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Heard on the Grapevine

Up and coming cool Sonoma County country property listings: West Sebastopol   1 acre 3/2 house in scenic area  $759,000 end of Feb Prime close-in country location near downtown Sebastopol   $825,000 "ish"  3/2  1/5+- acres coveted end of lane location Prime wine country home and 3.5 acres surrounded by vineyards and horse properties.  Now set up for horses, eminently plantable to Russian River pinot noir or Syrah or?  Pool, 4BR, 2BA.  Lovely views and fabulous bucolic setting on a quiet lane.  Price TBD. South Sebastopol mini-farm with horse setup, house and granny, in the $800's.  Coming end of February. Healdsburg  2 useable acres in prime end of lane location surrounded by larger parcels, lovely views, modest 2BR comfy home.  $850,000 ish.  Later this spring. Call or email me to check on these or other upcoming properties in Sonoma county,...

Wild Stage 1 of Amgen Tour of California finish in Santa Rosa today

Juan Jose Haedo of Team CSC repeated his 2006 Stage 1 victory in this the 3rd running of the Amgen tour of California, and the 3rd year that the race has had a stage finish and start in downtown Santa Rosa.   It was an exciting finish including a crash in Railroad Square by then-leader George Hincapie as well as a big lead change in Occidental near the end of the nearly 100 mile race today.  Tomorrow Stage 2 will run from Santa Rosa to Sacramento.   For up to the minute coverage of the Tour of California, the Press Democrat is running a special on-line section.  Santa Rosa's own Levi Leipheimer exhorted the crowd at the finish to join his website, www.letleviride.com  to fight the disqualification of his new team Astana's in the 2008 Tour de France. "On February 13th, the Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) barred Team Astana from competing in any race or event organized by the ASO in 2008. The ASO owns premiere cycling events like Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Tours, and the famed Tour de France. The ASO cited the doping scandals of last year’s Tour de France as justification. There can be no comparison between the Astana team of 2007 and the new Astana. The entire organizational structure has been rebuilt under the direction of the team’s new General Manager, Johan Bruyneel, who has thoroughly cleaned house. What’s more, Astana has adopted the rigorous doping controls developed by anti-doping expert Dr. Rasmus Damsgaard, and Astana now spends more money on anti-doping controls than any other team in the pro peloton." The Amgen Tour of California brings a lot of excitement to Sonoma county.  30,000 people attended the wild finish dowtown Santa Rosa today. For some  excellent photos of today's tours, and other links, head to Spare Cycles....

Bay Area Real Estate Buyers out in force as the sun shines

Well they have been out in force even in the rain, but it is sure a lot more fun to look at property when the sun is shining.  Our local Coldwell Banker Santa Rosa office had 23 open escrows last week which is a noticeable post-Super Bowl bump perhaps.   In a "normal" market we average 20-30 escrows a week opened but December and January were down under 20 for the most part. Marian Bennett in Coastal San Mateo county notes a similar trend in a recent post: "They came from the Frenchman’s Creek neighborhood, Fremont, San Francisco, Sonoma, even southern California…tired of waiting for the bottom to hit, or starting the spring house-hunting…and many checking out our coastside communities on one of our “10″ days on my subjective weather meter."    Even in the rain two weeks ago, I had buyers come from all over the Bay Area to view a lovely Sebastopol country property I was holding open.   Buyers who may feel like Redfin employee Susan Brady--a self-confessed mid-Peninsula resident with Sonoma Country property aspirations, on the outside looking in. If you want to see that same property in the sunshine so that you can appreciate the fabulous 360 degree views in a typical Sebastopol mini-farm setting on nearly 2 acres at the end of a peaceful country lane, please come see me tomorrow, February 17  at 5611 Hessel Avenue in Sebastopol, Ca 95472 from 1 pm to 4pm.   This  property is listed by my friend Izetta Feeny, and is extremely well-priced at $725,000.  See you there!  5611 Hessel Avenue, Sebastopol  Open House this Sunday 2/17 from 1 to 4 pm....

Is the sky falling over Pollyanna? or mixing more than metaphors…

I felt a bit non-plussed when the Santa Rosa Press Democrat posted a very gloomy (yet again) outlook on our local real estate market, indicating the low level of sales (167) for the month of January and the year to year drop in the median price.   Sobering facts indeed and at first glance my previous post, Sonoma County Market May be Picking up in 2008 , made me feel that I might be perceived as having the typical realtor Pollyanna view of the market.  How embarrassing!   However, if you read my post closely you will note that I mentioned that the number of PENDING sales (266)  is up higher than any month since last July just before the subprime mess hit the fan.   So perhaps there is a glimmer of hope after all. It is also interesting that the PD failed to mention a month to month increase of nearly $50,000 in the median home price for the county.  Of course month to month numbers are not really as telling as year over year comparisons, but you can be sure they would have mentioned it had the price gone DOWN on a month to month basis. ...

Sonoma County Real Estate Market may be picking up in 2008

Just got an interesting email from my broker Rick Laws.  Rick compiles many of the Sonoma County real estate market statistics used by the Press Democrat newspaper.  I 'll have more in depth reports on January 2008 real estate sales in a couple of weeks.  But briefly, Rick says, "There are 260 pending SFD sales reported (so far) for January. That is the strongest month since last July.The median price has bounced back up to $500K from $466,500 in December."   As many of you know, the market for country property in Sebastopol, Healdsburg and parts of Santa Rosa, has been reasonably strong.  What is interesting is that we are seeing much more activity at the troubled lower end of the market, with many more multiple offer situations on short sales and REO's.  Maybe buyers are starting to notice that here are some great bargains out there in Santa Rosa and Sonoma county real estate.  More information as the data comes in...

How many miles of trails in Sonoma County?

Many people live in Sonoma county or want to buy real estate here in order to take advantage of the great access to hiking, horsebackriding and mountain biking trails. Road bicycling is another draw--just ask local bike racer Levi Leipheimer where he trains during the off-season when not competing in the tour de France. I was curious just how many miles of trails there are--especially for horsebackriding. My personal favorite. The Sonoma County Horse Council compiled a list and I did some totalling. This is a partial picture of a page at their site.Sonoma County Regional Parks total 2659 acres of parks with 30 miles of trails. California State Parks that allow horsebackriding total 16460 acres of parks with 111 miles of trails, including 11 miles of trails along the Sonoma Coast at Bodega Bay--great on a hot summer day! Annadel State Park with over 5200 acres and 35 miles of trails in the heart of Santa Rosa is borded by many horse properties with direct access to the park, and deserves its own post. I think I need to take a ride out there and tell you more about it. The Army Corp of Engineers runs Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma above Healdsburg which is a spectacularly beautiful location with stunning views and 35 miles of trails on 17,000 acres. Many of these parks allow camping and some allow horse-camping. Much of Sonoma County is within an hour or so trailer ride to Point Reyes National Seashore and its campgrounds as well....

Leaving the Bay Area for Greener Pastures (Literally)

Last Sunday I held open a wonderful country property in Sebastopol, listed by my good friend and colleague Izetta Feeny. It is a great value, a four bedroom house on nearly two acres withing good commute range of San Francisco. The family that currently owns the house home schools their four children there and there is an assortment of goats, chickens, geese and two miniature donkeys and four big dogs that round out the family. The house is nicely situated on a knoll with 360 degree views of the surrounding countryside and hills. This morning I bet they can even see snow on some of those hills. As the house is set at the end of a series of country lanes, I was curious how people found me. It turns out that all of the eight parties or so who came by had found about the open house via our on-line ads. People had driven from as far as Fremont and Oakland with their children to see this one house, and one person came with her realtor. We had a great time chatting and comparing notes. In 1998 I was doing the same thing, driving up to look at properties on weekends from my home in the East Bay. Like me many of these people were looking for a different lifestyle, but concerned about what they might give up by being "so remote". I had to laugh because I certainly don't feel that way any longer. Seems like a lot of people want more room to roam, either for themselves, their children or their four legged friends....

A Tale of Two (or Three?) Markets in Sonoma County Real Estate

As we enter 2008, everyone is wondering what this year will bring for the real estate market.   Typically January sees relatively low inventory levels as sellers wait to bring their homes on the market for the conventionally busy spring buying season.  Many properties that didn't sell in the previous year are withdrawn for the holiday season and brought back on in the new year.   According to Ann Scherbert's post, the situation is similar in parts of San Francisco. How to know what to expect as spring comes on?  In looking at this winter's inventory levels, it is interesting to see the disparity in three distinct Sonoma County real estate markets.   Market activity here varies greatly depending on location and price point but some cities on an aggregate level appear to be more hurt by the slowing market and morgage trends.  For example, Santa Rosa inventory levels are down this January over the peak last summer and fall.  However there are nearly 1100 single family homes for sale versus just over 700 at this time last January.   There remains a lot of undigested inventory from last year and some incredible bargains are to be had.In Healdsburg and Sebastopol, levels are very similar to last January's, and still showing a seasonal adjustment.   What do you think that bodes for each marketin terms of prices?You can see that in Sebastopol, inventory figures have trended down from a peak in August of 2006 and are actually over 10 percent lower than a year ago at this time.  Healdsburg inventory levels are just slightly (10%) higher than last January with a much smaller sample size than Santa Rosa, certainly within the same ballpark as a year ago.  Both Sebastopol and Healdsburg are smaller communities than Santa Rosa, and real estate values there tend to trend higher and to attract a higher percentage of second home or lifestyle buyers than Santa Rosa as an overall percentage of sales, whereas Santa Rosa has a much larger chunk of entry level homes and larger scale housing tracts, which have been more impacted by the subprime mortgage crisis.    How will this glut at the lower end ultimately effect our higher end market?    Kevin Boer has an excellent post on this phenomenon in the mid-peninsula market of the San Francisco Bay Area.  I'll comment in more detail on this topic and prices in another post....

How storms cause power outages

As I sit here in my office contemplating the extraordinarily heavy rains falling at the moment, the first of 3 expected to hit Northern California in the next few days, I am checking my supply of batteries and flashlights, firewood and dry hay and feed for the horses. They are safely blanketed with water-proof sheets and two are standing out in the open, the third intelligently under his shelter. Thought I'd take a look at PG and E's website to see what they suggest for storm preparation, and found this neat new animation about all the various ways our power can go out during a storm. I hope you are staying dry and warm, unless you are a horse!...

Entry level buyers gain success not realized 2 years ago

I heard a great story from one of my wonderful colleagues, Delia Nieto at Coldwell Banker yesterday.   I spotted her meeting with clients in the office so that they could remove all contingencies on the purchase of their first home, priced well under $500,000 in Santa Rosa.   They have rented the same tiny apartment for 6 years and are bursting at the seams with 3 children.  Two years ago at the peak of the frenzied Sonoma County real estate market, the median home was priced around $600,000.  Although this family worked closely two years ago with Burbank Housing , a Sonoma County non-profit that works with low-income residents to get them into affordable housing, their jobs as a special needs teacher and landscaper did not quite qualify them to buy at the peak prices.    But the downward spiral of entry level prices and their diligence over the last two years, as well as the Acorn Housing Loan program offered in this case in conjunction with Bank of America  are enabling them to buy their first home.  Through the Acorn program they each took numerous classes in home ownership and responsible credit management.   Meanwhile, the house they would have paid $540,000 for two years ago, will now cost them $460,000!    Astonishingly, Bank of America's appraisal for this same house for their CURRENT loan, came in at a hefty $530,000.  Delia and I are both puzzled but this occurence, but her very happy clients will take it.   Meanwhile, yesterday's Press Democrat newspaper's front page story, confirmed my little anecdote as a trend.   Buyers' market People priced out in recent years jump in as costs fall, supply rises  Nice to see the press making some lemonade (along with smart first time buyers) of the current market....

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