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Software Developer Plans to Restore San Francisco Painted Lady House

Leah Culver paid $3.55 million in cash for the home. Now she’s planning on blogging the estimated $3 million renovation process on social media.
Leah Culver

  • A San Francisco tech veteran has bought one of the city’s iconic Painted Ladies homes for $3.55 million, well over its asking price of $2.75 million.
  • The home is a “fixer-upper” — it needs a full-house renovation, with interior photos showing peeling paint and dilapidated rooms.
  • Culver is a software engineer by trade who has worked in the industry since the early days of the internet and is now running a podcast app company.
  • She told Business Insider that she intends to undertake a full renovation of her new home, which she estimates will cost $3 million.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Tech industry veteran Leah Culver wasn’t looking for a home renovation project when she set out to invest in San Francisco’s housing market.

She has lived in the same apartment in the city for 10 years, Culver told Business Insider, before she set out to find a realtor to help her on her house hunt. And one of the items on her wishlist for a new home was that it be a famous and iconic San Francisco home, perhaps even one of the iconic Victorians on Steiner Street for which the city is known.

It was a wishlist item that Culver ended up fulfilling — except that it came bound with a necessitated multimillion-dollar home restoration on top of the home’s price tag.

A bathroom in the home needs some work.
Courtesy of Jeremy Rushton with Coldwell Banker

The pink Painted Lady at 714 Steiner Street is a “fixer-upper,” the home’s listing agent told Business Insider when the home was still on the market in early January. Interior photos show peeling paint, dusty windows, grimy walls, and discolored tile flooring. 

But despite the needed TLC, Culver bought it in late January for $3.55 million, well over its asking price of $2.75 million. 

The 37-year-old software developer has 14 years of experience in the Bay Area’s lucrative tech industry and a slew of big names listed in her resume, including Dropbox. She’s the co-creator of OAuth, an open-standard authentication that was integral to the early days of the web. She’s also an author of OEmbed, another specification that helps run some of the most ubiquitous aspects of our digital lives — OEmbed is supported by Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.

Culver said she intends to live in the home, which marks the first time she’s done that with one of her real-estate investments. She paid in cash, a common and, in most cases, necessary step if prospective Bay Area homeowners are wanting to snag a house. Even so, Culver said that she wasn’t the highest bidder and yet still won the sale. The selection of real estate in San Francisco is tight — which exacerbates both a housing crisis and a homelessness crisis — and buyers with the means to purchase property often pay above the listing price, and in cash.

Culver’s new Painted Lady is the home painted in a pink-red trim in the center, left of the blue house.
Katie Canales/Business Insider

That trend is magnified when we’re talking about the city’s historic home stock. There are seven Painted Ladies on Steiner Street, or what is sometimes called Postcard Row or the Seven Sisters. It’s a rare feat to own one — only two were listed for sale in the past ten years.

The homes sprung into the global consciousness in part through their appearance in the sitcom “Full House,” which first aired in the late 1980s. Since then, the homes have become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city, right up there with the Golden Gate Bridge and the Transamerica Pyramid Building. The septuplet of houses shows up on city postcards and other paraphernalia in almost any gift shop you stumble into. 

It’s a picturesque part of town, beloved by tourists and locals alike, and is one that Culver is now apart of.

But first comes the daunting renovation process, one that she’ll have loads of help with thanks to a project manager she’s hired. Culver estimates everything will cost an additional $3 million, rounding out her home investment to at least $6.5 million. 

And while she said she intends to embrace the Victorian home’s character rather than override it, there is still some tweaking that needs to be done to the house, which hasn’t been kept in the best condition in its more than 100-year history.

“It hasn’t been preserved, so I can’t keep preserving it,” Culver said.

Here’s how she’s gearing up for the renovation.

As facade preservation is a high priority in San Francisco, the exterior of the home will remain the same, though Culver said she’ll probably have the paint job redone most likely with a shade of pink.

Culver holds the keys to her new home on the front stoop.
Leah Culver

“The goal is to have it fit nicely with the homes on the road,” Culver said.

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