Rents soar in Sonoma County

  • Carl Tillmanns, a resident of Altamont apartments, an adult living community in Rohnert Park, takes his afternoon laps at the complex, Thursday Aug. 7, 2014. Sonoma County is experiencing the fastest rent growth in the nation, making it a bought time to be a renter. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Demand has grown so strong for apartments in Sonoma County that Pine Creek Properties this year stopped putting rental ads on Craigslist.

“We are looking at being 99.9 percent full at any given time,” said Patty Goodwin, chief financial officer for the Santa Rosa property management company. “The units are renting pretty much the day we’re getting a 30-day notice” from a departing tenant.

Fueled by such demand, the county this spring recorded some of the fastest rent increases in the nation.

The average apartment rent rose to $1,521 a month in Sonoma County in the second quarter, a jump of 13.3 percent from a year earlier, according to Real Answers, a Novato-based rent research firm formerly called RealFacts.

While the dollar increases were slightly larger for rents in San Francisco and San Jose, the rate of Sonoma County’s increase was the greatest of 23 metropolitan areas in California that Real Answers studies — and higher than all the 29 other metro areas that the company reviewed around the United States.

Similarly, Dallas-based rent research firm Axiometrics reported in May that Sonoma County tied for fifth, with the Vallejo area, among U.S. communities with the fastest yearly rent increases. The only areas with faster rate increases were Odessa, Texas; Napa; and Honolulu.

When you ask why rents are rising so fast, experts repeatedly give two answers: job growth in the Bay Area and a lack of new housing in Sonoma County.

“The number one answer is the regional economy is the strongest in the nation,” said Scott Gerber, a senior vice president with Cassidy Turley in San Rafael. Gerber, who specializes in the sale of apartment complexes, said job growth in San Francisco and Silicon Valley is “creating a wave of rent pricing that is significant and pushing outward.”

As well, supply remains constrained. Few new houses and apartments have been completed in Sonoma County since the housing market began its crash nearly seven years ago.

From 2004 to 2007, the county added about 1,100 market-rate rental units, said Real Answers spokesman Nick Grotjahn. But since then, only 71 units have been built.

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