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Sonoma County housing market stable despite fire, PG&E outages

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October was chaotic for many Sonoma County residents, a month plagued by repeated power shut-offs, destructive wildfire, evacuation orders, school cancellations, widespread anxiety and frustration.

But amid all the upheaval, Walt Chavoor managed to both sell a home in Windsor and buy another in Santa Rosa’s Bennett Valley. In fact, Chavoor, 69, entered escrow on his Santa Rosa home less than a week before the Kincade fire forced the largest mass evacuation in county history.

The fire forced Chavoor and his real estate agent, David Rendino, to reschedule the home appraisal and inspection. Meanwhile, insurance companies had put a moratorium on underwriting policies during that period and Chavoor wasn’t able to get a insurance policy on the Santa Rosa home until the day before escrow closed in mid-November.

While Chavoor credits his perseverance in the purchase to an optimistic outlook, his agent, Rendino, said he believes the larger factor at work in the housing market is low interest rates, which have injected stability even during rough periods like October.

“Low interest rates are giving us a more stable market despite the natural disaster,” said Rendino, co-owner of Re/Max Marketplace in Cotati with his wife, Erika Rendino.

Rendino said that two years ago, local residents thought the Tubbs fire was a freak catastrophe, a once-in-a-lifetime disaster. The Camp fire that destroyed Paradise last year and the Kincade fire this fall have imposed a more clear-eyed understanding of Northern California’s wildfire risks.

“Nobody is saying it’s freak accident anymore,” he said. “People are thinking it’s predictable.”

But Rendino said the local housing market has demonstrated a great deal of resiliency even as local residents adjust to the long summer and fall of disruptive power shut-offs and wildfires.

The housing market is adjusting to the disruption and chugging along all the same, Rendino and other local real estate experts say.

The median single-family home price in October was $660,000, a little more than 1% higher than in September and 1.54% higher than October of last year, according to The Press Democrat’s latest monthly housing report compiled by Rick Laws of Compass real estate brokerage in Santa Rosa.

Meanwhile, there were 403  single-family homes sold last month compared to 410 in September and 431 last October. To date this year, 3,718 homes have sold in the county — only about 3% less than in 2018, a year that saw a buying frenzy during the first half of the year as a result of the loss of more than 5,300  Sonoma County homes after the 2017 fires.

“There’s a reason so many people want to live here,” Laws said. “I’m not really feeling like everyone is ready to throw in the towel.”

The overall housing market has slowed slightly, particularly among higher-end homes, Laws said.

While he has heard some residents say they’ve had enough of fires and power shut-offs, the market does not reflect any exodus. Some buyers are expressing more interest in homes that are in parts of the county that are less likely to be affected by blackouts or fires, but people are still purchasing homes in rural communities that are in high-risk fire zones.

“There are people that are buying right now, today, in Fountaingrove and Mark West,” said Laws, adding that not everyone is looking for a home near the Highway 101 corridor.

Chavoor grew up in Southern California but has been living in the North Bay since 1980. The retired vineyard manager said he can’t imagine living anywhere else. The three-bedroom, two-bath home he bought in Bennett Valley met his preferences.

“I wanted a place a little larger,” he said. “People say when you get older, you should downsize. I say downsize when you’re ready to downsize. I want a place that I’m going to enjoy living in.”

Ross Liscum, a Santa Rosa real estate broker affiliated with Century 21 NorthBay Alliance, said the fall has historically been a good time to put a home on the market, because those who are out there looking are pretty serious about buying.

“In my view, buyers that are out there looking now are trying to accomplish something on their time frame now,” he said.

Local real estate experts say the impact off fires and power shut-offs will not be reflected in one or two months of housing sales numbers. Liscum and others say they’re starting to hear more people asking about fire risk and the power grid.

“People are asking, ‘Do we really want to live out on a private road in the hills with all the vegetation,’ ” he said. “We’re probably going to see a paradigm shift, people are going to start looking more at the flat areas.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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