Have we hit bottom in the Sonoma County real estate market cycle?

filed under: Market updates posted on March 30th, 2009

Actually the only way you know is when it has passed by.

A few weeks ago an agent friend and I were visiting as I fed the horses one early spring evening. She was telling me of the difficulties she was having successfully securing a home for first time buyers. This a great agent with many years of experience who was working with entry level low income buyers in Sonoma County. They were looking for a home priced under $200,000 in the Santa Rosa city limits. They were pre-approved for FHA financing with the reputable lender who had referred them to my client. They are eligible for a $10,000 down payment assistance from the city of Santa Rosa which will subsidize their down payment. Their income and credit qualified them for an FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loan. Although they qualify for the federal government first time buyer $8,000 tax credit, that cash won’t reach their pockets until after the sale has closed.

This couple was competing in many multiple offer situations with all cash investor buyers or other first time buyers such as themselves. Many properties in their price range were in such poor condition that they would not meet the strict FHA property condition guidelines, and the repairs needed would have put them beyond the couple’s limited budget. I don’t know how many offers they wrote but they were not having luck.

As my friend detailed the many days and hours she spent with this couple, she said it was seeming increasingly unlikely that they would make it into the market. I paused as I asked her, “Do you think we have hit the bottom here in Sonoma County?”. She said yes–good properties are selling extremely fast and sometimes at over asking price. I had to agree. What had seemed a consistently active but still laid back market this winter was falling into high gear as the days got longer. As some of my buyer clients and I surmised in January and February, we felt that things would be much more competitive as spring arrived, and that seems to be true. In fact, the southern part of Sonoma County, in Petaluma was already scorching hot at Christmas and New Year’s time. And that same scorch-ability (sp?) seemed to be tracking north along the 101 corridor.

The sheer activity level, the vast number of first time buyers and investor clients looking for rental property, and the declining number of new listings have all been detailed here over the previous months. In December, new sales exceeded new listings for the first time in many months, and, beginning in February it seems to us that the bottom was reached and had passed some entry level buyers by.

That said, with only 3-5 homes selling over $1 Million dollars in Sonoma County between December and February, and the mid-ranges still sluggish and all over the map, it seems that properties priced above $350,000 (+-) are still seeking equilibrium. It is a real challenge in these price ranges in communities from Healdsburg to Santa Rosa to Sebastopol to know exactly where new listings this spring and summer should be priced to attract a buyer sooner than later. Clearly there have been a number of sales in all three communities this early spring that give some hope at these price points that buyers and sellers will come to terms. It seems that the properties that are successfully selling in the mid-ranges are price 10 to 20% or so below the prices of the last couple of years. Only time will tell this spring what the market has in store for mid-tier properties and upper-end properties. But the fact that the bottom seems to have been touched on the low end, bodes well for eventual market stability.

posted by Pam Buda // 1 Comment »