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With housing prices and interest rates low, Sonoma County is attracting many buyers looking for investment property or a second home

  • Realtor Daniel Casabonne has a Tuscan-style home in Sonoma listed at $1.4 million.

With home prices still more than 40 percent off their peak, investors and second-home buyers keep snapping up significant amounts of Sonoma County real estate.

For the first half of the year, absentee buyers purchased 30 percent of the houses and condos sold in the county, according to DataQuick, a real estate information service. That rate was up 1 percent from the same period a year earlier.

Real estate agents said absentee buyers — investors and second-home buyers — have been drawn by lower prices, historically low mortgage rates and increased confidence that prices aren't going much lower.

Buying rentals can produce a better return than putting cash into many fixed investments, the agents said. That applies even without considering any future appreciation in home value.

"It's a great time to be a landlord," said Daniel Casabonne, an agent with Frank Howard Allen in Sonoma.

Similarly, some second-home buyers once thought "the Wine Country was out of their league" due to pricing, said Mike Kelly, an agent with Keller Williams in Santa Rosa.

Now those buyers are looking here, agents said, often with an eye to moving to the county permanently after retirement.

For the first half of the year, 952 of the 3,144 houses and condos sold in the county were purchased by absentee buyers, according to DataQuick, which is based in San Diego.

Among the county's cities, Cotati had the highest portion of home sales to absentee buyers at 42 percent. Petaluma had the least, at 19 percent.

<NO1>That was followed by Sebastopol, 37 percent; Healdsburg, 35 percent; Sonoma, 34 percent; Rohnert Park, 28 percent; Santa Rosa and Windsor, both 27 percent; Cloverdale, 21 percent; and Petaluma, 19 percent.

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