Sonoma County housing market has slowest summer in five years

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Sonoma County’s housing market experienced its slowest summer in five years, with sales falling 9 percent from a year earlier.

From June through August, buyers purchased 1,384 single-family homes in the county, including 461 last month, according to The Press Democrat’s monthly housing report, compiled by Pacific Union International senior vice president Rick Laws.

The three-month total amounted to a 9 percent decline from the 1,526 homes sold a year earlier and is the lowest for that summer period since 2011.

“This summer was very busy until we hit the Fourth of July and then it seemed to change a little bit,” said Brian Connell, managing broker at the Coldwell Banker office on Mission Boulevard in Santa Rosa. Since then, he said, “our buyer activity has just become a little less frantic than it was before.”

The median sales price in August rose to $590,000. That amounts to a 9 percent increase from a year earlier.

The sales slowdown is the latest chapter in a tumultuous decade for a housing market where home prices soared, crashed and rebounded. The median price hit a record high of $619,000 in August 2005, then sank to a low of $305,000 in February 2009.

Starting in 2012, median prices have risen each year by an annual rate of 8 percent or more.

For much of the last four years, sellers typically had the upper hand in negotiations because of a relatively lower number of homes for sale. But brokers said the summer slowdown appears to signal a shift as buyers have become less willing to pay ever-increasing prices.

“Buyers are saying, ‘I’ve reached my saturation point as far as what I’m willing to pay,’ ” said Bill Facendini, president and broker of Terra Firma Global Partners in Santa Rosa.

Grace Lucero, director of investments for Vanguard Properties in Healdsburg, said it wasn’t that long ago that buyers who thought a home was overpriced would simply walk away without making an offer, partly because they thought someone else would still pay the price or even bid higher.

But recently Lucero saw a change when she listed a three-bedroom, two-bath home in Cloverdale for $379,000, under its appraised estimate of $385,000. No buyer offered to pay full price.

“I got three offers under asking price,” she said, each one in the $350,000’s. For her, such a change in strategy by buyers “is a telltale sign of a little shift in the market.”

Summer home sales in the county often slow before school starts in mid-August. Brokers often have wondered whether the dip is caused by the Sonoma County Fair, the preparations for children heading back to school or the decision by families to get in one last summer vacation.

But this year the slowdown seemed to start earlier and last longer, Connell said.

Some suggested the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming presidential election may be causing more buyers and sellers to stay on the sidelines.

Whatever the reasons, brokers said it isn’t unusual for buyers at some point to become more resistant to higher prices.

“We’ve been in a market favoring sellers for a while, and it would be normal for that to moderate a little bit,” Connell said.

Along with lower sales, the number of new listings this summer remained sluggish. Sellers added a total of 1,608 properties to the multiple listing service in June through August, a decline of 8 percent from a year earlier.

For the year, the number of new listings is the lowest since Laws began reporting such data in January 2009.

For most of the last three years, real estate agents and brokers have lamented the relative dearth of homes on the market. August was no different, with fewer than 850 homes available for sale at the end of the month, or less than a two-month supply of inventory at the current pace of sales.

A number of prospective sellers still seem to be holding back, brokers said, partly because they don’t want to become buyers in such a market.

Their thinking, said Lucero, is “It’s a good time to sell but where am I going to go?”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit

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