Author: Pam Buda

First Quarter Reflections: 2011 Off to a Fast Start but Challenges Remain

Since the first Monday morning after New Year's Day, the Sonoma County real estate market has been incredibly active with some of the highest rates of pending sales in the last several years. Most realtors I know have been very encouraged by all the activity, particularly after activity in late 2010 ground to a near halt for most agents. But many challenges and obstacles remain, and MANY opportunities exist in this market as well. We will continue to delve into these in more detail over the coming months but for now, here are some of the high points. The median sales price in the county has declined over the last several months. What this generally means is not necessarily that values of individual properties have declined so much, although I think there has been some softening. What it means is that the action this last winter was in the low end of the market--that is homes under $350,000. Our market is currently dominated by first time buyers, investors and, to a lesser degree, second-home/retirement buyers. First time buyers are often FHA buyers with as little as 3.5% down. FHA allows these buyers to receive down payment assistance--either gifts from family members or government-sponsored down payment assistance programs such as CHAFA. (News Flash: CHAFA in California is currently on hold due to a funding shortfall.) Real Estate Investors are out in force both in Sonoma County and nationwide. Bargain-basement pricing, interest rates in the fives and a strong rental market are attracting investors in record numbers. Previously high prices kept investors out of our markets for years. Many investors are buying homes to hold and rent. With 25% down, you can buy a rental and pay interest in the low 5's. Homes that cost $200,000 to $300,000 can cash flow today. Someday we will have appreciation again and you can add that to the tax benefits and cash flow of the current rental market. (Talk to your tax advisor about how a rental property can benefit you, and talk to me if you would like me to run some numbers for you.) Other investors are buying to renovate and flip. I have seem some great flip jobs and some bad ones, but for the most part I think these investors are doing a service in renovating some of the really troubled real estate inventory...

Check Out This Impromptu Singalong at Petaluma Whole Foods Market

The Heritage Music Theatre at Cinnabar Theatre in downtown Petaluma created a great guerrilla marketing event at the local Whole Foods Market.   Imagine a fruit aisle stocker spontaneously bursting in to song from behind the pineapples and a bass player emerging from the cooler.  Imagine yourself minding your own business shopping away when a half dozen singers burst into Woody Guthrie's stirring "This Land is Your Land" from over by the papayas and you get the idea. Woody Guthrie's American Song opens December 31st and runs through January 23 just down the block from the fruit aisle! For a taste, the video below is really worth watching to see the involvement of the shoppers grow as everyone gets in to this "Random Act of Culture." [tomatoframe width="480" height="390"]http://www.youtube.com/v/huSdqL1XlPQ?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&color1=0x006699&color2=0x54abd6"[/tomatoframe] PS If you want to check out the latest homes for sale in this town of spontaneously musical produce aisles, you can see them on a map by clicking the link on the right, or here....

25% Home Sales Drop in Sonoma County this October

A winter chill seemed to come early to Sonoma County's real estate market. Sales were at their lowest level for October since 2007. Sales also dropped from September of 2010, which makes me wonder if the news of robo-signing of foreclosure documents just put a huge wet blanket on already skittish buyers. Inventory was up only slightly, and newly pending sales maintained a very good pace, belying the drop in closed sales. It is possible that all the concern about the possible risk of buying foreclosed properties put a damper on sales. In that case short sales might be marginally more attractive to buyers.  (Editor's Comment: it is hard to make a short sale (they are anything but short) attractive to a potential buyer, but if it is the only game in town then I guess they look better, more about that in another post.) The median home price dropped about 9% to $342,500. It has been bouncing around in the mid-$300,000 range for over a year. I have been tracking home sales on this blog since mid-2007. This is the first big (non seasonal) drop in sales volume since late 2008. One month does not a trend make however.  It will be interesting to see if is a temporary reaction to the headlines, or represents a more sustained trend. What does this mean for you if you are a Buyer? If your income situation is stable (a big if for a lot of people), then this winter could present an excellent buying opportunity. Rates have dropped even since the summer to a decades low. Bottom line if you are a buyer now and the numbers work for you, this may be a great chance to buy with less competition at very low cost. If you are a Seller? Without a doubt the drop in sales has got to give you pause if you are a seller. However, to whatever degree there is uncertainty about foreclosure inventory, your "normal" home is going to look a lot more attractive, but not if you overprice it. I can think of any number of "normal" homes that are not priced in line with the competition and are just sitting, getting stale. If you are considering selling within the next two to three years, then you will want to be aggressive and pro-active about how you approach your sale,...

A New Look in the Wine Country

If you don't live in Northern California you might not be aware that we don't have rain for about six months of the year, from April to October. Plant, animal and human life has adapted to drought conditions during the hottest months. But early October everything starts to look pretty parched and dusty. The hills are golden and brown, we have some of our best warm weather, but it is time for rain. Everything feels thirsty. Then the first rains come. Everything is transformed. We have probably had about four inches in the last few weeks. Now the hills are turning emerald green and they will stay that way till May or June. The trees and vineyards are turning all sorts of orange, red and golden tones. Every year I am surprised again about the incredible range of colors on our sunny days, from the emerald grass, to the colorful vines and the amazingly clear blue sky. I took this shot last week as I walked my dog. These colors inspired the new version of my blog design that you see today for the first time. After 3 and an half years, we were definitely due for a freshening, both of the design as well as some good new tools. Now it's back to writing about real estate and life in Sonoma County. Happy Autumn and thanks for visiting!...

Sonoma County homes sales drop 21 percent in July – Pending Sales Up to Two Year High

This week, the Press Democrat newspaper confirmed the analysis of Sonoma County home sales reported here a couple of weeks ago, proof yet again that a local blogger can more nimbly provide the latest hard core real estate data. My reports are based upon the exact same data the Press Democrat is getting. ;) The headline featured July's drop in CLOSED home sales. If you read through the article, however, you will also learn that pending sales (newly ratified purchase contracts) are up to a two year high in July, indicating that sales activity is still strong, and has rebounded after the expiration of the $8,000 Federal Homebuyer's Tax Credit April 30, 2010. While not all the pending sales will come to a succesful conclusion, it is still a good leading indicator of market activity. Just a reminder that if you are looking for the latest Sonoma County home sales data, you can sign up for an email subscription to my blog, or check here the first week of every month to see the latest real estate sales trends analyzed here. For an archive of previous months' data, check out my Scribd Account. If you are wondering, Scribd is an online repository for sharing of documents with social media components. It is to documents what Flickr is to photos. ...

Don't Miss Sebastopol's Gravenstein Apple Fair this Weekend!

This year marks the 100th! Anniversary of Sebastopol's first ever Gravenstein Apple Fair in 1910. Billed as "The Sweetest Little Fair" in Sonoma County, it is a celebration of Sonoma County's long tradition of agricultural delights. Now many of the apple orchards have given way to vineyards, and Sonoma County apples have long been less competitive on the world markets than those from Washington State and China, but the early ripening Gravenstein apple is still a hallmark of the best in local farming and fruit! Thanks to Sonoma County Farm Trails for keeping this tradition alive! If you can't make it to Sebastopol this weekend, Sonoma County Farm Trails offers a great on-line and printed guide to year round food tasting activities and events at Sonoma County's many small farms and markets. ...

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