Author: Pam Buda

October Sonoma County Real Estate Sales Snapshot

This week I received this quick sales snapshot from Rick Laws, my broker at Coldwell Banker.   It provides a 13 month overview of Sonoma County residential sales activity at all price ranges and in all locations county wide.  Sales activity and area trends vary widely by price and location but this is a quick view based upon MLS data pulled by Brokermetrics. In about a week I will have more detailed information available covering the various price points and separating out condo activity. Sonoma County Real Estate Market Dynamics October 2008                                 Oct 07        Oct 08         # Units Change       % Change Under contract       227              604                        377                      166% Sold                       227              488                         261                     115% New listings            530               551                           28                       5% The biggest takeaway here is that this is the first time in over two years that the number of newly opened escrows has exceeded the number of new listings.   Despite everything that happened in the financial markets in October, the number of newly opened escrows was up 166% and hit its highest point year over year.  In addition, the number of closed escrows reached a new high for the year.  We all know that not every opened escrow will close-but the number of newly ratified sales continues its upward trend, and bucks the national trend. The tail wagging the dog in this market continues to be the REO (bank-owned) home at the low end with an increasingly high volume of sales under $500,000 for both single family homes and condos.  Sales through October seem to be driven (this is anecdotal) equally by first time buyers or owner occupants and  real estate investors....

Healdsburg Menus and Wineries-Handy Web Site Guide

When I found out my favorite Healdsburg brunch spot, the tiny Ravenette, is closed for a while, I wanted to find a new Sunday brunch spot to meet some friends (and clients) who just moved to Headsburg full time from San Diego. Google turned me on to a handy website, healdsburgmenus.com with menus and links to most of the good dining spots in town. I think Healdsburg has more quality restaurants per capita than any place I know outside Manhattan or Paris. (OK it is a small town but you can't walk more than a few steps without finding great food and wine.) The site is called healdsburgmenus.com I thought we might meet at the Downtown Bakery and Creamery. This spot has been serving up great breads, cakes, cookies and ice cream since 1984 and was one of the first "gourmet down home" spots in Healdsburg. I always made a pit stop here on my way to Mendocino. They have expanded their bakery operation (open since 1984) to include table seating and a nice breakfast menu. Or maybe we'll head to Bovolo behind the new Copperfield's Bookstore for some of John Stewart and Duskie Estes (of Zazu fame) robust fare. Or maybe we'll head to Barndiva for some stylish country food. Hmmmm. Well we actually had a nice breakfast at the newly and greatly expanded Costeaux French Bakery a block north of the Plaza. The place was packed indoors and out with a crowd of mostly locals and a few tourists. I don't know how you can spot tourists exactly, but you can. ;) While we're at it I've got to let you know about my classic Healdsburg bungalow listing at 414 Piper Street, only 4/10ths of a mile from all these yummy spots. Well this is a real estate blog you know. Honestly, with a Walkscore of 83 think how much fine dining you could have and how much gasoline you could save? Good for you and good for the planet!...

Are banks still funding home loans in Sonoma County?

Everyone is unsettled these days and no surprise.  There are a few questions or comments that I am hearing repeatedly from clients and friends.  The first is the question above. With a cataclysmic world-wide banking crisis occurring over the last few weeks, I guess that is a logical question to ask.  Can I still get a home loan today? Well, home sales are still occurring, especially at the entry-level as indicated in previous posts.  Jumbo loans are dicier and the larger jumbo loan limits expire at the end of December so we perhaps that is a cause of the flurry of real estate sales activity in our county in the mid-price ranges of $500,000 to $1 million. While rules have tightened to sometime excruciatingly comical levels (some of the stories I have heard could fill another post or two) the flow of mortgage funds  has continued.  Kenneth Harney, in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday October 19th, gives a good overview of our current state of home lending.   Credit squeeze, credit freeze, credit system seizures: Everybody knows how severe and painful the global financial breakdown has been - with banks unwilling to lend even to other banks. But what about mortgages and real estate? Can you still get a home loan with less than a 20 or 30 percent down payment? Or with a credit score below 720? Absolutely. It would be a big stretch to label housing the sunny side of the market at the moment, but there's a lot more light there than in most other financial sectors. Consider these facts: -- There is no shortage of money available for home mortgages, no freezing of credit to purchase or refinance a house. Why? Because the American mortgage market effectively has been federalized - at least for the time being. More than 90 percent of new loans now are being made through the Federal Housing Administration insurance program, plus Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHA is owned by the federal government, and Fannie and Freddie are operating under federal conservator-ship. All three have unfettered access to global capital markets at rock-bottom costs because their borrowings are fully guaranteed by the Treasury. Ginnie Mae, which is FHA's pipeline to the bond market, recorded an all-time high of $29 billion in new mortgage-backed securities issued in August. -- Loan terms and credit underwriting standards have been toughened up, but you can still put down 3 percent (3.5 percent after Jan. 1) on...

Sonoma County Real Estate Market Pulse October 2008

The market for single-family homes under $400,000 is so strong in Sonoma County that it makes the overall sales rate in the county qualify as a sellers market, with only 4.5 months supply of inventory based at the current sales rate.  Last September there were 14 months of inventory available county wide. The fact is that the banks who have foreclosed here are the dominant seller in the county with over 40% of the sales.  Since last fall they figured out they needed to slash prices in order to get them moving, and the strategy has been successful.  One lender, Otto Kobler of Maximum Mortgage in Santa Rosa has told me that we are halfway through digesting the major wave of adjusting loans from 2005 which began hitting the market as REO's last September. Since March, open escrows month by month have exceeded the sales volumes of the last two years and they continue to climb.  Real estate investors and first time buyers are snatching up homes at prices not seen since 2002 in some cases.    Condominiums are selling fast with median prices under $200,000.  The number of newly ratified contracts (open escrows) is increasing rapidly as the number of new listings county wide slows. These overall market trends are very misleading however as sales volumes and inventories at higher price points are in very different territory.  The action is at the low end and sellers of more expensive properties are seeing definite declines in volume.  The market needs to digest the inventory at the lower end to acheive some stability.  There are some amazing bargains out there for first time buyers and investors. ...

Different kind of Sonoma County Snapshot: Wine County Veggie Pizza

Ok it must be getting close to dinner, but I promised pictures of Sunday night's home made pizza made entirely with veggies from my Sonoma county wine country garden.  Harvesting the garden right now is nearly a second full time job after realtor.  Had a very casual dinner Sunday night with good friends.  Here is the before picture (before it was devoured.).  Yummm.  Three kinds of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onions, orange bells, poblano, beefsteak tomatoes, pine nuts (not from the garden) basil and some fresh mozzarella.  Maybe I will figure out a tie-in to real estate blogging AFTER dinner.  Bon appetit!...

SNAPSHOT view of Sonoma County Real Estate Sales in a Wild Week

Just opened up our weekly office sales update and was curious to see how sales activity was affected last week given the horrendous economic news.  Had all business activity ground to a halt?  Yes some folks are deciding to sit on the sidelines for a month or two or six.  But what did I find for our office as a whole?  I  found a very normal to high level of activity for the week.  (I should mention that Coldwell Banker Santa Rosa has over 100 active agents and our sales totals are generally about double of the second ranked Sonoma County real estate office. ) 30 New Listings  (19 are bank-owned or REO properties-only 4 are priced over $500K) 29 New Sales (open escrows)  29 Brave souls who dared to put pen to paper last week and not run for the hills.  On the sub-500 price range, about half appeared to be first time buyers and the rest investors.    We normally run somewhere between 20 and 30 sales per week so this is a typical number.  19 of these are bank-owned properties. 22 Closed Sales of the closed sales, 14 were bank-owned properties. The biggest trend difference we see is not the numbers of transactions but the price points and this is a consistent phenomenon since early 2008. Of the new listings, only 4 were priced over $500,000.  Of the closed sales, only 3 were priced over $500,000 and two of those 3 were priced over $1,000,000.   By far the lion's share of our business right now is the entry level priced bank-owned properties.  I should mention that our office is home to James Madison, who has approximately 50% market share for REO properties in Sonoma County and some inventory in some of the surrounding counties as well.  ...

Is autumn the most beautiful season in the wine country?

You decide--these photos were taken by good friend Robin Satterlee this morning in the Saitone Vineyard, Russian River Valley Appellation, Sonoma County, California.   The fog was very thick and burned off by noon, but it made for some beautiful contrast in the photos.  Sometimes Photoshop isn't necessary, just a good photographer and a good eye. For a Flickr slide show click here. ...

Every weekday is Broker tour day in Sonoma County Real Estate

Most Sonoma county realtors could spend a good four or five mornings per week touring new listings in Sonoma County. Some folks call them caravans. It would take at least 2 weeks of doing so to hit all the new listings on tour because of dueling chapter schedules and a large county. What a Sonoma County Realtor could do every weekday morning Monday  Generally quiet but groups such as Marketing Masters and Homescopes meet on Mondays, plus there are some office meetings. Tuesday The main Santa Rosa Chapter meeting of NORBAR (the North Bay Association of Realtors).  As many as 100 to 150 realtors attend a breakfast meeting, educational session and swap information on upcoming listings, buyers needs, rental requests and market updates.  Property tour ensues for Santa Rosa.  One week is East side, one week the west side. Mike Kelly cracks the whip so you'd better stick to business! Wednesday The Sebastopol, Russian River and Petaluma chapters of NORBAR have their breakfast meetings --see above for the agenda.  Sebastopol, Russian River and Petaluma property tours. Thursday  The Healdsburg chapter of NORBAR, The Cotati-Rohnert Park chapter and many of the large brokerage offices such as all the Coldwell Banker offices (separately), CPS and Prudential have their own sales meetings, marketing sessions and broker tours.   Our Santa Rosa office (over 100 agents) meeting and tour covers the East side of SONOMA county one week and the West side the next.  That means we could be looking at properties from Cloverdale and Healdsburg down to Petaluma on the same morning (theoretically!).  This is why FOOD at broker open houses is so important, and water on hot days.  Got to fuel the troops! Friday  Friday morning is the weekly meeting of the Windsor Chapter of NORBAR and the Windsor tour.  Cloverdale is in their somewhere as well. That means the average Sonoma County Realtor could spend 16-20 hours per week at breakfast meetings, marketing sessions and on property tour and still not cover the whole county.  How do you use your time?   How much time every week do you tour and network with other realtors?  What is the main benefit of attending these meetings? (Next post an update on some interesting new listings on the market in Santa Rosa, from a lovely view home on 2 acres to 2 Rincon Valley bargains and and Junior College duplex.)...

CHANGE Fundraiser for the Good of the Horse A Success and Great Fun

For the one year anniversary and its first fundraiser, yesterday's BBQ fundraiser and show at the gorgeous Sonoma Equestrian Center in Glen Ellen was by all accounts a great success.  Rather than the sales of 100 tickets hoped for, 400 tickets were sold and many of us enjoyed a beautiful fall Sunday afternoon under the oaks, eating, visiting and enjoying the entertainment, from vaulting (gymnastics on the backs of cantering horses) to musical freestyle dressage and a demonstration of some of the medieveal equestrian arts.   At the same time we learned of the concerted horse rescue efforts of many Sonoma county volunteers including client Betsy Bueno and Sonoma County Animal Control.  Whether through ignorance, hard luck or hard times, many animals in addition to many people are suffering these days, and when the animal is a 1,000 pound horse, the sheer logistics for any public agency, not to mention the expense, are daunting.  Obviously the volunteers at CHANGE have struck a nerve, and it is impressive to see such rapid growth and professionalism in a young charitable organization.  (Subtle hint:  Your donations are tax-deductible and go straight to the horses' mouth.) This event also marked the PUBLIC Sonoma County debut of good friend and client Sir William Hamersky and his trusty steed, Rohan, as they demonstrated some of the medieval horsemanship arts. Below--Sir William's squire hands him his lance for the quintain, an event which enables the knight to practice his jousting technique without knocking his foe off his horse.   Sir William and Rohan teach their medieval arts at the ranch we found for them in Sebastopol, Full Tilt Farm.   Prior to the quintain, Sir William remembers to dedicate his efforts to the lady of the manor this day, Laura Ponter, of the Sonoma Equestrian Center.  Bottom photo:  The quintain spins after a successful hit. (Photos thanks to Robin Satterlee) ...

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