO pools, spas, fitness center, basketball courts, putting greens, or club house.” The building’s common areas include the (unmanned) lobby and mailroom on the first floor, and the two courtyards on the third floor. Those will consist of “water fountains, walkways, planters, and sitting area to create a tropical environment.” Interior units on all levels open onto or look out onto these common areas. There is also a bike storage room, equipped with a repair station, in the residential garage. Storage units in the garage can be separately purchased.

So what might you pay for one of these condos? Well, the price is going to vary depending on a great many factors, including what floor the unit is on, which way it faces, and, of course, its size. A one-bedroom unit can be had for as little as $859,000, and the cheapest three-bedroom unit will set you back $1,625,000. But those are the base prices; you could pay more, depending upon the particular unit. As well, because this is a condominium development, there is a monthly homeowner’s fee. That fee depends upon the unit size, and ranges from “low $400 to mid $500.” That monthly fee pays for hazard insurance, garbage service, common area maintenance, reserves, and a management fee. Note that you will also need to pay for electricity — each unit is individually metered — but because there aren’t separate meters for gas or water, it isn’t clear if you pay separately for those, or whether they are part of your homeowner’s fee.

Finally, note that because the building is still under construction, even if you buy a unit today you won’t be able to move in until November at the earliest.

So, that’s Wheeler Plaza. The building’s location is excellent: it is less than two blocks from the San Carlos Transit Center (think Caltrain and SamTrans), and the many restaurants and retail outlets along San Carlos Avenue and Laurel Street are mere steps away. Your favorite might even be closer than that, depending upon who moves into the five retail spaces within the Wheeler Plaza building itself. And there is a park just one block away, a park that shares the block with the San Carlos Public Library (along with a couple of other civic buildings), which might take some of the sting out of Wheeler Plaza’s rather limited set of amenities.

Likely I’ve become inured to our real estate prices, but the prices that KB Homes is asking for the condominiums at Wheeler Plaza don’t actually seem too bad to me. Certainly, I could imagine downsizing into one of the larger ones, if my wife and I were actually ready to do so.  Even though our residential real estate market has experienced a significant slowdown lately, I’m guessing that KB Homes won’t have a very hard time selling most of these units. Indeed, when I expressed interest in a three-bedroom unit, I was told that demand for those was high, and that a number of them have already been sold. So if you think you might be interested, I wouldn’t hesitate too long. Getting to the Sales Gallery may be a bit tricky (it’s easier if you simply drive into the garage), but definitely worth the journey. Oh, and perhaps you could take the money you would save over buying a single-family home and put it into a private chef…

2 thoughts on “Upstairs Downsizing

  1. Dude, you are awesome, informative and funny at the same time! The private chef statement at the end is priceless. Haven’t written to you since the very beginning. Keep it up!

  2. My parents downsized to a condo in San carlis and love the active lifestyle and shops and restaurants in the area.

    Would you consider using gender neutral language in your posts? Salesperson instead of salesman? Thanks.

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