Author: Pam Buda

Guide to Sonoma County Christmas Tree Farms-Share an enduring tradition

Before I ever moved to Sonoma County, I looked forward to my annual expedition to buy a fresh-cut Christmas tree at one of the many family-owned farms here. Many people from all over the Bay Area make the annual trip to Sonoma County's 20 plus Christmas tree farms. It is a far superior alternative to visiting the mall or Home Depot for a tree. It's a great excuse to get out doors in the fresh air and have some fun with the family. Farms from Knights Valley to Petaluma, Santa Rosa to Sebastopol offer stunning wine country vistas and a chance to cut your own tree, or buy a live tree. Many have picnic areas and other attractions such as tractor rides for the kids. You can find Christmas trees of every variety, wreaths and cedar garlands. What a great way to spend a day or two this holiday season! Drive through some of the most gorgeous country on earth, take a hike in the fresh air, drink some free cider, gobble up some candy canes, and come home with a very fresh Christmas tree for your holiday celebrations. There are at least 20 farms in Sonoma County that offer cut your own or live Christmas trees for sale. Most of them offer free apple cider, candy canes and coffee. Many offer tractor rides to the kids and Santa Claus is even know to visit a few. There are farms in Sonoma, Petaluma, Penngrove and Santa Rosa, but Sebastopol is the Christmas Tree Farm capital of Sonoma County with 12 farms in all. Tree farmers seem to be a dying breed as many folks go to a parking lot at a mall to buy trees trucked in from who knows where. Visiting a local tree farm sure is a lot more fun. Follow the link below to Sonoma County Uncorked for a beautiful slide show, map and guide to all the Christmas tree farms in Sonoma wine country. Feel free to comment with your favorite Christmas tree farm! ...

Today you Can Dine Out for Life in Dozens of Sonoma County Restaurants

Dining Out For Life - Sonoma County By dining out today you can help raise money for a great cause: Food for Thought, the Forestville-based AIDS Food Bank which does great work providing healthy food to many families in Sonoma County. Click the link above to find the list of dozens of local restaurants, from A to Z thoughout the county that are contributing anywhere from 25% to 50% of your dining check to Food for Thought. What a great way to help out and eat well at the same time!...

How can I tell if a home for sale on the MLS is available?

If you are searching real estate on line (and who isn't?) it is easy to be confused about the availability, or sales status, of properties, when you are focused on important details like price, location and pictures. It helps to be familiar with the terms. After all you don't want to get excited about a property if it's status is "Pending." "Contingent/Release" doesn't mean that the property has been released back into the market. If you are a seller evaluating the competition for your property when it goes on the market, it can be useful to see how properties are moving, so keeping an eye on alternative status's (beyond active) can provide insight in to the velocity of the market for your type of home. So let's do a little primer. ( A word of caution: Be aware of the source of listing data on the site you are searching. If it is not a direct feed (IDX feed) from a Multiple Listings Service, the data (especially status) may not be accurate. Many sites such as the websites of print publications and other aggregators are not necessarily up to date.) ACTIVE This means that the property is technically fully available, i.e. a purchase contract has not been "ratified" by an able buyer and a willing seller. Further caution. When is an active listing not really active? Some short sales and foreclosure (REO) properties may have multiple offers on the table and not be accepting further offers, but the parties have not fully ratified the purchase agreement and bank addendum so the status is not showing as Contingent. This has been a source of friction between MLS' and listing agents for these properties. It is a murky area because until the contracts are ratified, technically the property is active. It is a good idea to ask your agent to check the agent confidential remarks to see if additional offers are being accepted. These days, with so few homes for sale, I generally check with the listing agent to determine availability for the properties my clients are most interested in. CONTINGENT, CONTINUE TO SHOW This status means that the buyer and seller have come to terms and ratified a purchase agreement, but that the buyer has made their offer subject to the removal of certain contingencies, which can include, but not be limited to: Loan Contingency-...

Want to know where the best restaurants are in Sonoma County?

[caption id="attachment_644" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="The latest Bite Club post by Heather Irwin"][/caption] Then you should check out Heather Irwin's BiteClub which is a great source of the latest foodie restaurant news in Sonoma County. You will find the latest restaurant gossip, new openings, and guides to the best places to get a bowl of soup or a chile relleno. She is in the midst of running the second annual best cookie recipe contest. A community of commenters and Twitterers offers their own takes and tips. "Find it Fast" helps you quickly search by cuisine and location. I also use Yelp quite a bit, especially on my iPhone where I can find nearby restaurants based on my location. Posts are filed by nearby Yelpers in the community. Very handy. And then there is Open Table. I used to use this just to make reservations on my laptop, but it is far more powerful on the iPhone, since it takes advantage of the GPS to find me something near by that is open, and then automatically sends an email from the iPhone to confirm my reservation. It is a completely simple and fast. I use Open Table way more often now since I downloaded the iPhone app. There are only 98 "wine country" restaurants on Open Table, so it is a limited list of the better restaurants rather than the more comprehensive listing on Heather's site or on Yelp....

How's the Market for Country Property in Sonoma County?

When Sonoma County real estate prices were booming in 2004 and 2005, those of us who sell country property noted that appreciation was lower for country properties than it was for "standard" homes on suburban lots. Now we know why--it was the rapid expansion of mortgage lending to first time buyers and investors which really spurred the market for entry level homes. It did ultimately push up the prices for country homes in the county. I thought I would pull the most recent sales data from our MLS (multiple listing service) to see what price trends have been like for country property over the last two years. For the purposes of this post, I pulled homes listed as single family residences or farms and ranches on lots of 2 acres or more. You can get a property that might feel like country with a smaller lot size, but 2 acres seems like a practical dividing line in terms of what most people want. The County of Sonoma uses 2 acres for a dividing line for some of the zoning designations in terms of housing density, allowing second units on some lots of 2 acres or more. (note: don't assume because you are interested in a property on 2 acres that you can build a second unit on it--it is way more complicated than that, contact me for specifics). A 2 year low 12 units of country property sold in March of 2009 and 2009. The highest month's sales total was 33 last October (very interesting due to the financial markets last fall.) The rate of sales seems to be picking up in the second half of this year. It generally bounces around in the teens and twenties, spiking towards 30 occasionally. Not the largest sample size which is why I am including all county sales in these figures as opposed to breaking out Healdsburg or Sebastopol for example. Median price of country property in Sonoma County is down 14% since November 2007 when it was $1,200,000 versus $1,037,500 now. The lowest median price was in February (surprise!) at $620,000, just showing only the least expensive properties were selling last winter, not that individual property values fluctuated so much. Months Supply of Inventory is at a two year low of 6 months at the end of November versus 19 months two years ago--with a high of...

Sonoma County Median Home Price up $50,000 from Last Winter's Low

The median price of a Sonoma County home was $340,000 at the end of November, down slightly from $345,000 the previous month but up for the low hit last February of $290,000. This reflects several trends: shrinking inventory due to increased sales, initially led by the surge of entry-level home sales begun last spring, and followed by a late full increase in the sale of upper-end and mid-range homes. Most agents I talk to are upbeat about the coming market this winter and spring. We also wonder what the impact of the so called shadow market of foreclosures will bring to the Sonoma County housing market. If you were considering selling your home but reluctant due to the tough market conditions of the last couple of years, you might think about putting your home on the market this winter. Even with the holidays, there are a lot of buyers still active in the market. Please contact me if you would like to explore your options! ...

Lunch break

I stepped away from the office to admire the sun streaming through a very large Japanese maple in the back yard. It is brilliant red orange sorrounde by the lemon yellow leaves of two adjacent mulberry trees. This was shot with my iPhone. Posted via email from pambuda's posterous ...

California resale inventory shrinking as median price rises for the 8th month in a row

This story from Inman News was published a day after my previous post about the national real estate market--and reinforces the point I was making about the differences in our market and its phase in the recovery process.California resale inventory shrinking | Real Estate and Technology News for Agents, Brokers and Investors | Inman News Inventories of existing single-family homes in California are dwindling, reaching just four months of supply as the sales pace picked up from September to October, the California Association of Realtors reported. Home sales historically trail off during the fall and winter months, CAR said, but affordable home prices, low mortgage rates, and the extension and expansion of the federal homebuyer tax credit are expected to drive home sales through the end of the year and into early 2010. Existing single-family detached homes sold at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 562,400 in October, up 5.9 percent from September and 1 percent from a year ago, the group said. The months supply of inventory fell from 4.2 months in September and 6.1 months a year ago. A 6-month supply of inventory is about what analysts consider an even balance between supply and demand. It took a median of 34.1 days on market to sell a home in California in October 2009, compared with 45.5 days for the same period a year ago. At $297,500, median home price was essentially unchanged from September, but down 3.2 percent from a year ago. Although the $890 increase in median price from September to October amounted to 0.3 percent, it was the eighth consecutive monthly gain. CAR Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young cited that trend, along with continued strength in sales, as "signs that California has hit and passed the bottom of this real estate cycle." For the first-time since July 2007, she said, sales of homes priced $1 million or more rose in year-to-year comparisons, and the number of distressed sales as a share of total sales has shown considerable improvement since the beginning of the year. In Sonoma County and much of the Bay Area of Northern California, inventory supply is hovering around 2 to 3 months, reflecting the strong regional differences in the California markets. The Bay area and North Bay are limited geographic areas bounded by mountains, hills, the Bay and Pacific Ocean. In the central valley of California new home construction booms simply expanded communities into flat, seemingly limitless former farmland. ...

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