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Wondering what's available out there? Check out nine Petaluma homes listed under $700,000 here. Not quite ready to buy? See what $2,000/month can rent you in Petaluma here.

When potential home buyers ask Jeremy King about Petaluma, he advises them to visit the downtown on a Friday or Saturday evening.

“For years it was up and coming, up and coming,” King, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker, said of his hometown. But with its expansive theater district and trendy gathering spots like Brewster’s Beer Garden and The Block food truck venue, Petaluma is past that stage, he said. “We’ve arrived.”

The downtown’s attractiveness is regularly cited as a factor in the sizable jump in home sales in nearby neighborhoods this year. Home purchases in west Petaluma have increased 22 percent through the first eight months of 2017 compared to a year earlier, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report, compiled by Pacific Union International senior vice president Rick Laws.

“That’s a hot market right there,” said Laws, and one that “obviously stands out” from the rest of Sonoma County.

No other community in the county has seen a double-digit bump in sales this year. The second-ranking area, northwest Santa Rosa, reported a 7 percent increase in sales to date this year.

Among the county’s pricier communities, home sales through August have increased just 4 percent in Sonoma and 1 percent in Healdsburg. They declined 4 percent each in Sebastopol and northeast Santa Rosa and 17 percent in the coastal region.

On the east side of Petaluma, which is divided from the downtown by Highway 101, sales rose 2 percent.

Overall, county home sales have dropped 1 percent to date this year. The decline was lessened by strong sales in August, when buyers purchased 505 homes, the second-best sales month of the year.

Meanwhile, the county’s median single-family home price declined 3 percent last month to $620,000. Nonetheless, the August median price remained nearly 6 percent higher than a year earlier.

Real estate agents expressed uncertainty about why west Petaluma is experiencing such a big increase in home sales this year. But they said the city is in the midst of change, and it includes both buyers coming in from more expensive parts of the Bay Area and longtime residents who are finding Petaluma a costly place to buy or rent.

“You’re having people move out and people move in, more so than I’ve ever seen,” said Steven Cozza, an agent with Pacific Union. Cozza, 32, a lifelong resident, said many in his generation are “having a hard time being able to afford to live here.”

However, the city remains attractive to both younger and older households of means from Marin County and the metro regions to the south. The median home price last month in west Petaluma was $755,000, according to the Press Democrat report. In contrast, the median prices for homes in Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo counties all exceeded $1.2 million, according to the California Association of Realtors.

“I think they’re coming to Petaluma and still finding it affordable,” said Tony Parish, an agent with Pacific Union. Such buyers often consider the city relatively close to the rest of the Bay Area.

On the west side, many buyers are attracted to neighborhoods close enough for short walks to Petaluma’s central business district.

“People want the charm of the downtown location,” said Peg King, Jeremy King’s mother and a Coldwell Banker agent.

Marsha Walters, a home seller who purchased her west Petaluma home in 2004, said the neighborhood has plenty of attractions beyond the downtown. She can walk two blocks for lunch at Ray’s Delicatessen and Tavern or pick up a carton of milk at Petaluma Market, about 10 blocks away. She occasionally enjoys breakfast at a nearby teahouse and grabs a coffee at the nearby creamery store.

Walters, a retired school and university administrator, said she asked Jeremy and Peg King to list her two-bedroom, one-bath Dana Street home for $672,000 because she wants more space when her granddaughter visits. She spent more than a year looking for a replacement home in west Petaluma before buying a house in Healdsburg.

She acknowledged guessing wrong in thinking that home prices would slow their strong increases. But she said west Petaluma also offered a relatively short supply of available homes that could meet her needs.

“They are few and far between,” Walters said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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