The Gold Coast of The Golden State: A Luxury Conversation


Sitting down to learn more about the epic historic mansions of San Francisco from one of its top and most humble agents was an exercise in perfect polarity. Referred to as “The Gold Coast” and “Billionaire’s Row,” formidable early 20th century industrialists developed a collection of Pacific Coast properties which rank among the most opulent and magnificent in the entire country. Seventy years later, enter Neal Ward, arriving at The City by the Bay in 1989 with no prior experience in real estate, just his impeccable taste, dogged work ethic and understated Midwestern sensibility… An ideal combination, as evidenced by his meteoric rise to become The Gold Coast’s gold standard.

“From growing up in a small town of 1300 people to being able to work with the types of clients, homes and properties I do has been beyond my wildest dreams. It is an unbelievable honor, and my team and I do not take it lightly.” Neal describes San Francisco as being “a big little city”; he knows every home in The Gold Coast coveted neighborhoods of Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights and Seacliff, along with each beautiful tree and stately doorway. Most of these homes were built on lots purchased in the 1910’s and 1920’s by famous businessmen and wealthy tycoons such as Stanford, Crocker, Getty and Strauss. Neal details, “For the north-facing homes on Broadway starting at Divisadero and ending at Lyon Street, it's such a dramatic drop in elevation to the next street down, even three levels below the main level offer unobstructed Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay views. These properties are twelve thousand square feet at a minimum. They are astonishing.”

Neal has an especially deep and considered appreciation for the timeless designs of these residences, having worked at Knoll International in New York City prior to his arrival to San Francisco, as well as a passion for the uniquely desirable location of their discreet and refined neighborhoods. “The ultra-luxury markets of Pacific Heights, Presidio Heights and Seacliff have the tiniest pieces of geography compared to the other luxury markets around the country as they are bounded by the Bay and our exquisite national park, The Presidio. The beauty of the local nature and being so close to Alta Plaza Park, Lafayette Park and the cultural elements of downtown are unsurpassed benefits. Even the building facades are protected landmarks, making our supply of homes all the more fixed and tight.” 

Buyers of these historic mansions are purchasing them almost exclusively as a primary residence. Neal explains, “We do not have a sizable secondary housing market, people buy because they need to find the right home, right here. This means when buyers move in, they do not readily move out. Also, our buyers are quite financially well-heeled and able to buy $10 to $20 million homes because we are fueled by such a strong and diverse economy here with Silicon Valley.” When asked to describe the individuals purchasing these properties, Neal smiles, “The Gold Coast homes are classic and their buyers are understated. They may be founders of very well-known companies that recently went public at very large valuations, but they’re wearing t-shirts and jeans and spending leisure time outdoors kiteboarding, windsurfing, biking, and hiking. It is not unusual to have first time home buyers in the $20 million category. It is exciting to see these new ultra-high-net-worth buyers want to be part of a new generation here.”

One pricing phenomenon Neal notes is that while the region’s ultra-luxury real estate market is heavily fueled up to the $20 million mark, there is thin air above it. “The most expensive property which ever sold here on- or off-market was sold by our team for $43.5 million (1). It is the only home in the history of the city that has sold for over $40 million, and we’ve not had many sales in the $30 million range here, either.” (2) Perhaps this is why blinged-out sports cars are seldom seen speeding down the streets: San Francisco is notoriously humble, just like its #1 agent, Neal Ward (3), who redirected much of our conversation to spotlight his team members, such as Neal Ward Properties Senior Partner Pete Rodway who holds a degree in architecture from Cornell, and the show-stopping design work by the team’s Brand + Marketing Director Courtney Duvendack. Neal maintains his modest affect as he explains, “Our team does not rely on what we have done with the previous listings. We do everything we can to brand and elevate each unique property. It is always about the home and the client, it is not about Neal Ward Properties.”

Neal underscored with deep feeling that Compass San Francisco Founding Agent Malin Giddings has been his incomparable mentor, playing an integral role in his achievements throughout his career, as well as how honored he is to work alongside his team, and how much their clients value the depth and breadth of their collaborative expertise. “We are in the business of making our clients happy, whatever that takes. The Gold Coast is a tiny community, and we are representing people who require the ultimate privacy. There are sales in which we have been a part that we cannot even discuss. If we so much as whispered about them, our team would be out of business.” Neal grew wistful as he continued, “I really value these relationships and feel very fortunate.” It is a certainty that for his clients, the feelings of gratitude and good fortune are quite mutual. Nearly 25 years after embarking on his San Francisco career in real estate, Neal’s refinement, discretion and dedication are as legendary as The Gold Coast itself.


Agent: Neal Ward 


(1) (2) (3)  #1 Individual Agent in San Francisco