Fifteen years ago, real estate broker Scott Adams could count on home sales at Bodega Bay falling into three roughly equal categories: one-third for primary residences, one-third for second homes and one third for vacation rentals.
Today, only about 15 percent of the homes are bought as year-round residences, said Adams, owner of Adams Realty. The remaining properties become some type of vacation home, and increasingly they are purchased by Sonoma County residents.
The locals, he said, are buying close to home so they can escape stressful work weeks in the central county and enjoy weekend getaways beside the blue Pacific.
The new buyers tell Adams, "We go to the coast. We go to our house. We totally decompress."
Long before it became Wine Country, Sonoma County was an attraction for those who wanted to escape big cities and vacation among redwoods, beaches and the winding Russian River. The banks of the Russian River and the surrounding forested hills were developed over a century ago with resorts and summer homes.
Today, the county's premium wine industry attracts outsiders who want second homes nestled near vineyards or close to town squares with trendy restaurants. And with the plunge in housing prices, some have decided that now is the time to buy those getaways.
"Sonoma County's on sale," said Lisa Thomas, an agent with Coldwell Banker in Santa Rosa who specializes in country properties.
Tracking second-home sales is difficult, but new data shows that absentee buyers account for a large number of sales in areas popular with vacationers.
Nine out of every 10 homes sold this year in Bodega Bay were purchased by buyers who don't live there, either investors or those buying second homes, according to DataQuick, a Santa Diego-based real estate data firm.
For Guerneville and Glen Ellen, the number of absentee buyers was six in 10. It was four in 10 in Healdsburg.