Dozens of fire-scorched properties have been listed for sale in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood, a new wave in a widening pattern of residents electing to sell their land after the October fires rather than commit to rebuilding projects that could be costly and take years to complete.
The deadly Tubbs fire destroyed 1,519 homes in the Fountaingrove area, the most of any single Santa Rosa neighborhood. Among those displaced by the devastation, on what were once upscale, tree-lined blocks, were local CEOs, attorneys, doctors, judges, philanthropists, wine industry executives and top government officials.
Yet as the cleanup has progressed in Fountaingrove — behind the work in Coffey Park, where the largest sum of properties have been scraped and many of the first lots went up for sale in early December — the real estate signs have begun popping up in greater numbers.
“We’re tracking these things like crazy and this is pretty dramatic,” said Mike Kelly, real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty in Santa Rosa. “I think in the first month people were still shell-shocked, and now as the lots are cleared, they’re starting to get them on the market.”
Within the past month, more than 40 burned parcels in the Fountaingrove area have been listed. Where the smaller, suburban Coffey Park properties are typically selling for about $140,000 to the low $200,000s, the price point of Fountaingrove’s lots has a much broader range.
The median price of the listings is $350,000, with the upper end of the range topping out at around $800,000.
“It’s hard to price,” said Marel Ponseti, a longtime Sonoma County real estate agent currently with Century 21. She has yet to get involved in the sale of a fire-affected property, but has received numerous calls from clients who are considering putting their property on the market and leaving town.
She thinks some of the current Fountaingrove listings are overpriced, and advises prospective sellers to wait until more lots make it out of escrow and change hands before settling on a figure.
“There’s nobody in this county that knows burnt residential land,” said Ponseti, who has worked in local real estate for more than 40 years. “It’s the worst fire in California’s history — you can’t predict that, you can’t learn about that.”
The potential complication for Fountaingrove, unlike Coffey Park, which sits on flat land west of Highway 101, is its history with wildfire. Nearly all of the destroyed homes were built in the past three decades on rolling ranchland that was burned in the last major wildfire to menace Santa Rosa, the 1964 Hanly fire.
The paths of two blazes were eerily similar, raising the question among some local residents and government officials last year as to whether Fountaingrove should be rebuilt.
“I hesitate to even suggest this,” Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, a former Fountaingrove resident who lost her Oakmont home in the Nuns fire to the south said to The Press Democrat in late October. “But many people are starting to say, why are we — and this is in the city’s realm — why are we thinking about permitting the rebuilding of Fountaingrove?”