Archive for the 'Country Property' Category
As part of our Wine Country and Horse Country Property Series we have been looking at water. One of the most important items to consider when evaluating a country property is how much water does the well produce? How many gallons per minute (GPM)?
Sonoma County’s minimum requirement is currently ONE gallon per minute to build a single-family dwelling. Typically when a well is evaluated as part of the pre-purchase inspection, the tap is opened and run for a minimum of two hours to draw down the well and see how quickly it replenishes. When you think about it, one gallon per minute of water is actually a lot of water but I would be very hesitant to recommend a purchase of a property with this level of production unless you also had storage to accumulate some of that water for drawing down later for irrigation and home use. I know of one property in Sebatopol on acreage that only had a 1 GPM well. The builder decided to rent it out to a family of five for a year to prove that it was viable. Still, they had drought tolerant, minimal landscaping and it was a push. It is really not practical to to any extensive irrigation at this level, let along think about vineyards, orchards or livestock.
A property with 2-5 GPM will likely need to have storage as well. As you go over 10 GPM (my property is blessed with 27 GPM) then the storage requirements drop. It can literally vary from hill to hill so it is important that your realtor have some familiarity with water issues in the area you are considering before you seriously pursue a particular property. When it comes to evaluating the water system on a property you are in escrow on, then the experts come in to do their full-blown testing. That can run about $400 or $500 dollars or more depending on the extent of the exam. For example, when you evaluate water quality for a potential vineyard, the water testing is more extensive and more expensive.
In water scarce areas, Sonoma County has more extensive flow testing and requires it be done at the end of the dry season. The time of the year can impact the flow rate, and at the end of the dry season a well flow test will give you a more adequate picture of the toughest conditions your well will face. This is a link to the county’s requirements for water scarce areas.
You can find out the groundwater area your prospective country property is located in my post about groundwater classification here.
As part of my research for the water topic in our Wine Country and Horses Country Property series I googled Nick Brasesco of Ray’s Well Testing, who does most of my well inspections for clients. I found this nice video, courtesy of Robert Ramirez, an agent at Century 21 in Petaluma. It is about seven minutes long but it gives a good overview of all the components of evaluating a well for a basic country property pre-purchase inspection.
(Note: prior to the inspection, it would be smart for the buyer to pull the permit history and try to get the well log (the description of the depth of the well and the soils) so that Nick could review that as well. On a recent inspection for a client we found that the new well had not had the permit finalled by the county, and we asked the seller and the well driller to get that sorted out prior to closing the sale. I am so glad my clients and I investigated the permit history at Sonoma County PRMD. Here is a link to a previous post on PRMD.
As part of our Wine Country and Horses Country Property Series we are looking at water sources for country properties. One of the important things to know about your country property is which groundwater classification ares it is in. They range from water rich Zone 1 to very water scarce Zone 4. Sonoma County is huge but LARGE areas of it don’t have adequate water to support development, which is why you see so much rugged and lightly occupied wild terrain to the west of Healdsburg for example.
In Sebastopol you can go from one street to the next, one ridge to the next, and go from a reasonable Zone 2 to a Zone 3 area. Much of the Santa Rosa plain is water rich Zone 1. Take a look at the map below.
Buying a country property is not like buying a home in a city tract or a subdivision, especially in Sonoma County, where 70 percent of the homes are not hooked in to public water and sewer. Water comes from a well and your sewage is disposed of on site in a septic system. I would never have thought that this liberal arts graduate would have learned so much about well and septic systems, but it is essential knowledge for any realtor who likes to buy and sell country property, as I do.
The nature of your well and septic systems and the specific country location you are interested in will impact the scope of what you can do with your property, either from a building and development standard or in terms of livestock and agriculture.
The vast majority of country properties here in Sonoma County get their water from wells, although I have sold a few properties which had no well but extensive, well producing springs. I have seen some cool spring houses and catch systems for spring water and oddly they can be a few hundred yards away from properties that barely produce any water from their wells. This is really common for example, along Westside Road that stretches from Forestville through Healdsburg.
When you buy a home on well water in Sonoma County you need to know about a few different topics:
What is the Groundwater Classification Area for the property?
How many Gallons per Minute (GPM) does the well yield?
What is the condition of the well pump and related equipment and storage, if any?
How is the Water quality?
Now don’t let this list scare you. Most of these items are treatable, except lack of water of course. If you write an offer on a country property, your realtor will be able to arrange to have qualified professionals inspect the water systems. The cost of the inspections are typically the buyer’s responsibility. I think sellers should provide as many of these inspections up front as they can, these inspections especially IF THERE IS ANY QUESTION or concern or doubt about water scarcity or quality in a given location.
An experienced country property realtor can also give you a heads up if any of the properties you might be considering could have water “challenges” for your use. If you are an avid gardener or farmer for example you probably want to stay away from water scarce areas and pursue more appropriate properties for you!
We’ll explore these different points in greater detail in other posts, as part of our Wine Country and Horses Country Property Series.
Over the last year we have seen a broader range of quality wine country properties for sale in Sonoma County, with sellers who are more realistic about pricing. That combination, and ultra low interest rates, have brought out of the area buyers out in force. In 2011 and 2012 alone I have worked with people from the East Bay, San Francisco, France, the UK, Idaho and Texas for a start. There is a lot of competition for the best properties, and as a smart buyer you will want to do your homework to find the best spot and country package for you!
That said, it is possible to find a special property within an hour’s drive of the Golden Gate Bridge (more or less) that can give you years of pleasure and rejuvenation. So where do you begin in your search for a wine country home?
Begin with the End in Mind!
(with a nod to Steven Covey in “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”)
When I first start to work with new clients I spend a lot of time learning what they hope to accomplish in working with me–what are their ideal outcomes, where would they like to be six months from now? In that way I can learn more about their values and how to serve them most effectively.
With buyers in particular, I often offer a visualization exercise to help them envision their ideal home. For people coming from outside California this really feeds in to their “w00-woo” image of us! But I have worked with doctors and lawyers and other very left-brained individuals and couples and found that this exercise serves them as well as it does all the right-brained folks who are ready to jump on board. With country property or horse property, we are not only talking about types of homes but types of grounds, terrain and microclimates. (Disclaimer: this could be a huge post but I am going to try to break the topic in to bitsized pieces!)
To get back to Stephen Covey:
Habit 2 is based on imagination–the ability to envision in your mind what you cannot at present see with your eyes. It is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There is a mental (first) creation, and a physical (second) creation. The physical creation follows the mental, just as a building follows a blueprint. If you don’t make a conscious effort to visualize who you are and what you want in life, then you empower other people and circumstances to shape you and your life by default.
Why is this step so important to purchasing a second home or a new main home in Sonoma County’s wine country? I was discussing this with clients (now friends) the other day at Sunday brunch. During the week they live in San Francisco’s Noe Valley. In 2007 we found them a second home in the countryside of Northeast Santa Rosa. The other day they said to me, “we had no idea we could find the perfect country property in Santa Rosa! All we knew were Napa and the Russian River area”. When we met they had already looked at property in Napa County to the east and Lake County to the north. Lake County was too far from home in SF and in Napa they could not find the “wine country experience” they wanted to have at a price that made sense for them.
They each had a sense of what they wanted to acheive in a second home and we worked to clarify that vision. They wanted a certain experience of peace and privacy, to be surrounded by nature and inspiring views, to have a pool and home where they would enjoy entertaining friends and family. They wanted a complete get away from it all experience that was still accessible, ie only a maximum one hour drive from SF.
They both have pretty high power jobs that entail a lot of travel so it needed to be easy to get to enough that they would be there regularly. It didn’t really matter what Sonoma County town it was in so long as it met their criteria. NOTE: This is an important point to consider in your property search! To find the right combination of terrain, vegetation, house and views, there are a dozen or more areas you can consider, and should consider, to find the right package for you.
As Jeff and Brian told me, most of their friends and colleagues in the Bay Area did not know much about specific Sonoma County towns so we looked in a variety of communities–“West County” aka Sebastopol, Occidental and Graton, Northwest Santa Rosa and Forestville and Northeast Santa Rosa, where we finally found their home. With other clients we have expanded that list to include Healdsburg, Windsor and Guerneville, Sonoma, Kenwood and Glen Ellen and other parts of Santa Rosa.
As a country property specialist, I make it a point to search out the best listings in a wide area to meet my clients’ needs. It is very difficult in our market of a collection of charming small towns and countryside to focus only on one community. I recall from my own search for my country home covering a very wide swath of ground till I found the right setting and home for the horses. I ended up buying in a place I had not even considered initially and am very happy with the choice. Later this month we will look at other aspects for finding your wine country home.
(HINT: If you are a seller of such a wine country property, please call me, we need more inventory to sell, and that is a topic for another post soon!)
This is a building you or your contractor will become very familiar with if you plan to remodel or build a home in Sonoma County. You should also visit and investigate any property you are thinking of buying. Your realtor should be able to show you around. There is a lot to see and do here.
But why don’t you just start with looking at the county planning department’s website? There is a lot of useful information here and it is a good place to start.
Some of my favorite links:
Online Permit History Here you can see the online records for a property, which is a start, but you really need to go in to the office and have them pull the microfiche of the records to get at the detail. And CAUTION, you may not get all that there is to know about a property. Some of the records were destroyed in a big fire a number of years ago. Some may not have been scanned in. (TIP: other records with conflcting information may be contained at the County Tax Assessor’s office. These are only available to the owner of a property. This little point can be important with a country property where there might be some confusion about how many bedrooms might be officially allowed with that particular septic system.)
This is an important place to look to notice just how many horses or chickens you might be allowed to have. Or whether you can have a home business, or a guest house or granny unit. Agricultural working housing? This is the place to go once you know a property’s zoning.
This is where you start.
Want to know what the permit fees will be for that new home you want to build? or what it costs to have an on-site inspection?
There is a lot more to find at Sonoma County’s PRMD website. What is your favorite page?
My friend HolLynn D’lil is like many of my friends and clients who have moved to Sonoma County from successful lives elsewhere. She had a vision, a feeling, a sense of the possibilities that her new life could be in our pocket of country paradise a short hour north of San Francisco. She wanted room to garden and a studio for painting and a home environment that nurtured her creativity.
More so than many, she did not allow a bare flat patch of dirt and a dated home deter her from realizing her vision. Now she lives in a creekside sanctuary in the heart of the small Sonoma County community of Graton. I first walked on to HolLynn’s property for a dinner party last fall, which was my first meeting with her as well. Within five sentences I said to her–have you ever thought of having your home on the West County Garden Tour ? (a benefit for Food For Thought in Forestville). She said–I have always wanted to do that but didn’t know who to approach. This May 15th she was one of eight gardens and homes in West County featured on the tour. Yesterday, the Press Democrat newspaper did a feature story on HolLynn’s journey. I thought I would share it with you as a wonderful example of the creation of a dream in Sonoma’s West County.
I am very pleased to welcome Otto Kobler of Maximum Mortgage as a guest contributor to Wine Country and Horses. There are so many things going on the in the world of lending, and so many opportunities and challenges that I welcome Otto’s expertise! From jumbo loans to FHA loans for first time buyers and everything in between, Otto has years of knowledge and experience to offer.
Plus he fits the wine country mold–besides being the branch manager of Maximum Mortgage in Santa Rosa and very active in the local real estate community, he and his wife grow highly ranked Syrah grapes on five acres in Green Valley between Graton and Forestville, also known as the Russian River Appellation.
There are lots of lending topics to discuss. Today Otto is going to talk about financing for country property. It may not be as hard as you think.
Often when I talk to people interested in buying country property in Sonoma County, their first question is, “Can I get a loan?”. The perception is that it is so difficult to get a mortgage today, that anything other than a standard subdivision home is not financeable.
Here’s the reality. There are plenty of country properties getting financed today. Horse properties, properties with vineyards and vacation/second homes, they are being bought and sold and yes, financed.
Just recently, a couple from San Francisco wanted to buy a country property as a weekend home. The home was on half an acre and dated. It definitely needed some updating. Interestingly, they were renting a home in San Francisco, so, as first time buyers, they were able to qualify for a low down payment FHA home loan that also provided funds for the updating of their new home.
Financing for horse and vineyard properties had been tougher to get until recently. The reason being is that many lenders were equating the horse/vineyard aspects of the property to commercial activity. Now, it is true that either a vineyard or a horse property can be a commercial venture. But the reality is that smaller vineyards produce very little extra income. Horse properties are similar. It’s much more about the joy of the adventure rather than a big money maker. The grapes from my property go to a small boutique winery. My family name is on the label and the wine has been well received by wine critics. That’s small vineyard success.
In any case, today’s residential mortgage lenders do not want to lend to commercial properties or properties that are commercial in nature. That reluctance to lend has changed recently, so unless it is a massive vineyard or horse facility, good low interest rate financing is available.
To find out what loans are available to purchase your country property please email [email protected] or call 707-694-6604.
I am offering a break from all the market stat and technology posts. This video has great views of some Sonoma county back roads. Did you know you could do 2 rides a week for a year and not do the same ride twice? Courtesy of the Press Democrat, the Santa Rosa Cycling Club and today’s spring like weather!
Good friend and photographer Robbin Satterlee was able to capture a range of photos from the Sonoma County Wine and Horse country outside Santa Rosa, with dramatic views of snow covered Mt. Saint Helena in Napa and towards the mountainous Geysers of Lake County to the north. Vineyards, horses and snow covered mountains. Not bad. The snow has melted now as warmer rains have come in but enjoy. We have these snowstorms at the higher elevations (1500 to 2000 feet) a couple of times each winter.
|Snow on hilltops|
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