Wine Country Living

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....

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!...

Sonoma– the brand–tea kettles to purses

As a relatively recent (1999) transplant to Sonoma County, I don't need to be sold on the Sonoma County lifestyle.  I do spend a lot of time with out of town country property buyers showing them what makes Sonoma County special to me:  the stunning views, fabulous food and wine, the gardening paradise and fabulous places to ride and a very active equestrian community.  According to yesterday's Press Democrat, much of the US is taking it's appreciation of the Sonoma lifestyle national.  "The name Sonoma can now be found on everything from field glasses by Tasco to a lounge chair at Ace Hardware, tableware by Thomson to tea kettles by Farberware. Coach, the ultimate name in aspirational handbags, featured a Sonoma line of natural grain leather purses that sold in the three figures. Men can order a pair of H.S. Trask "Sonoma" loafers for $170. "Sonoma" is one of the leading house brands for Kohl's Department Stores, putting Sonoma on blue jeans and bath towels. Montgomery Ward is peddling a Sonoma line of furniture. The even more well-heeled homeowner can capture a bit of Wine Country glamour by logging on to PoshLiving.com and ordering up the "Sonoma" wicker and mahogany outdoor bar set for $3,263." "Co-opting cachet Sonoma carries what marketing experts call "geographic equity." Manufacturers, restaurants and retailers can gain an immediate response from consumers, even without marketing, by co-opting the cachet of a place, even if the product was made in China and has no connection to the area at all, said Damon Aiken, a professor of marketing at Western Washington University, who has studied the phenomenon." Apparently Napa doesn't carry quite the same cachet with marketers, being a measly two syllable word, which aside from the obvious wine connotations (an area in which it pre-dates Sonoma in fame--remember the old Sonapanoma Mendocino ads?  That will really date you if you do--Italian Swiss Colony ads from the 60's cashed in on Northern California cachet.) Napa apparently resonates with branding experts and marketers in terms of car parts too--less appetizing if you are planning to open a trendy eatery in Washington DC, Dallas or New Zealand.  What do locals think of this exalted marketing status?  Considering the fact that tourism brings over a billion dollars into Sonoma county businesses, more than doubling from $500 million in 2000, and one of the top 3 industries in the county, along with wine and technology, it can't be all bad.  More on this later. "...

Setting: the Wild Card in Country Property Values

Pricing residential country property is very challenging-there are so many variables to consider beyond beds and baths, square footage and age, location and condition. The size and condition of the septic system, the condition of the well and its capacity and water quality, zoning, expansion possibilities and more. (If you would have told me back at Swarthmore that I would become reasonably expert in any of these issues --especially septic--I would have doubted your sanity. Since a good 70 percent of the properties in Sonoma County are on well and septic, one of the most valuable services I can offer my clients is my ability to work with them, along with a team of experts  to carefully ensure that a property will be suitable for their needs, now and the foreseeable future. There are many great resources and people available to assist in the process, and an agent knowledgeable in country property can streamline the search and buying process for their clients, and help them to avoid pitfalls. But the true wildcard in valuation of country property is the setting. An exceptionally private, serene setting with pastoral or dramatic views, in a tranquil location of (name your pick) wild hills and orchards, vineyards, horse farms, quaint farmhouses, redwoods or oak-studded hills, or various combinations of these, have a perceived value to the buyer that is very difficult to value.  It seems that many out of town buyers coming to a wonderful destination such as the wine country of Northern California, all want the proto-typical vintage farmhouse with wrap-around porch in a scenic setting.  They dont't want to see or hear neighbors close by, and they'd probably like to see (or own) a vineyard or two.  Is the setting wild card factor worth $20,000 per acre, or more? Will a property be so gorgeous or secluded that someone will "overpay" by six figures?  Is it really over-paying if a willing buyer puts the money on the table? A client and I  viewed a property priced at $1.1 million the other day that perfectly met my buyers' needs for a weekend home in Sonoma county. By all rights, and based upon extensive touring, the property, in my opinion and the opinion of many agents I know, should have been priced under $1m, possibly closer to $950Kor $925K, even if in perfect condition. However, it was exactly a kind of property that would be a perfect weekend retreat...

Horses and Wine Country

For more inspiration about the wine country from a horsey viewpoint. This article was posted last year in the monthly on-line magazine from Bay Area Equestrian Network, an invaluable resource for all things equestrian in Northern California. There are other regional equestrian magazines around the US, but this is one of the first and most widely visited. I bought my truck and my living quarters trailer through this site, although www.usedtrailers.com and www.endurance.net are also good trailer-finding resourses, but that can be a subject for a different day. Ciao for now....

Wine Country and Horses

Hi All, This is the first post of what i hope will be a series of regular comments on the Sonoma County wine country lifestyle and my experiences as a realtor with Coldwell Banker entering my fifth year of business. I am a high tech refugee from the Bay Area who traded in my home with views of San Francisco Bay for 3.5 acres in the wine country northwest of Santa Rosa nine years ago. My purpose was to fulfill a life long dream to own a horse property and have some more room to roam for myself and my Vizsla dogs, with whom I compete with at field events along with the horse or rather now, horses, plural. Personally I spent countless weekends searching both Sonoma and to a lesser extent, Marin and Napa counties before I found a beautiful spot on a quiet lane in the Olivet area. Wine Spectator just featured this part of Sonoma County so I guess it is catching on. (registration required).It was one of the last places I expected to buy since many of my friends owned property over in the Valley of the Moon area, i.e. Kenwood, Glen Ellen and the town of Sonoma, and their places were my base while I searched. However, one day I found a really neglected 3.5 acre piece surrounded by vineyards and horse properties which had sat on the market for over seven months. It had been very overpriced and showed poorly. Not a good sales strategy but a great opportunity for a buyer (and experienced friend) to whom setting was paramount, and the rest could be fixed. The place was full of stuff, not well maintained and a student lived in it and had the heat on to over 80 degrees every day. The grounds were neglected and there was an old prune orchard on a big chunk of it. However, the setting was secluded, with vineyard views and a quiet, peaceful feel away from major road, yet 10 minutes to everything. I was sold. Anyway, I am very glad to have landed here, as are my horses, and absolutely love Northern and Western Sonoma County, which have so much to offer. I really don’t miss the Bay Area, and can easily get to the Golden Gate Bridge in an hour (traffic permitting of course.) I fell so much more in love with the area that...

X