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Late last year, Santa Rosa residents Julian and Lisa Corwin wrote down on a whiteboard the money they had available to rebuild their home on Vintage Circle destroyed in the October 2017 Tubbs fire.
The couple, both trained engineers, wrote everything on the board, including their expected home insurance payout and the revised cost to rebuild that was $200 more than originally estimated. Then they considered what it would cost to buy an existing house after selling their Fountaingrove lot.
The Corwins loved their old neighborhood. But they couldn’t fathom living in “the middle of a burn zone” that could be a construction site for the next five to 10 years, Julian Corwin said.
Last week, the couple signed an agreement for the purchase of a newly built home on Jean Marie Drive in the Larkfield-Wikiup neighborhood, another Tubbs fire burn zone. Rather than being surrounded by empty fire lots and half-built homes, however, many of the houses north and west of their Jean Marie Drive house were spared by the fire two years ago.
The Corwins are not alone. Real estate experts say a late-summer surge of activity in the Sonoma County real estate market points to a second wave of wildfire survivors opting to buy instead of rebuild homes. That wave of buyers is driving up prices of single-family homes and putting pressure on an already depleted inventory of houses for sale, said Jeff Schween, an agent with Compass real estate brokerage in Santa Rosa.
In August, the median price of single-family homes in the county hit an all-time high of $712,000, according to data supplied this week by BAREIS multiple listing service. That’s surpassed the previous record high median price of $697,000 in June 2018.
The median price last month clearly indicates a revival in what was a sluggish housing market. In the last few months, county median prices supplied by Compass were $636,000 in March, $645,000 in April and $658,500 at the halfway mark of 2019.
Schween said that at this point in the summer, housing market activity should be slowing. However, August saw a sharply higher number of houses going under contract to buy than during the same month for the past two years. Last month, 482 homes went under contract, compared to 402 in August 2018 and 425 during the same period in 2017.
Meanwhile, new listings of homes for sale in August were significantly lower than in same month the past two years. Last month, there were 363 homes put on the market, compared with 534 in August 2018 and 526 in August 2017.
“It feels like on the street, another wave is coming,” Schween said. “The new wave is people coming to terms with the fact that they’re probably not going to rebuild on their dirt.”
The Press Democrat’s latest monthly housing report, compiled by Rick Laws, another agent with Compass in Santa Rosa, showed a similar trend: the median price for single- family homes in August reached $699,000, nearly the same as the $700,000 record median price of June 2018.
The record high was caused by large numbers of wildfire survivors aggressively seeking homes in the first half of last year, Laws said. Once the market absorbed those wildfire survivors, prices started to come down during the second half of 2018, as homebuyers began pushing back on price, he said.
Tribune Content Agency